Over the Edge

Istanbul, TurkeyIstanbul, Turkey

Z and I finished our breakfast, walked up our hill, and then down to the end of Istiklal Avenue. All of the people had gone home. Street cleaners and cats roved up and down picking up bits and pieces. Sleepy-eyed simit sellers stood behind their red carts, made change, and then shoved their hands in their jackets and waited.

The street had the feeling a carnival ground in the morning.

We stopped under a tall brick cylinder. The Galata Tower.

“So this is home,” Z said, “If you get lost.”

I looked up.

Z looked at me. “You can see if from all over the city.”

A burly man set up his brass shoe shine stand. Two older women walked past, hand in hand: same ankles, same waist, same long coat, head scarf, low heeled shoes.

“So apparently this the tallest structure in the city when it was built in 1348.” Z looked up from his phone. “By the Genoese. When Istanbul was Constantinople.”

He chuckled to himself. “Wikipedia says that in 1630, a man jumped off of this tower wearing a pair of wooden wings and sailed all the way to other side of the Bosporus.”

Icarus, I thought. The women sat down and crossed their ankles in the same direction.

“And his brother,” Z said, “Shot himself off the top of the tower with a rocket. They both survived.”

The women looked up at the tower. Dear god, I thought, their poor mother.

*

We walked down the hill, long shallow steps, with empty tea glasses stuck in the corners, by doorways, on electricity meters.

“And that would be the Galata Bridge?” I said, “And the fisherman?”

Z nodded.

Shyam had said they were always fishing. And there they were, with long poles, and ironed slacks and buckets full of tiny fish.

I could not remember the name. Thanuja’s book of restaurants had mentioned them. We were supposed to eat them battered and fried. And we’d seen them last night, a man crouching in front of a bucket of the finger sized silver fish, snapping off their heads. I scrolled through my photos. Hamsi.

*

From the bridge the wind was strong and the Bosporus was dark. One of the fishermen pulled up his rod. A string of hamsi wiggled a foot apart on the line. He dropped them into his bucket and his line back into the water. Another fisherman did the same. And then another.

I looked over the edge. I expected to see the glint of the hamsi in the water. But I could not. Instead, there were jelly fish. Hundreds, thousands. Floating, translucent, like plastic bags, breathing in and out with the current.

One summer when I was young, my father ran and jumped off the seawall into the ocean. When he came back up again, his right eye was red, blood shot, swollen. We went over and looked in where he’d jumped. Floating there, in our warm green bay water was a similar slight purple creature, breathing with the current.

“Do you see all the jellyfish?” Z asked.

I nodded. I could see the Galata Tower behind us.

“I wonder if anyone ever jumps in?”

The Extra Hours

We picked Istanbul for the food, and 5 Oda was for the breakfasts. They were supposed to be very good.

“When you are ready for breakfast call us and in 10 or 15 minutes, we will bring it.”

I looked for the number. Then I realized it was six in the morning. They did not serve breakfast until eight.

Part of what I love about traveling is the extra hours, when you cannot sleep and don’t want to; time to read, and to write, which so often slips away when the whole world is awake and moving.

Before we left Seattle, my friend Thanuja said she’d been reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul.

I don’t usually read about a place before I visit it. Somehow, it always feels wrong– like reading the Cliff Notes to a great novel. But it was early morning and Z was still sleeping, so I opened the book.

Istanbul. 1950’s. Pamuk as a small boy, staring at his Grandmother, having her breakfast. She always took her breakfast in bed. Little Orhan is learning how delicious it is to hold a piece of salty cheese in your teeth while you sip at your sweet hot tea.

I imagined this woman, lying in bed, fat and stern and indulgent, reading her newspaper. What did she look like? What did any of them look like—the people of this city–in the mornings, in the privacy of their homes.

*

The sun came up and so did breakfast. I could not count the dishes. There were eggs with the yolks like Indian gold. Tomatoes, cucumbers. Coffee and cream. Orange juice and cherry juice. A basket of breads, sliced, dark and light, and pieces of something that looked like a pretzel, covered in sesame seeds. I stared at these pieces and my mind was in the classroom, with little Orhan, looking into the school bag of the girl he adored, a simit on top, all of the sesame seeds it was covered in, collecting at the bottom of her bag.

And then there was cheese: three types, soft, and hard and salty. And jam: quince, orange, rose. Honey, and sesame butter, and borek.

The borek was my favorite. Layers of phyllo and dill and cheese….

I prepared to try Orhan’s grandmother’s trick, but realized, with everything I had, I only had coffee.

Z looked up at me. “Shall we see the mosques?”

I nodded. The cube of cheese was still in my mouth.