Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Palace Bear

This past weekend, I took the bipedals to Istanbul for a little R & R (the female one needed new lipstick - the vanity of some people) and we thought we would play tourist as well as shallow vapid shoppers. One of our stops was the 19th century Dolmabahçe Palace, the lavish less-is-not-more set of imperial buildings built by Sultan Abdülmecid to show the world that:

a) the Ottoman Empire wasn't sick and dying and almost bankrupt (which it was) and
b) wasn't all about orientalism like the Topkapı Palace (which was actually too bad but
Topkapı is much prettier).

I was a little miffed because photos aren't allowed inside the palace because "everything is original". I mean really, that's why we have 'no flash' features on our cameras. I thought that was a little precious. Consequently, I have a blog with almost no photos. Not only that but you can't walk on the very worn (I must say) "pedestrian carpet" with your bare (!) shoes and have to wear pink plastic booties. My female bipedal atten
dant grumbled that the last time she had to wear plastic booties was in a mosque in Egypt and that was supposedly hallowed ground. I confess that for once, I have to agree with her.

You also can't wander throughout the palace on your own but must take a guided tour and, I must say, our guide was rather surly and only smiled at the end of our tour
. If you can't even pretend to enjoy your job then it's time to get out.

Anyway, we
all waited for about an hour in line which, in the end, was worth it because the Palace is quite lovely. It reminded me of Versailles (or maybe the Paris Opera) where we didn't have to wear pink plastic booties. I guess in the grand scheme of things, Sultan Abdülmecid was a lot more important than Louis XIII, XIV or XV.

Completed in 1853, and located overlooking the Bosphorus, the Dolmabahçe (its name means filled-in garden) is a mishmash of various European styles (with an emphasis on Rococo and a nod towards tacky) and has enough crystal (including the world's biggest chandelier at 4 tons and a Baccarat staircase) to give its cleaning staff migraines well into retirement. There were lots of seemingly gorgeous oil paintings but our guide didn't allow us the time to stop and admire them. Grrrr ....

After the last of the sultans was exiled in 1922, Atatürk used Dolmabahçe as a summer residence and for state receptions (the imperial hall can accommodate up to 2500 people), and it was here that he died in November 1938. This was pretty much the only point that our nasty little tour guide showed any animation at all. We all filed past the bed he died in and tried to feel as badly as she did about it.

Until recently, all the clocks in the palace were set and stopped at 9:05 - the moment that
Atatürk died. I mean, really ...

But most disturbing are the 150-year old bear skins - used as rugs! - scattered about the palace. They were a gift to the Sultan from the Tsar of Russia, and if I had been there I would have given him a piece of my mind. Who uses bears for carpets? - in a country renown for their carpet-making industry? Bears?!!!

As we left the palace, the changing of the guard had just taken place and everybody was lining up to have their photo taken with the one honour guard. Several people in the crowd recognized me and begged that I pose with him - so I did. I normally don't like to be associated with symbols of violence - I am a freelance Goodwill Ambassador, after all - but sometimes it's just easier to say yes than no. Although it would have been easy for me to say no to those bear skin rugs ....


Frisco said...

Hey GB,,,those pink booties sure make you look taller!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. G.B.
I think everyone will admit the pink booties blends well with the blush on your cheeks.
Why did you not post a picture of your female bipedal with her pink booties (and new hair-do)

Grey Bear said...

I confess that pink does look rather fetching with grey flannel.

Trust me: you don't want to see my female bipedal attendant.