Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Day in the Life...

I didn't really have a good plan for my last day in Istanbul [we are traveling the country from January 22nd to February 3]. Except for fish-bread.

Well, that's the literal translation, anyway. Fish-breads, or Balık Ekmek, are actually Mackerel sandwiches that are made fresh on one bank of the Golden Horn. You grab the sandwich straight from the grill master, who grabbed it straight from the fisherman. It's a bit of an Istanbul institution. So, I was sure to get one before I was out of there.

I woke up after sleeping in late and walked about two miles along the Bosporus. Stumbled upon some old churches from the Ottoman period. Found some intriguing and fun street art. Went out the wrong way from the underground pedestrian crossing. Was mesmerized by the row of fisherman along the bridge. Had trouble deciding which sandwich boat to buy from. But finally, I got my fish-bread.

It was delicious.

But it was only 1 o-clock by now. I had a long day ahead, and no plans. Naturally, this leads a man to do the one thing he can do when he has time to burn in a city. I started walking.

I didn't make it far.

I headed down. To the lower level of the bridge. It's covered with restaurants and hawkers. It's fun. And surreal to have your view interrupted by lots of fishing lines connected to poles forty feet above you. As I was walking, I decided that "gosh darnit, a beer sounded great right about now". So I stopped by one of the restaurants and ordered an overpriced Efes.

It was delicious.

And what a scene! How great to sit and sip while many pass by. To practice my Turkish with the waiter, and laugh with him at tourist who walk quickly by his doors. Then, I noticed a younger man walk by with a very nice camera. He looked me in the eyes. There was a sense that he wanted a companion, but it wasn't strong enough for me to take out my earphone.

He didn't make it far.

Two minutes later he walked by again. He asked me if the food was any good. I said 'yes, but probably overpriced. Though I haven't seen a menu'. "Can I join you?" he asked.

"Absolutely, brother!" came my response. I think it surprised me as much as him.

And so began our four hour conversation. He is a Canadian-born Pakistani-by-descent recently Master's-thesis-defending political scientist. He specialized in international relations, especially regarding Pakistan. He is a hockey fan. He is trying to balance various methods of communication - seeing the benefits of interconnectedness, but missing the real relation and conversation in personal correspondence. He is a travel fiend, and adores seeing the Fallen Empires of long ago. He is extremely personally interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but would call himself "pro-understanding" and struggles with bringing people together rather than perpetuating narratives. He is grappling with his religion - and his fellow believers - trying to fight against truth being twisted in ways that crush its inherent value, or his religion being manipulated to harm others.

Can you see why we got along so well?

I think I may have met my Islamic doppleganger.

I hope our paths cross again.

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