High Dose of Lodos and a Trip to the Han

For the last few days, a warm and whipping wind called Lodos has descended on the city, scattering signs and bending trees. It was so bad on Sunday that flights were canceled and boat traffic on the Bosphorus was stalled. I walked home after my jewelry class looking at the Bosphorus devoid of light- a large inky blot. It was the kind of wind that scattered thoughts, emotions, and tempers. It slapped and howled and turned my hair into an impossible tangle that took a life of its own as it floated around my head. The waves along the Bosphorus were epic and, before they shut down boat traffic, the boats that were on the water charged along with the effortful pull of an ox dragging a plow. 

I hadn't realized how strong the wind was when I headed out for a trip to Büyük Valide Han in Sultanahmet on Saturday morning. Gabby and I have been going sketching there- usually in warmer weather, and we'd made a date to interview the key guy at the han for a small article we are writing. He is the man, who on a metal ring pregnant with keys, has the one special one that accesses the roof and a spectacular view of the city. He looked like he'd been working there a long time and we thought he might give us some good insights into that old, crumbling space. I'd woken up early and made my to Eminonu, to the right of the Spice Bazaar, where Kahve Dunyasi is, and up through the back streets towards the han. The streets were deserted at that time of morning, and I tried to remember where to go, feeling like I was vaguely going the right way. Going to the han is always like this. You twist and turn through these maze-like backstreets until somehow or another you find yourself there. It feels like an adventure every time and reaching the destination always carries with it a small glee. 

I walked through the first courtyard and around the second, larger one, taking in the scene. The han houses textile shops around its courtyard, displaying men’s suits, and the obligatory çay bahçe. Since I still had some time before meeting Gabby and Ozgur, I walked up a set of stairs to the left and up to the han’s second story. Sultanhamet’s roofs and domes spread out from all sides and the wind raced through, pushing; a taunting bully. I continued down a dark hallway littered with plastic bottles, dancing with the wind. Their rattling gave the dim hallway an eerie feel. I pressed forward, wondering if it wouldn’t be better to just turn back around. I heard the faint clicking of hammers. Was there a jewelry studio somewhere in these halls? The end of the hall opened up to a beehive-style brick dome and turned at a 90- degree angle to the left. A çay man raced from studio to studio, balancing his tulip-shaped glasses on the tray he held from its handle like a lantern. I made my way down the hall, peeking inside open doors. At the end of the hall, I bumped into the ever-jolly key man, who tried to usher me to the roof, but I told him I was waiting for friends.

I found a nook on a small staircase leading to a locked studio and pulled out my sketchbook. Before long, Gabby and Ozgur came and we headed back to the key man to ask him our questions. Ozgur had kindly come to give us Turkish support, but Gabby was able to ask our questions without a hitch. The key man was a bit reluctant to share his experience at first, but quickly opened up. He was warm and friendly. When we were done with the interview, he led us to the roof and we got gingerly scampered onto the roof, walking around its anthill domes to get to the other side. The wind was strong and unpredictable. We were careful not to get too close to the edge, as one sudden gust seemed like it could have sent us flying over. We took in the 360-degree view and walked back down to thank the key man.

Once back down, we settled back into the nook I’d sat in earlier and made some time to draw the arches and domes of the second story. Architectural drawing is new to me and I have been working on proportions and perspective. I am still not quite satisfied with the product, but am always happy for the practice and the time spent observing the details of this space. Gabby and Ozgur eventually took off and I stayed for a few more hours, enjoying a stretch of time that is a rarity during the workweek. Like it seems to happen every time I am out sketching, I was invited to warm up and get a glass of çay in an office space near where I was sketching. I met a few jewelers, and the key man let me borrow the key to the good bathroom. Sketching here in Istanbul, I feel constantly embraced with open arms and am extremely touched and grateful for it. Once I’d added as much to the sketch as I could, I said goodbye to the han and walked out into the now busier streets.

Instead of heading straight home, I walked down a street I was unfamiliar with and after poking my nose here and there, ended up in a han that housed mostly silversmiths. It was yellow and built on three stories, lined beautiful arches around a central courtyard. I walked around, looking at the decorated silver mirrors in the window displays. A hammer beat a steady rhythm followed by a scrape every few seconds. I followed this music to its source- a man shaping a bowl. After each series of hits with the hammer, he turned the bowl- the source of the scraping sound. It was wonderful to watch him, so absorbed in his work. I walked around the third story. Three men sat around a short table playing tavla outside of a small çay place. Their game bubbled over with pure joy and their genuine laughter at each play a throwback to the schoolyard. I made my way down to the last story and out the bottom entrance, looking up to check the name. Büyük Yeni Han. I had walked past it before, but had never gone in. You would never know how beautiful it is from the outside and what an oasis of calm hidden from the busy street. I headed back home, making a mental note to come find this han again for future sketching.


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