Friday, January 05, 2007

27 - 28 May 1956

Dear Folks

I probably won’t have time to finish this tonite, since it is already past nine, & couldn’t mail it if it were finished, as I have no envelopes. Let me tell you, or begin to, of yesterday’s excursion to Istanbul.

Andy Hansen, one of the mess cooks, had asked me to go ashore with him to buy some souvenirs for his mother & girlfriend, & I agreed. He had to work until liberty call at least, so Lloyd & I told him we would meet him & two other guys at 2:30 at the USO. We left the ship on the second liberty boat.

After leaving fleet landing & its flags, where I’d spent four delightful hours the day before, we passed the stadium where they are currently having the World Wrestling Tournament—which was also bedecked with flags. We followed a road which soon became mostly dust, around in almost a complete circle—except that now we were on top of a hill. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but…a wooden house! An honest-to-goodness building made of wood. Believe it or not, this was the first wooden building I’ve seen in Europe!

The business streets were lined with shops, & in front of every single one flew…that’s right; a Turkish flag. In one store, closely resembling a drugstore (the closest resemblance Europe has shown me yet) I bought Grandpa Margason a Meerschaum pipe, which proved to be my only purchase of the day.

By the time we finally reached the USO, it was 2:40, but there was no sign of the others. The place was called the "Summer USO," since it has one side open, with a terrace overlooking the Golden Horn, a river which flows into the Bosphorus. Located high on a hill, & facing away from the Bosphorus & the Sea of Marmara, the view showed the clustered, red-grey of the city on both .sides of the Golden Horn, & the light green of the hills, where the city ends casually. There are many trees in the city, which also makes it unique, but none on the hills.

Three of Lloyd’s buddies came in & joined us, while we ate luke-warm hot dogs on hard buns, & drank synthetic lemonade. At 3:30 we all decided to leave, there being six of us now; as we walked out the door, Andy & three others came in.

Where would be a good place to go? "The Grand Bazaar," I said, having read of it in the Bulletin. So into two taxies, & off to the Grand Bazaar. I am going to write the Cinerama people & tell them that if they want to film excitement, ride an Istanbul taxi to the Grand Bazaar. I wasn’t, unlike the other guys, the least bit terrified after I pretended I was watching Cinerama. I knew the people & busses would melt out of the way before we hit them, & they did.

We were let off by a gate, through which we could see green trees & the quiet, grey walls of a mosque. "This is the Grand Bazaar?" I thought.

A few small shops selling goatskin rugs, one having a design of some general or other, sit behind the mosque. Beneath the trees, vendors peddle hand-made slippers & wooden spoons. Another gate opens on a narrow street jammed with people & shops, the merchandise being piled outside & giving the effect of utter confusion.

Directly across from us was another gate, leading into the real Grand Bazaar. How large the building housing it is I can’t imagine. It’s like the inside of a subway—lined on both sides with shops, & the wide street or alley or passageway filled with people. From one of these mile-long corridors, others branch out at right angles—some of them are boarded off, & a chill wind blows through the dark, ruined parts seen beyond. All the shops are small—some only three feet by three feet; they go in sections, it seems. The first we came into were all silk shops selling beautiful quilts & bedspreads for around $15. I would have bought one without a minute’s hesitation, except that I’d read warnings in the Bulletin against the "high" prices—also, the other side of the matting was only rough muslin. But oh, how beautiful were the colors & patterns! Then came shoe stores, & off down one corridor it appeared to be furniture; next were the clothing shops, purses, ornaments, brass works—you could spend a day in the Grand Bazaar & not see it all.

We finally came out onto another street—to the right it wound around a corner in a jumble of shops & people, & to the left we could see the sky and some permanent-looking buildings. We decided to go right, which turned out to be the wrong way—Bader wanted to find the Ferris Wheel he had seen from the ship. We hadn’t the vaguest idea which way the ship might be, but we could see the sea. I suggested that, since you could see the Ferris Wheel from the ship, you should be able to see the ship from the Ferris Wheel & if, when we reached the bottom of the hill, we couldn’t see either, we should walk to the left until we did.

We covered more back-back streets than any other group of sailors in Istanbul—down dirt streets where little children in dirty smocks played tag, or ran to the shelter of the houses when they saw us coming. Old women & girls peeked out of windows at us, & we must have been an odd sight—ten of us tramping through nowhere.

At long last we climbed another hill by a huge mosque with five minarets & past two obelisks—one Egyptian & a gift to the Emperor Justinian, I believe. From a garden near the mosque we looked down on the city & the sea, & being unable yet to see the Ti, we gave up & took a taxi. We’d lost two of our group a few minutes before, who’d gotten disgusted with all that walking & taken a cab to the nearest bar.

We asked to be taken to Abdullah’s, a well-known restaurant, where the food is excellent & the prices inexpensive. It was, we found, closed, so we visited a few of the bars in the immediate vicinity, waiting for Abdullah’s to open, at seven.

One of these bars, the Rose Bud, employs girls who are no more than twelve yeas old, if that. They are dressed in almost nothing, & do belly dances when not "entertaining" the customers. That was too much for us, so we left, & left behind three more, among them Andy—he had bought one scarf in the Grand Bazaar.

Our numbers now reduced to five, we stopped in a restaurant that served only coffee & pastries, which were delicious. The lights went out just after we were seated, & we ate by candlelight provided by the management.

After, we made our way back to Abdullah’s & had supper. A very nice restaurant—one you should visit the next time you’re in Istanbul. When we’d finished eating, we hopped in a cab for the Istanbul Hilton.

They say Miami Beach has some sumptuous hotels, & they look it, from the outside—but the Istanbul Hilton can hold its own with the very best of them. All glass & carpeting—blue lights play on the large swimming pool overlooking the lights of Istanbul & the liquid dark of the Bosphorus. To one side of the pool, music flows from the glass restaurant with its flowing plastic roof. A wide staircase sweeps grandly down to a "basement" bar & restaurant. Men & women, all Americans, walk about—the women in magazine dresses (one in a gold lame dress). I was very proud of myself, acting (I hope) as nonchalant as possible, & as though it were an every day occurrence. I like to pretend.

We drank Tom Collins’, Screwdrivers, & Vermouth—all of which was astonishingly inexpensive, considering the surroundings. I plan to go back tomorrow. And so our evening ended.
I did a very backwoods-ish thing—I swiped a Vermouth glass with "IH" etched on it. But I’m glad I did.

Mail call tonite—three letters from you—thank you.

Now comes the "good" news—are you sitting down? I am. We had a little talk from the Captain. He told us when we are going home:

"The USS Ticonderoga will be relieved on or about 25 July 1956 by the USS Randolph. We will arrive in the States on either 3 or 4 August 1956."

And there it is. We will come limping home exactly nine months to the day since we left. I will have eight days to serve before my discharge.

There is a very strong possibility that I may leave the ship before she heads for home, but I don’t know.

Our next port will be Genoa, Italy—second time around. From there, during out ten day stay, I hope to go to Venice for three days. After Genoa, we might possibly go to Barcelona—from where I shall go to Madrid if at all feasible.

Please take as many snapshots as possible of everything & everyone & send them, so that I’ll be able to recognize you when & if I get home.

If I do get sent back ahead of the ship, I’ll have to send my stuff home. God, what a mess that will be. You’ve got to promise not to open any of it till I get there.

Well, I’ve said more than enough for tonite. Tomorrow we’re going on tour, so I probably won’t get a chance to write. Oh, well



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