Holy Whirling Dervish!! Whooooooo!!!

Trip Start Sep 07, 2006
Trip End Sep 17, 2006

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I already mentioned that I had one of my childhood dreams come true when I got to see the cuneiform tablets in the museum (oh yes, things were so simple back then. To fulfill certain present adult dreams, well lets just say...yeah, er, lets just say my mother reads my blog, so, you understand). Today, saw another thing that I'd always wanted to see: the Whirling Dervishes. You've probably seen them on National Geo/Discovery as a group of grown men wearing tall hats and long skirts, who spin round and round in a religious frenzy to plaintive high-pitched music. This, along with the fact that I was the only person who didn't think it unusual that my college roommate's senior thesis was entitled "Gay Irish Boys and the Men Who Loved Them", probably confirms that I'm some sort of sexual deviant as far as men are concerned. Uh, just kidding everyone! Bring on the red-blooded heterosexual males, ohmygod this must be the Raki talking.

To start from the beginning, today we flew from Ankara to Istanbul, where the main road outside the airport is Kennedy Boulevard, which also leads to the vicinity of the hotel, which is just as well because this is the only road name that we are able to pronounce to the cab drivers, 99% of whom are illiterate and 100% of whom speak no English. The hotel is a restored wooden 16th-century (=Muslim/Ottoman period in Turkish history) fisherman's house, which is hardly surprising because every hotel around here is a restored Ottoman house, which automatically gives them the right to increase prices by 50%. But we have a lovely room with green curtains and matching bedspreads overlooking a green garden where, tomorrow, I will scrutinze the breakfast. We were greeted by Mr. Murat Aydogdu, whose last name sounds like some weird yoga/sex position, doesn't it? and who shoved a tray of miniature Evil Eyes at me, encouraging me to pin one on my clothes "as protection". Protection from what? I thought. Our entire time in Istanbul is about to be spent in mosques, churches and (if I get my way on this one) a hamam (Turkish bath) in which the prospect of seeing shrivelled you-know-whats and sagging boobs would be enough to deter the most desperate mugger/evil spirit.

For Istanbul, like Lourdes and the Vatican and Bukit Mertajam, is all about places of worship. Two out of the Istanbul Top Three (Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya Church-turned-Mosque, Topkapi Palace) are places of worship. The only difference between these places of worship and those elsewhere is that the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya are so historic, so grand and so bloody ancient that even the atheists, pagans and Satan-worshippers would be stunned into silence. In fact, I just read that the Aya Sofya houses the graves of the 5 sons of King Selim II, all murdered on the same night in December 1574, so that the oldest son could ascend to the throne as Murat III. It also houses the graves of the 19 sons of Murat III, all murdered in January 1595 to ensure the succession of the survivor, Mehmet III.Now, like that, the Mona Lisa and Notre Dame (not to mention the Tower of London)....how to compete???

But today I was just happy I got to see the Whirling Dervishes. Admittedly, the counterclockwise whirling, though graceful and silent (all you hear are the skirts swooshing), can get a bit monotonous, not least because there are 4 whirling cycles involved, each progressing to a higher state of purity (sounds like washing machine advertisement) and culminating in "the junction of Non-Existence within Divine Existence". Sounds a bit like Buddhism to me, which is ironic since the founder of this Mevlevi Sufi order, the great poet Rumi, was all about love, ecstasy (passion, not the tablet) etc while all this Non-Existence stuff usually necessitates breaking free from desire, love, etc. Hmm.....the last time I had this kind of conversation was with a stranger in Auckland who took advantage of my shopping-induced daze to philosophize with me. Turned out she was a Hare Krishna follower who just wanted me to buy her book and come to Sunday brunch to "meet the other followers". Too bad I couldn't make it, might have learned the Aydogdu position there.

Had dinner in the district of Beyoglu = the Bangsar of Istanbul. Unbelievable. We ate at a Meyhane, a type of joint described by LP as "an Irish Pub cum Tapas Bar cum Turkish Wedding Party". Believe it or not, this was an underexaggeration. It was more of "an Irish Pub in Ko Samui during World Cup Season (I've been there)-cum-Tapas Bar-cum-Turkish Street Wedding Party". The whole street was Meyhanes, meaning tables and chairs had taken over the road itself (yeah, this doesn't just happen in PJ mamak), waiters balancing large trays sashayed dangerously between tables of inebriated patrons, everyone talked loudly and excitedly while the cigarette smoke rose, and rose, and rose. My father was slightly horrified. I felt as if I had just found my home.

We had octopus, mussels with rice, pickled anchovies, fried eggplant (is there any other way to prepare eggplant?!), vine leaves stuffed with rice/herbs/pine nuts and several other nameless things. All these were meze, meaning they are small (like tapas), and cold, but very fresh. I decided to give the Raki (aniseed-flavoured liquor) another go, and this time it was better. Or was it worse? You-lah judge, from the barmy content of this post.
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