Meeting the Sultan at Topkapi

by John Mole

Editor’s note: The following is by the oldest blogger we have ever published. Actually, he is more than 400 years old. Contributor, John Mole, was so taken by the diary of Thomas Dallam, who, at age 25 was charged with delivering the gift of a self-playing organ and clock from Queen Elizabeth to Sultan Mehmet III of Turkey, that he translated the work into modern English. This post, originally titled ‘The Sultan’s Organ” was written in 1599. It includes what is probably the first ever recoreded glimpse inside the Sultan’s harem by a foreigner. 


I set up the organ in the grandest pavilion of Topkapi palace. Inside was a little apartment. I have never seen the like for carving, gilding, paintwork and varnish. The Sultan had nineteen brothers put to death in there. It was built for the sole purpose of strangling them.

The main hall has two rows of marble pillars. The pedestals are made of brass and double gilt. The walls on three sides only go up to the eaves and the rest is open. But if there is a storm or a gale they can quickly lower cotton hangings that will keep out any kind of weather and just as quickly open them again. The fourth wall is made of porphyry so polished you can see yourself in it. On the floor are rich silk carpets. There are no chairs or tables or benches, only one royal divan. On one side is a pond full of different-coloured fish. 


The Sultan came over the water in his golden barge. I was ushered out of the room and the door locked behind me. I heard the Sultan arrive and the loud noise of his retinue. He sat down on his great throne and commanded silence. The Organ began to salute him.  First the clock struck the hour. Then a chime of sixteen bells played a four part melody. Two figures raised silver trumpets to their lips and blew a fanfare. Then the music started with a five part song played twice. At the top of the organ a holly bush full of blackbirds and thrushes sang and flapped their wings. Various other movements amazed the Sultan. He sat down in front of the keyboard and asked the Chief White Eunuch, the Kapi Aga, if he knew anyone who could play it. He said the man who brought it was outside the door. 

“Fetch him here,” said the Sultan.

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Mother Goddess and Me

by Nancy King

When a group with whom I was traveling entered the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara , Turkey, they headed for the Mother Goddess exhibit. Even hearing the word “mother” makes me tense; mine was good at making apple pie but never learned the recipe for loving and nurturing, associated in most people’s minds with the way a mother ought to be. And since I’ve never been beautiful or powerful, I don’t go out of my way to seek images of goddesses—never saw one with whom I could identify. So, when the group went right, I went left, agreeing to meet them at the bus.
I wandered around, looking at the world-class collection of Hittite culture, impressed by antiquity but not fully engaged until I saw her and stopped. I literally could not move. I forgot where I was. All I saw was the small gold statue in a glass case. She called to me. She demanded my attention. Unlike other Mother Goddess statues I’ve seen, one more voluptuous than the next, this Hittite Mother Goddess had skinny arms and legs. Her hands, which rested on her belly, expressed resignation and vulnerability. What was her power over me? Why couldn’t I stop looking at her? I laughed at my foolishness. She was only a statue in a glass case. My feet weren’t glued to the floor. I could move. I could catch up with the group. And yet, I couldn’t. I stayed, Transfixed. Spellbound. Unable to move.
My instantaneous, powerful connection to the skinny earth mother mystified me. She wasn’t beautiful. She didn’t seem extraordinary. She had no compelling history that identified her as a goddess. Yet I had the weird sensation that I knew her, that she knew me, that she wanted me to tell her story. I would have stood there for a much longer time, staring, when two visitors jostled me, breaking the spell of the Goddess. One of them told me that my tour group was leaving. Uncharacteristically, with an impulse I didn’t understand, I raced to the Museum Shop and bought a small copy of the Hittite Mother Goddess statue before I ran to the waiting bus.

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Why I Love My Job In Istanbul

by Ibrahim Akyunus


I was born in Turkey in simpler times. I grew up, had fun, went to school, ate great Turkish food, graduated and went into business for myself.

One day a witty Indian friend of mine told me: "Success without happiness is failure."

He was witty and wise.

Being a graduate of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in Istanbul, my primary goal in life at that time was to start a pharmacy. What disappointment  I felt, soon after I opened the doors when I learned it wasn't the challenge I expected.

"Give me an aspirin.

"OK, here..75 cents."

"What is your suggestion for a cough syrup?" 

"Start immediately by taking 3 of these laxative pills. I can assure you, you will stop coughing, within the next half hour." 

I don't want to remember the next 3 years I spent trying get rid of the pharmacy for a reasonably decent price. Financially I was doing pretty well but I was miserable. I hated what I was doing. My family, my friends could never understand why I felt so bad at a time when I was running a reasonably popular pharmacy. 

Then I joined a leading multi-national pharmaceutical manufacturer in Istanbul as a Product Manager of Psychotropic Drugs. Soon I was feeling much, much better, and it wasn't because I was ingesting the drugs. My decisions had impact. The more ideas I created, the more they were turning into solid sales which in turn gave me a sense of satisfaction. I started loving my job and, sure enough, it paid off. I, quickly became Director of the Scientific Bureau, then Production Manager and finally the "Responsible Pharmacist" at a very young age.

Then I moved to Los Angeles. I started working in a research facility as a R&D Chemist. We were doing R&D work for the " biggies" in the cosmetic industry. I loved that job, too. I was making formulas that nobody ever had before me: the first sprayable body lotion, the first incorporation of waxes into clear microemulsions, the first usage of suspended materials in pump hair sprays. What a feeling of accomplishment I had after the successful launch of my own formulas. People say they feel like they are walking on the clouds; well, I felt I was walking above the clouds.  Of course, success brought promotions, money and recognition. I became Research and Development Vice President to 3 midsize manufacturing companies.  What a blast. I was soaring. I was at the top of my game.

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