November 20, 2007 at 12:52 pm 1 comment



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It’s difficult to write about Istanbul. I arrived for the first time 25 years and one month ago as a graduate student on a Fulbright scholarship hoping to carry out dissertation research in the Ottoman archives. I’m sure that I was struck then by the strangeness of the city, the challenge of the language, the confusion that results whenever such large groups of people share the same space, to say nothing of the frustration of the bureaucracy that refused me access to the archives for three months, and the remarkable camaraderie and generous assistance of all twelve of the regulars in the Ottoman reading room when I was finally permitted entrance.  (The archives some years ago moved to a larger location with better light, and when I last visited, almost 100 researchers were working there.  Some things haven’t changed–I’m again waiting for research permission, this time to use published newspapers in a public library.)

I’m no longer struck by the city’s strangeness, which may be partly because Istanbul has changed; it’s probably more because I’ve fallen in love with Istanbul over the years, and perhaps because I’ve now spent time in places even less familiar.  

Istanbul is beautiful, stunning, shockingly appealing. We approached it this time from Anatolia, riding the train for many kilometers from the furthest suburbs into the heart of the city, then taking a ferry across the Bosphorus to the old city. The skyline has changed in the past 25 years–sort of. To the right, there is a second bridge connecting Asia and Europe; straight ahead there are large skyscrapers jutting above the older buildings. To the left, though, are those seven hills and their spectacular domes and minarets. At the risk of sounding like one of those nineteenth-century Orientalist travelers, I admit that the view of the old imperial capital from the water is breathtaking.

I had three goals for this trip. I wanted to spend time with Katie, who is teaching English in Istanbul; I needed to talk with colleagues about some research questions before finishing the last chapters; and I planned to make some logistical arrangements for the student group I hope to bring with me to Turkey for seven weeks this summer.

Katie is wonderful. So is her school. The day after we arrived, she took us to see the place she works, and rumors circulated that Katie’s mother was visiting! I was reminded of that first time, when Katie was a toddler, that I heard a child’s loud whisper in an auditorium, “That’s Katie’s mom!” I’ve been quite delighted to be “Katie’s mom” ever since. Now some of her more courageous young students stood outside the door to the English department office, trying to catch a look. Two actually came inside, probably 4th graders, who ventured to answer my questions about their names and their favorite football teams. (Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray have been engaged in fierce competition this season.)


We saw her house, up five longer-than-usual flights of stairs in an old building on the Asian side of the city, in the not-yet-gentrified outskirts of Moda. Her house is in the process of becoming heated and furnished, and the neighborhood is terrific. She walks through a wonderful fish and vegetable market on the way up the hill every day as she returns home from work. She has developed a new set of friends, partly through work, partly through old friends (Katie came for the first time 21 years ago), partly through the local couch-surfing group.


William and I were staying far from the real world of Istanbul, in the part of the old city near the great monuments most frequently haunted by carpet dealers. Within five minutes of stepping out, someone finds a new and creative way to suggest you go into his shop to look at his rugs. As I found myself warning new tourists about these men, I realized that I must sound quite like them when I suggested that the new tourists go to my long-time carpet-seller friend instead to look at his carpets!

William has been sorely missing the NFL season, and we were delighted when Katie invited us to visit one of her friends and watch a Packers game. Our Turkish host was little interested, but William was thrilled.

The rest of my time was spent walking, drinking Turkish tea, talking with friends about my book, and making arrangements for the summer. That summer plan made it just a bit easier to leave Istanbul this time.

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Entry filed under: Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized.

To Istanbul Ruwwad

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ismail Kafescioglu  |  November 23, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Dear Mrs. Shields,
    I have read your article on Istanbul with great interest. I am an Istanbulian living in New Jersey. Although I miss Fenerbahce games, I greatly enjoy NY Jets or Giants every Sunday as I did Stanford Indians (now, Cardinals) I recommend Mr. Shields to watch Fenerbahce games like I switched to NY Jets and Giants.

    As I would love to read your book, I would appreciate your kind informing me whenever it is published. I understand from your posting that having cleaeance to examine Ottoman Arcives, unfortunately, takes still a relatively long time.

    When I grew in the old city in the neighborhoods of Koca Mustafa Pasa, Samatya and Yedikule the northern shores of Bosphorus were mostly unpopulated –that should tell me about my age.

    A 2-page spread of an old National Geographic magazine of mid 1950s [all black and white, no colors] that I was given many years after its publication showed a forest-like plant life from above the some yalis and houses to to the top of the land for almost the total length of the spread. Every time I looked at that particular spread, I felt sorry for ”looting of Bosphorus” like some other parts of the City.

    Beautiful photos in your posting brought many memories back this evening. As we also lived in Caddebostan many years`later, and had some friends in Moda, we used to go to Koco (Koço) at Moda quiet frequently. It was owned and run by Koco, a Greek Turk like almost all his crew from the cooks to the waiters. They either immgrated or deceased over the years. The place is owned and run by ‘Karadenizliler’, now. Until about three-four years ago, only one left was old waiter Tanas. I do not know whether he is still there. I strongly receommend that Ms. Katie take you there.

    One question to Ms. Katie: is the photo entitled Katieneighborhood Kadikoy or Bahariye Carsisi? My wife and I used to shop at Kadikoy Carsisi in the evenings almost every time we returned from ‘Europe’.

    Again, I hope you drop me two lines when your book is published.

    Kind regards to you, Mr. Shields and Katie.



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