Monthly Archives: September 2013

People and places and things

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Some Things
Along with an abundance of cigarette smokers, is an abundance of cats. Yes, cats. I have never seen so many wild, healthy looking cats in an urban area. Why are there so many cats in Istanbul? Well, I learned that Islam tells of a cat thwarting a poisonous snake that had approached the Prophet Muhammad. Another story says that the prophet found his cat sleeping on the edge of his vest. Instead of removing the cat, the prophet cut off the portion of the vest that was free and wore it without disturbing the pet. So cats are viewed as somewhat of a spiritual symbol, to be treated with care and fed. Two of them circled my table at a street café and seemed perfectly relaxed and okay doing that. I had to continue to shoo them away while I quickly and protectively ate my food. Maybe I should have shared.

Some People
A funny thing happened on the way from the Grand Bazaar. My taksi driver didn’t quite seem to know how to get to my hotel, and drove down and backed out of several streets. While smoking and cursing at yet another one way street that was blocked by posts, he jumped out of the taksi and started screaming and yelling at the traffic officers (yes, traffic is so bad in Istanbul that they have traffic cops everywhere). He wanted to drive over the blockade; the traffic cops said no. A large crowd encircled the cab, with me in the backseat trying to partially hide my face, and a fistfight almost ensued between the cabbie and the cops. The cabbie finally got in and drove off. No tip.IMG_0303 (2)

I’ve also noticed a conspicuous absence of the use of deodorant. Occasionally, there is an overabundance of cologne and perfume, but more often, the absence of anything at all. And, this seems to be an equal opportunity phenomenon. Baking soda anyone? Just saying.

The housekeeper and the general maintenance guy, Sevim and Omet, are sweethearts, and make a sincere effort to help me feel comfortable at this small hotel. We also manage to talk with one another, although with my extremely limited Turkish and their equally limited English, we don’t get beyond the polite greetings. But, as I have re-learned, giving and receiving sincere smiles can go a long way toward warming the heart. They bring a smile from my heart to my face each time I see them.

Some places
There is a park that I have found myself frequenting. There are plenty of shaded benches, a play structure for the kids, and a beautiful fountain in the center of the park. Today (Saturday) it is warm and sunny as I walk to the park, which is about a 10 minute walk from my hotel. I arrived without breaking into a sweat, and there is a cooling breeze. The weather reminds me of a perfect SF Bay Area day, and I remember that I dreamed about In-N-Out hamburgers last night, thinking, in my dream, that I would run out and get one for dinner. Talk about a rude awakening! I walk toward my favorite café to buy a chicken kebap lunch, and try not to think about my favorite burger. Ahh … another life. But if I get desperate there’s always Domino’s.IMG_0307IMG_0305 (2)


The Grand Bazaar

Think of a mall, but unlike any mall you’ve ever seen. This mall has many, many corridors, looks like a palace from Arabian Nights, and is filled with anything and almost everything. I walked into the Bazaar and was immediately overwhelmed. Stores with jewelry, leather goods, Turkish rugs, shoes, clothing, souvenirs, were side by side and filled to the brim. Store clerks and owners stood outside and hawked their wares, beckoning and calling to me: “lady, lady, this way, I’ve got something to show you.” I responded to one clerk selling rugs that I did not want to buy a rug, and rather than stopping him, I inadvertently engaged him. “Why not? Everyone needs a rug. Come in, let me show you.” So I went in, continuing to assert that I did not want a rug, while he continued to pull out rug after rug, going lower on the price, and causing me to feel some pressure to buy. But, as I explained to him, I did not come in to buy a rug, whether it was $250 (the lowest) or $1,000. He reluctantly, and not without some hostility, finally backed off and offered his business card.

I again encountered another Turkish merchant who insisted that he was not trying to sell me anything, and offered me some hot apple tea. (Delicious, by the way.) As we sat and sipped, he pinpointed my accent for a Texan (Wow!) and went on to explain that he was 53 years old, had three children, and was divorced from a woman who, as he apologized, was “a slut and an alcoholic.” He then insisted on taking me to dinner. I deferred and asked if we could go the following day. Of course, I would come to him and we could go to dinner from the Bazaar. I collected his phone number and address; he did not collect mine.

So many interesting things at the Grand Bazaar!IMG_0292

Life in Istanbul ….

Well, I’ve just learned that my employer has booked my hotel room for another 5 days. My checkout date is now September 25. I’ve seen many things in Istanbul, but I have yet to see the Hagia Sofia or the Grand Bazaar. Today, I think I’ll head out for those particular parts unknown. Hopefully, I’ll get a “taksi” driver who is not trying to make a large profit off of me. Until next time ….

