Saturday, October 29, 2011

Birthday Week

Twenty nine years ago on a dark, stormy October night a tiny Baby Awesome was born into this world. Exactly three-hundred and sixty two days later another child, this time a girl with a flare for melodrama, joined the mortal realms herself. It would be several years, decades even, before the twain would meet. But when they did, the world was never the same again.

And so it is, my spectral friends, that once a year when the leaves change color and the stores fill with fun-sized candy bars, a special festival is held to commemorate these two souls. I give you, Birthday Week!

This year's week-long festival began on a Saturday, when Mr. Awesome agreed to dress in a kilt and spend all day with me at the Renaissance Festival for a second time this season. Actually, this is notable since a) we've never before gone more than once in the same season, and b) we've never spent more than a couple of hours there. Surprisingly, it was easily the most fun we've ever had at the renfaire.
Rico and Bald Guy, throwing knives. Also they juggle. Also it freaked me out and I never want to see someone throw a knife into a balloon when someone else's head is INSIDE IT ever again. (Shudder)

Volgemut, the medieval German band. This I would watch again...and again and again and again. Mom, you would have absolutely loved them and I insist that you visit me next October and see for yourself! (This is not a request, it's a demand.)

Awwww, so tender. Actually, I'm pretty sure a couple got married in the chapel behind us a few minutes before this picture was taken. And you thought we were a weird couple.
Apparently I'm attracted to a bad boy after all...although, for a sloth, this is a very animated face, no? I mean, he looks more....angry? Constipated? I dunno.

I'm obviously innocent here. Look at that face.
And then Mr. Awesome taught me how to shoot an arrow.
He's much better at it himself though. Please notice the action shot here, I snapped this just as the arrow left his hand. Be amazed, be truly amazed.

I took like twenty photos like this. And honestly, can you blame me?

Not pictured here are the authentic foods we consumed (including that most quintessential of medieval snacks: the turkey club sandwich), and two versions of Hamlet we watched, one of which was performed by two mimes. It was one of the best productions I've seen, honestly. Especially the scene when Ophelia walked out in goggles and flippers to drown herself, glaring passive-aggressively at Hamlet the whole time. The layers! I'm telling you. We also tried knife throwing, star throwing, and ax throwing. Mr. Awesome may have me beat at archery, but when it comes to ax throwing? I killed it, folks. My third ax not only hit the target, it hit dead center. Watch yourselves, that's all I'm saying.

Unfortunately, Scotland lost the joust to England (again). This time one of our knights was from Spain, too. It's the old guy who always rides for England; that dude is amazing. Last time we went one of our knights was a girl, so that pretty much rocked. Dame Brunhilde of Germany was one tough cookie. We still lost to the old guy. Jerk.

My actual birthday was the following day, and when Mr. Awesome expressed disappointment that he hadn't been able to think of anything to get me for my birthday, I reminded him that he got me the best present I could ask for:

A man in a kilt shooting arrows at stuff. And Georgetown Cupcakes, of course.

A few days later I got up at ridiculous o'clock in the morning to sneek outside and decorate the car with mini kitkats and reeses. I'll be honest, there was a moment when I was convinced I would be murdered while hanging candy bars from the ceiling of my car. That parking lot was dark, deserted, and creepy. It all turned out okay and Mr. Awesome was nicely surprised when he went left for work on his birthday. That night, as per his request, I made him cake balls. For those of you not in the know, cake balls are basically a way to take regular cake and make it ten times more sugary and disgusting. He loved it.
Did I really fit 29 candles into a single cupcake? Dudes, of course I did.
I am rocking these actions shots lately, check out that smoke.

He would later throw up after consuming too much sugar. I still don't think he regrets it.
That weekend we celebrated with a ghost-tour of Old Town Alexandria, which was just as awesome as it sounds. More so, because we went with Mr. Awesome's fabulous brother and sis-in-law. And then we went to Cox Farms where Mr. Awesome enjoyed several slides, a funnel cake, and a hot chocolate. He was then banned from eating sweets for two solid days. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Istanbul II: Sacred Wisdom

I've wanted to see that building since the day I found out she existed. Somehow, though, I felt certain I never would. What with all the Sistene Chapels and Notre Dames and Westminster Abbeys yet to be seen, surely this one church, so far off the usual track, would be beyond my reach. Besides, even though she was once the greatest Christian church in the world, she's hardly as famous now. She isn't a church anymore, and even her time as a mosque ended years ago.

But when we saw those discounted tickets to Istanbul online, Hagia Sophia was the reason I bought them. And when we woke up for the first time in that ancient, fascinating city, she was the only thing I cared about seeing.

We went early to the gates, determined to miss the crowds. I was anxious somehow, as though if we were not fast enough somehow something would prevent me from seeing her. I'd come all this way and I just knew it couldn't be that easy. The gates must be barred to us. There would be a password we did not know, a gesture or look that would mark us as outsiders, not ready to see her now. And if not now, when? Hurry, we have to hurry.

But the gates were not barred. No password required, and outsiders or no, the ticket price guaranteed us admission. And so, we walked through the old walls to stand next to her. Solid, stable, and plain in comparison to the delicate white mosques that surround her. From the outside, in fact, she is just a red-brown giant, dowdy even, next to the frilly, glittery Blue Mosque opposite. But that's outside.

