Flashback, Flash Forward

One of my favorite things about living in Istanbul was exploring the city's small neighborhoods and coming upon interesting architecture, vibrant street life, interacting with people, and taking in the fact that I was strolling atop of layers upon layers of history. Last fall, my friend and sketching buddy, Gabby, and I made a plan to explore more of the city's hans. We had a few favorites- Büyük Valide Han and Rustempaşa Han, where we liked to sit and draw, but we knew there were others and wanted to explore them as well. We met one evening and drew up a list of places, making dates to go and seek them out.

One of the hans we visited was Serpuş Han in the neighborhood of Karaköy, down the hill from my former apartment in Galata, and close to Gabby's studio. From the outside, it didn't look like much, and we weren't sure what to expect or if we were allowed in, but we pushed forward and up the stairs. This 18th century han was much smaller than others we'd encountered, with no central courtyard. and We walked up its narrow staircase to the second level and were soon greeted by a young artisan, warm as could be, who immediately offered to show us around. We passed machinery for making springs and locked cupboards where doves were kept. In one of the studios, our host pointed out a small, oval grisaille painting on the ceiling. At first glance it appeared to depict an astronomer, but a little digging on the internet later revealed that the portrait was most likely of a "müneccim," which the levantineheritage.com website defines as a "Moslem wise man who plies his trade with semi-shamanistic clairvoyance" and which can also be translated as "astrologer". This painting was completely unexpected and reinforces how much history and mystery is embedded in the most unassuming corners of the city. We chatted with the young artisan a bit, before catching a glimpse of the Hagia Sophia in the distance and heading back out in our mission to explore more hans.

Now that I'm in Chicago, I miss these explorations and the excitement of having such an ancient city at my fingertips, where every wander out of my doorstep held the potential for a small adventure and interesting encounters. In an attempt to satisfy this itch for the new, I've been taking new routes to familiar places and stopping to take in my surroundings and approach them with a similar curiosity with which I approached them in Istanbul. And, lo and behold, once I opened my eyes a bit more and took slightly different routes than normal, I noticed mementos of Chicago's history that I hadn't before- a plaque in honor of László Moholy-Nagy, an artist in multiple media and innovator in the field of photography who was part of the Bauhaus movement and eventually moved and worked in Chicago, a small monument commemorating the cemetery that once existed in Lincoln Park, and the much more imposing Elks National Memorial and Headquarters at the intersection of Diversey Parkway and Lakeview Avenue on the edge of Lincoln Park.

The Elks' National Memorial is accessible to the public only during a small window of time each afternoon, which I noted and returned for. I was greeted by a friendly young docent and art history scholar, who briefed me on the building's history.  Built in 1926 in the Beaux Arts style, the building was originally constructed to commemorated the members of the Elks who had died in WWI, but was later rededicated to honor members who had perished in all ensuing wars. It's austere exterior opened up to a warm and lavish interior, decorated with beautiful marble, striking paintings  encircling the base of the dome, and ornate stained glass. Much of the glee of exploring the building came not only from the beautiful and interesting art it held, but at the unexpectedness of what I would find inside. After poking around in the building's various rooms and taking in the details of its murals and the grandeur of its circular hall, I left feeling uplifted by the realization that Chicago, like any city, sits on layers of history waiting to be explored.

A child in the painting, representing Curiosity


Popular Posts