Thursday, January 17, 2013

shops, sweets and pomegranate treats

As we walk through the densely crowded alleys and market halls of the working neighborhoods of the Sultanahmet, Ed comments -- not a single sales clerk in this city is female. And so now we pay special attention. We look inside spice stores, electronics, brooms, women's lingerie, sweaters, pots and pans -- always men behind the counters.

It's not that women aren't permitted to sell. In the traditional spice market we finally, finally (after a million failed efforts) see a woman selling spices. She is the exception.

Gender issues in Turkey are complicated. I posted about this earlier, when we were on the first leg of our travels here. We, in the States, talk about glass ceilings and family leave issues for women (at least I talk that way). What we don't really like to talk about (thinking that there is a danger in giving permission for such considerations) is the way we sometimes sort ourselves and how gender often pushes us in one direction or another.

Selling is a very common (and rather humble) occupation in Turkey. Small shops, stalls, carts are so ubiquitous, that in this crowded city, they seem to dominate all sidewalk space. Especially since the salesmen often visit with other men outside the shop or by the cart, creating clusters of men everywhere you look.

Women, of course, do shop. In groups with other women, or alone. But I can't say that they shop more than men do. In any case, the markets, streets, and most certainly cafes are filled with men.

This is the first time that I am traveling in Turkey with a man (before, it was with my sister, then with my daughter). I notice this interesting fact: men call out to Ed.
Are you cold? -- they'll ask.
Huh? - initially we didn't get the question. It's in the fifties outside.
You have short sleeves! Ed's favorite outfit here is jeans and a t-shirt. He wont be cold unless it drops into the forties and even then, he'll be okay.
Not cold. He's never cold, I butt in, even though I wasn't the target of the comment.
Where are you from?  -- this is the most common question. People are genuinely curious about this.
America. List of cousins follows.

Occasionally, sellers target me. Lady, lady, come inside my shop!
But these are the rote calls that are thrown out at the bazaar to everyone who looks foreign.

Sometimes the vendors calls are to Ed, but with an eye toward me.
Come inside, buy this for your wife? Your secretary? Second wife? Girlfriend? The guy covers all the bases.

Selling, buying -- all this is on my mind right now (even as I'm doing none of it), but let me go back to the beginning of our first full day in Istanbul.

I open the window and step out on a tiny terrace. We don't really have a fine view from it, unless you turn to the right and look far and then you'll see sunrise to the side of a lovely mosque.

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We go down for breakfast. A good buffet, lots of choices and a newspaper for Ed.

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Eventually we set out to see a few sights. This is not a given with Ed and me. We often bypass major sights in favor of rambling -- hours and hours of rambling, walking, poking into random places. But I thought we should see at least the Istanbul greats. First on my list: the Hagia Sophia  -- at one point, the largest Christian church in the world, turned mosque (in the fifteenth century), then, finally, in the twentieth century, turned into a museum.

It's a short walk from our hotel and it's a pleasant enough walk. Past, well, shops.

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The outside of the Hagia Sophia is difficult to show off here, but I'll give you a corner of it, just for an idea.

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The inside? Well now, it's tremendous (and I mean that both int terms of the construction and the artistry)!

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We spend about an hour admiring domes, mosaics, upstairs, vestibules, naves...

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...and, too, a cat that somehow managed to make his way into the Hagia Sophia, becoming the darling of all visitors. Including, of course, Ed. And no, no photo of the encounter. If I photographed every time Ed bent down to pet a cat, I'd run out of battery life very quickly.

Outside, the sun remains brilliant, intensifying every color, adding a shine to the headscarves on women's heads.

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And let me not get into the entire controversy here, in Turkey, over headscarves: I just want to note that with the push toward secularism, they were banned for women working in the public sector. The controversy remains as to whether university students should be permitted to wear them. Overall, two out of three women in Turkey wear headscarves, but at least according to the NYTimes, you tend to see more of them in downtown Istanbul these days because of the growing spending power of women who come here from Anatolia and other regions to shop. Or sight-see. Which brings me back to our own sightseeing.

Our own sightseeing actually came to a rapid halt. We were to see the Blue Mosque...

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...most anyone coming to Istanbul should see the Blue Mosque. But as we stroll leisurely through the green space that separates it from the Hagia Sophia (and where you'll find a good number of carts selling roasted chestnuts and corn)...

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...we lose ourselves in the sunshine and the prettiness of the day around us and by the time we arrive at the Mosque, it is closed for prayer. We could wait the hour or so, but Ed is ready to move on. Long time readers of Ocean may remember that his love of visiting great monuments and especially great churches is rather on the low end of things. At the very least, we put it off for some later time or date.

