10 August 2009

Tangled between new and old

In returning to the City, Maria took up her usual activities -going to class, haunting the streets and as ever, writing. At some point, she sat in a cafe, waiting to begin an interview. Her tools were at hand for when her interviewee would meet her.

He came at the allotted time and they chatted about Istanbul and writing. Afterwards Maria dashed home to study, to write, to sleep and to prepare for the next morning.


On a somewhat lazy Saturday, a friend from the East came to stay. Maria, asking not his name when he pounded on her door (as she had seen his suitcases outside her window), let him in and helped him to bring himself inside. They set off for the day in search of a new home and met a friendly man at the first flat her friend saw, with whom they had breakfast and passed the lot of the day.

The trio walked from Cihangir back onto Istiklal Caddesi, passing a school Maria had remembered from an earlier visit.

Maria held the gate as if to go in,

but the sphinx dissuaded her from trying.

"It doesn't matter," she said. "I'm sure I'll be able to see it another time."
The group went on their way, splitting to grab other friends and rejoining in the evening to share the night.

In the morning, Maria, the traveler and a friend of the traveler left Maria's flat to explore the city, only to hear as they were setting out the clang of drums and whistle of a clarinet. On the street was a wedding party, their car beribboned,

the neighbors celebrating

and the bride escaping after a few turns to the drumbeat in the street.

Maria, feeling as if she was suddenly in a village, left with her friends to revisit another old site in the Golden Horn.

Confronted at the door by a sign she had come across before,

she chuckled and proceeded to translate the words on the words on the walls and the words of a Greek tour guide in the basilica.

She had of course been to the church before but still paused at the only eggshell ceiling

and the imposing mosaic of Christ

Yet all adventures and trips must end and this one stopped when her guest's friend had to return to the East. So Maria waved her off and began walking by herself once more, tangled between the new and the old.

03 August 2009

The Westward Expansion

As usual, Maria's wanderlust overtook her senses and told her that she should travel west to the land where she knew the people and the crops. She packed her bags, shuttered her windows and tidied her flat but managed to arrive at the station an hour early.

She spent the lot of that hour sitting in the Orient Express Cafe watching groups of Chinese tourists ogling the trains and looking at her fellow travelers waiting to alight the train that would bring all of them to Greece.

She sipped her coffee and read, leaving only when the train conductors began checking the tickets from a priest and his envoy. She boarded and waited for the train to begin, taking note of the darkened city as it flew past, making friends with her fellow passengers and trying to sleep despite the gallop of the train, the smell of sulfur outside and the border checks she had to endure with everyone else at 2 and 3 in the morning.

Her train much delayed at the Greek border, Maria did not reach the stations before her own stop until an hour after the scheduled time. But when she did go past Drama before Serres, she was much pleased.

She was even more pleased when her friend met her at the station and drove her through Serres, stopping first for pita at Voula's pie shop, a local store he said was the best in the city. With the tastes of her first bougatsa in months still held in her mouth, Maria awoke in their drive through the kentro and her walk to her friend's office where she had a clear view of the main street and the city council building.

Until nightfall they walked and rode through the city, stopping to meet her friend's family and most importantly, at one of the office's neighboring cafes, at one of her friend's favorite outdoor restaurants and at the town's best ice cream parlor.


Night passed and Maria felt well enough on rising to see a lake and natural area in the city's region where there was not only grass and other forms of vegetation

but boats,

and horses

chased by their herdsman.

In leaving the area, she caught sight of many nest of storks resting on each telephone pole, reminding her of past travels in Austria.

The day passed quickly and before long, Maria and her companions, who had increased in number from one to two, drove up the mountain to visit a fishery

and finally to rest in the yard of a hotel at the very top of the mountain, sipping frappes.

She sighed thinking, in that mountain paradise, that she was thankful to be there, so much so that she knew she may not want to leave. For as she knew the people and their habits, she was reminded of other visits with family and friends to learn and to study the land of her ancestry. In each of her days around the city's square

she absorbed more of the language and the life patterns. She felt, in essence, somewhat settled though she knew she was there for a brief while. She further toured beyond the city by her hosts to a monastery begun in 1213, inhabited once by monks, captured by the Bulgarians and turned over to a group of nuns

who maintained the frescoes,

the grounds,

and the embedded Iznik tiles and Delft plates

as well as 30 monastics were able.

The descent from the mountain returned the party to the city where, in a turn away from contemplation, Maria joined her friend in sampling the city's nightlife. Arising late the next morning, she went, as all of those who go to bed just before the sun rises and rise themselves well beyond its ascent, to another cafe.

Over another frappe with her friend and friend's mother, she felt increasingly attached to the city and its people, finishing her drink while watching them,

only to leave with her friend's entire family to another section of the province in the hills where they enjoyed a communal meal and more drinks.

The day ended once more with a jaunt out and a late but not so late start to her last day in the country, which, Maria had determined before she left Istanbul, was to be spent exploring portions of Thessaloniki, that great northern city, which she had never seen. They began at the edges of the city with views of the sea, paths around her friend's alma mater before going to the seaside past the king's old palace and onto a dock where a few Saturday fishermen hunted for a weekend's catch.

Being back in that city made Maria rather happy, but she knew over her last cafe drink, that she had to leave and return to her city of the year. On the train platform in Serres, she hugged her friend goodbye, tearing beneath her sunglasses and vowing to herself that she would return.


Half a day later, she came back to the land she had begun to understand and began her process of re-recognition through odd views of familier sites,

all while holding onto a parting gift from her generous hosts that she was determined would be enjoyed not only by her in remembrance of her week, but by her new friends in her adopted city in her own form of philia.