Letter from Istanbul

IT IS OUR FIRST NIGHT IN ISTANBUL, once Constantinople, once capitol of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. Hasan has promised – prophetically, it appears – to show us the city as natives see it.
        Avoiding the ancient mosques, bazaars, and palaces that lure tourists from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East (the three parts of the world which meet here), Hasan has taken us along curving, crowded thoroughfares to Beyoglu off Taksim, "Istanbul's Times Square."
        Down Istiklal Caddesi, a stone-paved promenade packed with youths we'd call club kids if we saw them in New York, Berlin, or London. Past East European buildings decked with Turkish signs lettered in an Arabic style. Into a covered alley of fishmongers, fruit stands, and crowded lokanta patrolled by aggressive barkers. "Yes, sir, madame, this way please," the barkers cry in English as we pass.
        Through an unassuming doorway, up a steep staircase, and finally sitting down at the corner table of a somewhat dirty, extremely casual eating place – stray cats climbing into the second story window, plaintively hoping for table scraps.
        We have taken it all in through a jetlagged haze. But now, as my partner Joan searches her purse for our passports, we are very much awake.