Europe and Asia or both?

ImageMy accidental tourist spirit is willing, but the body stubbornly resists leaving Pacific Daylight Time.  And this in spite of the full moon over Istanbul and the 80% humidity, or maybe because of it.

Istanbul is a study in contrasts.  It has a “European” side and an “Asian” side.  I have never heard any of the locals refer to Istanbul, or Turkey, as the Middle East.  I arrived in Turkey knowing that it was the Middle East, and now find that knowledge highly questionable.  At the same time, there is Old Istanbul and new Istanbul.  I am now in a hotel in Old Istanbul (and by the way, the Turkish spell the city with a small i) and enjoying it very much.  This city is reminiscent of San Francisco in many ways: rolling hills, a bay, houses tucked into the hills, and lots of fish restaurants. 

The Bay of Bosphorus has two bridges that connect the European and Asian side, and they look a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge, although not painted red.  The water in the Bay is a midnight blue with a very slight green tinge.  Bosphorus Bay, like San Francisco Bay, is filled with ferries of tourists, fishing boats and sailboats.

On Saturday, I saw palaces, mosques, and even a fortress.  The city’s population (20 million, I’m told) is largely Muslim, but there is a decidedly European and very western feel to things.  At least half of the people I’ve seen, mostly men, smoke cigarettes.  I haven’t seen this much smoking since the 1970’s.  I’ve also seen a lot of beer drinking, and lots of Turkish women in skinny jeans, skimpy tops and uncovered heads.  Everyone seems to be in a rush, and I believe there is lots of money to be made and spent.

I’ve spent all of my time on the European side; hopefully, before I continue on to Saudi Arabia, I will see the Asian, and much less European, side of Turkey.


Istanbul Continued …

I have never seen black figs this large and sweet!  They are the size of a large tangerine and as sweet as honey.  I am getting more than my fill of them.

I saw many more women today.  It appears that more of them come out when they pick up the children from school.  I must admit that 95% of the women I saw were Muslim, very conservative looking, although not as conservative as women I saw from Saudi Arabia.  Their heads were covered, but they wore clothing that, while covering them from head to toe, did not come close to the full covering of an abaya. They wore colorful full length tops and skirts (no pants) that were somewhat flattering.  I was very happy to see them, and the school children. 

Old Istanbul shares the big city attributes of a New York or San Francisco.  I met women with children who were panhandling, and saw men who appeared to be homeless.  There were also men scouring for cans and bottles, and trash littered the streets.  And, like other cities, in the middle of the chaos was a park with a large fountain.  Benches surrounded the fountain, children played on play structures, women gossiped and men smoked and played cards and other games. 

I sort of decided to do some shopping, and went into a jewelry store to buy a bracelet.  The bracelet was priced at 10 liras; but, when I handed the 20 lira bill to the clerk, he didn’t offer any change.  “It is 10 dollars and 20 lira.”  I politely took my 20 lira bill back and handed him the bracelet.  No sale today.

Transitions 2 – Istanbul

Turkish Airlines is absolutely the best!  (At least in my experiences so far.)  If anyone is travelling to the middle east, I recommend this airline highly. 

Right now, I am in Istanbul.  The traffic is crazy, the drivers are aggressive and the city is amazing.  I am living in a part of the city that seems very old.  Some of the streets are cobbled, and even when paved, there is no such thing as a crosswalk, and you wait until the street is relatively clear before you cross.  The neighborhood is reminiscent of SOMA in San Francisco, but far more friendly.  There are many, many small shops, packed together like sandwiches.  On one block you will find a shop for children’s clothes, adult clothes, a Turkish bath (which I might try) a supermarket, a Domino’s Pizza (I kid you not) an electronics shop, and a hardware shop.  I hesitate to say “store” because that brings to mind large spaces.  These are small, and seemingly family owned, shops and cafes.  Many of the cafes have outdoor seating, very similar to the outdoor cafes in the SF financial district.  But, these cafes are bustling and friendly.  And, in the evening, they light up with festivity: singing with roving musicians, clapping and a general celebratory mood. 

One thing I’ve noticed:  I have never seen so many men.  For every woman I see, there are 15 men.  I don’t know if it’s because they are out and about conducting business, or hanging out with friends, etc.  But I have never seen so few women and so many men.  The men (and women) are very respectful (usually referring to me as “Madame” or “Lady”) and helpful.  Although I must admit I should have studied a bit of Turkish.  Many people understand some English, and will sincerely try to communicate with you. 

I don’t generally like large cities, but right now, I am liking Istanbul very, very much.