‘Turkish Delight’: Exploring Sultanahmet with a child

‘Turkish Delight’: Exploring Sultanahmet with a child

October 02, 2011, Sunday/ 13:13:00/ Marion James

In this sophisticated, pressured, busy world, sometimes the only way to regain your sense of equilibrium is to pause in all the madness and see the world afresh through the eyes of a child.

A child’s priorities are different. Their timetable is different: They are in no rush to get to the next appointment or to catch the departing bus. They have an amazing ability to enjoy the present moment. They can see beauty and adventure even in everyday objects. Their imagination enables them to escape from the mundane. Their penetrating questions can make us stop and think.

This culture-clash of perspectives is well summed up by a quote I love: “When I look at a patch of dandelions, I see a bunch of weeds that are going to take over my yard. My kids see flowers for mom and blowing white fluff you can wish on.”

İstanbul is a world of treasures for a child. In recent years new museums and child-friendly exhibits have been opening up all over the city. Kids have always been able to re-enact battles on the ramparts of Rumeli Hisarı; now they can marvel at the panoramas in the 1453 museum, go for a virtual helicopter ride at the top of İstanbul Sapphire, and press their noses in astonishment up to the glass at the İstanbul Aquarium.

But even if you confine yourself to the city within the old walls, the tourist area of Sultanahmet has much to delight a child. History cannot be experienced by reading a textbook: It has to be touched and felt and tasted.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would stand at the foot of the old walls of Constantinople and stretch out our arms to see how thick they are.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would thread our way through the narrow streets by the Grand Bazaar, stopping to look at anything that caught our fancy. We would enter the market through the strong barred gates, and make our way down row after row of colorful silk scarves, of dazzling gold jewelry and, of course, the tantalizingly mouthwatering Turkish Delight.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would trace the patterns on the tiles with our fingers. We would look through the lattice woodwork windows at Topkapı Palace and imagine we were the sultan sitting on his throne.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would count how many steps it took us to climb up to the balcony in the Aya Sofya. We would play hunt the mosaic on the upper balcony, being thrilled and excited every time we turned a corner and found more brilliant gold mosaic work.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would stop to buy something to eat from the street peddlers. Depending on the season, we could munch on freshly cooked sweet corn, or warm our hands on a packet of roasted chestnuts; we could be delighted by bright pink cotton candy, or enjoy the spectacle of our ice cream being pounded by a vendor in a sequined jacket and a fez.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would respectfully climb the steps of the Blue Mosque and watch the worshippers bow for their prayers.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would descend under the street to the cisterns, and would try to make the longest echo of our voices among the marble columns before trying to spot the fish darting around in the water.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would jump on a tram and get off near the Bosporus. We would feed the birds outside the Yeni Cami and then cross on to the Galata Bridge to watch the ferries maneuvering like stately swans in and out of the dock. We would run up and down seeing which fishermen had caught the most fish. We would stroke the kittens that were eagerly waiting for their share of the catch.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would buy a simit and enjoy biting into the sesame crust and then feeling the soft bread inside on our tongue. We would throw the last half of the ring piece by piece to the seagulls circling noisily around us.

If I were taking a child around Sultanahmet, we would arrive home exhausted and fall into a deep sleep, imagining ourselves to be characters from İstanbul’s exciting historic past.

This child’s eye view is captured in a delightful series of guidebooks by Weigand and Dyan. The İstanbul guide is entitled “Turkish Delight” and children are taken round the city by a simple rhyme which accompanies 20 full-page photographs.

“What a surprise to go to İstanbul, Turkey, and to see all the wonderful things that a kid can see,” they write in the introduction. “The whole idea of the Dyan/Weigand travel books is to let you see some of the things kids might like to see when they travel to other countries and to give you a real taste and flavor of these places. These books with the poetry of Penelope Dyan and the photographs of John Weigand are different … because they are meant to stir the imaginations of children, not spoon-feed them facts that are boring.”

The poetry certainly pulls a child into the trip and its rhythm keeps you turning the pages. Some of the rhymes and scanning are a bit forced, but it is a good device to keep the child’s interest. As a former teacher, Dyan knows just what will grab the imagination.

In the Grand Bazaar…

There are shops there with all kinds of things

Even emeralds and rubies and diamond rings!

And by the head of Medusa in the underground cisterns:

Don’t look into her eyes!

Don’t go there alone!

Or you may find

YOU are turned into stone!

Some of the pictures are absolute winners, captivating the eye. Rows of colorful slippers spread out on a stall capture the very essence of İstanbul street-trading. A few pages on there is an amazing array of fresh fish, shot real close up.

Outside a restaurant I saw these fish,

Waiting to be cooked and put on a dish!

The author and photographer point out that “children remember what catches their eyes.”

Sadly, in many cases the printing quality has left the images less than sharp. A better quality glossy printing process would have made them even more eye-catching. It is a pity that some images such as the Grand Bazaar and the outside shot of the Aya Sofya are dark because they seem to have been shot on a gray autumnal day.

Explore the mystery that is İstanbul through a child’s eyes in this unique book that tries to capture the essence of this complex city.

“Turkish Delight: A Kid’s Guide to İstanbul, Turkey,” by Wiegand and Dyan, published by Bellissima Publishing (2011) $12.95 in paperback ISBN: 978-193563054-8

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