January 15, 2000
Accompanied by the pleasing rat-a-tat-rat of the train wheels slapping the
joints between the rails, we are pulled slowly towards Istanbul. Adana's (a
city of 1.6 million some 560 miles southeast of Istanbul) cement clutter and
jumbled sprawl are behind us. It is night now and I imagine this exhausted
land moaning with relief as it is allowed a brief respite until dawn. Fires
spot the darkened fields -- fields that have been fields longer than any on
this earth. The silhouettes of men, going about some mysterious chores,
blink out the orange flames from time to time. I can make out a ragged
black skyline of mountains to the north, scattered before them clumps of
lights marking towns.
Poised above it all, as if balanced by its handle on the palm of some
invisible giant, is the Big Dipper. The handle points, roughly, in the
direction of Istanbul. And from the dipper, onto that monstrous city, some
heavenly pap must certainly pour. Having these last few days traveled
through a tired land full of people beleaguered by poverty, I have new
respect for that ancient town. Thinking of it now, Istanbul seems imbued
with an almost childlike spunk, and an impressive set of toys with which to
Earlier in the day in Antakya (ancient Antioch, another 120 miles further
southeast of Istanbul), I had just boarded the bus for Adana when a little
girl started saying out loud, to her mother, the names of cities and towns,
some of which she must have seen on road signs. "Iskenderun", "Adana", she
pronounced slowly and carefully. "Kirikhan", "Dortyol," she continued.
Then she said "Istanbul", with the same care. But it had obviously pleased
her more than the rest, because she repeated it many times, each time with a
bit more zeal, until it finally sounded like a marvelous one-word song.
"Is-stawn-bul, Is-stawn-bul", she sang out sweetly, her lyric sometimes
punctuated with a short burst of the giggles. "Is-stawn-bul!",
"Is-stawn-bul!" I doubt I will ever hear or read or say the name again
without hearing her little song. Even now, I am humming its happy tune.
And you may ask, "Where was the mother?" Smiling, I suppose. And dreaming
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