Dispatches From Istanbul…

This material is from one of my small decomposition notebooks (always on me) and my journal (not always on me).


October 2, 2015

Enroute to Istanbul from Paris–Air France flight 1590

40,000 Feet Above sea Level

I can’t see very well out of the window (I’m in an aisle seat), but I suspect we are flying over the Alps into and across Italy on our way to one of the most storied cities on earth. I have some vague idea of what Istanbul may be like – big, modern, bustling, exotic. I know I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember, probably going back to grade school when, as a then devout Catholic, I took a liking to the Roman Emperor after whom the city was once named–Constantine–because he changed world history by making Christianity an acceptable religion to all of the Roman Empire 1600 years ago. We are still feeling the reverberations of that decision today. The name was changed from Constantinople to Istanbul, in the 1920s  when the modern Turkish state was born out of the remnants of the old Ottoman Empire after World War I. The Ottomans had ruled the region one way or another since the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 15th-century or thereabouts.

The recorded history of the city goes back at least 3000 years. It makes London and Paris adolescent by comparison. I can’t wait to explore it with Cyndy, breathe it in, soak it up. By the time we arrive we will have been traveling 18 hours – it’s a long haul and I am exhausted, and have only had a poor excuse for a nap on this flight. I don’t fall asleep as easily on airplanes as I used to. That this jet is cramped and full (they are always full now) doesn’t help. My long legs rebel, my feet search for open-space and my mind jumps and wanders among the endless concerns and ideas and desires that it is so talented at conjuring–the kids, work, books, finances, trips and planning for events that haven’t yet taken place.

Plane food (and plain food) are arriving so, for now, I must arrest my scribbling.

October 3, 2015

La Casa Pera Lofts

Taksim, Istanbul, Turkey

10:09 PM

65° – clear

As I write this I am looking out our window across the Golden Horn onto the Old City of Istanbul, the original hill where Greek settlers over 3000 years ago began to create the city a Byzantium which, in time, became Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, which 1500 years ago became the seat of the Ottoman Empire and today houses (more or less) 16 million humans of every conceivable stripe. I think we may have seen everyone of them today as Cyn and I set out from our little( quite modern and very comfortable) apartment for the 21st century version of the old settlement, and its great monuments: the Roman cistern, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Egyptian Obelisk and Hippodrome, to mention just a few.

I have never seen a city with so many people – not New York, LA, London or Paris. True I haven’t been to Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Tokyo, Mumbai, or Beijing (though Beijing will come soon)–the super cities, thick with humanity. Still, the ubiquity and density of the human beings here– walking streets, eating food, bustling from shop to shop; sprawling networks of bridges, streets, vast waterways filled with buses, trams, trains and ships in turn filled with our brother and sister Homo sapiens forces on you the realization that we all have so much in common and yet each of us lives in a bubble of our own mental and emotional creation. We are, all of us, nodes in a vast network made up of each of our minds, one reaching out tentatively, forcefully, intimately, casually with the others around it — something like a giant brain.

Despite these numbing numbers, I saw very little anger or unkindness. Really none at all, which is an astounding statement when you consider how many fellow humans Cyndy and I encountered today one way or another. True, there were some con artists who tried to talk us into stopping by “their uncle’s” restaurant after obligingly informing us — in great detail — about the construction and history of the Blue Mosque, Istanbuls most celebrated house of Muslim worship. (The scam is you go to the restaurant, order a few cups of tea and a dish or two and then get walloped with a huge bill while sitting in the place surrounded by the “family.”) But even these men were charming and not pushy or in anyway nasty. Politeness, smiles, patience with our English, or bumbling Turkish abounded, and, in time, we eventually found our way back to our cozy, if temporary home.

View of the Old City of Istanbul, where the first Greeks settlers created tie colony more than 3000 years ago. The Golden Horn river beyond the buildings runs into the larger Bosphorus Straits which separate Europe from Asia.

View of the Old City of Istanbul, where the first Greeks settlers created tie colony more than 3000 years ago. The Golden Horn river beyond the buildings runs into the larger Bosphorus Straits which separate Europe from Asia.

