Monday, June 15, 2009

It Was Hot and There Were Many Cats, and Other Fascinating Observations on Istanbul

Also, there was a lot of traffic.

My mother, brother and I flew to Istanbul on Saturday via Frankfurt.

This was breakfast. Can you guess where? The orange juice was a replacement orange juice after the first one was delivered in a structurally unsound vessel that disintegrated in my brother's Lenny-like grip. (Actually, all he did was pick it up and the bottom of the glass just fell off.)

This guy, who shall henceforth be known as the Cherlin Bayramı (Cherlin Festival), flew in on the same day from Paris and we all met up at the airport. We were put up at the lovely Residence at Bilgi University. It's a beautiful campus and they offered an excellent breakfast, but the Bosphorus stinks, y'all, for real. I'd still recommend it to anyone, but you need to have your own bus to take you into central Istanbul, otherwise what's the point?

These people are unknowingly participating in the Bayramı of Cherlin. Traditional Bayramı costume: too-short pants, expansive hair, semi-tucked shirt. Traditional Bayramı demeanor: sunny with a chance of math. Traditional Bayramı folk song: Thriller by Michael Jackson.

On Monday, the Bayramı went to the Bayramı, the monster stayed in his lair, and my mother and I walked down Istiklal Caddesi, a long pedestrian boulevard near Taksim Square with lots of shops and the requisite number of cats. One of the side streets sold fish and watches—Dalí Street, per the Bayramı.


There are packs of wild dogs all over Istanbul (although not nearly as many as there are cats). Periodically, they get rounded up, tagged and vaccinated, and then returned to their original spot.

Government-sanctioned wild dog. All Turkish dogs are blurry, or so says my camera.

Parental units. Untagged and unsanctioned. Cherlin Bayramı is at right, being festive.

This is Asia.

And this is Europe. Or that is Europe and this is Asia.

I was disappointed that you couldn't take the subway to Asia. My brother did set foot in Asia during a four-hour boat trip that lasted only 60 seconds for my mother and me. But that was later.

Tuesday morning, we were exiled from the Residence breakfast table (admittance was restored the following day after protests) and given some floppy pseudo-meats, imitation vegetables and plasticine bread. After breakfast, we deposited our trays in the designated rack. Back in the room, I realized I'd left my craptacular Time Out guide to Istanbul on the tray. Alas, when we returned my tray was still there, along with the alleged guidebook. Kudos to my subconscious for trying, though.

To Taksim we went to meet friends, one of whom was playing hooky from the Bayramı. We walked through the Grand Bazaar and then ate lunch across from the Süleymaniye Mosque at the Historic Seller of Beans restaurant. Or something. The Historic Seller of Beans (or something) makes a mean tavuk ve pilav (chicken with rice). They have a web site, complete with nifty sound effects of what the Internets really should sound like. Click on it. Neat, right? Highly, highly recommended (the restaurant, not the web site). The yogurt was heavenly. The bathroom attendant outside the mosque taught us to count to three in Kurdish (yek-du-se, same as in Farsi) before handing us some toilet paper and sending us in to enjoy the, for once, geographically correct Turkish toilets.

That night, we were invited to a party at Ali Baba's apartment, where, unsurprisingly, there was topless dancing:

The cake was supposed to say "Happy Birthday, Greg Cherlin, from your friends and colleagues," and instead it says this:

According to Ali, who cannot be trusted on any matter whatsoever, this doesn't mean anything in Turkish.

On Wednesday, we had breakfast back at the Residence, followed almost immediately by lunch at Tamirane, a delicious restaurant on the university campus (it has a Facebook page, naturally).
In the afternoon, we had the aforesaid boat trip, which my mother and I ditched. Instead we went to Çırağan Palace, where instruments of the brass family are frowned upon and falafels are $5 apiece.

Worth it.

At the Çırağan Palace, we briefly considered stealing toilet paper (they were really stingy with it at the Residence), but decided against it, because my mother had found a more convenient place to steal from (which I'm not going to reveal).

It's a beautiful day for cleaning one's gun.

Fearsome Istanbullu wild cat.

On Thursday, it was time for some serious sightseeing.

First we saw a cappuccino freddo at Taksim.

Then we saw some beers and highly interesting nuts.

Next, we visited some Ottoman watermelon.

The chiaroscuro of the lemonade's brushstroke was breathtaking.

Okay, so we did cross the Galata Bridge and wander around Sultanahmet. Near the bridge was the train station we arrived at when we took the train to Istanbul from France (via Venice, Belgrade, and the nightmare known as Thessaloniki) in 1989.


We went to the Hagia Sofia. To but not in. It's been around for almost 1500 years; how much can it really have changed in the last 20?

By the way, never, ever eat ice cream in Turkey. It's a glutinous, possibly extraterrestrial* abomination. The Wikipedia entry for dondurma describes it as having a "resistance to melting." I mean really.

Thursday night we were invited to the home of some other Turkish friends for dinner. Before dinner my brother and I had a little bit of time to use the Internet. I used my time to send a couple of work-related emails. My brother used his few minutes to download and install Firefox on our host's laptop. My brother, ridding the world of the scourge of Internet Explorer one continent at a time (or actually, two continents at a time, though his activities in Asia were not disclosed).

On Friday, we wandered around Istiklal again, down to Pera, site of the Pera Palace (under renovation), where 20 years ago we attended the press conference for Ali Baba's baba's hunger strike.

Sign for the stage named after him at a theater by Taksim.

Urban sprawl

Iftah, ya Simsim!

*If goats are aliens.


baji said...

what was in the yogurt or what was the consistency of the yogurt such that it warrants praise?

$5 falafel?! sounds like something out of 'pulp fiction'.

enjoyed the topless dancing vid. must consider getting zp or ap to do same.

Blanqui said...

It was a plain yogurt that was thick and creamy. You could eat it with your meal or just as a dessert. Go to Istanbul and find out for yourself.

And that's $5 per falafel ball, by the way!

Zohra said...

This post is very entertaining. Do you happen to be Turkish?

Blanqui said...

Hi Zohra. No, I'm not Turkish, but I'm glad you enjoyed the post!