Sunday, April 28, 2013

Istanbul Police

We met the tourist cops today, and enjoyed their Turkish hospitality. We didn’t really want to meet them, and I’m sure they didn’t really want to meet us, but they made the experience amazingly pleasant.

It all started with my phone. I put it into a cargo pocket in my pants, imagining that it would be safe there under its Velcro flap. I noticed the phone in my pocket when I got my wallet from a lower part of the same cargo pocket as we bought our entry tickets to a big underground cistern. From then on, I lost myself in the sights and sounds of a huge chamber made long, long ago from recycled columns and stones. In ancient times, people collected water in such cisterns for use of city residents. This one held plenty of water then, but now it’s nearly empty and tourists wait in long lines to get inside.

Crowds down there bumped and jostled each other as we toured on catwalks above the water. And when we stopped to take photos, other would-be photographers pressed in from behind waiting to get their turns at the railing.

I next touched my pocket as we waited in another line, at the Galata Tower. I had no phone. While I may have lost it on the tramway, we guessed that the cistern might have presented the best opportunity since I got pretty distracted when I queued up to take photos. I went back to the hotel and started changing passwords and doing some damage control while the hotel receptionist tried to call my phone. No luck on calling my phone: The SIM card had already been removed, probably as a precaution against the phone-finder software I had installed.

Once I finished my damage control, Alla suggested that we tell the tourist police about the incident just so they’ll have another data point when they think about the security of various sites. I expected them to fill out some sort of a form and send me away with a vague promise to call me if by some incredible miracle they recover my phone. In fact, they spent a lot of time with us, took us back into the cistern to see where I stopped to take pictures, and practically promised to find the phone. I don’t know how they’ll do that, but I enjoyed their sunny optimism, which peaked when a local family brought somebody else's Samsung phone into the police station. The police got pretty excited that the case had solved itself, but it wasn't my phone.

When we went back into the cavern to talk about where we'd stopped, I met several of the undercover cops working the area. Not wanting to give away any secrets, I won’t say where they hung out. Let me just say that I saw at least one of them earlier and imagined him to be just another hustler ingratiating himself to tourists for personal gain. A second looked like a tourist with an audioguide. Security is tighter than I imagined, and I actually enjoyed my interaction with the cops.

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