Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013 - No comments

The Coffee Diaries: Keeping Warm in Istanbul

Wednesday, January 16

#1 - Half a mug of Starbucks Christmas Blend as I flew around getting ready.  (In my Istanbul mug, of course - tradition before departing for my favourite city.)  

Somehow, every time I’m heading to the airport, no matter how early I get up, I always end up trying to slurp down burning hot coffee before I have to run out the door, and I end up having to toss half of it because I couldn’t finish it.  Then I am bummed on two counts - one, for wasting it and, two, for not ingesting enough caffeine!

#2 - A disappointing (and, again, hurried) cardboard cup of “coffee” at Burger King in the domestic departures terminal.  Ever since that time last year when I had a surprisingly good cup of coffee at the BK in the Izmir airport, I’ve held the idea in my head that this is a good back-up coffee option when there’s nothing else around.  My second experience proved that the first was a fluke.  It was pretty much Nescafe that had been sitting in the machine a few hours too long.  Bleh. #3 will be a high priority as soon as I get into Istanbul.  

#3 - A perfectly foamy latte at Baylan in Bebek - the first stop on my Istanbul Macaron Crawl.  I got a chocolate and a caramel macaron, which were disappointingly almondy, but the coffee totally made up for it.  And the table beside the Bosphorus on a surprisingly sunny day didn’t hurt, either!

Thursday, January 17

#1 - Starbucks Christmas Blend VIA packet (in a Beşiktaş mug) while I took a gazillion photos of the macarons I’d bought the day before.  (Rule:  make ‘em pose before you eat ‘em!)  All this was done with a curious neighbour across the street leaning out the window and watching me with amusement.  :)

#2 - At Çekirdek, a newly opened cafe in Moda that came highly recommended by a coffee-savvy friend, I had a latte with a nicely poured latte art leaf on top.  I sipped while alternately working on a writing assignment and chatting with Tunca Bey, the one-man-show who runs the month-old cafe.  He was in the process of baking almond biscotti and I was delighted when a plate of it arrived on my table, fresh from the oven, compliments of the chef.  I’m not usually a fan of anything almond-flavoured (besides actual almonds) but that stuff was really good.

#3 - By hour two of the nearly three hours I spent there, I was ready for another cup.  (Let’s not call it “a caffeine fix” - let’s call it “writing juice.”  Plus, it was a cold day!)  

I got a Flat White - the “more espresso, less milk” big brother of the latte.  I first tried one with Jess in London in November.  It definitely packs a punch that I haven’t quite grown into.  Next time I’ll start with this guy and get the latte as a lighter follow-up.  (It definitely gave me the boost I was looking for, though!)

Seeing how excited I was about taking pictures of his creations, Tunca Bey invited me behind the counter to shoot while he did some practice pours.  

“I’m a novice at these,” he admitted.  The Latte Art Workshop certificate on the wall behind him suggested otherwise.  

He generously offered to give me this one on the house, but I admit I was grateful when a customer wanting a latte walked it at the exact moment he finished pouring it.  (Less caffeine for me, impressively fast service for her!)

#4 - I had fun chatting with other customers who came in a constant stream all afternoon, most of them for the first time.  My high praise of the biscotti made for some good sales, and my commission came in the form of an unsolicited white mocha, which just about put me over the edge.

Needless to say, when I went from there to meet a friend at Fazıl Bey’s “for coffee,” I opted for sahlep instead!

Friday, January 18

#1 - After lugging my laptop all over beautiful Büyükada (the largest of the Princes Islands out in the Marmara Sea), I figured I ought to at least sit down and use it before heading back to the mainland, so I settled in at Starbucks on the square for a couple of productive hours of writing.  (I know, I know - Starbucks.  There just aren’t a lot of options over there!)

The drink:  a Ristretto Bianco - the new Starbucks version of a Flat White, or so I’m told.  (I’m working up a tolerance that is well on its way to enjoyment.)

#2 - A Peppermint Mocha for the chilly ferry ride home.  I’m not usually a mocha fan, but this one is more like a fancy mint hot chocolate in my mind.  Plus, I find the Red Cups hard to resist.  :)

Saturday, January 19

NO COFFEE!!!  Can you believe it?  

But I did have a whole lot of tea.  My Turkish mom and sister and I headed down to Çınaraltı in Çengelköy - the classic Istanbul weekend breakfast experience.  We grabbed three different kinds of börek (flaky pastry filled with cheese, onion, ground beef, spinach, etc.) from the Çengelköy Börekçisi and sat by the water with our çay and had a lovely Bosphorus morning....until it started to pour and we had to move inside.  :)

Sunday, January 20

#1 - Starbucks Christmas Blend VIA packet before everyone else got up for breakfast.  As soon as I poured the powder into the mug, I remembered that I’d used the last of the milk making hot chocolate the night before.  This necessitated a PJs-and-coat-clad trip down to the corner bakkal where I waited in line with five other people dressed just like I was.  Ah, Sunday morning....

Monday, January 21

#1 - Şekerli Türk kahvesi (sweet Turkish coffee) upstairs at “my table” by the window at Fazıl Bey’s, my favourite Turkish cafe.  Otlu peynirli poğaça (cheese and herb filled bun) from Komşufırın + a piece of Turkish delight + a good quiet time on the side = a happy last morning in the city.

#2 and #3 - Two lattes on two consecutive coffee dates with two different friends at Çekirdek in Moda.  

Note:  We gave Tunca Bey’s chocolate cake three thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 22

#1 - Early morning latte at Kahve Dünyası in the domestic terminal at Sabiha Gökçen Airport to celebrate making it through security in one piece and give my poor, sleep-deprived self enough juice to make it the rest of the way to my gate.

