Signs of Spring in Istanbul (finally!)

It's felt like a long time coming, but it seems to be here, though I don't want to jinx it. The tenacious and extensive blanket of fog that's been topping the city for weeks seems to be moving on, although it's not exiting center stage easily and instead, raking its nails along the sky, leaving streaks of itself behind. Hopefully it means warmer weather is on the way at last!

Tulips in Yildiz Park

I've been walking the five miles back home, recently, instead of taking the school's service bus. Being a city of hills, Istanbul makes for some great city hikes and my journey home is a slow roller coaster of scenic ups and downs. I usually head down to Ortakoy and then make my way back up to the entrance of Yildiz Park, formerly the Sultan's hunting grounds. Its walls cloister you from the street hustle, and gives the rare opportunity for a peaceful stroll. You can also catch glimpses of the bridge to Asia and the Bosphorus while walking along is paths and there are several cafes, where you can catch your breath and enjoy a cay with a beautiful view. It also seems like a hot spot for teens, escaping their parents' watchful gazes to lock lips on its numerous benches.

In honor of spring, hundreds of tulips of many varieties have been planted throughout the park and it is truly a pleasure for the eyes to take in their shouting vibrancy and all of their forms: some clumsy and floppy eared like labradors, others trim and tidy like turbans, and still others pointy and precise as lance blades. After walking around in Yildiz Park for a while, I exit through the only other entrance at the bottom of the park and head towards home along the Bosphorus. I've figured out a less crowded path and I get a lot of thinking done as I watch the ships criss cross each other  on the water.

Bag-o-chokes!
When I was almost home and trying to filter down what to make for dinner, I passed an artichoke vendor on the street with a huge mound of artichokes ready for grooming and a big pail of water. He had a customer already, so I waited for my turn and was mesmerized by the process. It was beautiful to watch him work. He filed down each artichoke in seconds, cutting off the leaves and trimming it down the saucer shaped part above the stem, never once stopping, always keeping the artichoke in a clean rotation in his swift hands. After shaving the final leaves off, he would drop the diminished artichoke, now naked without it's ornamental green scales, into a bin of water.

In the final step, he fished each of the 'chokes out of the water, spun them quickly in his hand, while brushing each of its surfaces with a half lemon in a move reminiscent of a potter, shaping the lip of a pot on a spinning wheel. As he finished this baptism by lemon, he lined them up on a wooden lat to wait for the others- patient school children, all scrubbed squeaky clean behind the ears, sitting on a bench. Once they had all undergone this elaborate ritual, he scooped them into a clear plastic bag, filled it with water, and tied a tight knot at the end, like goldfish won at the school fair. I walked the few blocks home, excited to sample this special spring treat. We tried one raw, and the rest, I cooked with zucchini and mixed with pasta. I'm excited to explore other ways to use them now that they are in season. Hurray for spring!


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