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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
June 3rd 2008
Published: June 6th 2008
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local art in Cihangirlocal art in Cihangirlocal art in Cihangir

A prolific spraypaint artist has been decorating the neighborhood of Cihangir for quite some time.
Summer in İstanbul - does it get any better than this? I arrived a little over a week ago and have since been buzzing all over town, finding surprises at every turn. Sercan and Jaki have a new flatmate, Lütfiye, a longtime friend of Jaki's from İzmir. I was pleased to discover that her English is virtually non-existent. Hopefully we can learn a lot from each other this summer.

Wednesday I wandered down to the quaint center of İstinye in search of an anahtarci (locksmith) who could make me a set of keys for the apartment. I will be coming and going a lot over the next few months, so this seemed like a logical step. I found a deserted shop and a few minutes after I entered it a teen aged boy came running over to help me.

I explained to him that I wanted to have some keys copied and handed him the set. He received them with a hand decorated with scars and bandages, clear illustrations of his finesse as a key maker. I left him to his task and walked by the port for a little while. Upon my return I saw him in action,
strrrrrrretch...strrrrrrretch...strrrrrrretch...

I'm told that there is a hairdresser in Cihangir who loves cats and feeds the ones in the neighborhood daily. Yesterday, I counted thirty on one stairway.
vigorously shaking a machine - in the same way that you wouldn't want to shake a drill press. Shards of metal erupted from his work which he bravely inspected from close range, without any protective lenses. After finishing, he explained to me that the keys might not actually work, but that if they didn't, he'd make them again.

Sure enough, only one of them did work. Jaki told me to take the bike the next day, a much faster way of getting back down to the center of town. I was nervous about biking in İstanbul, but I discovered it to be not any more terrifying than biking in Queens (still, I would see two nasty car accidents before the day was through). The keyboy didn't seem too shocked to see me again and graciously made me another set without any protest. By some lucky mistake his second attempt was actually successful and I now have my own set of keys.

Friday, I joined Jaki for a long walk around İstanbul. He has recently quit his job and his new job is that he sold his car. (Thankfully) concerned about the long-term prospects of this new career, Jaki has a another new job: a struggling actor. I accompanied him to an audition for a Yeni Rakı commercial, which (I learned yesterday) he made it to callbacks for. If he makes it into the commercial, he will appear on the big screen as Turkish law does not allow for alcohol commercials on television. It is only a matter of time until he is famous...

In the evening Jaki and I made it to Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi for a dinner/meeting with Joti (a Punjabi Indian professor who was born in Pakistan and raised in Iran, with stints of Britain and America in there somewhere, but who has been mostly in Turkey since 1984), Sercan, Doro, and Pınar. Joti is a feisty woman, weary of teaching law, and has established a peace center at the university. She is pushing for a full degree program in Peace Studies or Conflict Resolution or something like that, and we listened to her speak passionately for a few hours about her goals.

Later that night I returned with Sercan to the apartment in a quirky company car covered in Lipton Iced Tea advertisements. At some time after midnight, two Israelis showed up, both named
Basilica CisternBasilica CisternBasilica Cistern

Back in the day, this held the city's water supply. It was built in 532 AD and held 80,000 cubic meters of water. Today it's full of mood lighting, classical music, fish and tourists.
Alon (which sounds like "alone" and is kind of funny, since they aren't). They had just come from a rainbow gathering on the Mediterranean and seemed unsure of what to do with the rest of their time in Turkey. They had never before heard of the Hagia Sofya or of any other notable landmarks in Istanbul, nor had they heard of Kapadokya, or really anything else about Turkey at all. Alon woke up and had breakfast with us the next morning while Alon slept through it. That was the last I've seen of them as I went to Doro's Saturday afternoon.

Early in the evening I cruised over to Üsküdar to meet up with Erin, who has traveled all the way from Montana to teach English here. It turns out that she also knows Sercan and Jaki, which I guess shouldn't be that much of a surprise. We had espresso and ice cream and walked around the parts of the Üsküdar coast that aren't heavily under construction at the moment for the new metro stop. (Fun fact: since the start of the construction of this line, which will eventually go under the Bosphorus, at least twelve sunken ships have
MedusaMedusaMedusa

Ancient recycling: the head was used during the construction of the cistern, to support one of its 336 columns.
been found in its path!).

I hopped on the ferry to return to Beşiktas and noticed four very happy men speaking Spanish and photographing each other. I asked them, in Spanish, where they are from and they replied "Madrid." They had just gotten off the plane a few hours earlier and were obviously thrilled to be on holiday. By the time we arrived in Beşiktas twenty minutes later, we were like old friends. Not having any other plans, I offered my services as a tour guide and led them up the hill to Beyoğlu, in search of a place to have some comida and a cerveza. They were amazed at all of the churches that we saw along the way and said that in Spain there are hardly any mosques left at all. Diego said that Beyoğlu feels a lot like Lisbon to him - one more reason to go to Lisbon...

