Friday, September 23, 2011

The Beatles/Michael Jackson Ramadan concert - Istanbul, Turkey

I’m absolutely elated that someone's waiting for me at the airport besides the FBI (which is usually the case.) Gamze tells me the fastest, and cheapest way into town is the metro, which rolls right into the airport. Wish we had one in LAX! I drag my bags through the barriers, and onto the trains, changing twice before arriving in Taksim Square, which is one of the two big tourist areas of Istanbul.
“So, we can stay here, or we can go to my house,” Gamze offers.
“Where do you live?”
“On the Asian side, two to two and a half hours away, depending on traffic.” Wow! She came two and a half hours for me.
“Well, I’ve done enough travelling for today, let’s stay here."
“Okay, let me call my Mom and make sure it’s okay with her.”
“Umm … wow. How old are you?” 
“Okay … call away.”
Checks out. We check in. Immediately venture out. Gamze starts her tour. She’s done research! She’s written down history of the Istanbul sights to see! She’s taking her role as tour guide very seriously! I must have a reputation as a demanding tourist.
Gamze's cheat sheet notepad with Turkish touristy info
This sweet girl is also a brain. Turns out she's going to the University and majoring in mechanical engineering, one of only 5 girls versus 100 guys entering the program.
"Is that why you chose the major?" I ask.
"No," she giggles, "I really love math, and physics, I'm really good at them."
I look at her dubiously. "Come on ..."
"You realize," I remark, "All the boys are going to be waiting on the school steps for you, and when you arrive will surround you like a Disney Princess, and you can laugh at the sky, accepting their apples, then point to a few of them individually and say, 'Today you get to carry my books; you can walk my dog; and you, you lucky guy, get to buy me lunch.'"

A quick visual of Taksim Square

The only transportation inside the mile and half long stretch called Taksim are public trolleys. It's loud enough to make their approach difficult to hear, which forces me to yank Gamze out of the oncoming path of one at the last moment. "You saved my life! How can I repay you my hero?" she dutifully asks.
She's already agreed to go skydiving tomorrow so I respond, "Sorry to tell you this, but I'm likely to fall back to even tomorrow."

Going to Church
Taksim Square, even during Ramadan, is crowded. Taking a break from surfing the waves of people, we step into a stunning Byzantine Catholic Church.
Byzantine Church ceiling
I think to myself of a girl in the Czech Republic who told me that cathedrals are built so gigantic, in an intentional effort to make you feel small and worthless.
Sitting amidst the majesty of the heavenly ceilings, towering above my physical form, my breath taken by beauty, my mind ceases as beingness remembers its infinite nature within.
Quite the opposite of small and worthless, I feel the vast expanse that simply is, that I am. I feel on fire.

Ramadan Beatles
We continue to the Bosporus, a narrow waterway separating the European side of Istanbul from the Asian. (It's the only city to span two continents) The sun is starting to descend. A giant tent by the water has a longer line around it than there would be if all the Beatles were to be re-united, and playing a free a concert at this exact location, with Michael Jackson as their opening act.
"The government provides free meals during the evenings of Ramadan, which are served inside the tent," Gamze explains.
"You mean thousands of people are willing to wait in line for hours, just for a free meal?"
"Well, it's not so much for the free meal, it's for community and Ramadan camaraderie as well."
So of course, we get into line- by which I mean, we cut; deep, close to the front. Looking around, I'm surprised. Am I really the only white person who likes the Beatles and Michael Jackson.
Should I feel uneasy waiting for free food with all these people so different than I? Maybe I should choose to feel like a fish out of water. Fox News has taught me how warlike and short fused these Middle Easterners are. I shouldn't like these people.
Just thinking about it gets me mad. Now I'm almost hoping someone confronts me, maybe I can do my gay street tough Seinfeld impersonation to really infuriate them. (If you don't get the "gay street tough" Seinfeld reference click here for a brief video.)

Turkish guy: "Wait. What are you two doing?"
Me: "What does it like we're doing? We're cutting the line."
Turkish guy: "You can't cut the line. I've been standing here for hours."
Me: "Look, you want to get hurt? I don't think you want to get hurt, cause if you want to get hurt, I can hurt you. So just, back off, okay."
I turn around and pat Gamze on the head.
Turkish Guy: "What is this? This is outrageous!"
I whip around in disbelief.
Me: "What is it your not understanding. We're cutting the line, and that all there is to it! Okay?!"

Unfortunately, the Turks reacted just the opposite, they welcomed us. There I am, chatting it up in barely understandable English with people incredibly happy to make my acquaintance. No doubt having a white boy in line with them was an oddity, but they were so warm and friendly; this is just wrong, isn't it?.
This is the Middle East baby. I'm cutting the line. According to Fox News, Al Qaeda is sure to kill me on the spot, maybe turn it into a video. I'm exposing my throat here.
But these people are so warm, they want to laugh, meet me, enjoy themselves. I'm dancing around, playing with kids, several Turkish girls asking if they could take their picture with me, exchanging stories, laughing at almost everything. I didn't have a good time in line, I had a great time.
The majority of people in this world, as I've said before, just want to the chance to lead a good life, be loved, and love others. You come with that energy, people almost always reciprocate in kind.

When the sun finally sets, water is guzzled in unison by all. It must have looked like we were shooting a commercial for Evian. It's their first sip of liquid of this hot summer day.
Morsels of food are shared by all. I myself offering my bag of figs I purchased a couple hours earlier. Within a minute, they are gone.
The line starts to move, people pouring into the tent. Despite our incredible talent at cutting, (90% of the line) it still takes a half hour to get inside.
The meal is simple and cheap, with hungry Turks digging in, concentrating on their food. I don't feel like eating, I won't remember the meal. I don't even think I'll remember Michael Jackson moon-walking on stage right now.
I had way more fun simply waiting in line.

Check out a brief vignette of our waiting in line and our meal

"Ramadan Blessing" 
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  1. Really nice text. Must have been a nice experience. I havent been to Istanbul yet. One place I really want to visit one day.

    1. thanks for the nice comment Thomas. Istanbul is certainly interesting and there is much to see and learn there. Enjoy your travels, I see your blog on G+ and will check it out :)


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