Tears for Istanbul

In 1998 my then-girlfriend and I spent two weeks in Istanbul as guests of one of its biggest daily newspapers. When I returned to New York, I began writing a memoir of our time there. I never finished it.

Here is one of the stories I always meant to tell.

After spending a morning in the famous Bazaar, we wandered into a courtyard where street vendors sold spices, jewelry, fabrics, and livestock. The courtyard led to a narrow alley populated with shoppers and vendors. That alley wound into another that was even more densely crowded.

Suddenly the police arrived and began shutting down the booths of unlicensed vendors. The crowd surged forward into a maze of back alleys. By the time we escaped the throng, we found ourselves in an alley within an alley within an alley. The police had blocked the way back. We would have to find our own way out.

The alley in which we found ourselves teemed with turbaned men toting heavy Turkish carpets on their backs. On the city’s main streets, almost everyone we encountered spoke English. But the rug-hauling laborers we encountered at the heart of the maze spoke only Turkish, and we knew not one word of the language.

A hearty man in his 70s noticed our predicament and approached.

I said, “Sultanahmet”, the name of a section of the city with which we were familiar.

Gesturing for us to follow him, the hearty man swiveled on his heel and began walking briskly away. We dashed after. Although he appeared to be nearly twice our age, we had a tough time keeping up with him as he led us around corners, down alleys, and up steep hills.

The journey took twenty minutes or more and covered several miles of cobblestoned streets built by the Romans. Our guide never spoke; he simply led.

Suddenly, at the crest of a hill, we saw before us the world-famous mosques of Sultanahmet.

The old gentleman turned to us, smiled, bowed, and strolled away before we could thank him.

He had hiked several miles out of his way to help two American strangers, simply because he saw that we were lost.

That, in a nutshell, is Istanbul to me. I never met kinder or more gracious people anywhere.

During my two weeks in that city, I never heard a harsh word said about Americans or any other national group. No one ever uttered an ethnic or religious slur. They did not seem to have negative words for people who are different — they merely acknowledged the difference.

Pulp Fiction was popular in Istanbul. One wonders how they managed to write subtitles for that movie.

If the gentleman shows up in Indochina, I want a fellow to spring out of a bowl of rice and teach him some manners.

Now people are dying in Istanbul and President Bush says Turkey is a “front” in the war against terrorism. I don’t know what that means. I only know that I am sad.

Originally published on November, 21th 2003. Zeldman is a well-known figure accurately named as “King of Web Standards”; publishes A List Apart, a leading journal of web and interaction design; and co-founded An Event Apart; and is the founder of studio.zeldman, a web and interaction design studio in New York.

Bu yazıyı Türkçe olarak okuyabilirsiniz: İstanbul’a Ağıt

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Türkçe: İstanbul’a Ağıt


Hekim. Yazar, beğenirse çevirir, kod yazarak eğlenir. 2002'den beri internette yazıyor.