Quick thoughts and observations about Istanbul as we prepare to depart for Venice…

October 6, 2015

Istanbul Ataturk International Airport

10:06 AM

Cloudy, 65°

Observed on the ride back to the airport after five days in Istanbul … Hills filled with old, yet young, crumbling buildings, stacked like broken crockery around soaring mosque turrets. Off in the distance you can spy the Hagia Sophia. Stunning beyond words.… (see video),

Miles from one end to the other, an ancient fortress’ ancient walls-upon-walls border the Golden Horn road and the 12 lane highway we hit exiting the city as it curves over the high hills towards Istanbul International where we will board our jet to Venice. Behind it’s immovable, ancient walls sit new apartments beside buildings already crumbling after only a few decades on Earth, the collapsing evidence of our modern and not very sustainable ways.

Fish By the Wharf

In the city a few days earlier along the banks of the Golden Horn we ate sandwiches stuffed with fish along with thousands of others who did the same. Fresh onions and shredded lettuce– no condiment. That catches came right out of the river onto an Ottoman knock-off boats piled with grills onto which the fish were chopped and cooked and delivered to the servers who slapped them down between two chunks of bread then handed them to you to stuff into your gaping maw, a pleasurable challenge if ever there was one.  Price two Turkish lira.

Under the canopies, beyond the servers, customers crowd around tiny square tables on minuscule chairs with a sandwich in one hand and pickled vegetables and olives submerged in a cup of brine in the other. Cyndy and I couldn’t find a seat among those tables so we walked out among the hundreds of people who seem, constantly, to be in the plaza along the wharf devouring the fish. They rotate in, just like us; talk, laugh, gesticulate, consume and then move onto to whatever the day has to offer them next,

Before sitting down we bought a couple cups of fresh pomegranate juice, pressed by hand by an exceedingly patient, short and expressionless man with thick black curls and lines deep as plow furrow in his slim cheeks. He slashed the top from each pomegranate, placed it carefully in the juicer and with his right hand pulled the little machine’s lever to extract the last dribble of liquid; all the fruity seeds held within. The results were cool, deep red and tart. And above all refreshing.

A view of the boats where Istanbul's famed fish sandwiches are grilled and served.

A view of the boats where Istanbul’s famed fish sandwiches are grilled and served.

Just above the Ottoman style ships where the fish are grilled, hundreds of locals fish from the bridge that spans the Golden Horn. It' start practical and part social.

Just above the Ottoman style ships where the fish are grilled, hundreds of locals fish from the bridge that spans the Golden Horn. It’ start practical and part social.

The Hagia Sofia

Two things struck me about the Hagia Sophia–it’s immensity and its history. Together they made this place truly awe inspiring. Even today the dome within the building is stupendous, but to think that it was constructed 1500 years ago and still stands!That requires serious reflection; a true appreciation of the place’s magnificence. To engineer such a structure that far back in time made this edifice the definitive statement of power, which is, of course, precisely what Justinian, the Roman Emperor, intended when he nearly bankrupted his sprawling kingdom building it.

People when they enter this place must have quite literally gone weak in the knees-especially if they understood even a little the complex geometry that had to be fathomed to create it–the colossal dome distributing its weight on the four muscular columns beneath it that run from the ground up to the dome base. How, precisely, the builders managed to piece together the enormous blocks of the dome without the massive undertaking collapsing on them is beyond me. (See the video below as I enter the church.)

Entering Istanbul’s Fabled Hagia Sophia

On Legendary Iskitlal Street

This is one of the storied, main drags of Istanbul, located in the city’s Taksim District. Hip, chaotic, an incessant, never-ending stream of people of all kinds shuffling, striding, marching down the cobblestones past shop after restaurant after store café and bar. Goodies are everywhere — Durnamasi, turkish ice cream, which is a kind of mash up of Hagen Daas and Turkish taffy; pastries and every kind of exotic sweet from candied dates to dense cuts of baklava. Electronics stores, bookstores, flower and jewelry emporiums, an occasional Starbucks, but mostly local or regional stores with vast pictures of Turkish models gazing at you out of the big shop windows, flourishing Turkish name brands. It’s a big world and conglomerates are ubiquitous, but still not innumerable. It’s good to know we haven’t yet fallen into the hands of one mega-corporation that runs the whole world, though it sometimes feels that way.