This is inside.
This is the passageway to the upper levels. There was something truly creepy and wonderful about this bare stone passage. Or maybe I've read too much Udolpho.
This doesn't even give you an adequate sense of how massive it is, but it's the best I can do. Look at those puny little homo sapiens down there. So insignificant

Hagia Sophia has been many things to many people in her sixteen-hundred year lifetime, but she started out as a christian church. Her walls and domes were covered in gold-leafed mosaics. Pictures of the Virgin, Christ enthroned with various empirical personages, John the Baptist, angels, seraphim, and crosses glittered on nearly every surface. But all of that changed when Mehmet the conqueror had her turned into a mosque. The massive building with its incredible dome would remain, but the human figures, the crosses, the intricate and masterful mosaics, would have to go. And so they did. Rail at him if you must, but give him this one credit: rather than scrape them entirely from the walls, Mehmet chose to cover the mosaics with plaster. Saving them, partially at least, from total destruction.

And now, centuries later, they are peaking through again. A face here, a wing there. Some glittery pattern above a pillar. The work of restoring her walls to their original grandeur will take time, and she will never be what she once was. Even so, with just these few glimpses into her byzantine self, one can understand Justinian, the emperor who commissioned her, when he said at first entering

"Oh Solomon! I have outdone you!"

I wish I could have taken a better photo of His face here and they way the artist used hints of pink in the tiles to give Christ's face a human warmth.

Plaster next to mosaic. Doesn't the paint look silly next to the original?

I don't have any photos of me here, but that's probably better anyway. I'm sure I looked kind of nuts with my mouth hanging open and tears in my eyes. Mr. Awesome, of course, can be counted on for sanity and calm in any situation.

Looking out toward the blue mosque from an upper window, you can see its minarets in the distance. That's a sultan's tomb seen through an upper window.
Looking back at that same window. Warning: Objects in photo are much more amazing than they appear.
So listen, I won't bore you with anymore drooling over mosaics and such like. Suffice it to say that Hagia Sophia blew my mind, and since I can't adequately describe it for you, you'll just have to go see her for yourself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Welcome to Istanbul, please pick your jaw up off the floor.

First of all, let's talk about this city shall we? This glorious incredible enormous city. My first impressions of Istanbul have now been overlayed with a week's worth of site seeing, but I do vividly remember two of my initial reactions upon arrival:

1) Minarets are gorgeous. Seriously, way to go with the religious architecture, Islam. As the plane came down over the city these graceful towers seemed to dot the skyline in every direction, and it made the whole city seem more elegant somehow, as though she had put on her special occasion jewelry just for us.

2) Holy crap, I'm back in India.

The latter was actually more of a visceral reaction brought on by some of the side streets we saw on the train from the airport to our hotel. I'm still not exactly sure what did it, but all of the sudden my stomach dropped and I got a little light headed. For those of you who did not follow the India saga, let me just say that being in India is like hanging out with the most beautiful, fascinating person you've ever met...who occasionally likes to punch you in the face. It was probably the strange, non-romantic, language I was hearing everywhere. There is nothing like being surrounded by a language you don't speak to make you feel like a total idiot. The similarities between Turkey and India were not deep or vast, however, so the deja vu didn't last long.

We opted to use mass transit rather than pay for a taxi, which meant our first visit to the hippodrome involved dragging our suitcases behind us and much map-induced anxiety. In fact, we did not even know we were in the hippodrome as we rolled our luggage over the stones that once flew beneath the wheels of chariot races and imperial carriages. All we knew was that if we cut through this...park? type place we could get to our hotel faster. Or not, seeing as we got lost anyway. Also, drivers in Istanbul have a much greater respect for the intelligence of pedestrians than DC drivers do. Which is a nice way of saying that in Istanbul they expect you to be smart enough to move yourself out of the way before they hit you, and they do not bother to slow down or go around you if you do not. Word.

Thanks to a very helpful fish-restaurant majordomo, we did eventually find the little bed and breakfast we had reserved online. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the view from our balcony:
In the foreground you can see the ruins of the Byzantine city walls, and that skyline in the distance? Oh that's just Asia honey.

Sunset over the sea of Marmara, baby. Welcome to Istanbul.

And looking out over the European coastline. We had no idea we would have this kind of view when we booked this hotel. I take credit for it anyway.  
Self-photography #451 "Jet-lagged and hungry"
We got to our hotel some time around 6pm and after gaping at that gorgeous view we set out in search of sustenance. And I'm sure we would have found it, too, had we not found the Arasta Bazzaar first.

You may now pause to wipe the drool off your face.
 But anyway, food. Right? Yes, we wanted food. Wait...
Blue Mosque, looking mysterious and awesome. Seriously, who cares about food?

And then we turned around and boom! Haggia Sophia was staring me straight in the face and she was like "Hello tiny mortal. I'm about to blow your mind." (In fact, I didn't even get a good picture. I just stared at her and tried not to cry.)

Somehow, eventually, we did get ourselves into a restaurant. A terrace restaurant with a perfect view of the backside of Blue Mosque. Mr. Awesome indulged in some very nice lamb kabob and rice, while I sipped fresh squeezed orange juice and stared at the minarets. Until about 8:30pm, when those minarets began to issue the call to prayer.

And then I really did cry. I have seen few things in life as beautiful as Sultanahmet at night when a dozen different minarets fill the air with the name of God.

And that was just the first night. Next up? Haggia Sophia makes good on her promise.