Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Nature of Istanbul

I've been in Istanbul for a while, and it is, of course, a great city--addictive, in a way, like Venice.

We all have our coping-mechanisms when traveling, I assume; one of mine is to focus on the trees, plants, and birds of a place because one is bound to make familiar sightings, and one is reminded in general that this is, in fact, a small planet.

It is said the Prophet Muhammad strongly discouraged the destruction of trees, and what a sensible viewpoint. Perhaps the Prophet's views on this matter have affected the extent to which Istanbul is full of trees, and most especially in our hotel's neighborhood, which is old and working class--not that far from the seaside on the sharp slope down from Hagia Sophia.

In any case, I've seen in Istanbul so far sycamore, olive, fig, beech, oak, pine [a short species, not completely dissimilar to the scrub pine of the Sierra Nevada foothills], fir, maple, ash, locust, eucalyptus, and many species I don't recognize.

Some of the grasses and shrubs (boxwood) look familiar, and there seems to be a thistle that's similar to the star thistle. There is a low-lying flowering thing I mistook for red clover, but it's certainly not red clover. I'll have to look it up.

Grape vines grow everywhere in neighborhoods, as do fig trees: wonderful.

As for the birds, they are endlessly fascinating, especially in the morning and at dusk. There are swallows--which particular species, I dare not guess, but they dive and glide and feed on insects like the tree swallows I remember from the Sierra Nevada, and they have those great bladed wings.

The crows here are two-toned, with a gray chest and a gray cape: splendid. A wide variety of pigeons and doves and gulls. Starlings. There's a medium-sized, gray-black bird that chugs through the air; it looks like what I'd call a cowbird, but I'm sure it's not that. There are also sparrows that nest in buildings (including those of the Sultan's palace) and storks. The stork legend in Turkey is that if you see a stork flying, you will be traveling a lot. I saw a stork flying when we drove to Ephesus, so I guess I'll be traveling more.

In the small city near Ephesus, while we were having lunch, I looked outside and saw what seemed to be a crows nest--a massive construction of thick twigs. But a white head arose. It was a stork--a stork's nest. How cool is that?

Cats in Istanbul are ubiquitous and often heart-breaking: underfed, aged too quickly. The main reason for their presence, I think, is that Istanbul would be over-run with rats if the cats weren't around. There are more cats here than ever I saw in Rome.

Istanbul: The Imperial City
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