Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't Smell Me Wrong

Name two things that should never have contact with each other, besides Keanu Reeves and the screen. If you chose sweaty feet and carpet, you win today’s prize (to be announced).

Join me on a journey down your olfactory passages. I'd like to take you to Istanbul, the home of great food, breath-taking scenery, wonderful people . . . and the stinkiest mosque I’ve ever been in.

OK, it’s the first and only mosque I’ve ever been in.

With thousands of bare- or sock-foot tourists padding through it, The Blue Mosque is the main tourist attraction in Istanbul. We were pleasantly surprised by how quickly and efficiently the queue proceeded. A few meters before the entrance, visitors are required to take off their shoes and place them in a plastic bag, which they carry with them through the mosque. I was impressed. I can remember at the end of a tour of a Buddhist temple in Bangkok digging through the stinky pile of shoes at the entrance to find my own. I liked the plastic bag idea . . . at first.

Have you ever been to a Greek Orthodox mass? Imagine not one priest but 200 swinging incense, and then replace the incense they're swinging with their own stinky shoes in little plastic bags. The tourists at The Blue Mosque don't make the situation any better, of course. Do you know how the British (and we’ll come back to them later) put you on a moving sidewalk when you view the Crown Jewels? It’s their way of getting the tourists in and out.

The keepers of The Blue Mosque have their own “moving sidewalk” to keep the tourists headed toward the EXIT: the vile stench produced by the tourists' feet and the zillions upon zillions of bacteria seeping into the plush carpet underneath them.

And this brings us to the question of the day. Why carpet? If only Muslim men who wash before entering the mosque were allowed to walk on this carpet in their socks, the world would be whole again, and a bit fresher. That said, even washed feet have bacteria on them. I know this is getting yucky, but I think it’s important—at least more important and interesting than the World Cup.

Don’t smell me wrong, I’m grateful for the opportunity of entering any place of prayer. I respect the place, but don’t understand the carpet/bare foot combination. My schnoz is easily offended, so I followed it to the EXIT.

The Blue Mosque is not the only place where carpet is simply wrong. My fitness center in London—a massive, new complex on three levels with the most modern machines—has carpet in the locker rooms. The smell is so bad that I usually wrap a t-shirt around my face until I’m in the work-out area—which is also carpeted, but members have to wear shoes there. Am I the only one who sees the vital importance of keeping bare (tourist) feet off carpet and Keanu Reeves off the screen?

I’d still recommend a visit to The Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It’s part of history. By the way, so is the Hagia Sofia, which stands a few hundred meters across from The Blue Mosque.Once the oldest Christian cathedral in the world, it’s now a museum. You have to pay to enter, but you can leave your shoes on (please).

I must be off,