Sunday, February 2, 2014


The Blue Mosque -  Istanbul - December

Sign at the Blue Mosque

Nazar - Turkish amulet to ward off the Evil Eye

My first impression of Turkey: color it blue.  The night skies are lapis lazuli. The "Nazars," charms to ward off the evil eye, are cobalt. The Arabic word for Nazar is Nadhar and it means eyesight. In Arab mythology, the Jinn (evil spirits) will transform into a blue opal as a means of self-protection.  The story goes on to say that if the predator senses the Jinn within the gem and they can urinate on it, they forever trap the spirit inside the stone. Only a human hand can free a spirit from its blue prison, putting that spirit in service of its rescuer.  There's lots of evil spirits floating around it seems, but there's plenty of stone remedies if you just know where to look. And if all else fails you can urinate on them!    

Grand Bazaar - Amulets

Amulets to ward off evil typically take the form of the human eye and are usually a brilliant blue.  Eye in Hand pendants called the Hand of Fatima hang over shop doors, from rear view car mirrors, even on trees.  The Evil Eye pendant has the symbol of an eye worked into it.  An Eye for an Eye basically.  But the age old Anatolian belief is that it is actually the blue color of the stone which holds the real shielding power and absorbs the negative energy. That's why so many doors of houses in the Mediterranean nations are painted blue - to ward off evil spirits.  If only it were that easy!

It's a typical tourist thing to bring back a boat load of Nazars for friends, but I found them sort of creepy and anyway I never felt an "evil eye" on me in Turkey.  The eye staring of the Turks is powerful and penetrating, but also weightless and fleeting (except for the rug merchants!) - I felt like I was held in a hypnagogic dream, a threshold consciousness where hallucinations and lucid dreaming takes place, especially when in the presence of the Dervishes.

Rumi Mevlevi Dervishes - Istanbul Sirkeci Train Station

This trip to turkey is more than a trip; it's a pilgrimage.  In graduate school in Ithaca, New York, I met another student named Frank in the Sociology Dept. at Cornell.  He was writing his doctorate on the Ottoman Empire and Sufism.  Frank had a crush on me, & I found him alluring too, but alas, married (as was I).

One achingly beautiful April day, pink cherry blossoms falling with abandon, Frank asked me to meet him at Sage Chapel. His car was packed and his hands were sweaty as he handed me a yellow index card on which he had typed, "I deliver myself unto myself with tender mercy."-- 14th c. Persian mystic.  He drove away.  I still have the card.  I feel like somehow a splinter of Frank always stayed with me and led me here. 

It's all about Kismet, Fate, Call it What you Like, as in Sara Solomon's book, narrated by Darius, the Persian cat.   The first line of her Introduction says:  "Everything happens for a reason." I thought about that a lot while I was traveling, along with the saying "Shit Happens".  They can't both be true, can they?  So I did a little change up:  "Everything Happens" and "Shit Happens for a Reason."                                                     

Persian Cat - Istanbul Sirkeci Train Station

When you travel it does seem like there is more room for serendipity, chance & daring encounters, which is why people often have summer romances that tumble like falling leaves in September.  My friend Ruffles also reminds me that Rosita and I are traveling under the sign of Sagittarius, the Archer, the Adventurer...with his great expansive ruler Jupiter.   Truth seekers, wanderers, they like to hit the road frequently and talk to strangers. 

The constellation of Sagittarius is one of the oldest and largest in the sky, filled with astronomical treasures -- no less than 15 Messier objects. When you are looking at Sagittarius you are looking down through the entire length of the saucer shaped disk of our galaxy and seeing billions and billions of stars. The Greek mythology is derived from Babylonian, Sumerian and Arab myths.  Sagittarius, the Centaur, half-man, half-horse.   And then there is Chiron, the other Centaur, wounded healer, Oracle, noted Astrologer.  When Chiron is in Sagittarius, it is said there is a crisis about integration of the higher self into one's consciousness.  Hmmm, that rings a bell!

Messier Object - Lagoon Nebula

      Everywhere I look I feel as though I see Centaurs. The Turks are very half man, half horse, big necks and trunks.  The Centaur is thought to symbolize the development of the human soul.  The Archer's stone is Topaz, his element is fire, color, turquoise.  I see some blue jeans, Topaz shoes and a fire in the belly for catching some sardines. 

Turks Fishing on the Bosphorous

You are "traveling eastward under winter stars," wrote my friend Jeanne from sunny California. YES, but change those stars to snow...woke up our second morning in Istanbul to a blizzard, morning prayers wafting across the snowy rooftops, penetrating the walls along with the sound of explosions.  From the window I could see cars sliding and spinning, buses heaving up the steep, winding streets.  Everyone -- men, women, children, get out to push -- this is a tribal culture. 

Beyoglu Istanbul

We are staying within walking distance of Taksim Square where the protests took place last June.  An estimated 3.5 million protesters out of 80 million Turks demonstrated to contest an urban development plan for Istanbul's Taksim Gezi Park (one of the only remaining green spaces in Istanbul). Five people were killed, over 8,000 injured. 

