Batalha

This was the second destination on our small group tour in a Mercedes van, there were 8 of us plus driver /guide.

Batalha is a small  town amidst the hills of the Leiria area. It lept into the history books after a gigantic battle when the smaller Portuguese army against all odds defeated the Castillian  hordes (Spaniards)  at  the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

What provoked the battle? Well the King of Portugal died without any heirs! However he had an illegitimate brother who in an Abbottesque moment declared himself King! But King Juan of Spain cried foul and declared war! Now the King of Spain was revered by the populous as somewhat of a suave, nimble and noble man who cut an awesome figure in the bull ring! Indeed his ballet like movements and pirouettes where he would, in a blur, turn 180 degrees on the head of a pin were legendary. 

But his elevation to almost god like status around the Taverna of Madrid was his signature movement in which as the bull’s horns were within millimetres of his groin, he execute a complete 360 degree turn which absolutely confused and disoriented the poor bull. It was folklore that when performed perfectly even the entire Spanish audience were confused! His nickname in spanish was “Turn-bull the Terrible”.

The spanish King before “Turn-bull the Terrible” was regarded as the great pretender (intentional lowercase). King António had as a prince been of great concern to his parents – he excelled at sports impaling several of his playmates at jousting before the age of 10, but was severely retarded in terms of language. In the 21st century we would describe this as autistic although in the 13th century court it was a given that he was simply plain dumb! His parents, despairing for the future of the monarchy, negotiated with the Friar of a Cistercian Order of Monks for a term of several years of monastic life. The Cistercian Monks take vows of absolute silence. The young prince should have been a “sandal-in” to succeed. 

Unfortunately within the year he was removed back to the Palace when he appeared to have no self control, pacing around the cloisters chanting in a monotonous repetitive way which made no sense to his elders much less his peers. 

But back to the impending battle! Not surprisingly the illegitimate Portuguese usurper was terrified and he fell to his knees praying to the Virgin Mary for deliverance. (The practice of falling on one’s knees and praying for salvation is known as “pyne-ing” in Portuguese). 
And the rest is history as they say!

As a thanksgiving for his miraculous victory the now legitimate Portuguese king decreed that on the site of this great battle a cathedral and monastery be built and named the monastery in her honour – Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória. 
Rather unfortunately (there were problems with the building and construction unions even in the 12th century) it took more than 200 years to complete and whats more is still unfinished!

It is described as the pearl of Portuguese architecture and another UNESCO world heritage listed site.
   
    
    

The unfinished part!

 

And so to Athens 

I tune in only the once to the room TV to be confronted with the humanitarian crisis that is the catastrophe of Syria. Whether it was the BBC, CNN, French or German English services all broadcast graphic images of the pandemonium. Whilst 1000km from where I sit, to the east at the Turkish Border desperate Syrians, grapple with officials and locals. The TV on the balcony disturbs and disrupts my continental breakfast. I feel faintly insecure the more so as I am about to fly to Greece. It is driven home to me how insulated and insular we are in Australia. In these few minutes I realise that in our country we are all relatively secure and stable despite the machinations of our Prime minister to convince us otherwise. There is no statesmanship in this failed Christian’s mean and miserly reaction to these stateless human beings.

I will also confess to suddenly feeling rather guilty that my apparent altruistic concerns are diluted by the intrusions of a materialism related to the pending Apple iPhone 6S extravaganza scheduled for 8pm local time. 

The experience of exploring a Muslim Mosque is also a personal psychological and philosophical conundrum. Whilst they vary in size, the basic architecture is one of sameness and the inside a cavernous carpeted hall with a correspondingly huge circle of lights which are suspended just above head level and given that there is invariably a dome of immense height, the overall effect is that of a giant chandelier of which the mechanism to raise and lower it, has suffered a severe mechanical failure. I find it aesthetically unsettling.

 The plainness is in stark contrast to the at times sublime artistic creativity that makes up the interior of Christian cathedrals and churches. 

Anyway the point is that being born into a Christian society I was a convenient Christian. The high school science teacher Mr Robinson fresh out of Teachers College was the altruistic man in charge of the ISCF – the Inter School Christian Fellowship. Gird your loins he decried and boy my adolescent loin cried as I signed up for the weekly lunchtime tease. Hence everytime I enter a cathedral I have what is a rather silly assumption that it is my birthright to be there despite never having actually and truthfully signed up for the club, that club at least. By the same token i feel that I am trespassing, intruding and really should not be there when I enter a Mosque.

I have had basically an enjoyable 6 days in Istanbul staying in the old city. I have explored on foot all the mandatory attractions. My iPhone does not lie and calculates that I have walked on average 16km every day. If there was any suggestion of a queue I would take in the charms from the outside. But long stultifying lines as is common in the European capitals were few. At the Topkapi Palace I gained rapid access to the Quarters of the Harem. It cost 15 Turkish lira but was free for Eunuchs. I successfully argued the case that in view of my age I was to all intents and purposes castrated. The Harem had a small Mosque specially set aside for the Black Eunuchs.

