There is an urge, in arriving in a place long conjured, to want to know it, finally, at once. But jet-lagged and unslept in Istanbul, it is better just to notice:
In the center of the city, spilling with the trolley tracks from Taksim Square toward the Sea of Marmara, a pedestrian lane that could be in Vienna. Diesel store. The Body Shop. But also fast food outlets selling fresh kebabs; police idling among the gentle rush hour tide near the wide square; one holding an automatic rifle, its barrel pointed to the sky; from there, in bursts interrupted by Bosphorus gusts, drop clumps of hail; umbrella peddlers appear, 5-gallon plastic buckets full of collapsable umbrellas, for about $3.50 each; the winding boulevard dropping down toward Galata Bridge weaves amid the low crawl of four- and five-story buildings, some shiny in steel, others windows blown out, wood frames waiting only to burn; so few women wearing head scarves; fewer even, it is possible to say, than the minarets rising from the Ottoman-era mosques on river bank and hilltop; cargo tankers anchored in the flat sea; on the hills that form the last hard piece of the continent of Europe, so many Turkish faces, and those with features more common in Greece, or Armenia, or into the Middle East, or Africa; just stop in the Turk Cell shop and look at customers buying credits for their phones; a crowd of individuals, stirring and simmering, until stepping into the hail and out of it again, in groups of two or three, into a cafe for baklava, thick with pistachios, and tea; it steams.