Spring Break: Dean Peter Drake Arrives in Istanbul

Janice and I arrived at Istanbul International Airport at 6:00 am. Remarkably, Erdal Kara was there to meet us and drive us into town. Erdal is in charge of international students at Mimar Sinan University and is very invested in facilitating student, faculty and alumni exchange between Mimar Sinan and the Academy.
Ali Karem Bilge talking with Peter
Equally remarkable is the fact that Ali Karem Bilge offered us his apartment for the duration of our visit. Ali and his father have been great supporters of the Academy and many of our students. One of the first things that you notice upon entering his apartment are three great paintings by Angela Gram and four fantastic landscapes by Emily Adams. Ali is crazy nice and he seems to be the norm among Turks of all ages. It should be noted that we wouldn’t have met any of these folks without the efforts of alumna Buket Savci Atature and our very own Wade Schuman who met them all last year while gigging in Turkey.

Briefly, because I’m operating on 48 hours with no sleep, here are some of the highlights of the first day.

Topkapi Palace is amazing. The treasury has so much diamond, ruby and emerald encrusted stuff in it that you can get blasé about emeralds the size of softballs. Seriously, you would think this was all just rhinestone applique. The lines can be daunting, but it’s worth it.

Blue Mosque - ceiling

The Blue Mosque was next and it was during afternoon call to prayer. The call itself is so beautiful if you haven’t heard it before, although I was standing near a minaret my first time and nearly jumped out of my skin. The proportions of the Mosque are astounding and the sense of communal spiritual commitment is mesmerizing. The intensity of the patterns and their sheer numbers makes for an almost hallucinogenic experience. It was the highlight of the day for me.

I had been looking forward to seeing Hagia Sophia ever since Janice and I bought a stereopticon slide of it years ago. It was under construction, but it is still such a commanding presence and the sense of its history as both a Christian and Muslim house of worship is almost heartbreaking. Mosaics of Christ and Mary share the stage with quotes from the Koran without missing a beat.

 We also took in the Mosaic Museum which may inspire some interesting ideas for an MTA commission I’m working on.

Basilica Cistern
Finally we went to the Basilica Cistern which is an underground reservoir held up by 360 massive stone columns. Istanbul has always struggled with water supply and  this cistern taps into an aquifer 19 kilometers north of the city. Janice got some of her best photos here. It feels a bit like the Paris catacombs but there are fish swimming in the cistern and it feels like the set of a Bond movie.

Our last accomplishment of the day came when we took the tram home spending all of 6 lire instead of 40 for a cab. It’s nice to be a New Yorker.

Check back in future blog posts on the rest of Peter's trip scouting Istanbul for a future artist-in-residence program for Academy students.

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