The last two weeks, we visited three cities: Istanbul, Mumbai, and Delhi. We had different reasons and different experiences in each. We chose Turkish Air for its low fares, and figured we’d throw in a visit to a different city. We got an amazing stay as a couple, getting lost on foot and transit and finding all sorts of new things. We chose Mumbai because my wife had visited Delhi a dozen times or more, and it seemed high time to see a different part of India. We were a couple for the first couple of days, and the tours were not so much walking as driven, but it was still a massive and unknown place. I feel that we got a pretty good sample of it. By Delhi, we had joined a mass of In-Laws for a family event, and had to fight to see anything but the inside of a hotel or home.

I enjoyed taking pictures of the new and different things we saw and posting them to Facebook, but there were challenges.

The night we got to Istanbul, we had a wild notion to go to a Turkish Bath, to get rid of the grime and ache of the flight. After an in-depth introduction to the hotel, we set out to find our appointment. We got lost, but we knew to stay to busier streets. It turns out we were walking in almost the opposite direction. After four days in Istanbul, I can tell you that the street we took went towards the Grand Bazaar, not the Suleyiman Mosque. Many of the streets met at angles or curved along contours in the hilly city. Only after getting lost several times did we piece together the landmarks of historic Istanbul and how to walk between them. This is a tiny part of the city, but the oldest one, with some landmarks over 1,500 years old.

Turkish as a language remains impenetrable to me. It took me two days to get “Teshkehrem” down, and the rest I just left to fate. I began to pick out the same words, but they weren’t emotionally important enough to me to recall for you now. Language became a greater issue still when we got to the family event at Delhi. Everyone was more comfortable speaking in Hindi. I am at the level of “Yeh %adjective|noun% he”, and there’s a lot of grammar I just don’t understand. My strategy in late night family bull sessions was to just smile quietly and try to work out what the heck they were trying to talk about. Again, I began to pick out common words, but they are not meaningful enough yet for me to recount them for you here.

Languages and Cities are a lot alike for a novice. We are lost and want to learn, but have no idea where to start. While the tourist signposts in Istanbul were very good, they did not tell us how to get from one antiquity to another, where to find those delightful spoons, or where to find Victrola record players in the Grand Bazaar. And the language was a continuous mush, until we began picking out consistent words. Language and places don’t make sense until we start picking out and stringing landmarks together. Y’know’m saying’?

I’m handicapped in learning new streets and new languages by my long experience in English language and American cities. I expect 12 foot lanes, cars to be moving fast enough to kill me, or the word chair to mean chair. “Kursi” just stresses me out. But its good to see how learning a language, especially spoken, is just like learning a city.

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You know my favorite thing about language on this trip? The Turkish name for “Turkey” (the meat) is “Hindi”. Pay it forward.

* protip: the street this pic was taken on,  Istikal Cad in Beyoglu, is the straightest, most touristy street  in Istanbul.  It runs along a ridge with some very steep streets leading away from it.

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