My nephew, Jonathan, arrived on Wednesday afternoon and stayed until early Monday morning. It was fun showing him around. We made some new discoveries, including a lovely little church from the 1300s located right by the Istanbul city walls that were built in the 3rd century AD by the Emperor Theodosius. The church glitters with highly expressive mosaic panels. We visited the Hagia Sophia, perhaps Istanbul’s most famous tourist site, for the second time. It is now a museum of Christianity and Islam, but for a thousand years it was the largest church in the world. Jonathan and I discovered a medieval ramp inside the building that leads to an upper floor—and some lovely mosaics. Notice a theme here?
On the 4th of July, we took a boat ride that started at a port on the Golden Horn and then zigzagged up the Bosphorus from the European side to the Asian side and back, ending at a crumbling castle that overlooked the Black Sea. At one point, Jonathan said, “Wait, are we in Europe or Asia? I don’t know what continent I’m on!”
I am enjoying living with less stuff. It makes me feel lighter and freer—and also younger. None of our bathrooms here have towel bars, so each morning we simply spread our towels out in the sunny master bedroom to dry. Before Jonathan arrived, I picked a few pink hydrangea blooms from our apartment garden and then looked for something to put them in. We have several dozen vases back in Minnesota, falling all over each other in a kitchen cupboard, but none at all here. There was something sweet about washing out an empty spaghetti sauce jar and filling it with water for the flowers. I felt like I was back in college.
But at the same time, I am meticulously writing a list of all the things I want Angela to bring from home when she comes to visit, and additional items for Sankar to haul back when he visits St. Paul in September. How nice it will be to have some paper bags, my old jean skirt, my vegetable grill pan, my “Turkish Reflections” book, etc. etc. How much easier and happier my life will be.
What I want to know is, why, if I am enjoying my current state of enforced simplicity, do I long for more stuff? Perhaps I am striving for some kind of balance between asceticism and creature comfort, but why does that balance so often tip into clutter and disarray? I welcome your comments.
I continue to ponder the concept of modesty. Ever since I lived in Yemen, I have not worn sleeveless tops. It wasn’t hard for me to give them up: I sunburn easily, and the older I get, the less fond I am of my upper arms. Earlier this summer, I did buy an attractive sleeveless T shirt that I was enjoying wearing under cardigans. I continued doing this in Istanbul out of respect for Islamic modesty. There is a wide range of dress here in Istanbul – from short shorts and miniskirts and strapless tops to heavy, patterned headscarves and floor-length trench coats, so it isn’t that I worried about going beyond any boundaries. I simply wanted to respect an ideal I also hold as important.
But last week, as I walked along the Bosphorus in near-90-degree heat and high humidity, with my cardigan sticking to my arms, I engaged in what was perhaps a self-serving theological dialogue. I asked myself whether God really wants women to be uncomfortable whenever they are outside. Maybe it was just the heat, but somehow, I decided that He does not. I think the ideal is for women (and men) to be both comfortable and reasonably modest. So I took off the cardigan, felt a little naked at first, and finished my stroll. I will re-think this every day vis a vis the weather and how far I have to walk.
We’re planning to drive to Iznik this Saturday. It was formerly called Nicea and is the place where, in AD 325, the Emperor Constantine held the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, producing the Nicene Creed.