Sensual Istanbul

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Living in Istanbul is an experience for all the senses, but most of all for the nose. A casual walk through a particular neighborhood becomes an olfactory adventure. There can be dangerous traps and wonderful treasures depending on where your nose takes you.

On a recent Saturday, I woke up and enjoyed a shower using my favorite Lush products. It was a kaleidoscope of scents from ylang ylang and jasmine to lemon and fennel. I left my flat feeling wonderfully refreshed and awake.

As soon as I made it to the main street I was immediately hit by the overpowering stench of exhaust mixed with freshly laid asphalt. Not a welcome combination after a great morning, but not at all out of place in this traffic clogged city. My nose was only assaulted briefly before the autumn wind whipped it away.

As I turned the corner, I smelled the wonderful aroma of summer BBQ and it made my mouth water. Then came the sickeningly sweet middle note, and I realized it was kokoreç (sheep intestine grilled on a spit) and not my favorite 4th of July franks.

Moving on down the street I passed the juice seller. He was squeezing a cup of fresh orange juice, and I savored the sweet citrus aroma before it was replaced by the sweet, nutty scent of the chickpeas roasting next door.

I slowly made my way to the Marmara Sea past the delicious smelling grilled fish sandwich sellers, and the not so lovely ” black smoke spewing” ferries. It is wonderful to just sit by the sea, where the air smells salty and fresh amidst the other big city scents. The sea always reminds me of the summers I spent in Monterey and Bodega Bay. I continued walking to the tea gardens to sit and read for a while, and enjoyed the aroma of freshly cut grass that floated to me from somewhere nearby.

On my way to meet a friend, I walked by the many bakeries and patisseries that line Moda Avenue, and was rewarded with the scent of fresh baked breads, cakes, and börek . My mother and I made fresh bread often when I was a small child. That scent always takes be back to our kitchen, and makes me feel so comforted and warm.

My friend and I had a meal of spicy lentil soup with a squeeze of lemon. You could smell the pepper, as it singed your nose just a little, before it was cooled by the light lemon, lifted up in the steam.  As I was saying good-bye to my friend in Üsküdar, the early evening call to prayer sounded. As I passed by an old mosque, the scent of rose water was still lingering in the cool evening air. A lovely reminder of the custom Muslims have of cleansing with it before prayer time.

As I settled down with an evening pot of tea, my “Turkish Delight”, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I was surrounded by vapors of black tea from Rize near the Black Sea, bergamot from the west coast of Turkey, and rose from Isparta (my special blend). I thought about my day and how scents evoke such powerful feelings from me. They remind me of the past, of home, and of loved ones when I am so far away. They also are important in showing me I am somewhere new and exciting, and they help me build new memories and connections for the future.

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