Sunday, August 31, 2008

3am Rambling, On The First Night Of Ramazan

The Blue Mosque welcoming Ramazan

It's 3am on the first night of Ramazan (or Ramadan outside of Turkey). I should be in bed trying to sleep, but because of my persistent jet lag, I keep getting up to pace the floors and  look out the windows. It's cool night, the kind that signals the end of the blistering summer nights and cues the advent of fall. 

Just a few minutes ago, leaning out the window, I watched the Ramazan drummer pass by. Beating his drum to wake up all the people who need to eat before sunrise, waiting for him reminded me of last Ramazan when Mel and I traveled to Edirne and woke up when we heard the drums. We leaned out the window and waited for the drummer to pass, as in Edirne the drummers are chosen according to their drumming talent and wear a flash uniform. 

My drummers were two skinny kids in their late teens. One half-heartedly beat with no rhythm of enthusiasm, and the other walked beside him for support, security or just for the heck of it. Maybe he takes over when the other guy's arm gets tired, although that's hard to imagine with the lameness of his banging. 

In Canada, this drumming job would be a serious undertaking. Businesses would hire a drummer and make him advertise their service or wares on his drum. He would drum well and wear something snappy. He would probably  be interviewed for the local paper. He would be paid and at the end of the month, tipped -- like Santa.

People would also decorate for Ramazan. Twinkling Ramadan fairy lights would represent stars, and adorn ALL the mosques and most people's homes. Or we would put up green lights to represent the colour of Islam. We would make moon cakes and compose special songs. 

No such stuff here though, although there is some special food that makes an appearance. The rounds of bread made with black sesame seeds is my fave. There is a big.... well for lack of a better word -"night market" in the Hippodrome next to the Blue Mosque. Little houses sell snacks, sweets, calligraphy on plates, and you can even get yourself photographed in Ottoman dress, sort of like the old west cowboy pictures in Canada. Last year there were coin operated air-hockey games set up, they made some serious coin off of Bulent and I.  It's the most fun linked to a muslim holiday that goes on, although last year there was an article by some conservative in Today's Zaman English newspaper harshly criticizing the commercialism of the market. 

This is my third Ramazan here. The first 3 days will be the worst, as everyone will attempt to fast, or suss out who is fasting. Some will start out with good intentions or guilt, and then one by one - fall off the wagon. By the second week only a few people I know will be fasting.

3:27. I MUST go and lay in that bed for a while and force myself to sleep. But first I'll go watch the drummer agin, he's passing by again on his return home. Good night!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


On my way to Canada I had an 8 hour stopover in Amsterdam. That's a ridiculous amount of time to sit in an airport, so I checked my carry-on luggage and hopped the train to Central Station to revisit a city I had once spent another 8 hour stopover in - 13 years ago!! (I'm getting old!)

Last time, I was travelling with my mom on my first-ever trip to Egypt. We spent the day visiting  Ann Frank  House and bobbing along the canals, snapping pictures left and right.

(OK there was also a bit of drama which involved boarding the wrong train back to the airport, lovely scenery involving tulips and windmills, a heart-stopping realization we were on the wrong train, and a frantic last-minute dash to the gate. This whole episode is burned onto my mom's psyche and makes her reluctant to travel with me to this day.)

But that was a long time ago. I'm a bit more travel savvy these days.

Since nothing was open by the time I reached downtown, (7am!), I wandered the empty streets admiring the architecture and little canals. I found a coffee shop and spent some quality time with a perfect latte and memorably delicious peach cake. (Melly's Gourmet Coffee and Cookie Bar comes highly recommended!)

The day was shaping up to be sunny but a bit on the cool side, (for me.) I wandered around and while looking for the Chinese temple, (closed) I stumbled upon the "Red Light District".
It was the day after the Gay Pride parade, which is done up Amsterdam-style!  Floats were created on boats and floated around the city's canals. There were still several balloons and flags being cleaned up  the next morning. As I entered the red light district, people started to fill the streets. 
This part of Amsterdam is kind of wasted on me, as I'm not a big fan of "the herb".  Yet even at 8:30 the "coffee shops" were full and doing great business according the aroma that wafted through the streets. A couple huge, yet scantily clad women called to me from their window display cases, their business must have been getting off to a slow start!

What a great little city!  I love the bicycles, canals and architecture. The empty streets were such a contrast to the barely-contained-chaos of Istanbul. I was lucky that although it threatened to rain - it didn't, and the threatening clouds added drama to a few of my pictures.

Can't wait to do it all over again on my way back home to Istanbul!