Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Farewell to Istanbul: Part 3

Well, as long as the juices are following, I am cranking out these vignettes. They would be better sometimes with photo or even videos, but I let will let my readers fill in there own mental pictures and videos. Those that have lived in Istanbul, have their own images and stories. I welcome their comments and their stories. For those that have not visited or lived in Istanbul, hopefully one day you too can create your own memories. In the meantime, think of it as a meze (Turkish for appetizers). If you see any similarities in these snippets, it is not by design...well maybe there is some chaotic design...but this is going in another direction which we may not want to go at this time. And we won't. So without further commentary, her is my third, but not final installment.

A Ride on a Dolmuş (pronounced Dolmush)
This is better than almost any roller coaster, much more dangerous, but cheaper. Dolmuşes (well this is the Anglized plural, the Turkish would be dolmuşlar) are really only the designated yellow vans in the central part of the city on the European and the Asian side. However, people in my area call a mini-bus a Dolmuş too, but this is not correct technically. It is confusing to the novices, they generally start at one place, like in Taksim (the center of Istanbul) and then go to different places depending on the sign on the window of the bus or sometimes you have to ask. You pay the amount by the distance of the place you are going. But, there is no meter, you just ask how much and pass the money to the driver. It is kind of a communal thing. If you are picky about being around people that are perspiring, particularly in summer, then this should not be your mode of transport. But, you will be perspiring too, so join the crowd. I try to not be too stinky by wearing some body spray, which may be worse.. but nobody has said anything so far... or they may be too polite. (I once was told by a clerk that I could not sample the body spray in a grocery store in my area. Just for that, I just didn't buy any. Showed her.) After you pay, you hold on and it moves in and out of traffic, stops suddenly, the driver honks at other vehicle while he is lighting up his cigarette, races once there there are openigs, cuts off other vehicles and then when you are ready to get off you politely state, inecek var.. which means there is a person to get off. ( A friend of mine whose Turkish was somewhat limited.. said dur, dur.. which is saying stop, stop.. to get a bus driver to stop, which is not the kindest way to but it works.) Afterwards, you catch your breath and thank God you survived, but somewhat invigorated from the rush of the experience. Now, I somewhat embellished this story for entertainment purposes, but those who have been on a dolmus, know that this is not far from the truth.

If you live in Istanbul for more than six month and you hang around with turks and foreigners, your language becomes peppered with Turkish words. This might be a typical sentence for a yabanci-foreigner...I am going down to the bacal to get some ekmek, gorusunuz. This means.. I am going down the grocery store to get some bread, see you later. Olemi?, which means 'really?' in Turkish..well I use it a lot. I caught myself saying this when I was in the U.S., but everyone seemed to understand. Another word which seem to be stock for all ex-pats is tamam (OK or that's right.) As you used in a sentence.. Tamam, I want bir tane of patlacan. Which means. “OK, I want a little more eggplant”. One common discussion among ex-pats is about their aiydat or if their flat has a combi or Aygaz. (Aiydat is the apartment's maintainance fee, which varies month by month. A combi is a small water heater that heats the apartment and provides hot water. Aygaz means the gas that is provided into your house by a particular company. Trying to get gas into my first apartment was an ordeal that lasted almost four months. My introduction to Turkish bureaucracy. I swore after this that I will never have an apartment in Istanbul without heat. My second one had central heat. And last, all ex-pats talk about their kopaci, the live-in maintenance man. Statements like: “My kopaci's wife is so nosy about when I come and go; My kapaci always is asking if I need something from the bakal; Yesterday, my kapaci asked if I had some whiskey around..hinting that he would like all yabanci's are alcoholics or drinkers. A related but free-associaton comment.. One time I was having field trip and we ended up in Taksim (the historic European center). One of my students stated, “This is your place”. Meaning that Taksim was mainly populated by decadent foreigners. Every time, I go to Taksim I remember this comment. While there are “decadent foreigners” on the streets of Taksim, they are far out-numbered by Turks, who may or may not be decadent.

There is no city in the world that has one center that so dominates it as Taksim.. or so it seems.
Taksim is the cultural and “main street” for Istanbul. It is named after a water reservoir (taksim) that is on the northern part of the main street of the area, Istiklal Caddesi, formerly named Rue de Pera.
It has an interesting history. This has been designated the European area of Istanbul. The street where all the Embasies of foreigner powers were located during late Ottoman times. Now, they are consulates and a reminder of Istanbul's role in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. In the area are churches and synagoges, but only a reminder of the once vibrant multi-cultural flavor of Istanbul. A fin de siècle aura surrounds these buildings to those who can not only see a city, but can sense its soul.

Back to the's Taksim is where one can see all the foreigner restaurants, go to clubs, see theater or concerts, and visit art galleries. On Istiklal is where one finds trendy and not so trendy stores, cafes stylish restaurants and of course crowds. It seems on some days, that all of Istanbul has decided to walk down Istiklal. However, no matter how much one raves about Istiklal and declares it the 'cool' street in Istanbul, the posh shops and restaurants, have moved to other areas, such as Etiler, and Bebeck overlooking or on the Bosporus, where the newly rich now reside. Those with old money live in Mecidiyeköy and Nişantaşı with a little nicer stores and malls. The rich have mostly moved out of the area. There is some gentrification around the area which is now being seen. Taksim is somewhat living in the past when there were nearby upscale neighborhoods. Nearby are crumbling mansions that onced housed the rich or at least upper middle class. This is true of Tarlabaşı which was once one of the most richest neighborhoods housing prosperous Greeks, but now is one of the most notorious, housing immigrants from eastern Turkey and those on the margins of society. However, among the seediness, the plethora of kebab places, the clubs, the tea houses, the trendy store, there is an energy which pulsates through the streets making you vibrant. Perhaps, it the moving parade of people or the bombardment of sights, sounds and smells that explain this. But, to over-intellectualize it ruins the mystery and enjoyment of Taksim.

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