"A traffic light gone haywire"

[Welcome to “Istanbul, Southeast Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan: A Political Travelogue.” Link below for the next post in the series.]

The sights in Istanbul were awe-inspiring, from Muhammad’s sword and scabbard at Topkapi Palace to the meditative labyrinth of the Yerebatan Sarayi, a huge sixth-century cistern built by Emperor Justinian I. Also, these unforgettable views from the shores of Büyükada, an island in the Sea of Marmara, accessible by ferry.

Five times a day, from mosques in all directions, one hears the call to prayer throughout the city. My friends’ daughter, two years old with blonde hair and blue eyes, is learning comparative religion from the cradle. “What are the men outside saying?” asked her father. She hesitated a moment and cried out, at full volume: “Allaaaaaaaaaaahu Akbar!” This she repeated, while running around the apartment in her birthday suit.

Wrestling with the most elementary Turkish phrases, I joked to my friends that I wouldn’t feel at home in Istanbul until I heard Spanish. The next day, as we walked around Tunel, they pointed out a man approaching from the other direction. “That’s Habib,” they said. “He’s the last Jew in the neighborhood.” Habib speaks Ladino, a Sephardic tongue which is to Spanish as Yiddish is to German. As he passed, he smiled and said, “Buenos dias!”

Joseph Brodsky once likened Istanbul to “a traffic light gone haywire.” Amen to that.

[Go here to read the next item in this series.]

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