Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Letter to the editor

Dear Editor,

I picked up the current issue of The Senior Times and am impressed by all the columns and features. There is something for everyone.

I was particularly interested in Neil McKenty’s forthright comments about the pope and his blind eye to anti-Semitism. Whatever Bishop Williamson may say, no matter if he recants, the man is clearly removed from sanity and a disgrace to the Roman Catholic Church.

What is more troubling is that I’m not hearing much fuss about it coming from my own Anglican Church or other churches. There should be a storm of righteous indignation. Have I missed it? On another note, I do appreciate the generous font at The Senior Times online. What a comfort not to have to call up my magnifier.

– Phyllis Carter

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Heaps of praise from younger reader

Dear Editor,

I was just looking through the February issue of the paper and needed to write to you immediately to say how much I enjoyed it. Those stories about seniors sweeping themselves and others into action to address the serious issues of our times, the moving history lesson, the thoughtful editorial, the unusual amount of space given to political-economic analysis from a point of view other than the Fraser Institute’s... even a paean to vinyl... wow.

Your paper is a much better read than any of the mainstream media – or other local papers. Thanks so much and please keep it up.

I forgot to mention that I’m not even in your readership demographic

... early 40s ...

– Judith Shapiro

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Hospital story moves reader

Dear Editor,

I was deeply moved by your article “What I learned one weekend in September” (Senior Times, Oct. 2008) about the sudden illness of your daughter Molly (as talented a travel writer as her mother) and her experience in Santa Cabrini Hospital emergency. Thank God for her quick recovery. I hope she will never get the “spasms” (or whatever it was) again and continue to produce many more travel narratives.

— Jan Weryho

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Molly's Istanbul sparks reader's memories and reflections

I was deeply touched by Molly Newborn’s June travel article Istanbul – the magic, the madness & the mosques. I was in Istanbul in 1958, exactly 50 years ago, my head full of Pierre Loti, taking a summer course in Turkish for foreign students at Istanbul University. It was the most beautiful city I had seen, at least its skyline of domes and minarets.

By the way Bosporus is a strait between two seas, not a river (Mr. Richler, please correct me if I am wrong) although it may look like a river if you don’t taste its salt water.

Ms. Newborn’s first impressions were bitter. She was hassled by peddlers offering to sell her a carpet and by cavaliers hoping to date her. They could tell she was a tourist. Maybe the way she was dressed in jeans or her typical tourist behaviour, looking around with curious starry eyes the way no local would. Judging by her photo we would expect her to draw admiring glances not only in Turkey, though we can’t expect her to accept an invitation for a date, especially a crudely formulated one from a stranger. She goes back to her hotel room to cry for the rest of the day. She is obviously a sensitive young woman. It may be her weakness as a journalist, but it is her strength as a writer.

Well, carpet sellers or other peddlers did not run after me. I was a student, and students, even foreign students, were not expected to have much money.

Ms. Newborn is rescued by Ahmet, a former Turkish classmate from UCLA, who gives her a guided tour of the city. She is “stunned” by the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. I remember how excited I was, as a Christian, seeing what was perhaps the most beautiful Christian church ever built. Mehmet the Conqueror had transformed the church into a mosque, adding the first of the four minarets. The secularist President Ataturk turned it into a museum.

A house of worship has a soul that a mere museum cannot have. Something Ms. Newborn missed. She shows us a photo of the Blue Mosque, illuminated at night, displaying the inscription “DONYA AHIRETIN TARLASIDIR” (“The world is the ploughed field for after-life”). Yet, one of the wonders of the Hagia Sophia is its Christian mosaics which had been plastered over during the four centuries when the building was serving as a mosque. The subject matter may not have been objectionable to the Muslims who venerate the Prophet Jesus and his Mother but a mosque may not contain any pictorial representations, viewed as idolatry. To most if not all Turks, it would have been tantamount to a symbolic surrender of the city to the Greeks, a nightmare, which had almost happened at the end of World War I. Ataturk’s victory over the Greeks and their British and French allies saved the city for Turkey and for Islam.

