Istanbul again

It’s still cold and rainy in Istanbul … I’m remembering sunny Thailand with great fondness! I forgot to mention that yesterday, on the ferry back from the islands, a Mongolian artist that I first met in Side in 2007 was on the boat looking for portrait commissions. She executed a colour pastel drawing of Ann Marie that was pretty good; although she did not remember me, I recognised her. I guess she works the ferry boats in Istanbul in the winter and the beach resorts in the summer. Along with her, another vendor on the boat was an old man who reminded me a lot of my Dad; he was trying to sell maps and postcards of Istanbul – not many takers, though. I think that digital cameras have just about put the postcard business out of business.

Today so far I have visited the New Mosque, on the banks of the Bosporus in Eminonu, the Rustempasha Mosque, the Egyptian, or Spice, covered bazaar (from 1660) and, one more time, the Grand Bazaar. The Rustempasha Mosque was built in 1561 and is a bit hard to find, hidden in amongst small shops and winding streets near the water. It is famous for its beautiful blue mosaics and is a small quiet jewel.

I have to say that wandering through the covered bazaars, and to a slightly lesser extent, walking along the streets in general, is an exhausting experience in Turkey. Every shop and restaurant has at least one and often several salesmen outside trying their damndest to get people to buy their wares. I cannot walk past a shop door without hearing: “Is it my turn now?”, “Hey Lady, where you from?”, “Hey Blondie, nice hat”, “Yes, please, have a look at my ________ (fill in the blank with shoes, jewellery, lamps etc)”. It is relentless and persistent and incredibly annoying. If I had sufficient Turkish to explain it, I would tell these guys that, rather than wanting to stop and buy anything, their come-ons make me want to run in the other direction. It is impossible to even glance their way or at their wares without a barrage of sales pitches. I get it that they have to make a living, and this is the culture, but it’s a major drag because I would like to look at some of the stuff but end up just turning my back on it. And similarly, when walking down the street, a woman cannot look at Turkish men in the eyes without having that construed as a come-on with all the attendant crap – that means looking anywhere and everywhere else but at the people in the street; having to maintain a vague glance into space always is also very, very exhausting.

In the Grand Bazaar I had lunch at one of the cafes that serves the locals; I was the only woman there and, of course, that generated a buzz of attention from all the sales personnel in the area. I do get tired of being a spectacle – part of the problem is that, because it’s winter there are fewer tourists and thus it’s not as easy to blend into the crowd as it would be in the summer.

Oh, and though officially cigarette smoking has been banned in stores and restaurants here, in practice everyone smokes everywhere all the time. No wonder the male life expectancy here is only 62. They’re all hacking and coughing and lighting up one after another – one internet café I went into had a pall of blue smoke and such a really foul stench that I could not stay there. All the salesmen smoke in their shops and so of course the smell of smoke permeates everything they sell …

See a few pictures here.

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