Istanbul was the center of the world during the Byzantine and the Ottoman empire. They changed the name because Istanbul means “To the City,” and everyone knew which city. People move with direction; they don’t wait for you to cross the street. It’s like the New York of the Middle East. Cairo is an Arab city; Istanbul is worldly. Here I could live, and I’ve known it was going to be that way for years. It fulfills my dreams and expectations, fifteen million, the important geography and history, from the Golden Horn to the royal Hagia Sophia, St. Peter’s of the East; the ships on the shimmery green Mediterranean waters, and the Turkish coffee, which you don’t flip when you’re done–that’s what the tourists do– and the baklava and the way they make creamy pistachio paste so it tastes almost like cheese–I LOVE pistachios. Istanbul is a city of smells: doner kebab, roasted chestnuts, tobacco smoke, it all commingles from street to street. And the foods are spicy and healthy and hearty, with beef and spinach and sauces and yogurts and spices.
The people are beautiful: Arabs, Aryans, Asians, all together. Their eyes really do it for me. Some are deep-set balanced by aquiline noses, their penetrating stare like an eagle’s. Some have light blue eyes, from when the Norman Crusaders mixed into the gene pool a thousand years ago. Perhaps my favorite are the Mongolian Kyrgyz with their chocolate and emerald colored eyes and their flat faces and fair skin and silky black hair. There are so many kinds, so many styles, well-fitting blazers and black leather jackets and headwraps and gray car coats. Women on the tram are beautiful and smell like fresh shampoo or the ones with headwraps kind of smell like B.O. but they both smile modestly, happily, with their big eyes…Old men with white bushy mustaches hug affectionate grandsons. It’s all so alive, the minarets, golden and tall shining through the haze, seagulls flying above, peddlers and hawkers in the orange and vermilion. This is Istanbul and I haven’t even crossed the Bosporus yet!