This past Saturday, we took a bus downtown and walked to the military museum to see The Chain. Former guardian of the Golden Horn, it is piled in a heap in its own alcove, black iron with little sign of wear. Somehow it was anticlimactic, maybe because thrown together that way, it looked weak and helpless. I was able to lift a link just a bit using two hands because nobody was around to scold me.
After leaving the museum, we did some window shopping, walked to a new restaurant for dinner and then returned home by cab. Our day involved crossing and recrossing Taksim square three times. Less than 24 hours later, the place was attacked by a suicide bomber, with 32 people injured. It is domestic terrorism, not religious or anti-American in nature, but a long-standing ethnic conflict. We were warned a year ago that in Turkey, “ever so often a bomb goes off.”
On Sunday morning we drove to Edirne, two hours west, to see Turkey’s most magnificent mosque. The road was excellent and we passed barren fields that had been radiant with sunflowers in the summer. For a few miles the misty, blue-gray Sea of Marmara came into view, but we were mostly among rolling plains and sparse vegetation.
There was little traffic on the road, but we did pass a truck that had something written on it about Iran. I sat up and wished I had looked more closely. Then its twin came into view. Yes, it was from Iran, carrying a load of goods to Europe, sanctions be damned!
We arrived in Edirne about 1 pm, or so we thought. Turns out Turkey had changed from daylight savings time the night before, and we didn’t know it. Another one of those little occurrrences we routinely miss here.
The Selimiye mosque dominates the center of the little town, although several other mosques stand nearby. The weather was warmer than Istanbul and the light more intense. We had heard liver is the specialty of the town, and indeed all the little restaurants seemed to have the word ciger printed on their outside boards. We went into a cafe and ordered some. It came heaped on a plate, thin slices, deep fried and delicious.
The proprietors seemed surprised to have foreigners in their restaurant and wanted to make us happy. After our meal, we were asked if we wanted tea. We receive this question quite often at restaurants and usually say no thanks, but I often wonder if that is a faux pas.
I asked my Turkish teacher about this last week and she said no, it is perfectly okay to refuse tea in a restaurant. So we told the young waiter, hayir, tesekkurler. A few minutes later, however, an older guy, stocky and with salt and pepper hair, obviously the owner, emerged with a smile and “asked” if we wanted tea. The Turks are like this, strong-minded, and we knew not to refuse.
Two tiny, complimentary glasses immediately appeared on saucers with a couple of cubes of sugar each. Then a plate with wet wipes for our hands, a pile of cloves and some tiny, wrapped hard candies. We enjoyed the treat and paid the bill. As we left, the waiter standing at the door (there is always someone there to thank customers and wish them well) motioned for us to wait, and squirted lemon-scented lotion onto our hands. This is an ancient custom, something we’ve only seen once or twice in Istanbul, but we walked away feeling very well cared for.
The mosque is stunningly beautiful, built by Turkey’s renowned architect Sinan, in the mid-1500s. Inside, it doesn’t soar as much as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, in fact its bright, splendid dome gives the impression that you can reach out and touch it. My photos don’t do it justice, but google the Selimiye mosque in Edirne if you’re interested.
While we were walking around inside the building, a young Turkish woman heard Sankar say something in English, saw the guidebook he was holding, and approached us with some questions. In perfect English, she told us that Mimar Sinan left a signature tulip design on every mosque he built. Also, Sinan’s work was considered so perfect that out of respect for God, he also left a small, intentional error somewhere in each building. She was wondering if either of these was discussed in our guidebook. Together we paged through our book, but found no mention, and we thanked her, saying she had given us more information than we had given her. A few minutes later she came up to us again and exclaimed, “We found it!” She and her architecture student sister had located the tulip, carved in marble near the base of a fountain inside the mosque. Didn’t find any error, however!
Mosques are carpeted and you leave your shoes outside. We saw a man who had brought his young son, perhaps six years old, with him to pray. They were, of course, both stocking-footed, and apparently the carpeting was just too much of a temptation, because they soon began laughing and “rassling” around on the floor with each other. It was a charming moment, true to the spirit of religion and also to the playful genius who built the masterpiece.