Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Thank you too much!

In Which We See the Black Sea
There are two types of Bosphorus Tours between the Asian and European sides of Turkey. One that is lame and lasts 1 and 1/2 hours. And one that is awesome and lasts 6. Which one do you think we took? That's right.
It was a very very weather-happy sunny-crispy lightly-cloudy day, unlike today...which is yucky-rainy. We took tons of pictures, marvelled from all three decks (indoor, indoor-outdoor, and outdoor) at the beauty of the buildings on both sides which included the king's summer house (I believe its called the Dolmabache Palace and its enormous), the villas of the weathy...and extremely wealthy, and sort of old world European style splendor. We stopped at a number of places, but didn't disembark until we reached the last stop at the mouth of the Black Sea. The town is called Andolu Kavagi (silent g, as in - Marduk - Hagia) and ran up a hill steep enough to remind me of Seattle to reach the glorious ruins of the Yoros Castle, originally a Byzantine-turned-Genoese fortress overlooking the strategic point at one of the Bosphorus' narrowest stretches. We met a family of rowdy puppies, took some fantastic pictures (I climbed the ruins, and actually took a phone call from the Chief Rabbi's office while I was up there...!), but mostly just stared into the blue heart of the Black Sea and then climbed a ways down the mountian for lunch. Kathryn had quite the lunch from the set menu: She had clams, mussels, calimari, and sea bream along with her salad. I had salad. And then we had free apple tea. I've gotten a lot of free apple tea in this country. I quite like it. Mixed together in a cup. Stupendous. Back in the villiage we wandered around amusing the Turks, amusing ourselves and eating nutella and banana. When we got back on the boat we collapsed into our books - it felt like we'd just spent the day skiing.

In Which I Am Mistaken for Being Syrian
When we stepped off the boat it was getting to be around 4:30 - time for the sun to begin setting. So we wandered over to the bridge that connects our Sultanhamet district of Istanbul to the chic Istiqlal (Tunel-Taksim) area to watch the sunset. It was as magnificent as a winter sunset could be. We walked by the Yani Jami (spelled Yanı Camı) and entered the Egyptian Market, also known as the Spice Market. I think it was called the Egyptian Market because the imports from Cairo used to be sold there. In any case, we were wandering around, smelling this, being offered a sample of that, and we walk into a shop - a nicer one, a touristy one - and are asked where we are from. We say we are from America, but have been living in Morocco for the last four months and do you speak Arabic? The shopkeeper, like most shopkeepers here in Turkey, did not speak Arabic, but he brought us over to someone who did-- a grandmotherly, hijabed, crinkly-smiling woman from, of all places, Saudi Arabia. She also speaks English. So I start the conversation in Arabic, and the three of us chat until she pauses for a moment and points to me and accuses: "Where are you from?"
and I say "I told you - I'm from America."
She asks me again, "No, where are you from, where are your parents from?"
Now. This is not the first time this has happened to me, many people thing that I am of Syrian or Lebanese descent when I start jabbering in Arabic.
So I say back, "My parents are American. They speak no Arabic. My family has been in America for a long time." She doesn't believe me. She keeps pointing to me and saying in English to the storekeeper --
"This one, I know, I know. She's Syrian. I'm sure." This continued for a while - she kept probing, trying to figure out if I was with the American or Syrian intelligence. I motioned to Kathryn that I wanted out. We slowly extracted oursevles from her gentle grip and left. I think it must have been that I was speaking more Fusha than she was used to - and Syrian is closer to Fusha than her Hijazi dialect. So perhaps that was it. Either way, I was totally unerreved.

In Which I Hear The Best Jazz I've Ever Heard
I made us reservations at one of the more highly recommended Jazz Clubs in Istanbul for that night. The place was called Nardi's and the guest musician was a trumpet-player named Amir El-Saffar, who I believe was Syrian-American (strangly ironic...) and understood about as much Turkish as we did. Backing him up were the jazz band: An upright base played by a man with a grey poneytail and eyes more closed than open, an adorable bald percussionist who lost his eyes when he smiled and played with such grace and watched all of the instruments with such light-hearted focus that of all of them, he was the one I most wished spoke English. There was a talented oud and electric jazz violin player who played like a teenager -- jumping around in his seat, living inside the music, and man with a mustache on the grand piano who MCed and would, from time to time, translate. They played stuff written by Amir (he would whip out the Turkish xylophone or Qanun from time to time as a sort of treat) as well as by the piano player *the two played together in New York - and sometimes stuff by Rogers and Hart, or Coltrane (the last song was Giant Steps and it made my night). On our way back the late-night calls of "Oh look! Its the Spice Girls" daunted us not - and I even reciprocated with my own spur-of-the-moment jibe: "Oh look! Its the Backstreet Boys!"

