Istanbul is a beautiful city in the rain, but guess what? When the sun comes out, she’s a stunner.
The past two days here have been absolutely beautiful – 80 ° and luminous – and we are bedazzled. Wednesday morning we met our local guide, an energetic Turkish Jew who spent time on a kibbutz in Israel, and Emi introduced us to the jewels of architecture that sparkle in Istanbul’s turban: Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and Topkapi Palace.
Emi told us she’s 37 but she looks 25 and has the energy to match. Extremely knowledgeable about history, Emi puts her whole body into her narratives. Her arms churn the air in front of her as she speaks, and that voice – I recognized it! No, we’ve never met before and she’s not famous, but it’s the voice of a Middle Eastern Jew, the vowels thick and rich with extra consonants at the end of her present participles. She reminds me of what Jesus’ mother must have been like at that age – so passionate and animated.
The arrangements Mike made so painstakingly over the internet for the Turkish portion of this trip have worked out better than we could have imagined. When the initial study group we were supposed to join fell through, he turned to the internet for information, but what sources to trust? The Turkish Council on Tourism in Chicago was helpful, and the company they recommended has been superb. We thought we would be part of a group, but it turns out that Emi is a private guide and we were her only guests the past two days – what a gift! Three motivated people can move through crowds at historic sites at a great clip. We were free to ask Emi anything and everything, and we did.
“Why is the Hagia Sofia so famous?” we queried.
“Eetz vun of the larchest churches in de vorld,” Emi enthused. “Your Stachoo of Liberty? She coot do jumpink jacks in it!”
Emi paused next to a set of bronze doors that were brought from a temple in the Apostle Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. “Theece date back to 200 BC,” she said. “Can you imagine?”
Living in a country only several hundred years old as we do, Mike and I had to keep reminding ourselves that the objects of antiquity we were viewing were real.
Those splendid bronze doors? 2200 years old. The artifacts in the Royal Treasury of Topkapi Palace that were encrusted with diamonds and emeralds as big as your fist? Genuine, not imitation. The cavernous underground Basilica Cistern? It wasn’t created for a movie set.
“We are so used to seeing the fake,” Mike commented, “that we find it hard to believe in the legitimate. It reminds me of that novel Imaginary Jesus. Unless people come to know the real Jesus, they won’t recognize the false Messiahs out there.”
In a world filled with reproductions, illusions and imitations, sometimes you have to stand in the presence of the real thing.