Thursday, 21 March 2013

Change of season

The faith I spoke of, you know my line about giving our children the freedom to get on with their lives without us for a bit, well, that took a hammering as we took our leave from Sydney. It probably didn't help that I'd planned our departure for just after my birthday which we celebrated, without irony, at a Turkish restaurant. Feel the love, as they say. I did, and I do. As does Alex.

The  goodbyes are something you just have to get through in the belief that life is long, that it has its seasons and that for us, there will come a season when staying put while others come and go is a given. Now is our time to go.

Besides, how often can a person expect to be in Istanbul in the spring? Two months ago, in the cold half light of late January, we watched teams of men carefully digging tulip bulbs into garden beds in the parkland surrounding the Topkaki palace and I was excited for our return. Paris has its chestnut blossom, and London its daffodils but Istanbul's spring motif is the tulip.

But tulips in March? My mother (my gardening guru) wasn't hopeful. So when I saw shadowy thickets of buds on the side of the road on our way in from Ataturk airport to Cihangir, I was ecstatic. "The tulips are up!"

Yesterday we walked across the Galata bridge, where the fish must no longer be running becasue the crowds on the railings have thinned, and up to the glory which is the Suleymaniye mosque. Up the steep winding streets and past the sagging wooden Ottoman houses.

We walked past the tin merchants, the washing strung across the road between houses, past young men shovelling coal and toting trays, past old men shouldering and pushing great unwieldy loads - work is so visible in Turkey - and through the gate and into the tranquillity of the great mosque, the one less visited, and for that reason alone, the best to visit in Istanbul.

In that vast space, sitting on fine carpet, and looking up into the huge dome's salmon pink interior, painted with flowers, for the first time I felt at ease in a mosque. Perhaps it was the stained glass windows, which are unusual in a mosque and which reminded me of other places of worship, those I know better.

Then, because we could, we crossed the Bosphorous to Kadikoy for lunch at Ciya Sofrasi. In between the traffic and the parking lots, there they were again. Tulips. Squat red ones with saw-toothed petals, white ones on long stems. The early bloomers.

While we've been lolling in the summer sun on the other side of the world, they've have pushed their way through the hard earth, towards the light and the warmth. Not only tulips, but daffodils and hyacyinths, and grape hyacinths painting intense purple borders around the tulip beds. And irises amongst the gravestones in the locked cemetery at Suleymaniye mosque where Suleyman the Magnifcent and his wife Roxelanne are buried. Ataturk wanted modern Turks to forget the Ottomans, but their flowers come up every spring.

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