The first thing we learned is that Istanbul is not particularly Turkish – it defines itself outward, it defines itself as the successor to Rome, it sees itself as a city of trade, and it believes itself European. The second thing we learned is that Istanbul is quintessentially Turkish. It sees itself as the embodiment of the Turkey dreamed of by Attaturk, and therefore the defender of Attaturk’s dream. It sees itself as a Muslim Europe, and the direction that Europe is/should be moving toward. And he people of Istanbul are deeply angry at the European Union’s shilly-shallying around about Turkey’s application to join – pending now for over ten years. And every time Turkey meets a stated condition, the EU comes up with a new condition.
Another thing we learned, which was very surprising, is that Turkey sees itself as a very young country, begun in 1923 by Attaturk. It does not see itself any more the successor to the Ottoman Empire than it sees itself as the successor to the Roman Empire. Those are historic states which existed in this place, but they were not Turkey. (In the same way, Ohio does not see itself as the successor to the Sioux Confederacy.) Who’da thunk?
For the first time, Elizabeth and I as a team took responsibility for an Academic Field Program, for the Post-Graduate International Business Students.. We had had the pleasure of the company of Dr. Aysha, from Bilgi (Knowledge) University, on the voyage from Catalonia to Turkey. She, who had planned all the field programs, is the Director of the International Office of the University, and proved to be a knowledgeable, articulate, fascinating person, but acknowledged about half-way across the Mediterranean that she had had no idea of what kind of program we had or how advanced out students were, and apologized for some elements of the program. We were therefore forewarned. When we got the schedule, finally, it was clear what she was apologizing for. The first day, at the University, looked very interesting (Turkey & Europe; Islam & Secularization) but didn’t seem particularly aimed at our students. The second day looked great, and the third day looked like a total waste of time.
The actual program proved our expectations. The first lecturer, a Greek professor in a Turkish University, was wonderful – and our students thought he was great, too. The second lecture was a little far afield for them, and too much sitting, but we found it fascinating – arguable, but fascinating. The best part of the day, possibly, was eating in the student cafeteria and mingling with the students. . That day ended with a tour of the SultanAhmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) built by a Sultan who wanted to outdo Hagia Sophia. In my judgment, he failed. (E: Well, they are different and I prefer SultanAhmet. Hagia Sophia is larger but not as balanced.)
The second day was terrific for the students – though a little rough on Elizabeth. A large Turkish Holding Company spent all morning going over every aspect of their business, including facts and figures from their chief economist, with a degree of openness I found astounding. The students ate it up.
Then we got an extended overview of the Turkish Rug industry from three knowledgeable men with dozens of samples, and we had students kneeling/lying on the floor to feel the rugs. Pure sensuality in a context of business and trade.
The third day was as bad as we feared. We were dropped at a city market (“We have one of these on every corner in Mexico”, said one student) then picked up three hours later and taken and dropped at a luxury mall (“Ditto”, said another) I’m sure Dr. Aysha pictured suburban Americans with no exposure to traditional markets, and no image of Turkey as a developed country and wanted to show them the contrast, but we had, as a matter of fact, no Americans on this AFP, and the students felt disappointed. However, the day ended on a high note with all the AFP students coming together for a cruise up the Bosphorus. It was easy to see why IstanConstantinople is/was so prosperous from the incessant traffic between the Med and the Black Sea
Then we had the chance to explore on our own. One whole day at Hagia Sophia. It is no longer in use as a Mosque, but is now a museum illustrating its history as both Church and Mosque. They are painstakingly restoring the Byzantine Christian mosaics (those that remain) and likewise the Mosque ornamentation, and it is exciting. It remains one of the loveliest buildings on earth, and the double history makes it all the more interesting.
Another day walking through the Spice Market (Egyptian Market) then up the hill through crowds and little stores to the Grand Bazaar, filled with gold and antiques and ..and…and. Exhausting, but fun. We came home loaded down with halva and lots of other things. The food was, of course, terrific. We ate every meal except breakfast off the ship, and found fascinating little places. We walked miles each day, then ate enough calories to even the scale..
And one night we went out to the old railway station (It was built for the original Orient Express and looks it.) to witness, in one of the side waiting rooms, a Sufi rite with whirling dervishes. It was eerie and beautiful.
As usual, we had to leave much too soon, but we are now back on board and heading for Lisbon, where we are looking forward to being wined and dined by good friends.
P.S. Between then and now came final papers, final exams, and a masquerade dinner. There is never a dull day—or night—on The Scholar Ship.