Beyoğlu was, of course, teeming on a Saturday night and I led the Spaniards through a crowd to a balcony restaurant overlooking a street exploding with activity. I did my best to translate between Spanish and Turkish to a rather impatient waiter and then to some
Bored at work?Bored at work?Bored at work?

The wardrobe of an Ottoman guard isn't the most macho thing I've ever seen. It must get rather uncomfortable in the summer heat, standing still by a door in Topkapı. This man seemed particularly thrilled that I was taking his picture, probably the 1000th such photo of the morning...
curious Türks dining at the next table. My Spanish sentences came out either with occasional Turkish words, or with all the verbs at the end of the sentences (as they are in Turkish). It was a coin toss as to what language my numbers and words like "OK" and "thanks" would come out in. It was a comical linguistic mess, but somehow I was able to generally get the point across.

We each had a few beers at the first restaurant and the Spaniards split a bottle of Yeni Rakı (though, if they had seen Jaki's possible future commercial, they no doubt would have drank at least two bottles...). The refused to let me pay for my drinks and we made or way back to the street level. Thankful, I ran into a shop and bought a round of beers to carry as we walked onwards. Discovering that they could drink cheaply and openly on the street may have been a turning point for the worse in their holiday weekend...

On we walked until we came to a midye dolması ("stuffed mussels") vendor. I suggested that they try one and Diego seemed as if he had found his
Topkapı PalaceTopkapı PalaceTopkapı Palace

That's Mónica on the left, and Adriana on the right. There is a professional basketball player in the middle.
new favorite food. We chatted with the lad who was selling the midye dolması and learned that "basta" means "enough" in both Spanish and Kurdish (the vendor was a Kurd from Siirt, deep in the southeast).

And the night got funnier from there...

We ended up at a few Türkü bars (traditional music) which were festive places. There was dancing and probably some horrible photographs documenting the events. At Diego's insistence, we stopped at several more midye dolması stands throughout the evening and discovered that generally Spanish and Kurdish don't share many words.

Somehow late in the night we found ourselves in front of the Spanish Cultural Center. The guards were thrilled to meet four (at this point quite merry) Spaniards and they had a hilarious conversation devoid of any common words, but full of laughter. The hours grew late and I became concerned about how they were going to get across town to their hotel in Laleli. I decided that the best thing to do would be to stuff them all into a cab and send them on their way, despite Diego's protests that we should drink more somewhere near Taksim. No doubt their part of the story continued even later into the wee hours.

Sunday morning was a harsh reminder of the hazards of drinking with Europeans...

In the evening Doro and I wandered down to the waterfront in Kabataş to meet up with Adriana and Mónica, two lovable Servas travelers from Argentina who are cruising their way to the Turkish Mediterranean coast and onward to the Greek isles. We drank tea and chatted, while men around us played backgammon and smoked hookah pipes. As the women spoke not a bit of English and had limited time before their departure, I offered to be their tour guide the following morning. Their tour allowed for less than 24 hours in İstanbul, which is ridiculous...

We met at 8:00 and headed directly for the Grand Bazaar. Every shop owner that we came across seemed to speak Spanish with some degree of fluency (and probably 15 other languages as well). I believe that the ladies started to think that this would be true for the entire country. Satisfied with a few purchases and seeing only a tiny fraction of the bazaar, the ladies next wanted to see the underground Cistern, one of İstanbul's quirkier sites. On the way there, and for the rest of the day, they did not hesitate to speak Spanish to anyone they came across. Often they would receive perplexed looks and responses in English, which they in turn didn't understand. I did my best to translate, with some amusing results at times.

With time running short and the Hagia Sofya closed because it was a Monday, we ran over to Topkapı Palace, which I had never visited before. Two hours proved to be way to little time for the massive museum and gardens and we sort of just ran through bits of it. I'm pleased to know that my student ID gets me in free and I look forward to returning to see more of the stunning palace. As time was running out, I took Adriana and Mónica, two of the sun-shiniest people you could ever hope to meet, back to their ship. While waiting for the tram we met a very nice Iraqi man who has been living in Turkey for 35 years. He complicated the translating process further by pouring some Russian into the mix...

The Spanish festivities continued Wednesday night with a small gathering of a
Tile at TopkapıTile at TopkapıTile at Topkapı

this is a close-up of a tile. there are lots of these in Turkey...
Spanish conversation club that I crashed. We were five: me, Erin, a Russian, a Türk, and a Spaniard. This meant that no matter what words spilled out of my mouth I must've sounded foolish to at least one of the other people at the table at all times.

I returned to İstinye last night to find Jaki's apartment populated by a cross-section of interesting European travelers: 2 Swiss, 2 Czechs, and a Pole. The Pole is named Bogtan, which in Polish means "a gift from God." It sounds sort of like "boktan," which in Turkish means "from shit" - hahahahahaha... He had a good laugh about it too. The language adventures continue...


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late eveninglate evening
late evening

this view from Doro's balcony is of the Asian side glowing across the Bosphorus in the tired late evening sun


6th June 2008

Fun fact: 'Alon' means 'tree' in Hebrew. I am jealous of your Israeli interactions.

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