April 28th, Randy gets back from Golbekli Tepi and Urfa.  That night we were invited to Hussein and Mehmet’s rug shop to hear Egyptian Sufi music.  Hussein and Mehmet were, as was everyone we met, wonderful hosts.  They laid out platter after platter of wonderful food.  I had the best tomatoes I have ever tasted in Istanbul.  We sat on stacks of rugs and listened to a father and son from Cairo singing music from their homeland and the wider Arab world. They played an oud and a kanoun? We were lucky enough to also have a professor (he taught at Berkeley for 28 years!) who could explain the history of the songs, music and the instruments.    Later he joined in by playing the sas, a stringed instrument.  Someone also brought out a drum and then, after bringing out the Capadossian wine, Hussein and his store manager danced.  The night reflected the mix that is Istanbul:  The performers were devout Muslims and abstained from alcohol, Hussein was making a pilgrimage to Mecca and would be abstaining before his trip (but not this night!), the wine was Turkish and there were people from all over the world there enjoying the festivities. Helena Petersen was nice enough to share her photos with me.

The man to the left had actually lived in Santa Fe for awhile and taught at Berkley before moving back to Turkey. He was a wealth of information about the history of Sufi music.

The man to the left had actually lived in Santa Fe for awhile and taught at Berkley before moving back to Turkey. He was a wealth of information about the history of Sufi music.

 I have a theory that when you travel, you should stay in a city until you start repeating yourself.  That you go back to the same restaurant, not necessarily because the food is great or expensive, but because it’s good and people there recognize you.  There were two places in Istanbul that became our favorites for friendly faces and good food.  The Optimist Café (I never asked why it was named that) was just down the hill from our hotel, across from the Hippodrome, right on the pedestrian parkway. It considered itself to have “international” cuisine and I must confess that one night I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese. It wasn’t bad.  But for the most part we stuck to the Turkish dishes which were very good.  And sometimes we would just go in to have tea or wine and play backgammon. There were 10 tables outside, a few on a little terrace inside.  It was a beautiful spring and so we always sat outside and watched the world go by.  We heard many languages at the other tables.  It was a stopping point for a lot of travelers.  One night Randy went down for a late night raki and met a woman and her daughter from Ireland.  The mother spoke fluent Turkish.  Ferdi and Alec were always there to greet us day or night – I figured they must work 16 hour days.  They always greeted us like old friends.  After a day of walking all over the old part of the city, we felt like we were with family when we got to the Optimist.    Earl and I at the Denizen Coffee Shop

Another place that we called home was the Denizen Coffee shop.  It too was right around the corner from our hotel along a narrow little street.  It opened the day we arrived.  We didn’t discover it until a few days later.  Earl and Ken from San Francisco had taken early retirement from high powered jobs, Earl had been a contract negotiations lawyer, Ken travelled all over the world for NGOs, a lot in Africa, starting up very worthy projects.  In their spare time they travelled as well, and as with many, they fell in love with Istanbul and had made many trips to the city.   As Earl tells it, one day he turned to Ken and said “what would you like to do now?”  And Ken said, “Open a coffee shop in Istanbul.”

And so they did…..The coffee was great and they had found a pastry chef who had trained in France and the pastries were divine.  And we could talk of home…..

The world is large but once you start travelling it’s amazing how small it is.  Once, when we were checking into our hotel in Paris, the woman ahead of us, turned and said, “You’re from New Mexico aren’t You?  I’ve stayed in your B&B.”  And at the Denizen, on a day when we hadn’t made it in, someone from Espanola HAD stopped in!  I’m curious to know who that might be!

Sometimes we felt a little guilty sitting at our favorite spots.  We should be out seeing things!!  We’ve only got so much time!  We began comforting ourselves by saying, “We’ll be back.”  And so we will.  We’re already looking at a cruise to the countries around the Black Sea and then a week or two in Istanbul.  I miss our new friends.  And I miss that most incredible city.