When visiting the Blue Mosque, Ms. Newborn feels “uncomfortable” at being asked to cover her head. Come on, young lady! Haven’t you ever wrapped your head with a scarf to protect yourself from Canadian wind? I don’t remember whether Western women tourists were asked to cover their heads when visiting mosques in Turkey in my time. I remember that we all had to take our shoes off.

Ms. Newborn is not much impressed by the Islamic call to prayer, appreciated by so many non-Muslims, including Byron who had fought against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence:

“’Twas musical, yet sadly sweet...” (The Siege of Corinth)

On her own Ms. Newborn takes the train across the Galata Bridge to the Dolmabahge Palace. A train across the Galata Bridge? I am sure the “train” here is a misprint for tram, or is it an innovation since my time?

After her guided tour of the city Ms. Newborn spends the night partying with Ahmet and his friends in the bars of Taxim (her spelling). That is quite in character with the society. Unlike most Muslims (Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis) the Turks drink openly, without inhibition, even taking pride in their drinking prowess. Except that those were strictly men-only sessions. It was not considered dignified for Turkish ladies to drink raki. I wonder if there were Turkish girls partying that night?

Please note the spelling: Taksim. There is no X in Turkish. It is an Arabic loanword meaning “division” or “partition.” Taksim Square is the centre of Pera or Beyogiu, the formerly “Frankish” suburb of Istanbul with more bars than mosques.

In the end Ms. Newborn forgets her initial disappointment and is won over by the city: “Istanbul is magical. There is no other place that compares.” I haven’t been back to Istanbul for 50 years.

Ms. Newborn has captured the spirit of the place and brought back precious memories of my youth.

Thank you, Molly!

Çok tesekkür ederim!

– Jan Witold Weryho, NDG


Dear Ms. Weryho,

You are so very welcome! I was delighted to learn about your experience in Istanbul 50 years ago. It seems as though things haven’t changed too much.

We were asked to take off our shoes and cover our heads upon entering all mosques. Taking off my shoes made me as uneasy as covering my head. There were water fountains outside all mosques where the men washed their feet (and face and arms?) before entering. I found a crowd of about 30 women jammed into the ladies’ restroom with three sinks outside the Blue Mosque washing their feet. As a foreigner it is not my place to complain, especially since entering the stunningly beautiful mosque negated any uneasy feelings.

Ahmet presented me with my first glass of Raki during our lunch under the Galata Bridge. The first of many. There certainly was no shortage of alcohol for the ladies in Taksim! There were girls in Ahmet’s circle of friends who joined us in the festivities, and they could have easily passed as Americans. This took me by surprise since I was advised to “cover up” while traveling around Turkey, but when it came to Istanbul the girls definitely weren’t shy to be sexy. This is a far cry from Urfa, which I will be writing about in a future issue.

I did come to enjoy the Islamic call to prayer. It was a bit of a jolt when I heard it for the first time without  warning. It was a constant reminder wherever I went, saying “Listen! You’re in Turkey!” And I certainly appreciated it when it woke me up to catch my flight.

Thanks again for your reply! I am so happy we were able to share our stories with one another.

– Molly, Los Angeles

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Sanctuary from what?

I must disagree with your editorial supporting Canadian sanctuary for deserters from the war in Iraq.

You use the term "illegal war", which is essentially redundant, and often used to heap scorn on any country's military actions, right or wrong. In any conflict, one or both sides did something illegal.

The Iraq war is an extremely stupid one. The only benefit has been that Saddam Hussein has become one of the very few murderous tyrants of the last hundred years to have been brought to justice. It wasn't worth the price. But it has happened, and we all must deal with that — wisely, one hopes.

Unlike during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military is now all voluntary. There is no draft and therefore there are no draft dodgers. Any deserters signed up of their own free will and must have understood that they would have to follow orders which may possibly put their life and well-being in danger. A military cannot be subject to its staff deciding that they have changed their mind, whatever the reason.

There is a big difference from the circumstances of the Vietnam era. I fully support our courts' decisions not to make Canada a repository for these people. If they don't like the war, they could quit the military at the first opportunity and try to request alternative service in the meantime. Until then, they should do what they voluntarily contracted to do.

– Ken Frankel, Montreal

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