Friday, March 14, 2008

I do believe in ferries

"If all the nations of the entire world came together and if there were only one capital city that metropolis would have to be Istanbul" so said Napoleon Bonaparte - At least this is what the president of the Istanbul International School board told us at the cocktail party last night.

Opening reception welcoming parties for presenters and administrators have a formula. Swankness is the order of the day – make sure it us up high somewhere, top floor of the Hilton, Hyatt, or Westin – lots of glass incredible view, free booze and delightfully delicious and delicate hors dervishes. If your view is over the water all the better and, as it was last night, if that Basra river view includes a dramatically lit mosque perched on small rock island like a bit of salmon tooth picked to black Melba toast, well you get the picture.

We chitted and chatted – told the administrators from the school we visited how great their students were during our workshops (they were) munched the munchies and drained a half dozen glasses of soda water. These gatherings are the chance for the powers that be to thank all the folks whose hard work has gone into putting the conference on – the boots on the ground troops that back flip through acrobatic changes in flight schedules, AV needs and charter busses to Grand Bazaars or other tour destinations. People who most also being teachers at the host school, make it so a couple poets from Cleveland Ohio feel embarrassingly like VIPs.

Before the reception Sara and I spent the day riding ferries across the Basra. First to a neighborhood full of bookshops and art supply stores here we drank insanely strong coffee on a terrace five or six narrow and winding staircase stories up. Up, up, up our host kept telling us every time we turned the corner on another floor until finally we had a great view of Istanbul across the river. We spied a baklava shop from our perch and when we descended from our roost treated ourselves to crushed green pecan topped pieces the size o a bars of soap, sweet and sticky as maple sap.

We took a second ferry back to old part of town. Now we’re not geniuses, we don’t walk into bustling Istanbul and immediately start expertly navigating like one of the dozens of fishing boats bobbing in the wake of the ferries. Here all one has to do is stand and look confused for a minute or two and someone will come up and offer broken English assistance. Our greatest successes here, taking public transport, ordering in restaurants, buying baklava, has come through the kindness of strangers. Blanche Dubois could do well here.

The city is busy – folks pass buy with purpose in their steps - but they don’t seem to mind stopping and spending the time a diversion may require. Maybe this is a perspective one picks up when they live in a city that has been the seat of three separate empires spanning thousands of years. There is a definite national pride here, but I have not noticed the arrogance one sometimes picks up on in other locales. A collective comfortableness with the permanency one becomes accustomed to when walking to work one passes the remains of a Byzantine arch.

If I’m correct in this characterization – maybe that short French guy had a point.

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