It was in late July last year that we received a card from a friend who was travelling around the world. He had only heard of Russell’s death when he was somewhere in the middle of Turkey, hundreds of miles from the nearest card shop or post office. So he had made us a card, but still had to wait a few hundred miles until he could post it; on the back was some Arabic script with an English translation – From the Earth we came, and to the Earth we shall return.
At the time we felt we really needed to get away from everything that had happened over the last few weeks, but had no idea where we wanted to go. Those few, poignant words inspired us and we decided to visit the country where they had been written for us – Turkey. There were several other reasons for choosing this destination: it was somewhere we had not been with Russell so there would be no memories, the culture was sufficiently different for us to find new experiences and hopefully there would be places where we could reflect on what had happened and how our lives would never be the same again, but also how we should approach a future without Russell. Our destination was Istanbul, a city of 14 million people on the edge of two continents and a history dating back some 2500 years.
The first thing we packed was the Red Book (in the hand luggage, just in case), we had to have a little something of Russell’s as well, so I popped a guitar plectrum into my purse – it’s still there, and very well-travelled it is now. I spent most of the flight feeling incredibly guilty that we should be going on holiday when that was something Russell would never experience again, but as John pointed out, we had to go on living, Russell wouldn’t have wanted us to stop doing everything because of him. And also, he was the World’s Number One at having fun, so that is exactly what we would try to do, for Russell.
As it turned out, we had made a good choice; the sights, sounds, smells of this ancient city were captivating. The palaces and mosques were cool and serene oases in which we could reflect on the tragedy that had taken over our lives, and also somewhere to think of what lay ahead of us, and how best we could focus our memories of Russell into a positive future. Our first port of call was the Blue Mosque, and amazingly beautiful building that gets its name from the 20,000 blue tiles on the inside of the dome. Inside, we were transported away from the noise and heat of the city; the courtyard, although crowded, was peaceful with shady places to sit and watch the world go by. We found this feeling of peace and serenity in all the mosques we visited, especially the Suleiman Mosque, built on a hill overlooking the Bosporus and Golden Horn. We hiked up this hill in a temperature of about 35 degrees, but it was worth the heat and getting lost on the way for the almost empty courtyard with cool fountains, and the magnificent views over the city. There was a distinct lack of tourists, most likely because of the walk uphill in the afternoon heat, and it was here that we began to come to terms with the future that lay ahead of us. The mosque and its complex of schools, hospital, inn and library are almost 500 years old; we thought about the many other lives who had passed this way and who had also looked out over the city and the water and realised that wherever we were and whatever we did Russell would always be with us.
This was reinforced the next day when we visited the Grand Bazaar – the largest covered bazaar in the world. The atmosphere hits you as soon as you enter – the smell of spices, the noise of the traders advertising their wares, the bustle of the crowds and the knowledge that before you can buy anything you are expected to haggle the price. We were instantly reminded of a trip to a market in Bangkok when Russell was about 15, and the inordinate amount of tat he bought purely because of the fun of negotiating a price! I’m not sure whether he paid full price for anything again; such was the fun of feeling like you’d got a bargain even if you didn’t really want what you’d bargained for. While so sad that he was no longer with us we had to smile at the thought of how much he would have enjoyed this place – we could almost hear him dishing out the advice to us on how best to haggle.
We spent another day on a boat trip up the Bosporus to Anadolu Kavagi, a village on the Black Sea coast, followed by another uphill hike to a Byzantine fortress, with fabulous views of both Europe and Asia. The walls of the fortress have alternating bands of pale stone and red brick; again we could imagine Russell inspecting the brickwork and commenting on whether it was up to his exacting standards of building (although the fact that it had stood there for centuries suggested that it was just as good if not better).
We spent our last day visiting the Galata Tower – over 500 years old and still standing – so presumably the brickwork would have passed the Russell Test. Perhaps something he has built (Luke and Karen’s patio?) will last as long. Let’s hope so. On our way back we walked down a street known as “Music Alley”, every shop was a music shop selling every kind of instrument you can imagine with the sounds of music playing all around. Again we smiled as we thought how much Russell would have loved it as many of the shops were selling guitars as well as more traditional Turkish instruments.
After only five days we felt at home here; this enormous city with its clash of European and Asian cultures had captivated our hearts and given us a start on the long road towards the future. Those words that had inspired the trip were still with us, but we had added some new ones – remembrance, enjoy, hope, future, life after death. We came home with plans to remember Russell in a positive way, using our memories of him to look towards the future and trying to do what he was always best at – grabbing life with both hands and having a good time! He’ll always be with us wherever we go, and because of that he will LIVE FOREVER.
I listened to this music while writing the post, enjoy – holiday playlist (please let me know if this link works, as it’s important it does for a blog in 2 weeks time)