Saturday, January 9, 2010

South of Istanbul

Traveling south of Istanbul, skirting the Aegean coast, I find myself in the city of Izmir, once the ancient Greek city-state of Smyrna. As my bus enters the city I am eager to get out and explore, but first there is the bus terminal to extricate myself from.

I am sure we have arrived in Tijuana, Mexico. A disheartening scene to say the least. Such a cacophony of noise, gears, shouts, revving engines, horns, snatches of Turkish music. The air a miasma of carbon monoxide, over oil stained pavement radiating waves of heat, and confused travelers with a catalogue of luggage and half-tied bundles. And all of it so chaotic, so loud that communication is possible only by shouting. I of course, don’t know the words to shout so make do with impotent gestures and facial mugging. An old woman looks at me through Muslim veils and misreading my ‘this way?’ drops a coin into my pointing hand and carves some iconic movement, or blessing with a hand-in-the-air flourish. I manage finally to get a vacant taxi, and none too soon am on my way to the old quarter of Izmir.

I check into my hotel and soon after wander off to lose myself in city streets. But the old part of the city turns out to be an unexpected disappointment. Crowded alleyways filled with shoppers and stores selling housewares, spices, Turkish cassette tapes, dull hardware and factory outlet ugly clothing. I am told there are a few shops dealing in old things, possibly antiques, and I do eventually find an excellent carpet store in my wandering. I make a note to return the next day and buy two carpets. Izmir itself is not terribly attractive. Basically gray, brown, littered and oppressively hot, but as I have come to expect, the people are friendly and helpful whenever called upon for directions or information.

In the twilight I sit for awhile in the square surrounding the clock tower. The clock is long stopped and sleeps unmoving in some 2:00 of history, a 1901 monument in the late Ottoman style, according to my guidebook. Here again I am besieged by local urchins selling tissue and chocolate covered cherries. An apt and interesting combination, I think. Much like the street vendors in Istanbul, these younger ‘salesmen’ don’t too easily settle for ‘no.’ They linger and hang about haranguing me with an incomprehensible sales pitch. At some distance a young male prostitute parades and poses, his T-shirt proclaiming in a copy-cat Hilfiger logo, ‘TOMMY FEELBIGGER’

Returning to the hotel, as if the heat of day were not enough, I am forced to pass through a veritable desert of asphalt and tar being freshly laid over the street. Without the asphalt and tar, it is already hotter than hellfire, and the visible waves of heat tainted with a strong smell of tar catch in my throat. I miss a step, stumble on the curb and bang my head on a light post. And with a lump on my head, staggering through the reek of road construction I make my groggy way back to the hotel.

The two photos are of the carpets I bought in that old back alley store of the old quarter.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America