October 16, 2011

Old City Lends New Meaning to 'Supermarket Wine'

Some cities are wrapped in fog or smog; Istanbul is swaddled with antiquity and exoticism. No doubt when the emperor Constantine established this city as a purpose-built Imperial capital in the fourth century of the common era he did so with the idea that it would remain eternally youthful and relevant - such is the classical dream. From that time until the present, through good times and bad, the city has been the very model of a worldly, cosmopolitan, if not always modern, metropolis, as fortuitously situated as a city could well be to both administer a far-flung empire and control lucrative trade routes.

A city built for the ages that believes no new age has anything to teach it will shortly be a hive of anachronism and incongruity - aspects we encounter everywhere here, though nowhere more poignantly than on the rooftop of our hotel where we retire at the end of the day to sip Cappadocian chardonnay. Before us, tanker and cargo ships queue up in the Sea of Marmara in preparation for their passage through the narrow, snaky Bosphorus to the open waters of the Black Sea; behind, flocks of birds whirl around the domes of Ayasofiya and the Blue Mosque. In the deepening dusk calls to prayer issue from their minarets. The singing has a surprising, lusty virtuosity. It's not at all like the calls to prayer we heard in Marrakesh, which seem amateurish in comparison. Perhaps an outpost like Morocco just doesn't attract the vocal talent of an Istanbul.

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