So, part of the confusion in any culture is breaking through the language to understahding. Tamam is the Turkish word for "fine". Once we knew that, we started hearing it all over the streets (usually on cellphone conversations). We've mastered "thank-you" - that only took 3 days. Tesekkur ederim (Tea sugar a dream - as Kemal our desk clerk taught us). And then there is cami. We kept seeing cami everywhere. Street? Corner? District? Well, first off, it's pronounced Jammi - so that helped, secondly, it's the Turkish for mosque. Not all mosques - some mosques are named for their function or their founders and some, like Aya Sofia or Hagia Sofia of St. Sofia had more historical names. But for the most part, a Cami is a mosque. You know how when you travel Europe, you inevitably hit that day where you say, "ummm, which church was that?- where they had the foot of St. Stephen? - you know the one on the hill where we bought oranges"? We're at that point.
We seaw Beyazit Cami (off Beyazit square - the old Theodosius Forum - you know, from the 5th century?
We saw Suleymanyie Cami
- the one where Suleyman the Magnificent is buried - you know the one with the addicts allley,
the place where Hugo was asked for a cigarette by the man who then insisted on shining his tennis shoes because he felt bad that Hugo had given him a cigarette and wanted to do something for Hugo and then wanted 5 dollars for the useless job he did on paint-splattered tennis shoes that looked exactly the same after as before?
Oh, and of course, Syleyamiye Cami was the one that was entirely closed for renvovation - a fact the nice shoe-taking gentleman at the front desk
didn't bother to tell us (nor the Spanish tourists) until we were al inside wandering around the tiny lobby staring at photographs of the interior that we couldn't see.
We saw Yeni Cami - new Mosque - only 400 years old, hence the names "new". We didn't acutally go in that one. That was the one where they were saying prayers, where we saw all the men lined up outside washing their feet and hands and ears at the gold spigots lined up along the engrance wall. That was the one where the young tout with a menu and then old man with the menu fought over us as we walked by and the old man
won because he literally dragged me into his cafe and then gave me a menu with no prices and after I insisted on seeing prices reached deep into the refrigerator and pulled out a battered small platic guide with ridiculous figures on it...you know the place where we had that nice lentil soup? That was after we hit the spice market.
A truly wonderful, authentic and very tasty place where we jiggled shoulders with Saturday afternoon shoppers and had some form of halva (there are at least 500) -- head and shoulders above the
Grand Bazaar which was truly impressive in its size and layout and density of shops but not so impressive in its wares.
Then we saw Hagia Sofia.
Aya Sofia. St. Sophia.
I must drop my literary tone and device here because this mosque/church/museum was truly extraordinary. It helps that I was prepared to love it. I've been reading about this church/mosque for at least 14 years and I've seen pictures of it for at least as long.
It is truly one of those things or places that you see and and think to yourself, "oh my god, I'm inside Hagia Sophia - this is the church that Justinian built".
It was being renovated but no matter. The feeling was overwhelming. Maybe it's just a trick of architecture or the dying embers of my old childhood religion, but you can't help but feel something in this space.