Istanbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuulll, where shall I start from?
With the very moment, I embarked on this beautiful journey to the amazing city of yours. It was the summer of 2003, precisely the month of July. We, the Turkish department team of the 3rd grade with the University of Bucharest, class of 2000-2004, set off on a 3-month trip to Istanbul, on a summer scholarship in collaboration with TÖMER, the Institute teaching the Turkish language to foreigners, affiliated to the University of Ankara, a scholarship based on the bilateral agreement between the two countries: Romania and Turkey.
I had chosen to apply for the scholarship during the 3rd grade as I thought that would be the best timing, given the fact I had started learning Turkish from scratch and my brain needed a few years to gather all related information. And gosh, learning this agglutinative language hasn’t been a piece a cake. Not at all! There is not even one single common point with the other five languages I speak. Nada. Zip. Niente. Even nowadays, whenever I speak Turkish, I do make use of a higher percentage of my brain!
Istanbullllllll, the very first time I lay my eyes on you, that was le coup de foudre.
The breeze of the Bosphorus has invaded my senses and I knew we would have a bond for life. I did fall in love with you, that very moment. And never have I imagined at that time that I would return to your arms in 2009. It’s a bond! No matter how many days pass by, we meet each other, at least once a year. Your council of seagulls makes sure we do.
As soon as the plane lands, my heart beats faster at the thought of the encounter with the Bosphorus overflown by your seagulls. They whisper to my ears words derived from the ancient Anatolian wisdom, inspire me with Turkish people’s hospitality and my nostrils are both tempted and tickled by the smell of the Turkish coffee inviting me in the best coffee shops all along your shore ...
I stand right next to the fishermen on the Galata Bridge and indulge in the 360-degree perspective you offer to my eyes: centuries of history and heritage unfold … It starts in the historical peninsula - Topkapı Sarayı home to the ruling dynasties of the Ottoman Empire. Whenever I catch sight of your Bab-i Ali Kapısı (The Great Gate) in the folders of my memory, I see the greatness of the sultans returning from their expeditions. I imagine their entrance through Your gate. I envisage The Imperial Harem with its complexity or the Ayasofya, a hybrid, a symbol of tolerance and a tremendous cultural legacy, an entity which had functioned both as a mosque and church, alternatively. We might have one thing in common, don't we now: Muslim and Christian at the same time, in the same place?
And here they are! The minarets of the Blue Mosque, rising beautifully towards the sky in the shinning sunrays. Sooo much history.
My thoughts fly away with the seagulls over the Bosphorus and its ships, to encounter the pigeons in front of Yeni Cami (The New Mosque) and to dwell later on the Mısır Çarșısı (Spices Bazaar), at its very right side. So colorful, so breezy and so full of life an environment! It makes one’s mind wander all through these centuries, go back and forth, tour all around in order not to miss not even a single page of this exhilarating history.
I step very shortly into the Spices Bazaar, one of my favorite shopping areas in Istanbul, for fresh and delicious spices, for dates and figs, for natural and qualitative almond, grape seed and orange raw body oil, for handmade soaps and traditional gifts and souvenirs. As soon as I am out, I gaze towards the Galata Tower and my eyes are filled with joy. My senses are caressed by the Bosphorus breeze. My nose is spoiled by the smell of the freshly baked simit and warm chestnuts or boiled corn. My being is invaded with the determination and will, with the love for one’s work and the passionate drive of one of the most hardworking people I have ever met: the Turkish people.
And your sun … Last December 2016 when I visited you as a guest of the Romanian Cultural Institute, a Syrian lady told me your sun resembled the one in Damascus. This hadn’t crossed my mind before. Truth be told, as soon as I have reached the Taksim Square, as this was my first stop, upon feeling the touch of your sunrays, I felt home. I don’t know if it’s the sun, or you. I felt that warmth.
My dear friend, my dost, your business environment has been a land of opportunities for me as you have enabled me to discover skills I wasn’t aware of. You have discovered my mind and urged me to believe in myself, to feel confident in my own skin, empowered me to become the woman who can fulfill her dreams on her own, as an authentic Damascene in Europe. You have pinpointed that, believed in me like nobody else has, ever, and I do thank YOU!
And your utmost delicious dishes… Your fish, Istanbul, as tasty as it can get!
My colleagues were respectful and welcoming… Upon my first week of work, one of my colleagues served me with your traditional Turkish baklava. Later on, another colleague, an Edirneli, talked to me about the traditional broom from Edirne – Edirne’nin meșhur aynalı süpürgesi and the tradition and beautiful stories about it.
In 2009 when I had returned to your arms, I had a cultural shock. You didn’t seem that welcoming anymore, from a personal point of view. I wasn’t expecting this huge difference between us. After all, Damascus has been one of the “most important capitals of the Islam”, that’s why you call her " Șam al Șarif".
I guess your family structure hasn’t changed much, it is being genetically perpetuated. I imagined that was part of the history books by now. I shall develop on this furthermore …
And Bosphorus, your shore and breeze inspired me to unleash the fire I have inside my heart, hit my first golpe in Istanbul and start dancing el flamenco, this dance of both passionate and tender love, this "one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, as it was declared on 16 November by UNESCO.
You have offered me so much, against all odds! For you have always been an outstanding host and shelter. When the going gets tough, you are there.
At the crucial time, you reach out your hand and offer your authentic support, your friendship, and guidance, in a word: your humanity.
Should I have a short glimpse of the number of refugees you have been sheltering or at the donations you have been organizing via your foundations and your mosques during the past years?
No need, for actions, speak louder than words.
I have a sip of your Turkish coffee with mastic - it’s my favorite, as the Turkish proverb says “A cup of coffee commits one to 40 years of friendship”: Bir kave fincanın kırk yıl hatırı vardır and I am committed for life. You are in my heart, my third beloved hometown, my dost.
 Golpe = a Spanish word which here refers to the sound made by the heel of the flamenco shoes.