I am sitting on the roof terrace of the Side Hotel in Istanbul, eating breakfast, alone. The morning sun is hot on my back and there are beads of sweat on my forehead, although it’s only 8 a.m. The bright light makes me squint as I look out at the domes and minarets of Sultanahmet Camii (the ‘Blue Mosque’) to my right and the calm waters of the Sea of Marmara to my left.
The sky is full of birds – big silver gulls, calling and squawking and stealing food from the breakfast plates; crows, black and grey feathers and beaks, murderously red-eyed; and little swifts diving and weaving through the sky like kids at play. The sounds of the seabirds and the smell of the water remind me that this is a port town.
A gull has stolen a piece of bread from someone’s plate, and on an adjacent rooftop an all-in battle is being pitched over it. These birds are much bigger than the gulls in Australia; they seem to be about a metre from wingtip to tip, with long yellow beaks and big heavy bodies. One of the big gulls has forced another down onto the roof tiles with its foot and inserted its big yellow beak into the unfortunate one’s craw, trying to extract a morsel of already-swallowed food. Judging by the racket this is not a painless procedure, but it’s over quickly enough and the defeated one flies away.
Apart from the birds, and the other diners, and the millions of strangers around me in this big, noisy city, I am alone. Brent has taken a taxi to the airport and by now he’s in the air, headed for home. We said our tearful goodbyes on the doorstep this morning and I went back to my room to think about what lies ahead. The next three weeks are my own, as I get to stay in the dream world of this summer holiday while he returns to the cold and dark and drudgery of work. We have travelled well together here, as we do everywhere our lives take us, and while I have a great fondness for solitude and while I know I enjoy these next few weeks, I will feel his absence upon me until we’re back together.
Later today I will fly to Athens, and then Thessaloniki, where I plan to spend five days in a hotel by the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the solitude, catching up on some reading and, hopefully, some writing. I have Hemingway to keep me company and to inspire me.
Image above: sketch of Sultanahmet Camii, from the rooftop of the Side Hotel, 17 June 2007 – made when we stayed here three years ago.
An earlier version of this post referred to the Blue Mosque as Topkapı Sarayı, which is hopelessly incorrect. I can only blame the lack of coffee.