History, with a shot of Raki
By Jared Andrukanis, Segment Producer
Just saying the name of the city evokes a certain response. Istanbul…formerly Constantinople, formerly Byzantium, a city once declared the apex of civilization. The timeline comparison to my home is sobering. New York, in the European first contact sense, has been in the history books for about 500 years (and that is rounding up). Istanbul, as a city, has been around for at least three times that (and that is rounding down).
You can see the layers of civilizations built on top of one and other the minute the city proper comes into view. There is a tower built in the mid-1300s we stop at for a crew lunch one day, and right across from it is a store that sells Playstation3 games and cell phones. There are the high-rise buildings of glass and steel that cast shadows on winding streets full of houses that were built by hand with wood and plaster. The identity of this city, constantly in flux, is always a surprise. I love how foreign cities do not try to “Williamsburg-ify” (Virginia, not Brooklyn) their history. They serve it up with a nice dose of the present as well. They leave it up to you to seek out the old among the new.
Later that day, we have dinner in a district our local contact refers to as Istanbul’s Soho, and I am dumfounded by a menu featuring dishes such as Lobster Ravioli in Vodka Sauce, and Sliders with Gorgonzola Crumbles topped with Caramelized Onions. I order the latter (it was an impulse move), and wonder what our trip will produce food-wise to offset the strange feeling of déjà vu that this street side café is causing me. I could be on the corner of Grand and West Broadway near the office right now, yet I am nearly halfway around the world. This is strange, and I do not immediately understand why.
A few days later, we end up motoring up the Bosphorus, past the Golden Horn, and to the Black Sea on a small fishing boat. Our meal that day is served on a concrete outcropping, surrounded by fishing boats both old and new. The menu consists of fish from the Black Sea and shots of the local firewater known as Raki. The licorice taste of the booze offsets the pleasantly fishy taste of the main course, and the two have been served in this harmony for many years. The déjà vu from earlier evaporates completely at this point, and I get it. This is Istanbul, and so was that first meal. I surmise my feelings all come back to the way we learn about the world here in the US, and the way our history is presented to us. When we visit a historical site in this country, we expect to walk into an area that is neatly packaged and preserved for our viewing pleasure as a monument to times long past. Istanbul is no longer Byzantium, no longer Constantinople, but is something new and vibrant that holds onto the pieces of the past by wrapping it in the present.
On my first day back in the office here in NYC, I get lunch in Soho. It tastes good, but could use a little more spice.