Thanks to the brilliant Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings, I recently started reading David Whyte’s gorgeous book Consolations: the Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Whyte, an English poet, has selected 52 words, from ambition to courage to procrastination, and offers brief but profound reflections on each. And there, in the middle of the table of contents, among virtues and vices, I see this word: Istanbul.
A few weeks ago I had the chance to make my first visit to Istanbul, meeting up with a dear friend at the start of her 6-week travel adventure (hi, Ellen!). It is a fascinating place, unlike anywhere I’d ever been before. The mix of secular and religious, the astounding history, the sounds of the call to prayer, the ancientness of it all – these combine to create a sensory experience that requires your full attention. It threatens to overwhelm but can also be sheer delight, (especially if you wander into a hamam).
Istanbul is a place that is hard to describe, hard to summarize or explain to others. But Whyte manages to do it beautifully:
“The piles of pomegranates, the heaps of turmeric and the wafted scent of saffron from the stalls remind us we are never just one thing, never just one set of senses, that we are no one name, we are Constantinople and Istanbul and even Stanboul and we have carried the frontier between the past and the present with us all our lives…we live now but all our history and even our future is already occurring even as we walk the street, fading into the jubilant evening light of a day, strangely and even reluctantly, already beginning to end.”