Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009 - No comments

Make Yourself at Home

Coupla days ago, I was in the market for a tailor. I am in the habit of stuffing my carry-on to the limit with all my heaviest stuff (and acting as if it is light as a feather, even though it is killing me)so as to avoid having overweight bags when I travel, and as a result, my backpack had some torn bits that needed mending. (Side note: Since I am a pretty skinny person, I am toting less pounds per capita on those airplanes, and on more than one occasion, I have tried to use that logic to convince the airline personnel that I should therefore be allowed more luggage. Hasn't worked yet.)

Anyways, the backpack.

Ok, so I found an ayakkabici (Shoe Repair Man) who said he could fix my backpack. Even better, it was only going to take a few minutes, so I sat down and watched him work. Then came a rather amusing exchange. As is customary, he asked if I wanted some tea while I waited. I said yes, and he said, "Great, there's the sink. Wash yourself a glass, and wash one for me, too." I chuckled to myself, did as I was told and then waited for the tea to steep. (At which point the man said, "You can't really be a foreigner." He was so impressed that I knew the word for "steep.")

Shortly after I had poured tea for me and the old man, a woman came in to have her belt fixed, and I figured I may as well have fun with my new role as the "cayci" (tea lady), so I offered her a cup, too. And there we sat, all chatting and sipping our cay as he pumped away expertly on the sewing machine, "as if we were old friends and not what we actually are....which is....strangers who don't even know each other's names." (Bonus points to anyone who knows which movie that's from.)

I had to laugh when the lady asked the guy if I was his daughter. Nope, just a helpful customer who is amused daily by her second culture. :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - No comments

The Third Place

On a recent visit to Starbucks, I picked up a copy of “Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.” Flipping through it as I waited for my friends to get their drinks, I came upon an interesting concept that struck a chord in my soul. The coffee-giant’s founder, Howard Schultz, described a visit to Italy where he encountered the “coffee bar phenomenon.” In every neighbourhood, it seemed, there was an espresso bar – a sort of community gathering place where people came to share a moment of their day over a cup of strong coffee. These were places to pause, to savour, to engage. It was here that an idea began percolating in Schultz’ mind : the idea of a “third place” – somewhere outside of work and home where one can have a taste of romance and community, a welcome reprieve from the everyday-ness of everyday life.

Every culture and every era has its “third places” – the barber shop, the beauty parlour, the tavern, the coffee house, the village well. “Without such places, the urban area fails to nourish the kinds of relationships and the diversity of human contact that are the essence of the city. Deprived of these settings, people remain lonely in their crowds.” (Oldenburg)

The Turks have this concept perfected. The men congregate in the kiraathanes to smoke, drink tea and play games. These are a place to unwind after work, to gossip and talk business, and, well, to avoid going home to their families. As a female and a foreigner, I sometimes envy the clusters of men who sit around sipping the day away. There’s something about those places that transforms you from an individual in a crowded nation to someone who belongs to the crowd, even if just for a few hours.

In tea gardens, on the street, and on balconies, there is a seemingly standing invitation to sit down for çay, to be refreshed and to be woven more deeply into the community. In most workplaces, all you have to do is ring a buzzer or yell down the street, and a boy with a platter of steaming tea glasses will come running. Most big city parks even have their own “wandering çay guys” who roam the park and keep the sugary liquid flowing cuz, after all, it is practically unheard of to go more than hour without tea in this country! And rare is the day that I can make it all the way from the busstop to my front door with out at least one neighbour calling me to come and sit down for a cup. I will never go thirsty here, that’s for sure.

My fixation with coffee has much less to do with my affection for caffeine (substantial as it may be) and much more to do with the fact that I love what it represents in my life. Hot drinks - whether they be coffee, hot chocolate or tea – have always held a special romance for me. They signify cozy-ness, comfort, intimacy and warmth. The sight of a steaming mug conjures up images of breakfasts on the balcony with friends, secrets shared at quaint corner tables and late nights sitting outside drinking in my Daddy’s love.

I, too, have felt the call of the “third place.” Even though Starbucks has taken over Turkey just like every other corner of the globe, it still holds a whiff of magic for me. Walking through the doors and inhaling the heady aromas is akin to coming home. Whether I am there to plug in and buckle down, to meet with friends, or to just curl up with a book, I feel like a little piece of it is mine. And there is just nothing like coming in off the street on a rainy day and having Merve, my favourite barista, start making my “caramel macchiato with extra caramel sauce in a for-here mug” without me saying a word.

I think Schultz was really onto something.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009 - No comments

Studded and Strewn

"The world is fairly studded and strewn with unwrapped gifts and free surprises . . . cast broadside from a generous hand."

- Annie Dillard

Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

The day after I landed in Istanbul (after being back in the States for a wedding) I got a jet-lag induced early start, and headed for the European side in hopes of some good shots to use in my next calendar. I got off the ferry at Beşiktaş and headed up the coast on foot, planning to stop whenever an interesting image caught my eye. A sense of expectation in my heart, I asked Dad to guide my steps. No sooner had I breathed that thought than I passed the magnificent gates of the Çırağan Palace, now one of the city’s finest hotels. Thinking maybe I could get few nice shots of the Bosporus, I turned around and went in. The palace wasn’t open for tours, but I sweet-talked my way into getting directions to the back garden. (It pays to be able to talk up the beauty of the Bosporus in Turkish!)

Entering the hotel, I saw a sign that made me laugh with surprise: I was just ten minutes late for a free classical music concert put on by Starbucks, with free coffee to follow! So, completely by coincidence (ha!) I got to spend my morning listening to Bach and Mozart and then sipping complimentary liquid goodness served on silver platters in the grand hall of a palace. Someone sure knows the way to my heart!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009 - 2 comments

A Day in the Life: Fatih

I have been waiting since March to post these photos, hoping in vain for “enough time” to write something colourful and compelling, but, alas, I think I ought to just give up and post the pictures.

They are from a visit to Fatih, a district of Istanbul that feels like....somewhere other than Turkey....and has captured my interest as of late. Unlike many of the more cosmopolitan areas of the city, daily life in Fatih seems to centre entirely around religion. Istanbul’s version of the Bible Belt, there is “a mosque on every corner” and at prayer time, they are packed out. I spent a few days loitering in mosque courtyards and roaming crowded neighbourhoods, trying to capture the heartbeat of Fatih.

I think my camera and I shall be frequent visitors here.