Protester hit with high powered hose
Whirling Sufi Protester with Gas Mask

Woman Protester pepper sprayed
Taksim Square, Gezi Park - June Protests

 But here's how it looked while we were there:

Taksim Square - December

Rosita & Freya Freeeeezing

It took us about 14 hours to get from Paris to Istanbul & our Air B&B if you count all the time spent in visa lines and security checks.  My coat was stolen in Paris (Shit Happens!) so for the rest of our sojourn I wore all the rest of the clothes I'd brought in layers so that I looked a lot like Tweedle dee dee (or dum, what's the difference?) very sexy.  Needless to say we were quite testy after our ordeal & were spitting at each other like a pair of agitated camels.  Only camels don't really spit, they actually emit the partially digested contents of their fore stomachs, then they burp and flap their heads and it flies out their mouths.  I once went on a llama backpacking trip on the Lost Coast up in Northern California & those lamas really let if fly, but I think it was saliva -- anyway I ducked! 

A clever gal on the llama trip described the spit smell of llama/camel like this:  "smells like a skunk that has been dead for a week voided its bowels in a witches' armpit."

After a couple of "cou cou(s)", which sort of means "peekaboo" or "hi" in French, all was forgiven.  We went out and celebrated with some of "God's Fruit":  pomegranate juice. As I sipped what was the most welcome nectar I'd had in days, I thought about the abduction of Persephone by Hades and how she is often pictured with a pomegranate in her hand, the symbol of fertility and abundance.  So even if it was colder than Hades, and we were dwelling in the undeworld for awhile, the seeds of growth don't vanish from the world forever and the cycles will renew themselves -- some warm spring day, I'll be able to take off two or three layers. 

Pomegranate Juice Stand - Istanbul

Anyhoo, I can't afford to let Rosita out of my sight.  I'm a dyslexic nomad reading the stars. She can find her way out of any and I mean ANY situation.   The Turks embrace Rosita and I trail in her wake like the small fishing boats on the Bosphorous, rocking and rolling.  Her French is flawless and fluent & as it turns out quite a few Turks speak French (as well as Arabic, Turkish, English). The first thing we do is establish a "point de repère" = meeting point, Taksim Square.  Rosita knows that Freya once set out to see her Grammy in Michigan and ended up in Indiana. 

We walk and walk and walk, up and down Istiklal Avenue, an elegant pedestrian street in the Pera district, 1.4 kilometers long, loaded with art galleries, bookstores, boutiques, cinemas, a zillion cafes, live music, and way too many patisseries!  The avenue is surrounded by Ottoman era buildings designed with Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau & Art Deco style buildings from the early years of the Turkish Republic.  I especially like the Genoese neighborhood around Galata Tower. 

Galata Tower
Trolley on Istiklal

I fall in love with the Turks unconditionally. Everywhere we go, we are met with warmth and hospitality (they do try to pull us into their shops and restaurants incessantly), but when we do go in, we are treated like family members; brazier fires are lit, warm blankets provided & the unending glasses of chai, rose tea, apple tea, love tea poured. 

Turkish Coffee on Brazier

Love Tea - Spice Market

As we could only stop and eat at one place at a time, we did a lot of scampering toute-de-suite, trying not to offend.  My favorite was the gorgeous Turk who ran after Rosita with his card, singing, "here is my heartbeat."

Now the hour grows late and Rosita & Freya must get to the Sirkeci Train Station to take their seats to see the Mevlavi Dervishes.  The station was once the last stop of the famed Orient Express, Paris to Istanbul. 

Orient Express Train Station - Whirling Dervish Performance
We are seated next to two gregarious Sikhs.  Their names are Canda for Moon and Anil for Air, their names in Hindi from the Sanskrit. A Cancer and a Gemini.  Air tells me that Moon suits her very well as a lifetime partner. Rosita tells her I am a clairvoyant and so Air asks me if her two sons, who are still at home at ages 30 and 32. will ever get married?  I tell her that I see them gone from underfoot in two years.  She is very pleased. A Persian cat wanders in during the Sema (performance) rubbing itself against the Tanbur (long necked lute) player. 

Below is a little film I took of the performance.  It was wonderful to see the Dervishes in a smaller venue to more closely observe their footwork.  I couldn't believe they didn't have special stays or bones in their skirts.  It is all done by the movement.  Left hand to earth, right hand to sky.  Sufi music performed by wind, touching, rhythm--an endless continuing pattern. The 13th c. Persian poet Rumi was a Dervish himself and founded the Mevlavi order in Turkey.  Rumi had the ability to describe the ineffable God.

                                                     The time of judging
                                              who's drunk and who's sober,
                                                who's right or who's wrong,
                                               who's closer to God or farther
                                                          all that is over.
                                              This caravan is led instead by a
                                                             great delight,
                                           the simple joy that sits with us now,
                                                          That is the grace.  
                                                Hafiz, 14th c. Persian mystic
Rosita & Freya on the Bosphorous

Look as long as you can
at the friend you love
No Matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.

Please join me next time for Part II, a trip down the Bosphorous with Orhan Pamuk, the Dogs of Topkapi, the Hagia Sofia, Medusa in the Basilica Cistern, Mevlana pilgrimage to Konya where we meet up with the  Dervish Brothers, the "go to" guys in Sufi land. Steamy Hammams, snowball fights at the Cafe France in Istanbul, cheesecake & carpets, the Grand Bazaar, Selfies & the search for Tarot in Turkey.  

Happy Imbolc, St. Brigid's Day, the start of the Celtic Spring.  

Some newborn lambs down the road


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