if you’re american, to get to istanbul you need a visa. maybe even if you aren’t. for $20, not lira, not euro, they put a sticker in your book and then they stamp it.
it’s a big airport, very clean, the van that picks us up has captain’s chairs that face both ways. the route’s ornate, bright. the parapets of mosques seem to grow out of the land on their own. it’s an abundant crop. on either side, glowing. old walls that arch across the road. our driver, with a mustache no less stunning, has no idea where he’s going.
every few blocks someone on the street points us further toward a finish line. the hotel is out of keys, so we share one. it’s 10pm, but we’ve only got like 50 hours here, so we immediately set to wander.
the city’s wide awake. turkish delight hung in windows like treasure. public washbasins on almost every block. empty tea glasses everywhere, abandoned. we eat meat and lahmacun, like turkish pizza. it’s enormous and less than half the price of my beer. the dollar’s strong enough, here, but i try not to measure costs by the exchange. were i paid in turkish lira, maybe it’s more than i’d like to spend.
the next day we do the things you’re supposed to: the hagia sofia, the topkapi palace, the blue mosque. we eat the worst food we’ll eat in this country- a tourist spot near the egyptian obelisk. the table’s set in advance, the food tastes like it’s been sitting there. the guide suggests we add some salt: “to make it more delicious.”
we walk the grand bazaar, people try to sell us things. more than a glance at a lamp in a store and you’re staying for some tea. istanbul’s like a giant kaleidoscope. there is no dearth of stimulus. giant structures composed of tiny shapes. my friend blair sends me to find the medusa’s head, and we do. it’s in the cistern, under the city, older than everything. it’s dark and exceptional, submerged in water. it’s full of fish.
we see the city from the water. the scale is overwhelming. every mile is like a new kind of city. all of it moving.
at the dock, an old couple run a tiny food cart. i don’t know what they’re making or how to ask for it, but i get the point across in clumsy pantomime. everyone’s drinking cold yogurt, but i haven’t yet got the nerve.
we meet yidiray, in taksim, the square dense like an eternal parade. he takes us to GON https://twitter.com/goncizgiroman, a modern comic shop that would be right at home in brooklyn. from there an old hotel for a drink, looking down over the river. i talk and drink too much.
we wander through the square, eating meatballs and doner and wetburgers. we eat a giant baked potato. i try the yogurt. we climb a tower.
we circle above the city, clockwise. running out of time.