So I'm standing in the West and looking at the East. A very Edward Said moment. East (turn) West (turn)... Istanbul is how I'd imagine Vienna to be if it were populated entirely by Muslims.* I've never actually been to Vienna, but I was blessed with a very active imagination.
It would be easy to over-romanticize the place. Staring up at the dome of the Hagia Sofia -- cathedral cum mosque cum museum -- is dizzying, dislocating... I resisted the urge to lie on the ground, but only just. At night, equilibrium restored, I made a nest of sorts in a rooftop cafe overlooking the Bosphorus. Eating a fruit and custard tart, drinking Turkish tea and reading Steinbeck, I was feeling generally very smug and worldly. The call to prayer suddenly booming from the Blue Mosque was a shivering shock. Bracketed by the strangled-baby call of seagulls and the subdued click-click of cups on saucers, it left me with that same shimmering dizzy vertigo as in the Hagia Sofia. I put down my book and really thought about where I was and the history of the place... Steinbeck says traveling alone unfixes you in time: "A memory, a present event, and a forecast all equally present." I think he's right.
*And indeed, I believe this was at one point in time the plan.