 I joined the crush at the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market took a ferry trip on the Bosphorus and wandered through the tiny back streets of old Istanbul. The Galata Bridge must be crossed but resist the onslaught of the restaurant spruiker.

It’s not on the list of things to do and see but the old Istanbul rail station was near the Topkapi palace and was of course the eastern railhead for the famed Orient Express. An historical museum housed in the station was satisfyingly musty and nostalgic.

 

I had a Fawlty Towers experience whilst having a kebab last night. Sitting on an outside stool a young man in his late 20s gave a gentle cough to attract my attention then said in halting English “I love me” followed by a giggle. Nothing like a self respecting Turk. However having helped him with the complexities of the English first and second personal pronoun, it was obvious that it was indeed directed at the second person. I suspect that as Manuel loved Mr Fawlty, so this young man loved me! 
 

the Sultan ‘s room in the harem

  

exterior of the Harem

  

a courtyard of the Harem

  

restaurant in the Istanbul train station

  

exterior of the Istanbul train station

  

facade of the Istanbul train station

 
 

underground cisterns

  

old buildings at night arty shot!

  

meze for lunch … no alcohol

 

Third Time Proves It

Before I discuss the conference I must boast that my prediction came to pass as a third shoe shine dropped brush incident eventuated today. I was wise to the ruse, walking nonchalantly onwards then turned around to watch as the likely lad retrieved the botched bristle. 

The conference has been, like the curate’s egg, good in parts. I rocked up at 7:30am every day for 4 days to participate in the teaching sessions. The platform presentations from 9am to 11am were also worthwhile. However as earlier this year in Budapest, should the presenter have a thick accent that, combined with my presyacusis, at times made for an incomprehensible and often inaudible lecture. If as occurred more often than not, the audio aspect being deficient, an added complex PowerPoint slide show created an audiovisual catastrophe. “This is my only busy slide” claims the apologetic speaker. BUSY! The bloody slide resembles a chapter of the Koran printed on a pinhead.

 

I find it useful as a screening tool in the assessment of cognitive function to ask of my elderly patients or their spouse about such common tasks as driving, navigation and using the audiovisual remote to control the TV. Based on this rather sensitive question, the majority of highly educated Professors of Neurology at any international conferences appear to have early Alzheimers Disease or at the very least a dyspraxia. Taking the control in hand they proceed to point it in sequence at the screen, the back of the hall, the audience, the chairman, the floor and finally the ceiling. Looking all the more helpless and with the audience becoming somewhat fidgetty, the slideshow refuses to ‘show’ and the audiovisual technician bounds up to the stage and gently takes the remote out of the hapless hand , reverses it and then demonstrates the ‘forward’ button. Success. Having sorted out this hiccup with a simple sleight of hand, the learned Professor embarks upon his presentation titled ‘The Plasticity and Interneuronal Connections between the Hippocampus and the Mamillary Bodies in Encephalitic Epilpesy Syndromes’. If only he was an expert in the connections between his hand and eyes!

Some thoughts on food. Turkish Coffee is not my cup of tea. Street vendors sell baskets of crusty bread shaped like a large bagel. One costs about 50 cents and comes with a choice of sesame or poppy seeds all finished with a light dusting of cigarette ash. 
If I had to list the most common traditional shops then it would be

    Spice and cooking ingredients 

    Sweet shops baklava and Turkish Delight

    Clothing and specifically shawls and head scarves 


After that the list deteriorates into a melting pot of cheap Asian imports to do with counterfeit Western designer clothing, smart phones and electronic gadgets in other words the same choices that are for sale in every bazaar and market around the world.

Street vendors, beggars and refugees sadly try to make ends meet by selling little personal packs of Kleenex tissues, selfie sticks,cigarette lighters or sit with a set of bathroom scales of dubious calibration to reassure you for 1 Turkish lira that the dinner plate sized serving of baklava you have just consumed has actually stimulated a significant weight reduction

Then there are the children’s plastic toys which urchins demonstrate in every city square. These are gyroscopic contraptions that are flung expertly into the air by an elastic sling shot reaching altitudes that are considered unsafe by aviation standards all the while emitting multicoloured laser like rays then float back to earth landing gently at the feet of the flinger. Sadly the urchins ease at achieving lift off is not matched by the hapless child who has persuaded a parent to part with hard earned cash for this aeronautical contraption. At home the kids are unable to achieve anything that resembles sustained flight or a gain in height above 3 metres floating back to earth like a failed Russian moon launch. They become increasingly angry, aggressive and frustrated at the contraption, themselves and finally their father.

At this stage, Dad takes control and with one mighty effort draws the elastic out to its taunt limits then lets it loose. It leaves the launch sling like a jet catapulted from an aircraft carrier deck, but never actually gains height and at its terminal velocity heads towards the family cat sleeping on a post. This cushions the inevitable collision and in a cloud of fur the device ploughs into the ground and gives a very final appearance of dying as the laser lights suddenly stop emitting. The cat startled beyond comprehsion leaps into the air and at the same time manages to attain a height greater than that achieved by the gyroscopic contraption in any of its previous flights.

