Istanbul - first impressions...

Well, we made it to Istanbul after 30 hours on the road - and all is well:  we made all our connections, no baggage was lost, there was only a minor delay in Madrid and everyone is still friends.  (Ok, so there WAS some mystery meat on the second leg of the journey that everyone swears was NOT chicken but cobra... but that was the only down side.)  Our van was waiting for us when we arrived 2 hours late, customs was a snap and the storms had ended.  The US State Dept. office had arranged for us to be taken directly to Galata Tower for our first gig - at the Second Annual Intercultural Dialogue in Beyoglu - so the driver made it happen. 

And we arrived EXACTLY on time (7 pm Turkish time) - with a quick jump into a local hotel for some refreshment and a clothing change - we were pumped and ready to go.  But the local youth orchestra played for 90 minutes instead of 30 - they were really good - but that changed the groove.  So, with no time for a sound check, Andy and Sue greeted the local mayor, made the cultural exchange and we lauched into Sonny Rollin's "Tenor Madness."  The sound for the crowd was outstanding (we filmed the whole thing and will upload parts soon) - but we had trouble with the monitors most of the night - so had to rely on the little we could hear and our instincts (think the Beatles at Shea Stadium - well, ok, not nearly as much screaming but you get the idea.)  Man, o man, did the Jazz Ambassadors cook for 45 minutes!  Dianne never sounded better - so soulful!

And then we added a few more tunes on to the set for an encore - wrapping it up with "Wipe Out."  This proved to be a moment of serendipity as the Ambassador is a former California surfer dude who loved it!  Lots of fun, great conversation with the Counselate staff - where were brilliant and kind - and then a LATE night dinner of Raki, Efes Beer and Turkish "mezze" food at 1 pm.

Yesterday, we wandered across the Galata Bridge to the Old City to visit both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.  Just as Rick Steves had warned in his travel guide, Americans are singled out by hustlers and we were no exception.  Steves writes:  they count on us being polite so just be firm and make it into a game.  That worked time and again and by late afternoon we were old pros.  The Hagia Sofia was breath taking in scope and magnitude - a remarkable museum to secular Turkey now that the once church, once mosque is now a museum.  After a leisurely lunch on a high rooftop terrace, we spent the afternoon in the Blue Mosque - a working house of worship - built on the grounds of the former Roman Hippedrome.  In fact, much of the tile was taken when the Ottoman's tore down the old race track and used the materials once consecrated to gambling and decadence to Allah.  It, too, was serene and stunning.

A few quick observations:

+ This is a young, exciting, growing and very creative part of Turkey.  They are on the way up and know it - not only is their economy growing by 8+ per cent each year - but they are a stable political power in a rapidly changing landscape.  With Egypt and Syria in tumult, Turkey is the power with a new role to play after generations of decline.

+ Being US tourists here is different from any other place I have visited:  clearly we stand out.  We are excited and pleased to be visiting and learning.  We are used to being free and spontaneous.  And sometimes we are too loud.  Last night, for example, we had an enounter with a young Turk who was trashed and wanted to let us know how much he detested American arrogance.  Mostly we were the innocent recipients of his rant, but it was a good "wake up call" for us to reclaim our public role as "cultural ambassadors."  We can have fun, be ourselves and all the rest without startling the Turks who tend to  be more reserved in public than ourselves.

+ We have also experienced a little bit of the flip side of being American tourists; we don't think of ourselves as exploitive - and our mission is to build friendship - but most of the street hustlers don't care one iota about our goals.  To their eyes, we are marks to be played - Americans at that - and all is fair in love and war.  We semi-sensititve New Age guys have been a little offended and startled by their aggressive behavior towards us.  But, that too, has been an eye-opener:  we are living into our nation's public legacy as arrogant, often rude bullies.  I guess what goes around comes around, yes?

And at the same time there have been wonderful hosts and helpers, too who are willing to go beyond the obvious and try to find ways to building friendship.  I am grateful for a sobering reminder of just why such work is so valuable.  And look forward to our evening's concert at the Pasazade Club.


Black Pete said…
PLay the gig, man! And woman!

Turns out my cousin lived in Uskudar (can't do umlauts on this), right across the river from Beyoglu. She says Beyoglu is a neat place, wonderful, old in the best way.

Popular Posts