Tesh-ah-kur ee-deer-rim?

The language barrier in Turkey is considerable if you happened to have been raised speaking English.  Syllables fall differently off the Turkish tongue than they do this side of the Atlantic. I’m not sure what the mother language of Turkish is, but I’m reasonably sure it’s not romance which is interesting since Constantinople was the seat of the Roman Empire for quite some time. It probably has more in common with Greek and Arabic and Persian than Italian, Spanish, French and English. (Turns out the root language of modern Turkish is Oghuz Turkic which came into the region in the 6th century and is part of a broader Turk tongue spoken by people from Siberia to Azerbaijan. It’s vocabulary, but not its’ grammar, has been influenced by Persian and Arabic.) There’s an occasional word or two that’s familiar–something that shares an ancient Indo-European root with English, like hummus and human, or a modern word that had to be invented in Turkish based on an English expression–“push back” for example (used to warn airline passengers, “we will soon push back from the gate.”), or cell phone. But mostly it’s all an exotic mystery with me inevitably putting the wrong emPHAsis on the incorrect syllABle. It took me a couple of days just to get the words for “thank you” correct. Teşekkür ederim. Though even as I say them now I’m not sure I ever got it exactly right. But the Turkish people were always kind enough to smile and nod their heads when I would make an attempt.

Disney Comes to Cave Art on National Geographic Assignment

Replica of Chauvet under construction

It’s not every day that you get to step into a time machine, but Chip Walter got the chance when National Geographic Magazine sent him with photographer Stephen Alvarez to France last May to become only the second journalists allowed to enter legendary Chauvet Pont d’Arc Cave in the south of France, home to some of the oldest and most beautiful ancient cave art in the world.

Chip Walter’s Gardenville Short, Short Stories

Chip at the Petit Pont in Paris, September 2013.

Earlier this year I found myself writing little stories about my boyhood. They were part reminiscence and part imagination-mongering. I write them mostly for my own amusement, but I suspect that others of you may have also lived in a place like “Gardenville” and had friends in your life like Paul, Mickey, Larry and Mary who one way or another were woven into the fabric of every summer, winter, fall and spring. Those days were magical and filled with adventure, joy and surprise the way childhoods are, which is why I enjoy remembering and embellishing them.

Even if you didn’t grow up where I did, and when I did, we’ve all grown up so I thought you might enjoy them too. Anyhow, as I complete them, I am posting them my site.

They are very short, a few hundred words, mostly. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed scribbling them.

You can find the first four here…or periodically check my blog for new ones.

The Whistle

The Remarkable Memory of Billy C.

Konrad Backman and Mr. Irig’s Special Day

The Facts of Life

Short, Short Stories – The Remarkable Memory of Billy C

Billy C was different from the rest of us. He moved a little slower. When he hit the ball in our pick up baseball games, it rarely traveled far. And the “ol’ pill” eluded his glove even more often than it did the rest of us, which that was pretty often. His speech was labored and wheezy without a lot of sing or song to it. But we loved having him around because he had a stunning talent for numbers.

Short, Short Stories – The Facts of Life

I remember the day Johnny McDermott told me and Mickey and Larry the facts of life. It was a summer afternoon, the papers had been delivered and we had finished playing a little basketball at the light pole on Linda Drive.

Short, Short Stories – The Whistle

It was hot those days, but we didn’t care. We pulled our baseball caps down a little farther, drank some more water from the garden hose, and then headed to the hard granulated dirt of the “field” just beyond the army barracks to become Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Steve Blass and Willie Stargell.

Blueprints for a Star Trekian Transporter


With traffic getting worse and more of us nettlesome Homo sapiens walking, driving and flying the planet, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a transporter? Inspired by the book I wrote with William Shatner.