In many large cities throughout Asia especially, shops selling the same type of merchandise often seem to congregate in certain suburbs or along a certain Street. In Istanbul this custom is very apparent. I guess it is very convenient for the customer who is provided with comparative and one assumes, competitive pricing. Today for example I stumbled upon a street specialising in musical Instruments yet another filled with cotton shops, extremely convenient should one be in the market for a protective cotton cover for a newly purchased cello or harp. In case you are wondering I already have a cover for my Recorder.

Finally there is the apparent friendly Turkish man who starts up a conversation in the square of the Blue Mosque. The scene unfolds as follows: he makes a guess at your country of origin beginning with USA then Britain then Ireland. Having disclosed that one is from Australia, he then runs through the capitals starting of course with Sydney and never getting to Adelaide. Then follows an emotional comment that Aussies, Kiwi and Turkey have been bosom buddies for 100 years since Gallipoli and secondly he has an uncle who owns a warehouse in Melbourne. He then shadows me like one of the street dogs with spontaneous comments such as “this is the Blue Mosque” as I stand at the huge gates of the stone edifice with its 4 immense spires. Finally as we cross the square he asks could he show me his family Art Shop. Despite my protesting that I have absolutely no desire to purchase anything he responds no I just want to show you my shop. We cross the road and he skips into the shop. I stop at the doorway reinforcing my statement that I am not in the market. He rushes onto the footpath clutching his chest bemoaning ‘Sir you are breaking my heart.’ I walk on smug in the knowledge that I will not be breaking my wallet. My financial planner would be proud of me and Dr Kiley would be well advised to avoid Istanbul.

 

is that a beer I see before me ? how butch


  

  

he holds the rod whilst she watches fishing ftom the bridge


  

the second oldest subway in the world ! runs under the Golden Horn

Sweltering Istanbul 

Istanbul is Ho Chi Minh city but teeming with swarthy bearded men instead of pale hairless orientals. It surges with humanity the Turks, the tourists and the refugees . I am unable to comprehend how the infrastructure copes. The stark changes in these exotic destinations compared to my visit 40 years ago can be attributed to people, plastic and cars. Gridlocked cars toot at startled pedestrians and each other, sounding like the Road Runner in the eponymous cartoon. Plastic polutes the environment as disposable shopping bags and PET bottles. 

And there is something about cats and Turkey? Someone explained that they have religious qualities in Turkey or possibly the Muslim faith? Are they the equivalent of the cow in Hinduism? Cat food and water are left out for these mangy moggies. The tourists compound the plague by feeding them and I kid you not, I watched an American woman photograph a malnourished pussy lying in a doorway!! I have absolutely no idea why she did so as the cat appeared to be a common garden variety Ginger Tom with 4 legs and everything else intact.

Now some random comments. The weather is stultifying making an Adelaide heatwave almost liveable. The photogenic pink haze at dusk over the Bosporus is nothing but smog. Adolescent boys plunged into the Sea diving off the Galata Bridge and swimming back to the pier to the to the amusement of the tourists and the bored indifference of the local constabulary.

An ancient trolley tram runs along the main commercial boulevard, I hesitate to compare it to Rundle Mall, again the scallywags are jumping into the side board and the back bumpers hitching a ride- a much smaller variation of an Indian tram or train scenario.

Today I deduced that the ubiquitous shoe shine boys have a clever ploy to trap unsuspecting tourists. As I was walking to the conference a shoe shine boy walked past me carrying his tools of trade across his shoulder. One of his brushes fell out of his box and he appeared not to notice as he kept walking on. I yelled out picked up the brush and ran after him. He was surprised and grateful. I turned and walked back. Within a few seconds he came rushing after me, bowing and describing me as an honest gentleman. Who am I to disagree? He then indicated that as I had rescued his priceless show shine brush hence saving him from financial ruin, would I allow him to offer me a shoe shine? As it was I was late for the conference so I had to turn down his offer which was persistent to the point of becoming relentless. The very next day the exact same scenario unfolded but with a different shoe shine boy. I now deduced that either there is a syndrome of inbred clumsiness in all shoe shine boys or…. They are supreme magicians who contrive to ‘accidentally allow’ a brush to fall as a tourist walks by hence setting the scene for a quick shine and then ask for a small payment….as he is so poor. For a variation on the Tap and Tug massage perhaps we can call this a ‘Shine and Sob’ Brush Job. If my theory is correct it should happen again before I leave.

A few random pictures follow.
 

a Turkish Boost Juice shop


  

a smoggy haze over the Bosporus

  

not another Mosque !


  
    

the evening meal meat balls

  

can you believe it? baklava sandwiches !

  

a mountain of baklava !