David Pierce // Matematik (Mathematics) // M.S.G.S.Ü.


İstanbul, June 2003

Originally composed Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I started writing this a couple of days ago; it is an account of a brief visit to the old imperial city for a wedding—probably the most pleasant 24 hours I've spent there.

I first met Mustafa in 1997 in Manchester, England, where he and Ayşe Berkman were working on doctorates. (His was in economics; hers, in mathematics.) Ayşe and I were married in Ankara three years ago. A few weeks ago, she and I stayed in Mustafa's apartment in İstanbul while attending the film festival there. We met Melda, whom Mustafa had known for about 12 years; they joined us for a couple of screenings.

During our visit, Melda and Mustafa decided to get married. They accomplished this aim last Friday.

It was my fourth wedding in Turkey, my fifth Turkish wedding, and my sixth Turkish wedding celebration. Turkish law recognizes only a civil wedding performed by an officer of the Turkish government. When my graduate-school roommate—also named Ayşe—married Cengiz in Washington, a representative from the Turkish embassy presided.

In Ankara earlier in the spring, Ayşe Berkman and I attended the celebration of the wedding of the middle daughter of our building's doorkeeper. Guests drank soda-pop and danced to Anatolian music, then lined up to present their gifts—mostly money in some form. (We gave a gold coin.) But there was no government officer, hence no official wedding. This happened some other time.

(The remaining two weddings were of Ayşe Berkman's brother and cousin.)

Mustafa and Melda had their wedding proper at 16.30 in one of İstanbul's official “wedding salons”, in the Beşiktaş district on the European shore where they live. Ayşe and I took a 7.00 bus from Ankara, so we had time to wander along the Asian shore a while before catching the municipal ferry from Üsküdar. Then we had time to wander in Beşiktaş.

We had left our İstanbul A-Z book of street-maps at home, and the tourist fold-out map (in German) that we found in a shop was of little use: streets on the ground were not on the map. A shopkeeper pointed us in the right direction: back down the hill towards the shore. Oh well, the neighborhood was pleasant enough for strolling, although the day was heating up. We helped an old woman cross the street; she had been waiting patiently for a young person to pass by.

The wedding salon was near Ihlamur Kasırları, “Linden Pavilions”. This was the sultan's hunting lodge in the nineteenth century, in Baroque style (I found a couple of photographs). The woods that would have housed the hunted game have been replaced by roads and apartments, but the gardens surrounding the sultan's own buildings remain. Being aware that İstanbul is home to over ten million people, with the least (so I've read) official greenspace of any major city, I am always pleased to find such a refuge.

In fact, two wedding salons are near the Linden Pavilions. We went to the correct salon at fifteen minutes to the appointed time. It was not the correct salon anymore; in the last 24 hours, the mayor had unaccountably shifted all weddings to the other salon. One of Mustafa's brothers drove us there, though we could have walked.

The simple ceremony was performed. The bride wore one of those white dresses that have only one use. We all lined up to congratulate the couple, and when it was my turn, the bride told me in Turkish that something was funny. She didn't seem very pleased, and I thought she might be referring to my black tee-shirt. The day was so hot, I had chosen not to put on the collared shirt and tie I had brought in my backpack. A necktie is not traditional Turkish garb anyway. In fact Melda was referring to her own supposedly ridiculous appearance.

The wedding celebration that evening was to take place at Balta Limanı, way up the Bosphorus, halfway to the Black Sea, beyond the second of the two bridges. Luckily for Ayşe and me, the place had a guest-house for university people, and we had been able to reserve a room. (We had stayed there once before, in winter.)

Just below the second Bosphorus bridge is the Rumeli Hisar, the castle built by Sultan Mehmet in 1452. The castle is in good shape and is worth a visit. During construction, the Byzantine Emperor is said to have come out from Constantinople to ask: “You're not planning to attack my city, are you?” Of course the answer was “Oh no no, not to worry.”

