As my friends back in Minnesota shovel yet another few inches of snow off their decks, I marvel at each new blossom on the Robert College Campus. Today we had a fire drill—remember them from your school days? Well, they’ve always been a part of my life. The entire school filed (relatively quietly) out to a small outdoor arena where attendance was taken, we were told it wasn’t a drill after all (Hmmm…today was April Fool’s Day), and we were excused to return to the building. At any rate, on my way back up to the school, I passed a tree covered in huge, lavender trumpet-shaped blossoms, each a few inches long. It was gorgeous—something I’ve never seen. A number of the trees here blossom before any leaves emerge, and the result is spectacular, particularly to one unaccustomed to leaves until the first of June!
Just outside my window is a tree lined with yellow blossoms (though this one has leaves), and on the other side of the building is a bush garbed in brilliant red blooms. Nearly every plant seems to have some kind of bud or blossom. In Minnesota I’d know the names of them all, but here I just marvel. Even the budding leaves here fascinate me—so different! (One pesky plant is familiar—bedstraw, better known to me as Velcro plant—which clings to Libby’s fur every time she ventures off the path. ARAUGHHH!!!!)
As I wander with my camera, Libby’s mission is the campus cats, most of whom know her too well. A little black cat escaped into a tree the other day; chalk one up for Libby. Reportedly our campus hosts seventy cats (mostly strays), nearly equal to the population of on-campus staff. No stray dogs, though—only pets. We even have a cat committee, pledged to catch and neuter every last one. Seems a monumental task, especially as I hear the Tomcats’ lustful yowls at night.
I hear something else at night here, too: the melodic strains of a songbird. Could it be a nightengale? That, too, is a new experience for me, a warm welcome as I wearily climb the long hill to my apartment after a night on the town.
One last note—another sign of spring in Istanbul. While walking with friends near Taksim, we saw a huge crowd of people (mostly men) standing on an overpass. Fishing? Emergency? Accident? Nope. It was the uphill soccer fan crowd, enjoying free nosebleed spots above the stadium—standing room only. There were even police to control the crowd of hundreds. Too funny!
We bypassed the cheering soccer crowds to visit the Pera Museum, where we browsed through a fascinating exhibit of the works of Czech photographer Josef Koudelka. Our tour finished with a flourish: a goodly gawk at The Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey. One of my favorite paintings, it was purchased four years ago by the Koç family for $3,500,000 (certainly the most valuable Turkish painting). I’ve read that it depicts Hamdi Bey’s frustration with Ottoman leaders of his time, intimating that they were as difficult to change (westernize) as training tortoises with a flute (turtles can’t hear, you know, and their hard shells protect them from prodding).
Osman Hamdi Bey was not only a gifted painter, but he was also an intellectual who organized numerous archeological digs in Anatolia (later Turkey) and founded the Istanbul Archeological Museum. Pretty impressive (in spite of the leaders who thwarted his efforts).
We ran into a few friends at the Pera and trekked off together for wine and a light meal in a quaint rooftop café a few blocks away. It was a good day. A great day.