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Floral Nobility

The air is crisp as we traverse the Sultanahmet Meydani. The Hagia

Sophia and the Blue Mosque are behind us, impressive beneath the overcast sky. We wander brick pathways and avenues of graying concrete blocks. While most of the trees have yet to awaken from their winter slumber, colorful bursts of flowers announce the impending arrival of spring.

Radiant pink tulips form fairy rings around dormant trees, dancing in the breeze. They dominate the patches of green that separate the walkways and flank the buildings. Lush, luminous petals threaten to escape the white metal fences intended to segregate and protect them from marauding children and pariah dogs. They congregate in beds, towering majestically over yellow and purple pansies. They provide brilliant cover to black and brown and ginger-hued feral cats sunning themselves amidst the mid-March foliage.

Pink in the floral world is the color of happiness. The warm and inviting palette truly does inspire confidence and caring. The blooms are at their peak, gorgeous in their uniformity and symmetry.

My son and his father walk the length of the Hippodrome. I follow, pausing to snap their photographs beside the Serpent Column and the Obelisks of Theodosius and Constantine. I capture Greek, Egyptian and Turkish antiquities of significance to multiple communities, most recently Christians and Muslims. I give equal camera time to the flowing seas of luminous pink that surround the concourse and its treasures.

I am a week out of Afghanistan, with just over half of a year-long tour under my belt. Fourteen days remain for me to reacquaint myself with the two men so central to my life. Four days in Istanbul, with onward travel to Paris and a swing through Dubai, seemed a manageable adventure for the time we’d scheduled together. Kabul, roughly 2200 miles away, again will be home soon enough. There will be no welcoming pink blooms to brighten up the Green Zone.

I marvel at the sight of the tens of thousands of floral solids and stripes that greet us throughout our relaxed tour of the city. Tulips spring up along the roads, waving to locals and tourists alike. Glorious colors burst from the base of ancient walls as well as encircle modern buildings. It’s easy to understand how a Flemish botanist–impressed by the beauty of these regal flowers–could transport bulbs from Turkey to Holland, initiating what in the seventeenth century would become a widespread obsession. Unfortunately, the demand for exotic bulbs by the upper and merchant classes–and then the general populace–would lead to bankruptcies and economic misery.

We finish the day in the Grand Bazaar, wandering aisle-after-aisle of ground spices and Turkish delight, of dehydrated sponges and dried vegetables, of tiles and dishes and clothing and carpets. Tulips appear everywhere, recreated and reimagined in watercolors, ceramic, wool and silk. We stop for Turkish coffee, thick with grounds and intense in flavor.

We meander by windows that showcase precious metals and stones. R** stops me, directing my attention to a familiar shape. He darts inside, returning to fasten a chain around my throat. I smile as my fingers caress the outline of a sterling silver tulip.

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