Tremor Terror

The mattress was shaking at 2 in the morning, and for a second it felt like the Magic Fingers in a '60s motel room. Except the walls were shaking too. And the ceiling. The Ciragan Palace, one of Turkey's most luxurious hotels, was rocking and rolling. Then everything went still.

The tremor last week was a small one, about 4.4 on the Richter scale, and nobody was hurt. But it reminded everyone in Istanbul of last August, when a quake registering 7.4 reduced buildings in the cities of Izmit and Yalova to rubble and dust. More than 17,000 people died.

Turkey's Tourism Ministry now estimates that the country has drawn 30 percent fewer foreign vacationers this year than last, because of both the quake and political turmoil. Istanbul alone has lost more than $100 million in tourist revenues. Now the government is launching a $40 million promotional campaign in 32 countries to lure vacationers back. To help draw them, hotels are cutting prices. The popular "holiday villages" have dropped their rates as much as 40 percent, which means less than $50 a night, all meals and local wine included.

Should you go? Istanbul is no more prone to tremors than, say, southern California. And the August quake barely damaged its great palaces and mosques. The political situation is calm, too. That makes Turkey a deal at the moment. Unless you're there for an aftershock.