Istanbul… one view at a time.

As I was boarding my flight from JFK to Istanbul, the man in front of me said to his partner, “Double check that you have the tickets for Greece. Wouldn’t it be awful to get stuck in Istanbul for a week?”

That is perhaps not the most sensible thing to say as one boards a flight to Turkey, but I found it easier to forgive than what followed, which was a 15-minute conversation about puzzles – conducted via speaker phone.

Let him go to Greece. Let him stay there. I’ll be in Istanbul, the city that helps weed out the dimwits.

***

Within minutes of setting foot in Sultanahmet, the Old Istanbul neighborhood that’s home to most of the city’s main attractions, a man in his 20s was by my side. “Lady, let me show you my carpets.”

I was too exhausted to protest – and also a little bit curious – so I followed him to his shop at the end of Aastra Bazaar. He led me right past the neat rows of rolled rugs and towering stacks of pillow covers to a door at the back of the showroom.

“I take you to the terrace,” he said over his shoulder as we climbed five flights of stairs.

I was glad he did – his terrace had a breathtaking panoramic view. The Blue Mosque. Aya Sofya. Topkapi Palace. All there.

IMG_0001I wasn’t going to buy a carpet, but I was very interested in the view.

***

I should have gone to bed early the night I arrived, but instead I booked a nighttime boat cruise of the Bosphorus. On my way to the meeting point, I met another carpet salesman.

“Oh no thank you,” I said. “No carpets for me.”

“Lady, please,” he said. “Let me show you the terrace view.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. A terrace? Well why didn’t you say so?

“Which way to your shop?” I asked, pointing left and right.

IMG_2096I read in the guidebooks that accepting tea from the merchants puts you under no obligation to buy. I’m hope the same goes for taking in the view.

***

The next morning I set off to Topkapi, the palace of the Ottoman Empire. I got there early, before the tour busses arrived and was trying to take a photo overlooking the water when a Malaysian woman stepped to the edge of the balcony and proceeded to take an endless series of selfies.

Wanting to get her out of my frame, I offered to take her photo. Then she took mine.

“Are you here alone?” she asked.

“I am,” I said. “Are you?”

“Oh no. I’m here with my family,” she said. “But we got separated.”

Ah, yes. “Separated.” Funny how that always seems to happen to grown children on family vacations.

“Come,” she said. “We take selfie together.”

IMG_2092I don’t even know what language they speak in Malaysia, let alone understand it, but I’m pretty sure that her grandmother caught the tail end of that encounter and gave her a tongue lashing for taking photos with the prostitutes.

Tank tops will do you no favors in Turkey. I heard about it all day.

***

After Topkapi, I headed to a Hammam, a traditional Turkish bath house, where I got a full body scrub down and massage from a lady who was thankfully so interested in my belly button piercing that I didn’t feel self-conscious sitting around naked and letting her wash my hair.

I got comfortable. Too comfortable. Near the end of the service, she walked in on me, bare-assed hanging over the edge of the tub.

Why? I was trying to fish out the tea spoon I had dropped underneath.

But I think a better question would be: Who the hell serves people tea in a bathtub? That’s just asking for it.

***

On my way out of the bath house, I met another carpet salesman who offered me tea and pulled me by the arm to his shop. I didn’t really want apple tea. I wanted to buy a pair harem pants, but he was having none of that.

So I took the tea. I enjoyed the view. And when I went back to the showroom to halfheartedly sort through some pillowcases, I watched two of his brothers and one cousin each lead a white woman through the back door to the terrace. I would have expected his third brother to do the same any second, but I was already told that he married an American woman and now lives in New York.

I assume the view had something to do with it.

***

Five minutes after leaving the shop, one of that salesman’s brothers appeared at my side me, matching me step for step and laughing like it was the best joke in the world.

IMG_2114I laughed too – because he was adorable. So adorable that I forgot about the harem pants and went for a walk in Gulhane Park with him instead. Then we went for Turkish coffee. He asked me out to dinner and I did that too, because this face, you guys… this face.

***

Dear Dad – don’t worry. Before I went to dinner, I asked Erdal point blank if he was going to kidnap me.

He said, “What does it mean, kidnap?” 

I took that as proof positive that we were in the clear, but just to be sure I asked him, “Do you know where the U.S. Embassy is?”

He said, “Do you need new passport?”

We had lamb. And baklava. Really good.

***

No one will be shocked to learn that Erdal and I didn’t have much to discuss at dinner.

After exhausting every possible subject, including traditional Turkish dance and the book his sister-in-law wrote about robot puppets, I asked him, “Do you have any pictures of your cat?”

His eyes lit up.

“I have videos.”

It’s official. You can travel the world and still not escape the cat vidz.

***

IMG_0002On my last day in Istanbul, I visited the Grand Bazaar, where – spoiler alert for Christmas presents – I bought three handmade lamps and roughly 1 million ceramic bowls and dishes.

On my walk back to my hotel, I was approached by yet another young man who wanted to hear all about the United States. I humored him, but when I got to my hotel, I hurried up the steps.

“Let me buy you tea,” he insisted. “Just 5 minutes.”

“No, no,” I said. For one thing, he looked about 18. And for another I needed to change my shirt because in my excitement haggling for the lamps I spilled a cup of coffee on myself.

“Please,” he said. “I just want to practice my English.”

I wasn’t buying it. But then again, I passed him later in the day and heard him having a rather animated conversation with an English gentleman about tanks, so who knows.

***

I thought I was going to like Istanbul, but I was wrong. I loved Istanbul.

I wouldn’t have minded being stuck there for a week. Not one bit.

 

 

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