I scanned the rows of park benches and one by one ruled out all those I couldn’t sit on. Family of tourists, no room for me anyway; young Turkish man who might get the wrong idea; elderly couple having a romantic moment in the dwindling sunlight.
A middle-aged woman sitting alone at the edge of one bench caught my eye and I approached her.
“May I sit here?” I asked in Turkish.
“Of course, of course,” she said, moving an eighth of an inch closer to the edge of the bench, the way polite people do when there is no need to make room but want to appear welcoming.
I sat and put my bags next to me, clutching the straps through my arm. It was still touristy, I told myself, you never know who might try to take your bag.
From my bench, I had the most beautiful view of the Sultanahmet Mosque, lit up by the setting sun, sparkling behind the water fountain’s mist. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been here in so long. I hadn’t ever noticed how many locals were doing the same thing I was, just sitting, staring, contemplating, maybe a wee bit in awe of how strikingly beautiful the view was.
I remarked as such to the woman next to me.
“It is gorgeous, isn’t it?” she nodded in affirmation. “I love coming here.”
She asked me what I was doing in Turkey, and I told her I lived here.
In Istanbul? No, I said. Izmir.
“I hate Izmir,” she said, vehemently. “I went there last year and hated it.”
I was surprised and said so. I’ve met very few Turkish people who don’t like Izmir. I asked her why she didn’t like the city.
“There’s nothing there, nothing at all. It has no soul.” Here she nodded knowingly, as if imparting some kind of sacred information.
“Now, Istanbul, Istanbul is something else, isn’t it?” she said, and it wasn’t really a question the way she said it.
We sat in silence for a moment, watching the seagulls swooping wide and low over the mosque.
“I’d offer you some tea, but I don’t imagine you carry a teacup with you,” she said with a smile, gesturing with her own hour-glass teacup, which she had produced from a canvas bag carrying a thermos filled with tea.
I laughed. No, I said, I don’t have a teacup in my purse, but thank you for the offer.
We sat in silence for a while longer, and then I stood up to go.