Thursday, April 21, 2011

Istanbul Tourist: A Foray Into The Victorian

Ah, Victorian times-- that unsettling mix of fuss and lust, plus the distinct possibility of ghosts and strange-looking objects we no longer need. It's scary but I can't stop looking.

We had a short break last week. Before it started, I decided I was going to do way better than I did on my last very long break, which mostly entailed a lot of hanging around the house because I was afraid if we left, we would get robbed again.

This time I decided we were going to Do Something. Because it was a budget stay-cation, being Istanbul Tourists seemed the way to go.

Except it was rainy and shitty almost the whole break, causing us to cancel the Trip To The Islands and the Walking Tour Of Sultanahmet. Instead, we went to an exhibition at Sadberk Hanım Museum down the road from our house, and the Pera Palas Hotel.

Sadberk Hanım was nice, and the house itself (one of the Koç family's billions of beautifully appointed summer "cottages") was newly restored and surprisingly un-creepy and not at all haunted-feeling except for one small, strange door. Lots of exquisitely displayed but somewhat mundane stuff. At least it was old-days mundane stuff, which made it cool. And pointing out the exquisite displays is because I've seen lots of museums in Turkey with pretty haphazard displays. The strategy is usually to line up every piece available, with no distinction between the unidentifiable bits of stone and extraordinary antiquities. This was not the case at Sadberk Hanım Museum. There, a coffee cup is a Coffee Cup, and each one seems like it must be the most beautiful, graceful coffee cup in the world.

For every person in the museum (the three of us), there were two to four security guards. There was also a prohibition on taking photos and I chose not disgruntle anyone by taking photos, even though I totally could have gotten away with it because each security guard had his own chair. There was also a nice man who kept finding free stuff to give LE, like posters and slide collections. He was a blessing because LE somehow immediately cottoned on that this was an Educational Cultural Experience. After 5 minutes, he'd already declared he didn't like museums. After 20 minutes, he was trying to extract promises from us that we would never bring him to a museum again. We decided to skip the remaining five floors of archeological treasures. BE was mad because he really wanted to go there.

The reason we'd gone to the museum in the first place was because there was an exhibition of photographs and postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries-- well into the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but also in the thrilling early days of photography. By the third display of photos, it was obvious how people had figured out how to pose alluringly or macho-ly, as opposed to sitting still as for a portrait. I expect there were some technological developments involved there as well.

Anyway, it was really good. I love photos of old days people, with their strangely light-colored eyes. LE liked the pictures of kids, court midgets, horses, and dogs. BE liked the pictures of soldiers, even when they were pictures of royalty dressed up as soldiers. I liked the pictures of kids and midgets too, plus the ones of the eunuchs. I started to explain to LE what a eunuch is when he asked, but decided not to go too deeply into it because he's growing increasingly anxious about his sünnet. My approach to sünnet is to not lie about it, so it's pretty much the exact opposite to everyone else's approach around here. Every time we pass a photography store featuring wedding and sünnet photos, he always wants to find the kid dressed up as a sultan and wonders, "Did they cut off a piece of his penis?" Yes, honey, they did. And so it goes. I try to focus on the candy and gifts part.

So that was Sadberk Hanım Museum. The next day, we went to the Pera Palas Hotel. I've been waiting to go to the Pera Palas Hotel almost since I got here, but it's been under extensive renovation this whole time. It was totally worth the wait, and the restoration was not only tasteful, but impeccably done, down to the texture and shades of the fabrics used in the upholstery.

There were also some places in Pera Palas where photos were banned, but other places where it was okay.

This is my most favorite type of floor ever. It's blurry because I freaked out a little at the last moment when the guy in an office way in the background looked up at me, and I was afraid he was going to yell at me for taking a photo. This fantastic floor is just outside some of the nicest toilets I've ever visited, which I needed to do after having the best espresso I've had since Italy.

Here's LE with a lovely banister. We got him to the hotel in fairly good spirits by reassuring him it would be nothing like the museum. Actually, it was a lot like the museum only with hot chocolate.

One really cool thing they had in the Pera Palas Hotel was a real Victorian litter, but it wasn't at a good angle for an iPhone photo. I wonder if a Lady dealing with litter bearers had to be as on her guard as a Lady dealing with taxi drivers? Were there litter stands, with the litters and the bearers all lined up on a corner and a coordinator guy yelling "Buyurun!" where it sounds like "Bee-ron!" and telling people which litter to use? I'll bet, no matter how the litter thing was organized, there was always a fellow nearby with a swinging tea tray.

Another really cool thing was this old elevator, unfortunately no longer in service.

As I looked at the elevator, I fervently hoped this would happen:

But it didn't. Still, it's a pretty nice elevator.

**Open Letter To Tim Curry Moment**

Dear Tim Curry,

I totally have this massive guilt crush on you. Please come to Istanbul post-haste so we can take a picture together in this elevator. Or whatever. The espresso will be on me.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Sorry about that. I have this Tim Curry thing. I hope he doesn't think I'm stalking him now.

After the Pera Palas we went out for greasy chopstick Chinese. LE is truly my boy because I had to fight him for the pot stickers. Then he got ice cream from one of those guys that bangs on the ice cream drums and does ice cream tricks. I couldn't get a video of him being crestfallen over and over when his ice cream disappeared, because a group of large fellows gathered around to watch him being crestfallen, too. It never gets old, trust me. I'm very much looking forward to taking him for tourist ice cream again. It can't go wrong since it always ends with ice cream, no matter how many times the ice cream disappears.

And that was our touristing. I can't wait to do more.


Nomad said...

That elevator at Pera also reminds me of the one Mrs. Venable used to make her appearance in that wierd film, "Suddenly Last Summer" and coincidentally, at that point, she is talking about the Byzantine emperor who used to slowly ascend as he was greeting visitors. She says something to the effect of,"This, being a more democratic age, we in the aristocracy are forced to descend."

Stranger said...

OMG I just looked at a trailer and how is it I've never seen this movie? Note to self...

Nomad said...

It has some wonderful poetic lines like:

"Most people's lives, what are they but trails of debris - each day more debris, more debris... long, long trails of debris, with nothing to clean it all up but death.

My son, Sebastian and I constructed our days. Each day we would carve each day like a piece of sculpture, leaving behind us a trail of days like a gallery of sculpture until.. suddenly, last summer..."

And Elizabeth Taylor was at her peak of beauty and sexiness at that time.
BUT.. the back story, the story WHY Tennessee Williams wrote that play, who was it about is the really interesting part. :)