I'm starting to think of my next, and possibly last, trip to Europe next year. I'm strongly considering a 16-day cruise from Athens to Istanbul, both of which cities I visited when I was a grass-green 22 year old sailor aboard the USS Ticonderoga. And that, of course, sent me to the letters I'd written my parents at the time. Here is the story of my introduction to Istanbul.
25 May 1955
Night before last I neglected letter writing in order to stand on the foc’sle and watch the Dardanelles slip by, made ghostly white by the moon, which skipped along the water beside the ship. The water was smooth and black, and the night so clear even the stars left spidery reflections. The air smelled green and fresh, like pine needles and hay; like the America we’ve almost forgotten.
Yesterday morning we arrived in Istanbul, which some Irish poet describes as: “The view of Istanbul from the sea is the most splendid of all pageants presented to the eye by the metropolitan cities.” Well, my first view of Istanbul was from our anchorage in the Bosphorus, where we are surrounded by the city. I must have missed something, because aside from the numerous needle-like minarets and humped domes of the mosques, it might as well have been San Remo, Italy, or a dozen other European cities.
The Bosphorus is nothing more than a wide river—the only link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean (via the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles). We have been cautioned not to fall overboard in the Bosphorus, for the current is so strong we would be swept far out into the Sea of Marmara before a rescue boat could reach us. Of course, Leander used to swim it every night to see his beloved Hero (who stood on a hill with a torch to guide him), until one night a storm blew out Hero’s torch and Leander to sea, where he drowned. There is a tower—which looks like a cross between a church steeple and a windmill minus its arms—erected in memory of Leander behind and to the right of the ship.
We are anchored with our bow toward the Black Sea. To our left, a high hill solid with buildings hides Istanbul, or rather the major part of it. To our right, on the other side of the Bosphorus, is Uskadar, which is in Turkey and also in Asia. Ahead of us, the Bosphorus winds around a hill and disappears; behind and off to the right, the silver-mist of the Sear of Marmara. Almost directly behind, framed by two freighters and numerous of the small, half-moon shaped fishing vessels, rises the great mound of St. Sophia, flanked by four minarets—two tall and two short. As I’ve said, all the mosques are similarly shaped and all, from a distance at least, singularly ungraceful and unattractive.
This morning, I stood my first Shore Patrol, from 0800 to 1200. I was one of three Beach Guards—two of whom were entirely unnecessary. I amused myself for about an hour by throwing small pieces of cement and little chunks of rust from an iron barge at jellyfish. This sport soon lost its fascination, especially since I wasn’t hitting any—unless they happened to be particularly stupid jellyfish (which is quite an accomplishment, since almost anything is smarter than a jellyfish).
They’re completely transparent, and look like little circles of very thin smoke; something like a parachute. In their dead center, they have four round circles of slightly thicker smoke, and they range in size from two to twelve inches in diameter.
The Turks are the flag-flying-est people I’ve ever seen; their flag is red, with a white half moon and a five-pointed star on the inside curve. You see them everywhere—on the buildings, on flagpoles, on the streetcars and fishing craft.
When the Intrepid was here some weeks ago, two sailors climbed a flagpole and tore down the flag, ripping it and stomping. They were so completely stupid they couldn’t tell a half moon and star from a hammer and sickle. Needless to say, they were badly mauled by a mob—two Marines who tried to help the sailors were stabbed. Well, it serves them right—anyone who would tear down another country’s flag in the flag’s own country should be hung by the thumbs and left to rot!
Lloyd and I are going over tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get a letter.
Oh, yes—guess what came in the mail today? (Yes, we actually had a mail call.) A box of brownies! I’m going to eat them , even if they are stale. Also got five letters from you—14th to 17th, which came as a very welcome relief. Glad you got the flowers, mom.
Money over here is very confusing. They positively forbid taking American money ashore, and back it up with a jail sentence if you try. The legal, stated exchange is 2.8 Turkish Lire to $1.00; the ship is giving 11.9 to $1.00! Inflation is tearing this place apart.
Well, I have a few more letters to write, so I’d best close. Oh, before I forget—got back four rolls of film from Athens--and almost every single shot of the Acropolis is overdeveloped! Oh, well—you can at least get the idea.
P.S. Also, I guess I won’t be taking many more pictures—the ship is out of film.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).