Shenanigans the First: Turkish Delight on a Moonlit Night
If you travel, you know how much it sucks to get your flight delayed. Ever since the debacle surrounding my abbreviated visit to Greece in February, I've been dreading the flights to and from Istanbul. Ulaanbaatar is in the process of building a new airport even further outside the city, because it's current location has a big problem that I've talked about before...the wind. It seems like every other trip I take one of my flights gets delayed thanks to UB's winds. This time, the wind was couple with a shit ton of snow that worried me when I woke up, but since the airport website said the flight was on time, we packed the kids and our luggage on the bus and set off for the airport, and had eaten our cinnabons and were just chillaxin', waiting for check-in, when they announced the delay. Since the plane apparently had yet to leave Istanbul this was infuriating, but we did what we could, ordered a new bus back to the school, left everything in my classroom and scattered for the 12 hours we had to wait until going back. It was NOT exactly the most propitious way to begin our spring break, but once we finally got on the plane and got going, it was pretty much smooth sailing, minus a couple of adjustments. These mostly took place on the first day. We got to our hotel and all the kids were oohing and aahing over how cool Istanbul looked, and once everyone got cleaned up we went to the Blue Mosque...just in time for prayer. Several of the kids were curious about the prayers, but prayer time is the time when the mosque closes, so we went up the street for lunch, passing the Hippodrome (whose obelisk we all admired as we talked about chariot races), and came back later, to find a ridiculously long line. Rather than wait, we decided to hit it another morning.
We took the tram across the Golden Horn to Beyoglu. My original plan was to walk up the hill and visit galleries along the way, which would make the hike a bit less of a pain. Since we were running late, we were going to take the funicular from Tunel, but then we couldn't figure out how to buy the damn passes, so we ended up hoofing it, and at a faster pace. I've done that before...although there was about 70 pounds less of me back then, and I wasn't accompanied by 12 teenagers who (rightly) wanted to stop and see everything. We did stop at one gallery - one of the girls asked about Jews, and when we stumbled across a synagogue-cum-gallery, I figured it was too serendipitous to pass up. I particularly loved the notebooks they were selling with scenes of Istanbul and the lyrics to a certain They Might Be Giants song.
Finally we ended up at Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower built by the Genoese, and a good landmark, if, for example, you were going to let your students explore a little. I ran up the hill to the Mevlevi Museum which - humd'Allah! - still had tickets for that night's sema, and in fact gave us two free tickets for me and my partner-in-crime, Time Lady. When I got back I joined my kids in line for the tower, which had some stunning views but involved more pushing and shoving than a Sunday afternoon at the Gubei Carrefour (because somebody told some of the tourists to go the wrong way around the tower). Afterwards we relaxed a little at the Lavazza next to it while some of them went shopping, and I had my first panic attack when two of my girls wandered off without getting the meet-up time. When they finally made their way back we had dinner and looked around a little more before going to see the sufi dancers.
This is one of those things I didn't see my last time in Istanbul. I've seen dervishes before - it's been nearly ten years since I started dancing, after all - but I've never been to a sema, and I wanted the kids to have as authentic an experience as possible, rather than really cool costumes under a blacklight. The semahane was beautiful. The music started with a voice droning out a chant, to which the dervishes entered the room. It was joined by a nay, and they began to bow and move around their space, until finally, the other instruments joined in and the dervishes began to whirl. Other than that, the occasional click of a camera or a cough were all you heard. They moved so smoothly, and their gestures were so evocative, and we felt ourselves fall into their trance.
As we waited outside the museum before the sema, someone looked at us wearing our matching hoodies, and asked if we were there on a mission. I replied that we were there to learn, not to teach. We walked back from Sultanahmet to the Antique Hostel, past the Blue Mosque lit up like a birthday cake while a full moon glowed above us, and I felt how true that statement really was. And it was only day one.