Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Driving Through the Markets

I think I commented that Istanbul had slightly better behaved traffic than Cairo. If I didn't I meant to. Better, at least, from a rule-regulated western viewpoint. However, driving styles are much more abrupt. Cairo is fast but steadily so. Traffic in Istanbul abhors a vacuum and drivers will floor the accelerator the moment a few spaces appear in front of them, braking abruptly when there is a bus at the end of the space. Being a passenger here is like riding an irregular and rough rocking horse.






I was also amazed when traveling the main streets at the number of shops advertising and displaying wigs. Either there is a huge amount of treatment for chemotherapy, a lot of psoriasis, a larger than usual transvestite population or people who just like to wear wigs. More surprising still a lot were afro curls in brilliant yellow, pink or blue - anything but natural. I had a swimming cap in tight pale blue nylon curls when I was young. I think I wore it once before my innate good taste (which disappeared briefly in the eighties) told me it was not a good idea.


Barely visible at this scale above the yellow van, and taken from a moving car, is a wig shop - and next door a fake beard shop.

The city is really beautiful. It is a curious mix of the very modern with very old and Ataturk is everywhere, on posters and in shop windows, still very much a master of the nation he helped to forge.





After our first day of work in Istanbul we were all a bit tired. I had been demonstrating all day, then did a trunk show that night, straight after the show closed at five, but in a different location a good half hour away - on a good day. This was not such a good day and it took an hour to get there.

I have often worked with translators. It can be hard, as I have to remember to put sentences into a reasonably simple form, and to keep them in bites that can be remembered. It is no good getting carried away with a story and forgetting to stop or I have to backtrack. For those who understand the English breaking a long sentence in the middle means a very long pregnant pause while the other language is used. For those who understand both languages I frequently see muttered conferences on the appropriateness of the translation. Some languages come out shorter in translation, some seem to be much longer. Sometimes I am aware that the translators is missing great chunks of what I am saying, but I am powerless to stop it - and don't know which bits are being skipped.

Translating in a class means that I often have to cut out some of the work I would usually cover as everything takes twice as long to present.

I had a lovely translator in Turkey. She was young and pretty, and even handled most of the quilting terms without consultation. Four sentences into the introduction and I was just relaxing, when a group of Greek quilters visiting Turkey asked if they could also have a Greek translator and offered a member of their group to do it.

Now this was really interesting. Greek translates short, and Turkish rolls on in rapid staccato bursts for a long time, with pauses just long enough for me to start to add the next bit, then uncomfortably realising that it wasn't over yet. It meant there were very long pauses between bits of English and I had trouble stopping my thoughts from wandering off somewhere else.

The talk seemed long and interminable, even with large bits left out.

We finished and packed up and our Turkish host and Bernina importer suggested that we all go out for dinner. We rolled bags through the streets and over the cobblestones which must have been very rough on the wheels and back to our hotel.

Then we packed into a car. We drove into one street and threaded our way to an area where there was a sign for Oto Park. We shot down the last street towards the sign only slightly put off by the fact that we could see the rear ends of about five cars protruding into the street and obviously very tightly parked.

Waving arms from the bored attendants drinking tea on rickety chairs told us the parking lot was full. By now there was a long line of cars filling the narrow road in front of us, and another car behind us. He backed out slowly and we shot backwards! Then another car pulled in behind us and our host drove back to the parking lot to beg and plead a bit longer. Nope. We had to back out again, but now there were more cars in the way and the narrow street was gridlocked in both directions. There was one narrow road on our left and we took it.

BIG mistake. Within seconds we were tracking down the Taksim - a huge pedestrian mall, absolutely packed with people. They walked in tight groups and meandered in alternating lanes - down, then up, being represented up to four times each across the road. There didn't seem room for a car but somehow we slipped through. At least, we did till we met the policeman. You didn't need a lot of Turkish to read the body language and it was far from happy. Our host pointed out that the Oto Park was full and that the road was jammed an there was no one else to go. He was told, very obviously, to get off the Taksim.

We eased to the right side and squeezed through increasingly dense groups to get to a side alley. It hooked off down the hill, and was a market street. If it had been busy before it was ridiculous now and we were all giggling helplessly with that dreadful mix of embarrassment and terror. The market was fascinating - or it would have been if we had not been seeing it through a wall of wild-eyed people slammed tightly back into stands of dripping fish or rolling cherries. People stood in number one or two ballet positions to avoid having their feet run over. Women snatched up small children to swing them out of the way of the large car that squeezed its way through. There were several upturned hands flicked at us but surprising little abuse. EVERYONE stared. I alternated between watching in horrified fascination and closing my eyes and begging that we would get through without flattening someone. At one small restaurant they had to move chairs to let us through and we barely made it even then.

Our host was muttering to himself and I think it was prayers. He said he would go back except that the policeman was waiting. I was glad he was - the thought of doing this in reverse was worse.

We did THREE streets this way. By the time we all escaped into blessedly open streets and moving traffic none of us felt like trying for a meal in the Taksim.

We ate in a superb restaurant hovering high over the sea and looking at three different large mosques. Mosques in Istanbul are very different from mosques in Egypt in style. Domes are wide and walls heavy and solid. There are often several domes and they pair with tall and very elegant slim minarets. They have a low and squat look, sitting heavily into the earth. They look like a princess castle from Fantasyland, oddly crossed with the toad the princess had to kiss.

In daylight, just to give you an impression

The food was stunning. None of it was exactly the same as things we eat in Syria and Egypt. The mezze was rich and interesting with most of the food surprisingly fresh and light. Standouts were a salad of ripe tomatoes with walnuts, a salad of white lima beans and cubed potatoes in a spicy garlic dressing, and something brought out with a flourish by a chef in his tall hat. Beside the table he rolled ingredients with his bare hands, squeezed and worked it, and then squeezed out small chunks of dark red smooth firm 'stuff' onto a lettuce lined platter. It looked for all the world like kibbe nayyeh - a Lebanese or Syrian spiced raw meat which is sometimes mixed with a bit of burghul. As this always seemed to me to be a shortcut to amoebic dysentery - and I don't even like it - I was less than keen to try it. We were assured that it is worked bulgur only with spices, and completely vegetarian. You took a piece complete with strong finger marks from the chef, and wrapped it in a piece of lettuce. It was delicious. It tasted a bit like Muhamareh - one of my favourite Syrian dishes made with bread and walnuts, roasted red capsicum puree, chili and salt and lemon, but without the walnuts. I am going to try to copy it.

Main course was a mixed kebab platter. The best thing here - and it was all superb - was a lamb kebab mixed heavily with brilliant emerald green sliced pistachios. It was barbecued so had that marvelous and darkly-grilled-meat flavour, and crumbled in your mouth, meltingly tender and moist, with that very sweet nuttiness of truly fresh pistachios. It was fabulous.

Possibly my weariness by midnight was assisted by several Rakis with the meal - but is was delicious and that sharp aniseed was great with the fresh Mediterranean flavours. Bed was so welcome.

To add a level of illustration - here are some images from the alley we drove down - taken on the third day while we walked, and early so it was not so crowded.







Just to end with - women making bread in the windows of a restaurant.
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