My wife once flew over Istanbul and ever since then she has yearned to go there. Last week we did.
There are dozens of wonderful things to say about Turkey (and I probably will) but first I need to talk about the frustration for a soccer freak of looking down from a hotel window directly into a soccer stadium -- with no game going on.
Hundreds of ferries and freighters and tugs were moving up and down the Bosphorus as we stared into the beginnings of Asia, but in seven days and seven nights I never spotted a single person moving on the lush lawn of Beşiktaş, one of three Super-division teams in Turkey.
One Sunday there was an Istanbul derby at Fenerbahçe, a main rival, based across the Bosphorus, essentially on another continent.
As a foreigner, you could try going there, somebody advised me, but nobody from Beşiktaş is allowed to travel to Fenerbahçe, and nobody from Fenerbahçe is allowed to attend a match at Beşiktaş. The trip involved a 20-minute ferry ride and a 40-minute walk, but there was too much else to do in this amazing city of mosques and museums, ferries and restaurants, hills and water views.
Soccer was in the news. Fenerbahçe was firing its star Brazilian, Alex, for unknown offenses. He had been there seven years, a long stay for any international import, but the owner wanted him gone, and now he was.
Soccer always makes friends. Turks reminded me that Brad Friedel, the durable American keeper, spent a formative time with Galatasaray, the other Istanbul powerhouse. I told Turkish fans how I had covered the 2002 World Cup, when Turkey made its best showing ever, finishing third. People nodded reverently when I praised the great act of sportsmanship, after beating the spirited Reds of South Korea, 3-2, in the consolation match, how the Turkish players invited the Koreans to take a victory lap with them.
But that was a long time ago. Now Turkey is in danger of not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
One day in the amazing Cappadocia Region (with its unique geological formations and cave dwellings) we were eating in the celebrated Old Greek House in Mustafapaşa, where the popular soap opera Asmali Konak was filmed. Our guide, Gökhan Yaramis, a tall former college basketball player – and a Fenerbahçe man – was joined by his fellow guide Emre Ardik, a Trabzonspor man.
Gökhan and Emre are buddies, who once spent nearly 24 hours driving in a snowstorm to watch their teams in Trabzon, alongside the Black Sea.
“We want our cup!” Emre told me with passion. A year ago Fenerbahçe was implicated in a game-fixing scandal and was bounced from the Champions League. Sounds like Juventus, the perennial king of the 89th-minute penalty kick, amazing coincidences Sunday after Sunday, decade after decade.
Gökhan never argued. Apparently, the punishment stood on its own. He’s a great guy, an educated guide who could respectfully tell us the history of Christians who lived in caves to avoid the Romans, and could also tell us of the Muslim faith that reached the region centuries later. Later he invited us to his lovely apartment in a pleasant town, so we would know more about Turkish life.
Gökhan put on his yellow and navy blue vertical striped jersey – and displayed his matching yellow sneakers – his gamer outfit, for watching matches. On Tuesday he would watch the qualifying match on the huge screen in the town square, as Turkey would score first against Hungary, but then lose, 3-1. By that time, my wife and were flying home. There is so much to remember about Turkey; I will always check the soccer scores.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)