As we stroll behind the Mosque (an area with a high concentration of shops that sell carpets and other artifacts)...

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...I comment that we were awfully close to the place where five years ago I purchased the carpet which now rests comfortably in the living room of the farmhouse.
You're not buying a carpet, are you? he had asked earlier, when I floated the idea of going to the store.
No, certainly not for us. I don't need anything anymore. But I did want to look. If something threw itself at me in some affordable fashion, I might consider purchasing it for daughters.

So we enter the vast expanse of Nakkas -- a very lovely store where I had once done my carpet shopping. And we are greeted warmly, of course we are. It is the low season. Not many people are in the large, two story store. 

May I help you find a carpet? Haluk, a man of impeccable attire, down to his soft brown shoes and orange tie, encourages us to come in, look around.
I'm not sure I'm really shopping for anything... 
Haluk, of course, catches the hesitancy: she doesn't mean no... it's a possibility.
Ed sits to the side, at first threatening to go to sleep, but then, perking up with interest as Haluk and I discuss the options. (Ed enjoys negotiations.)

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I don't want small carpets.

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I can't afford large carpets.

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Haluk is unperturbed.  We have thousands of carpets.
Ed continues to listen. Haluk turns to him. Where are you from? 
Within a minute, it has come to our attention that Haluk is a motorcycle man. He loves his Harley Davidson. He is still focused on presenting carpets for my inspection (I reject all of them, except the ones I cannot afford), but he is also interested on Ed's views on motorcycles (and Ed has lots of views on motorcylces).

We are now all on our second cup of apple tea.

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And so we spend a very pleasant hour in the carpet store and it really doesn't matter that the carpets of my dreams are not to be, there is much to be learned during this time and much to be admired and I think both Ed and I would agree that it was time very well spent.

Carpet store behind us. We ramble through the neighborhood. This is the part of Istanbul that slides down to the sea. It's a quiet, older part of town. We come across a produce market...

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We pass houses that, to me, look rather unsteady. (Especially since Haluk had told us that just last month, Istanbul had a bit of a shake from a slight quake.)

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And women minding children in the playground. And one woman peeling onions at her doorstep.

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It's good to have this bit of quiet. Especially since in Istanbul, quiet is never with you for long. We cross the big road and we are at the fishing harbor. And I don't mean little wee boats bringing in the catch for the family dinner.

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There is a vast fish market and this, of course, is endlessly fascinating.

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And there are plenty of restaurants and plenty of waiters enticing us, but we aren't in the eating mode, no, not us. Not now. We still want to walk.

Up to the Grand Bazaar. 

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This perhaps is the market of all markets. But, we're really not wanting to buy anything and I have to say that if there is not even the possibility of any purchase, then after a little while, you're ready to find an exit. (Which takes a while. The place is complicated.)

Outside again, we have to wonder if it really matters that this isn't the Bazaar anymore -- people continue to sell. And the shops trickle all the way down to the Golden Horn waterfront. And we pass so many vendors of so many things that you'd think we'd want to lock ourselves away from it all. 

But no. I still want to visit the Spice Bazaar.

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(Where we spot the sole female vendor.)

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And now we really are all shopped out. (Even as we continue to encounter people selling things. All the way back to the hotel.)

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Dinner? We eat locally. Meaning, just a brief ten minute walk from our hotel (the Sultanahmet Fish House). Which is a good thing, because it has begun to rain. Ever so lightly, but definitively.

The Fish House is small. And not crowded. It offers us a time for me to talk about the transition from being away from work to my being suddenly immersed with it next week. Ed listens patiently. He is good at that.

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The food is really nice. Again, we share an appetizer (or, meze, as they're called here): eggplant with garlic, yogurt spread with bread. And then a salad. We ask for the Greek one and I swear, for a moment it felt like it was appropriate, as if we were in Greece. We laugh. No, we're not there. We're here. For a little while longer, we're here.

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We shared the main course as well -- a fish stew that is so good, so warming and flavorful...

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And we linger after that because now it really is raining and we hope that it would let up.

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It doesn't let up. So we leave and get a little wet. But, we haven't far to go. And we stop briefly at our local spice man. Because he also sells sweets. And we have come to love this pomegranate and pistachio delicacy.

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And I'll leave you for now with that sweet treat.

We have one more day in Istanbul, but I wont write about it until we're flying over the ocean. We're going home soon. I'll post next  when we get to the Midwest.