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Published: March 22nd 2008
"How do you say 'Afiyet olsun' in English?" somebody on campus recently asked me. "We don't" I replied, "but perhaps we can start using 'Afiyet olsun.'" (For you native English speakers, that's "Ah-fee-yet ol-sun." Say this to people you are eating with or preparing food for. It means something like "Bon apetit.") Last weekend, I heard "Afiyet olsun" so much that my ears were ringing, during two short days of gastrointestinal bliss in İstanbul.
Why, so soon, you ask, did I return again to İstanbul? I received an e-mail from Erman, a passionate, energetic, and unquestionably one-of-a-kind human, saying that his compulsory Turkish millitary service will commence on April Fool's Day. Last weekend proved to be the only available time for meeting up with this long, lost friend until his service is complete.
Two movies were shown on my bus ride in: the first, a quirky, heart-warming, action-packed, formulaic comedy featuring Queen Latifa driving a NYC taxi cab designed for Batman; the second, an extremely violent French drama that turned out to be much more entertaining than the taxi film. Both were overdubbed, and I must say that I found a NYC where everybody speaks Turkish (except for a
handful of Spanish-speaking gangsters) is an oddly-funny thing to watch.
I arrived around midnightish to find that, as usual, I was not the only yabancı (foreigner) crashing at Jaki's and Sercan's place. An absolutely sweet and lovely Japanese couple was visiting, along with their very jet-lagged cousin who had arrived earlier that day via a twelve-hour flight from Tokyo. We talked for a while about the couple's extensive adventures. Over the past five years they've spent more time outside of Japan than in it, living for extended periods in Australia, Shanghai, and somewhere in China's remote west. They spent a year traveling SE Asia extensively. Currently, they are seven months into a classic overland Mongolia-China-Kyrgystan-Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Iran-Turkey trip which gives my passport goosebumps.
I compared them to another ambitious traveler who I spent a few days with in Sarajevo four years ago and they immediately said "oh, you must mean Noaki." I said that that sounded familiar and a few clicks later his image popped up on a screen. Indeed, we were talking about the same person. "He's the most famous adventurer in Japan." I was, quite belatedly, star-struck...
The next afternoon I met up with Jen and Lauren,
The AKP (the controversial party currently in power in Turkey) has been tied up in an interesting legal battle lately. I assume that this has something to do with that...
who are studying at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi (Bosphorus University). We wandered along the Bosphorus from Bebek all the way to Beşiktaş, stopping briefly in quaint, affluent Ortaköy to admire its handsome mosque, which is filled with natural light, and the bustling nearby bazaar.
The Beşiktaş-Kadıköy ferryboat did not stop at the Haydarpaşa train station, which caused a bit of confusion in finding Erman - even with cell phones and seemingly-obvious landmarks. A large, anti-AKP demonstration was taking place right next to the ferry port, adding to the lively activity of the area, which is typically very crowded to begin with.
Eventually we found Erman and decided that "meet us in front of the tall mosque" is not a sufficiently-specific plan anywhere in İstanbul. We made our way to an incredible restaurant where we shared a wide spread of mezes (small dishes) including soups, salads, stuffed-eggplant, a giant artichoke, mysterious fruit juices, thyme tea, and a bunch of other stuff. A sweet pumpkin with cream dish was served for dessert along with some surprising sweet olives.
After lunch I bought the cheapest of Chinese-made guitars at the Whisky Music Shop. Its blank, nameless headstock goes well with its loud
orange stain that suggests it was made at a factory where other orange things are produced - perhaps hardhats or Happy Meal toys. Anyway, it holds a tune reasonably well and is helping to soothe (somewhat) my bass-itchy fingers.
We made our way back to the European side and, with time to kill, headed to Taps, İstanbul's first microbrewery. The hefeweizen was mediocre and overpriced, though a slight step up from Efes (Turkey's most widespread beer). I suggested to Erman, ambitious fellow that he is, that he should open a microbrewery and make it İstanbul's first GOOD microbrewery.
Earlier in the afternoon he had made plans for us to meet a bunch of his friends at Jazz Spot, a "jazz and blues" club in Beyoğlu. I had my doubts about what musical genre we'd actually find there when, amidst a flurry of Turkish in a phone conversation with a friend, the name "George Michael" escaped Erman's lips.
We met up with Jaki, Erman's friends, and - by chance - stumbled upon the Japanese trio while walking down busy İstiklal Caddesi. We all headed for the club. The band ended up playing mostly top 40 stuff all night,
This was at the Kadıköy restaurant
though they did so impressively well. The first set was mostly in English and by the end of the night they were playing only Turkish songs. The backline was rock-solid, especially the drummer. A musical highlight for me was watching the frontman, with a Rollins grip on the mic, sing in a Turkish accent "you can stand under my umb-uh-rella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh under my umb-uh-rella..." It truly ended up being a fun, great night of live music for this picky listener.
The next morning Jaki's friend Umut (Hope - Turkish names are great!) came to take us mountaineering. Jaki described it as "we will go into the jungle and eat." What he meant was "we'll go into the forest, hike for an hour and then go eat." - not the order I would have chosen for these activities, but it turned out to be a beautiful hike, and the top-notch breakfast was well worth the wait. There was an egg dish that I can't remember the name of, excellent cheeses, breads, and honey mixed with thick goat cream. We ate outdoors, slowly, enjoying the late morning sun, and savoring each other's company.
I love Turkey.
The rest of the
afternoon was lazy and in the early evening Jen and I met up with Erman again, to be guests at Hacıbey, his family's restaurant. A delicious salad and possibly the best bowl of lentil soup that has ever been served to me (and I've easily had over a thousand bowls of lenil soup in my day, many of them great...), was followed by the finest Bursa kebap that I've ever had the pleasure of feasting upon. Dessert was of equal quality and along with it came an espresso better than any I found during my limited travels in Eastern Europe. My very high expectations were greatly surpassed.
I took the night bus back to Ankara.
All week long we've had winds here strong enough to blow a Kansas munchkin back to Oz. Combined with rain this has made for some annoying walks around campus, though rain is always welcome in this city of major water shortages. Today pleasant spring weather has returned.
Thursday night Jale came in from İstanbul and as a post script to last weekend's fine dining experiences, Özgür kindly took us out to Kumsal, an excellent Ankara eatery. We feasted on all kinds of
might as well throw in a Bosphorus picture for good measure...
incredible food - though, I politely passed on the tripe this time.
And that's about it. Midterms are rapidly approaching. My Turkish is improving slower than I would like it to, but I continue to push forward. The title of this entry "Yemek çok güzeldi, parmaklarımı yedim" is an idiom. It means "The food was so good that I ate my fingers."
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