Holy crap, I’m in Istanbul (redux)

This was my email to a list of friends and family that I sent out after I landed in Istanbul and started my trip. Except for some minor editing (typos, spelling errors, continuity and some grammar clean-up) this is what went out, more or less (except for really stupid, personal stuff.) This entry was emailed July 2, 2002 while I was overlooking the Bosporus, the narrow strait that divides the city and the two continents of Europe and Asia.
This is the first entry of a continuing series of my emails and journal entries of my trip over there. It’s designed to whet your appetite so you will send me back. (Hint: Donate button is over to the right.)

From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Tue Jul 2, 2002 3:20:59 AM US/Pacific

I landed at Atatürk International yesterday at 3 p.m. or so after a couple of hours cooling my heels in Budapest. Took a bus to Taksim, the central plaza in the “modern” part of the city, and from there, I took a taxi up to Boğazi’i University, where I’m staying thanks to the hospitality of Prof. Deniz Ilgaz.
Damn, this is a confusing place. The street energy is like New York at a rave but without the feelgood vibe. The taxi drivers are homicidal (and suicidal) and the cars bear the scars of numerous encounters with bumpers and doors and hapless pedestrians. The city passes by in a blur, but ancient structures exist among modern skyscrapers and western fastfood chains. It’s all a bit overwhelming.
And Turkish is just impossible. But first, some basic geography: Istanbul is divided in half by the Bosporus, duh, into European and Asian (Anatolian) sides. The European side is further divided into North and South parts by the Golden Horn, a great natural harbor. South is the old, Ottoman city with all the tourist stuff (Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, yadda yadda yadda.) In the 19th century this part of the city, called Eminönü, was left to the Sultans as an Ottoman playground with harems, palaces, hookahs, and the whole Disneyland on opium thing. The northern part, (Beyoğlu) where I’m staying, was modernized, with streetcars, telephones, plumbing, etc. So I have to go into Eminönü to get my press creds. The office is housed in one of innumerable palaces on the Bosporus. And there are a lot of them.
[Editor’s note: Here lie three paragraphs that detail the dynamics of a particularly bad liaison I had while in Germany. It really doesn’t do anyone any good to rehash this stuff, so I cut them.]
Back to Turkey. I took out 200,000,000 Turkish Lira from my account at the airport yesterday. I’ve never withdrawn 200 million of anything before, so I felt like a real rich guy. (It’s about $125 or so.) I still have, after paying for a couple of meals, a taxi ride and a bus ride, … Uh, shit. A whole lot of zeros. Actually, I still have 178 million TL, or about $111.25… Jesus, all of that cost just under $15? I could live like a king in Istanbul if I had dollars coming in.
I’m staying in an antique Ottoman house near the Bosporus ( Boğazi’i in Turkish, don’t ask me how to pronounce it.) From my window, I can see the old fortress Hisar, the fort built by Sultan Fatih to conquer Constantinople in 1453. There’s an even older fort on the opposite side, the Asian side, built by the Byzantines, and I don’t mean the Eastern Roman Empire. I mean the people who built the city of Byzantium that predates even Emperor Constantine, who founded Constantinople in AD 338, if I recall the date correctly.
At any rate, it’s really, really old.
And why did they change the name from Constantinople? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks. (Actually, it’s a corruption of a Greek term that means “in the city.”)
Today, at 2:30, I meet with Kemal Kiriş’i, a Boğazi’i University professor who wrote a book on the Kurds and now deals with EU-Turkey issues. I think he will be very informative. After that, I have to go in to the old city, across the Golden Horn, and pick up my press credentials. That should take the better part of the rest of the day. Then I’m meeting some people I’ve been emailing for dinner and that’s that. Whew!
On Thursday, in celebration of July 4, I will get on a bus to Ankara, where I will meet my fixer. We’ll work on some logistics and plan for a few days and then head out to Diyarbakir and the rest of the country. It’s a shame I won’t have more time in Istanbul, as it’s a fascinating city. Bigger than NYC, too. Nine million people (although that’s only about 5.625 people thanks to the exchange rate.)
So that’s it. All is well, and I have my own Internet access. Life is good.