My wife Jane and I were “Americans in İstanbul” from Jan. 12-19 of this year, our second visit. This is an attempt to tell Turkish and American friends what the trip was like.What did I learn in İstanbul?
That various seas and waters reach round,
like arms trying to embrace the land
even in the gray and cold of winter.
That the great mosque and the great church
crouch facing one another in the rain
like large gray beasts lowering down
to keep warm in the cold mist of winter.
That on a hotel terrace, six floors up,
gulls circle above, under, over and between,
great circles differentiating clearly
the three dimensions of the buildings, the spaces,
the skies in the windy cold of winter.
That the streets shine themselves
to slanted silver sheets, trees are stripped
to vertically stacked jumbles of black sticks,
people scurry stiffly to get away
from the wind and mist of winter.
That narrowly twisting alleys,
chaotically crowded shops
and hungrily gregarious vendors
beckon us to enter the slowly slaloming ways
of the travel and commerce of a city and culture
born millennia before cars and computers.
That the fishermen lining the Galata Bridge
know things about patience and pleasure
our world needs to know again.
That cars and people dance
along narrow ways, carefully nudging,
taking turns at moving and stopping,
like friendly strangers carrying cups
in a crowded coffeehouse.
What did I learn in İstanbul?
That honey ought never be forgotten
by a country’s cooks and bakers,
that döner and simit, köfte and künefe,
figs and cheese taste as good
in the cold of winter as in the heat of summer.
That hospitality without ostentation,
respect without aloofness,
courtesy without condescension,
prayer without pretension,
conversation with listening,
are the beginnings of understanding,
the foundations and first signs
of compassion and peace.
Yes, these are the things I learned and re-learned
in İstanbul in the rainy cold of winter.
*Edward Stevenson is a Christian pastor.
[EXPAT VOICE] What did I learn in İstanbul?
February 25, 2010, Thursday/ 16:11:00