Constantinople formed a triangle. One leg was along the Sea of Marmara; another, the Golden Horn. The Byzantines put a chain across the mouth of the Golden Horn so that the Ottoman ships couldn't enter and attack along that side. But Mehmet had ships constructed that could be carried over land to reach the Golden Horn. I believe this carriage is reenacted annually on the date of Mehmet's final conquest of İstanbul in 1453. The ships themselves are said to have been built at Balta Limanı.

We had to get there. During a Friday-afternoon rush-hour in June, we waited in full sun for half an hour as bus after bus crept by, none going our way, but for one or two that were too full to admit more passengers. I got out the map to see if we could walk, and somebody offered his assistance in English; Ayşe chose not to embarrass him by speaking in Turkish; he said the walk would take 3 hours.

We waited, and our bus finally came, a bus with standing room, and on it we proceeded through Beşiktaş—at a walking pace. I had heard stories of two-hour commutes in this city, but had not experienced one. Mercifully, once we left Beşiktaş, the traffic cleared up, and we were sped to our destination with the waters of the Bosphorus on one side and lovely villas on the other. We took a cool shower in our room—renovated since our last stay, and quite comfortable.

The rooms overlook lawn, trees, and rose-bushes, not the Bosphorus itself; the shore is reserved for the dining facilities, so that one may eat and watch the ships go by. (The road at this point is away from the shore, on the other side of an old stone wall some five meters high.)

In the evening we were seated at the international table. I wore my tie. A Japanese friend of Mustafa's from Manchester had come from Tokyo with her mother. A German cousin of Mustafa's was also there—we had met his sister before, they are children of one of Mustafa's brothers and his German wife, and neither of them speaks a lot of Turkish. There was also a Korean couple who had come to İstanbul something like 20 years ago with their young son; they learned Turkish and settled down; the woman also learned English in Turkey; their son, currently in university in the US, hangs out with other Turkish students rather than Korean students, though he does speak Korean. That's what they said: “He misses his döner kebap and lahmacun.”

For reasons unknown, the Korean man revealed to me that he was Christian. I asked, “Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or…?”

“Protestant” he replied.

“So you don't go to one of the old Greek or Armenian churches here?”

“No. What is your religion?”

“Well, I used to be a Christian, but I learned that Christianity was out-dated, so I downloaded the latest version: Islam.”

I didn't really say the last sentence. I just said I was culturally Christian, but non-practicing.

The man allowed that his church flew the Turkish flag, but he couldn't explain why. Our recent Russian guest in Ankara had wondered why churches and synagogues in İstanbul flew the Turkish flag, but the mosques didn't. My guess: Minority religions want the protection of the secular Turkish state.

Late on Saturday morning, Ayşe and I took the municipal bus to Beyoğlu, where we could buy a ticket home and also visit Homer Kitabevi, my favorite bookstore in Turkey. While I was browsing amongst the volumes of the Loeb Classical Library there, considering whether to buy a volume of Strabo for its references to Asia Minor, a man and woman came in with a little girl, and they spoke English, Italian and French. At the check-out counter, they asked that their large collection of purchases be shipped to Ankara. (The collection included Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) I was going to ask what they were doing in Ankara, but the shopkeeper's conversation with them answered this: the man was with the European Union. I spoke briefly with the man anyway; he said his wife was American, their daughter went to a French school, and Homer was the best bookshop in Turkey.

The shopkeeper had asked whether the EU could provide funding for the translation into Turkish of a series of books about Europe to which the shop had bought translation-rights. The answer was a diplomatic Maybe.

The shopkeeper was the husband of the cheerful woman with whom we had chatted on previous visits. We learned also on Saturday that the two of them are graduates of our university in Ankara, and that the woman had been a student of my mother-in-law (in the city-planning department). Ayşe praised their work in running the bookstore. The man allowed that it was hard to sell imported books at cover-price (which is their policy), and that the economic crisis of a year-and-a-half ago had been hard on them.

Nonetheless, out of the blue, the man gave us a ten percent discount on the several books we were buying. The same thing happens to us at a small bookstore in Ankara. Turkish hospitality.

We took the ferry back to Asia and caught our bus home. I read the book I had bought from Homer, on the deciphering of Linear B.

Son değişiklik: Monday, 09 April 2012, 17:05:45 EEST