Between the Blue Mosque and the Sea of Marmara is a hill. On the hill is a patchwork of alleyways. I arrived in Sultanahmet at 4:38 p.m. Five minutes after climbing to my rooftop flat I heard the muezzin’s call to prayer. When it ended, I opened a window to the sound of bleating goats and the smell of cooking fires. This is gonna be good.
Everybody’s hustling somebody, the kilim (rug) salesmen in particular. “Where are you from?” “You look familiar. Are you on television?” The only thing I know that will slow them down is to firmly say hayir (no). One of them followed me for blocks. We chatted about the weather and the best time to visit the big mosques (Thursday). My house is covered in nice Persian and Afghan rugs, making me an unlikely candidate to make an impulse buy in Istanbul. Before I had walked a half mile this morning, these guys had already handed me two cups of tea and a Turkish coffee.
Akmer runs a travel agency and adjoining gift shop. “I’m tired,” he yawned after handing me an apple tea.
“You need to sleep.”
He smiled dementedly. “When can I do this, Peter? There is a big cruise ship in town and I need to make a lot of money today.” I appreciated the honesty.
“Are you here on business or pleasure?” he asked.
“There’s no business for me here.”
“I don’t think so. I think you are here to go to Iraq. You are with the American government.”
Later, another salesman made the same assertion, which kind of creeped me out. I think from now on I’m Canadian.
Lunch is lamb kebab and ayran, or buttermilk. To achieve a level of self-sufficiency, I find a grocery store and buy some eggs, bread and margarine.
The trip is off to a discouragingly slow start. My right big toe hurts like hell, making walking difficult. I hope to find a pharmacy soon for some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. The pain-reliever brand names aren’t familiar; nor are the Turkish-language ingredients. I knew all those uric-acid smoothies would catch up to me eventually. This can be a good thing. Tortoise > hare.
Think I’ll see if I can find some soccer on television. There are two Al-Jazeera stations, an Azerbaijani station and a Iraqi channel otherwise known as the Suicide Bombing Network. Every time I flip past it there is video of smoke rising in the distance. No BBC, no CNN, no problem. Gives me a chance to work on my Muslish.