Friday, May 28, 2010

Bayezid Ladies of Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul in both time and place is history's friction point. Here everything meets: continents, religions, histories and philosophies. For the visitor this interlacing of worlds creates a frenetic fa├žade, though upon immersion, there is an acknowledged attempt at order and realization.

This is fitting for a place that tries to make sense of its unmatched position in the world. Istanbul's story is told through its most commonly visited tourists sites such as the Blue Mosque, Archaeological Museum, Grand Bazaar and Taksim square. Hagia Sophia however may be the best representative of this unique Turkish balance as a 1,700 year-old cathedral turned mosque, turned museum.

But as each site vies for the epitome of a Kodak moment some local flavour gets washed away aside. For a genuine feel of Istanbul, one needs only to delve a little deeper into soul of the city.

Fittingly found out the back end of the Grand Bazaar, without carpet sellers in sight or in sound, is a public square and the Bayezid Mosque. Anywhere else in the world, this mosque would attract the tour bus swarms, but here in Istanbul, it is left alone to the local university students and worshippers answering the five-times daily call-to-prayer. But it is those who sit in the square for most of the day that offer an unfiltered look into this city.

Here surrounded by pigeons, up to a dozen old ladies sit hunched on low stools . Beneath their hijab, their gaze is fixed on the birds and little else. This is no knitting circle, the ladies do not speak to one another, nor do they even seem to make eye contact. They are selling pigeon seed and it a pretty competitive and territorial business as the perfectly equal spacing of the ladies suggests. Elsewhere in Istanbul, pigeon ladies have relatively more sophisticated operations, complete with chair, small kiosk and a reserve of seed. But here in Bayezid square it is pigeon seed-selling at its most basic.

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