Thursday, October 30, 2008

Books For Sale Istanbul Style

Sahafler Carsisi, Second Hand Booksellers Market

Wondering through the oldest market in the city, the Second Hand Booksellers courtyard is probably one of the most quiet and leafy and pleasant of all the markets in Istanbul. It has been located at this same spot since Byzantine times, where book makers and paper makers worked. Today, bookstalls and bookcases and tables covered with books spill onto the walkways together with sellers of pens, reading glasses and the perfect browsing snack, simit, Turkish pretzels. Everything seems available, such as antique miniatures taken from 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century books, Korans in all sizes and colors, dictionarties, travel books as well as popular Turkish, Russian and Western writers works.

In a miniaturist’s stall I found images painted in shades of indigo of Noah’s Ark, and Jonah and the Whale, both Noah and Jonah wearing turbans. I also saw 17th century paintings of astronomers and alchemists in the Topkapi Palace as well as my favorite, a miniature done in red and gold and black and white of a writer at work. He sat in front of a desk that looked liked a three-dimensional triangular box, which served as an easle-like desk. The author painted his words in calligraphy.

While strolling I stopped at a stall that happened to have the translation of a novel by Michael Gurian Turkiye De Bir Amerikali Mistik, American Mystic in Turkey, a writer from my hometown Spokane, Washington. The book was situated just outside the door of a bookshop, at eye level. The world shrank in that instant and I marveled at the odds that I had stumbled on Gurian’s work.

When the call to prayer permeated the market from the nearby mosque, men clogged the foot traffic as they stopped to wash their hands and feet—the ritual cleansing before entering the mosque—in the marble sinks that line one of the main lane of the market. In the Sahaflar Carsisi —as in a good novel—life and work and prayer are one seamless story.

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