Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 - No comments

Fatih: Faded Glory

Just over a week ago, I was given the sweet gift of a weekend in my beloved Istanbul. Some family friends were passing through on a cruise and brought me up to be their "tour guide" and show them around my "up-there-world." It was soooo wonderful to be able to spend a few days in my favourite city, to jump back into my Turkish family's life for a bit, to revisit my old stomping grounds and discover new treasures that glorious metropolis had yet to reveal to me.

Having limited time there, and itching to get an eyeful of some neighbourhoods yet undiscovered by my lens, I did a lot of research online to plan out the best train-bus-ferry routes to maximize my moments. With nothing but my backpack in tow, I was able to hop the metro from the airport and immediately begin my expedition. First stop: Fatih. This district is known as the most religiously conservative area in Istanbul, evidenced by the overwhelming majority of women in their long black chadors and old men with little knit hats perched atop their heads. As I made my way from the train station down my chosen path, I stopped at an impressive looking camii (mosque) to get a few shots. Everyone there seemed eager to help this "ambling tourist," and upon discovering that I was, in fact, a "local" (at least I like to think so!) one particular couple in the courtyard engaged me in conversation. The sweet old lady immediately started telling me all the reasons I should become a Muslim. She wasn't real interested in listening to me, but she was definitely passionate! It was a far cry from the chats I usually have with my "all roads lead to heaven" neighbours down here in Antalya, let me tell you! She was genuinely burdened for my soul.....I was touched. :)

Fatih proved to be a laundry lover's heaven - the sunny weather had all the ladies stringing their wet clothes on everything from window grates to electric lines (!) and my camera got its fill. The face of one particular little girl tugging at her mama's clotheline prompted some adorable pictures and resulted in an invitation in for tea. One of my favourite things about Turkish culture is that all it takes is one cup of cay for a stranger to become a friend. No matter how poor someone is, they will offer you the best they have and never send you on your way hungry.

Istanbullus (residents of Istanbul) describe their city as being enveloped in a sense of "huzun" or "melancholy" and this feeling certainly permeated the atmosphere in Fatih. As this area was an important centre of town during the Ottoman Empire, there were traces of the faded glory of old Greek Orthodox churches, ancient city walls and beautiful Armenian architecture. Stately old wooden houses that once exuded grandeur now slump with the weight of centuries of conquerors, ethnic purges and poverty. As dusk approached and the smell of coal burning in the "sobas" (stoves used to heat homes) began to fill the air, I made my way down the cobblestone streets and began my journey home, wondering if those eking (ekeing?) out their meager existence in Fatih are aware of the treasures hidden within their walls and alleyways. More than likely they are unaware that their local bakery has been in operation since before the founding of the Turkish Republic and are simply concerned with having enough money to buy each night's loaf of bread.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 - No comments

Henna Party

Long ago in Turkey, when a young man left for war, his family would dye his palms with blood-coloured henna to represent the sacrifice he would make for his country. Over the centuries, this tradition evolved and become a pre-wedding ritual for girls preparing to leave their family home and become a "sacrifice" to their new husbands. Friends and relatives gather to mourn the departure of the girl from the home and celebrate the new life she is entering into. The bride to be adorns herself all in red, and purchases a special red veil and lacy red gloves for the occasion. Women light candles and dance around the bride-to-be, singing songs about leaving her family until she cries....or at least pretends to be sad to be leaving. :) They then place the pasty green henna on her hands and leave it til it dyes them red. Then the party takes a joyful turn and the music, hip-shaking and traditional song last well into the night.

As my roommate is preparing to go home and get married soon, we gathered all the neighbours and held a henna celebration of our own. Their was singing, dancing, and piles of yummy food. The bride had to put a little saliva on her cheeks at the appropriate time since the tears wouldn't come - she is nothing but thrilled about her upcoming marriage. We loved taking part in the customs of our "foreign homeland," dying our hands with henna and willing our western hips to move like those of our Turkish compatriots. Shaker belts certainly help with that - even if you're like me and can't move like a Middle Eastern belly dancer, at least it still sounds impressive!