Friday, December 14, 2007

A city of contrasts

Yesterday afternoon: Haghia Sophia, with the tourists. Huge, astounding former church, former mosque, now museum. Imagining Orthodox liturgies resounding under the domes and clouds of incense wafting from huge censors carried by heavily robed clergy.

Photo: inside the Blue Mosque (photo by
Then the "Blue" Sultan Ahmet Mosque, where like everyone else I took off my shoes and like all the women covered my head with a scarf. Vast, carpeted, domed also. Men kneeling in the main space, women behind screens in the back.

Yesterday evening: holiday party for Turkcell, the biggest cell phone company in town (my host does business with them and had to make an appearance). No headscarves, no stockinged feet.
Little black dresses, suits and ties, sushi and smoked salmon and Iranian meat pastries, a very young crowd (the average employee age is 27), rock music in the background.

Today: a Sufi service, not the made-for-tourists whirling dervishes but the real thing, in an upper room (Sufism isn't legal here, though it isn't persecuted either), with forty people sitting on cushions, intent, gentle, reverent, chanting, in a decidedly un-tourist neighborhood. (How did I end up there? I have friends in town who are connected with this community and who invited me.)

I will write more about the great divide here. Deep secularists and strict religious practitioners. And then those, fewer, who live on bridges and cross over, now and again or on a daily basis.

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