Turning Stones - George McKale


Turning stones and breaking bones

For the next few weeks I will be turning stones in Egypt and Turkey.  The culmination of a two-year project with Sonoma’s sister-city, Aswan, is the primary reason for the visit.  I shall be meeting Bill Boerum, Vice-Chair of Sister Cities International, in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan.  More on Aswan next week, but for now I shall share our experiences in Cairo and Istanbul.

I am traveling with my 14-year-old, Matthew, and in just a few short days we have been quite busy, turning stones and making new discoveries each day.  We have done so much stone turning in fact, that it feels as if we have been away for a month.

One of the first things we discovered was an interesting interpretation of Matt’s name in Egypt.  Initially, when asked what my son’s name was, we would both reply “Matt”. Well, “Matt” in Arabic means something like “caput” or “to die”.  We were wondering about all those strange looks when we said his name. We have learned to use the two syllable version of his name.

In two days, we hit the pyramids and sphinx in Giza, rode camels, journeyed into the deep recesses of the khufu pyramid, came eye to eye with a dozen mummies at the Cairo Museum, took pictures next to the burnt police van at Tahrir Square, had breath-taking views of Cairo at the Citadel, shopped and had mango juice and Turkish coffee at El Fishawy at the suq Khan el-Khalili established in 1382, visited a synagogue, mosque and church in Cairo’s Coptic Center, and still had plenty of time to consume at some of the finest eateries along the beautiful Nile.

And now, the next run on sentence.  Over the following two days we found ourselves turning stones in Istanbul, Turkey.  Here we took of our shoes to enter the mind-blowing Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, toured the Toplaki Palace and saw the footprint of the prophet Mohammed and the staff of Moses, bought beautifully colored dust at the spice market and trinkets at the Grand Bazaar, walked miles down the long and windy streets from the top of Taksim Square, ate fish along the Bosphorus and rode bikes around the island of Büyükada, where I promptly fell off and broke my radius.

For those of you skimming this article, I shall paraphrase the last sentence: I broke my arm in Turkey.

Büyükada is the largest of nine islands located off the coast of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara. It takes about an hour and a half to arrive there by ferry and the town itself is in an absolute gorgeous setting.  When Leon Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union in 1929, he first lived in Büyükada for four years.

There are nine islands collectively are known as the Princes.  During the Byzantine period, princes and other royal figures were exiled to the island. Later in time, Ottoman sultans were also exiled there, only to be recaptured by them during the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Today, the islands are home to Istanbul’s wealthy. The island is covered with large Victorian cottages and homes.  One of the most significant buildings on the island is Ayia Yorgi church and Monastery dating to the sixth century.

One of the many great features of the island is that cars are forbidden, thus, the only way to get around is by horse drawn carriage or bicycle. If you ever go, I would recommend the horse drawn carriage. Luckily, the incident occurred at the end of our bike ride so I was able to enjoy the breathtaking views seen from almost any vantage point around the island.

As for the broken arm, I toughed it out, hoping the pain would miraculously disappear after a good night’s sleep.  It did not.  After breakfast, Matthew helped me get dressed and we made our way to the Taksim Hospital in Istanbul, where I was pleasantly surprised by their efficiency.  I was admitted, had x-rays taken, diagnosed and treated in less than 3 hours. They drained a little blood from the inside of my elbow, wrapped the arm up tight and put it in a sling. Matthew and I are once again ready to turn some stones, only this time with a more caution!

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