In Which I Construct My Very Own Jewish Conspiracy
Since we'd had a late night, we also had a late morning. It was slow, peaceful. Full of email and John Updike. But also full of phone calls from the Cheif Rabbi's office. If the nice Turkish guys who run the Agora Guesthouse (my hostel) didn't think I was a part of a Jewish conspiracy before, they're pretty positive about it now.
The Chief Rabbi's Office has called me a total of seven times in the last 4 days. Four of those calls were actually to the hostel's landline paging me. The reasons for the calls have varied - the reason they were calling this time was to get me a book that they want me to take home to Seattle to give to a Sephradi Chazan there and they wanted to hand deliver it at a time when I could personally receive it. Oy. So if me moving out on Shabbat without explanation wasn't enough, or me having to fax my passport with their number and address wasn't enough, or if the phone call to give me directions to the synagogue wasn't enough, here I was, getting a package delivered in silence (I don't speak Turkish!) that no one else could touch. It must look very weird.

In Which I Discover the Shopping Experience of Turkey
How can I take your money? Where is your money? Come into my shop!
These are the Turkish lines, so differnet than those in Morocco. Its commercial harrassmenet, not sexual harassment. We walked around the area of Gulhane, poking this, buying that, and then took the tram to the Grand Bazaar. And it is Grand. And it is a Bazaar. And as we know, I am highly distractable. This was a place of distraction. Shiny things all over the place. And it was wide, and clean, and NICE. But Kathryn and I only really hit our element once we left the covered bazaar for the less-shiney more-grimy area where people really do their shopping. And it was there that we found more Arabic speakers. We met a guy who spoke very good Arabic - he was Turkish, he said, but he spoke almost 15 languages. [And I as impressed when Moroccans spoke 5!] In any case, I threw my one Russian line at him ("I don't speak a word of Russian") and my one Farsi line ("How are you?") and got some good laughs. I also got a good deal - two scarves for 15 lira! In the covered area, those scarves would have gone for 35 lira each. I kept thinking about how glad I was to have lived in a country where you must bargain before you buy and not feel bad not buying until you find the deal you want. If I were a normal tourist here I would have spent double.
We went back into the covered part and perused the antiques, the beautiful silk-and-bead jewlery, the velveteen embroidered footwear and belts, the wallets made of felt, and the bright handmade copper-gold earrings that if Anthropologie could get their capitalist paws on, they would sell for triple what they're asking here. And I made one final purchase. A pair of hilarious Turkish pants that just scream Aladin. I bought them for three reasons: One, I will wear them even if they are one-size-fits-all and I'm one-size-fits-small. Two, because the retail price was 75 Turkish Lira and I got them down to 25. Three, because the guy who was running the store was astonished at our Arabic, but even more astonished -- and this astonishment was reciprocated -- by my Hebrew. He spoke Hebrew. The man in the Turkish Bazaar spoke Hebrew. Better Hebrew than ARABIC. I couldn't believe it. I bought the pants.

In Which We Drink More Apple Tea, This Time With A Man Named Gengis
We walked back to Sultanhamet (our hostel area) and were discracted. Again. We ended up having more apple tea with twin brothers in their shop. Of course they were fascinated by two blond girls who spoke Arabic, and wanted to know all about us, wanted us to teach them Arabic, and made us promise as we left never to forget them. I don't think I will - but not because their shop was so remakable, or the conversation we held so scintillating, but mostly because the brother with whom we spent most of our time is named Gengis. Yes. Gengis. As in Gengis Khan. Incredible.

And then we finally made it back to the hostel where I discovered that they discovered that I rated them on hostelworld.com. Somehow the numbers I punched in rated them as a 76%. I also would be pissed if someone gave me a C and I didn't know why. But now things, well, things have been awkward. Wish me luck in my last 48 hours.

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