Thursday, June 21, 2012

Continental Cruising; Archaeological Drifting

I went continental cruising as I hopped the ferry from Eminonu on the European side of Istanbul to Uskadur on the Asian side of Istanbul.  I sipped sweet black Turkish coffee as the ferry crossed continents. I wandered along the quay for a bit before sitting out in a cafe over the water.  The muezzin's call echoed across the water as I spied Europe from afar.  I pulled sweet apple-perfumed nargila smoke and stared out at the Dolmabahçe Palace across the straits.  I visited that crystal palace last time I was in Istanbul, and I considered the time that had past.

"I've seen a lot of people who look just like you, most of them are men."
-Marc Thayer

I also considered the fact that everyone seems to think I am Turkish.  I take that as a compliment for two reasons.  First, because the Turks are pretty good looking.  Second, because when people seek to claim you as their own, I take that as an honor. It means that you could be one of us, one of our tribe.

Anywho, I caught the ferry back to Europe and headed over to the incredible Istanbul Archaeology Museum. The museum had a stunning collection, broken into three parts.  The first part, the Museum of the Ancient Orient had some amazing relics from Egypt, but more importantly from the Hittites and from Mesopotamia.  I was taken by the Kadesh Treaty, the oldest known diplomatic treaty of peace.  Concluded around 1259 BC, the treaty ended enmity between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II and the Hittite King Hattusili.  While the reign of Ramses II began with belligerence towards the Hittites, he ended up inking a deal to cool hostilities and create an alliance between both sides, who were dealing with the invasion of sea people (Philistines, perhaps?).  The treaty was written in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day.  It also included an MoU for cultural diplomacy and gastrodiplomacy exchange (at least that was how I read the cuneiform).

In any case, I was taken by the Sumerian texts from 2000 BC, when the world was a bit younger.  Also, there was an amazing terra cotta piece of the Hammurabi Code from 1750 BC.  I loved the giant Assyrian marble slabs bearing the King and his long beaded beard.  There were other fascinating pieces from Ashur and marble slabs of the priest-kings of Ur.

The main archaeology museum was equally impressive, such as the Tombs of Sidon- an impressive Alexandrian sarcophagus.  There were also plenty of impressive antiquities from Greece and Rome.  There was a third part of the museum that featured beautiful tiles and bowls from Iznik and other places.  All and all, quite impressive.

I made my way back to the hostel and was sitting at the Galata Tower, reading over an Efes Dark.  A fellow sat next to me, and started chatting with me in Turkish.  When I replied in English, he switched.  Taha was his name, and he had recently graduated from Berkeley.  We ended up having a lot to chat about, and he was up to some interesting work.  He was Turkish, but with both Armenian and Kurdish roots.  He spoke a number of languages and was on his way to Kabul to do translation work for the UN.  We ended up hanging out the night and chatting over beers and sunflower seeds and nuts.

Today is my last day in Istanbul before I head out tonight to Kurdistan.  After the usual delicious breakfast of hardboiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, sheep cheese and olives, I made my way over to Sultanahmet to see the Great Palace Mosaic Museum.  Unfortunately it was closed for renovation, but perhaps for the best because I am a little toured out at the moment and glad to save it for another occasion.  Rather, I went wandering through the market mazes of the labyrinth that is the Grand Bazaar.  Quite a nice last day in Istanbul, a city I hold with real affection.  I look forward to my return to Istanbul and to see more of Turkey at a later date.  Until then...Journey On.

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