On the side:  two macarons - a caramel (thumbs up) and a Turkish coffee (thumbs down - too almondy.)

#2 - So-so cup of airplane coffee on the flight home.  But bless Turkish Airlines for still serving it - and lunch - for free!

**Apparently the caffeine from those two cups hadn’t kicked in enough by the time we landed for my brain to be fully functioning.  Over the course of five minutes, I managed to forget to rezip my suitcase after a luggage shuffle, thus ending up with clothes all over the floor when I picked it up, and then unthinkingly put a bottle of water in the same pocket of my bag as my macro lens where it, of course, burst, soaking the lens - a potentially expensive trauma from which my poor baby has yet to recover.  (I’ll get the doctor’s report tomorrow.)
Ugh.  Shoulda had a third cup of coffee. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 1 comment

The Accidental Beauty of Poverty

“To savour Istanbul’s backstreets, to appreciate the vines and trees that endow its ruins with accidental grace, you must, first and foremost, be a stranger to them.  A crumbling wall, a wooden tekke - condemned, abandoned, and now fallen into neglect - a fountain from whose faucets no water pours, a workshop in which nothing has been produced for eighty years, a collapsing building, a row of homes abandoned by Greeks, Armenians, and Jews as a nationalist state bore down on minorities, a house leaning to one side in a way that defies perspective, two houses leaning against each other in the way cartoonists so love to depict, a cascade of domes and rooftops, a row of houses with crooked window casings - these things don’t look beautiful to the people who live among them; they speak instead of squalor, helpless, hopeless neglect.  Those who take pleasure in the accidental beauty of poverty and historical decay, those of us who see the picturesque in ruins - invariably we’re people who come from the outside.”

- Orhan Pamuk in “Istanbul:  Memories and the City”

I’ve always been one to find beauty in what others might consider ordinary or even unsightly, so this quote from Mr. Pamuk resonates with me.  In Istanbul, the poorer neighbourhoods - the ones that have yet to be taken over by shiny office towers and identical cement apartment buildings - are the ones with the most colour and life in them.  The districts of Fener, Balat and Ayvansaray along the Golden Horn, huddled in the shadow of the ancient, crumbling Byzantine walls, have long been my favourite places to explore with my camera.  Formerly the home to Istanbul’s Christian and Jewish minorities, they are now populated mostly by Gypsies and Kurds who have emigrated from the east in hopes of building better lives.

Walls and doors are painted in every hue of the rainbow, with graffiti adding to the decor; huge beyaz peynir (white cheese) and olive oil canisters are creatively arranged as flower pots on window sills; laundry strung back and forth between third story apartments flaps and flutters like bunting; the smoke from thousands of woodstoves fills the air with the homey smell of winter; the narrow, crooked streets ring with the sound of footballs bouncing off of car tires, the laughter and teaspoon-tinkling of women gossiping on front stoops and the call of the simitçi as he makes his way down a steep hill, balancing a pile of sesame rings on his head.

My status as one of Orhan Pamuk’s “outsiders” allows me the luxury of admiring the way the people in these neighbourhoods have “made the most of their humble circumstances.”  I can roam their streets with my camera and enjoy patterns and peeling paint and tipsy headstones as they catch my eye.  I can pretend those old wooden houses aren’t infested with cockroaches and unbearably drafty at night.  I can have my fancy tickled and my lens amused, and then I can hop on a ferry, sip a steaming cup of sahlep while I watch the seagulls dance over the Bosphorus, and head home to my family’s comfortable apartment with insulated windows and natural gas. 

On my trip to Istanbul last week, though, I detected a bit of a shift in my heart.  In contrast to the way Orhan Pamuk, a native Istanbullu, was able to distance himself from his own culture enough to be able to see it from the outside, I, an outsider, have become more of an insider with every passing year.  And as such, I’m starting to find more and more that things that once seemed “charming” and “quaint” to me are finding their way under my skin and unsettling my heart.  

I feel like lately my eyes have been open in a way they haven’t been before.   For example, I’ve been noticing feet a lot lately.  My gaze has been drawn to the feet of the Gypsy kids when they get on the bus - barefoot, wearing tattered plastic sandals in the middle of winter.  And the women at the pazar, wearing knit slippers inside high-heeled “house shoes” two sizes too small.  If they can afford the bags of tomatoes and cucumbers in their hands, surely they can afford some 10 lira shoes that fit, right?  But then again, maybe shoes that fit their growing kids are more important than ones that don’t leave their own heels hanging off the end.

Last week, instead of seeing the people who “give Istanbul its colour” as a part of the grander whole, I saw individuals struggling to put food on the table, save up enough for expensive medicine or avoid a beating from a demanding handler.  

There was the elderly man who got on and off the idling buses at the Kadıköy depot hawking his gum and nane şekeri (mint candies - “good for upset stomachs”); the dirty-faced, messy-haired boy sitting with his chin in his hand as he waited for someone to come weigh themselves on his scale; and the old auntie with her black veil and her crinkled hands, holding out packets of kleenex and asking passersby in a pitiful voice to buy a pack “for the sake of God” (why was she out there and who isn’t looking after her that should be?)  

The Gypsy ladies who set up their flower stand behind the Music Conservatory and yell at passersby to purchase a rose for their beloved are part of what gives the Kadıköy docks their flavour....but wouldn’t those women rather be at home where it’s warm instead of out there shivering by the sea?  And the man in the blue suit coat who sits on a crate on the other side of the building with his saz and his tiny amp....sure his music lifts the spirits of those who rush past him to the ferry, but is that really the life he dreamed of when he first learned to pluck those strings as a boy?

The one that broke my heart the most was the man with one leg, successfully making his way onto the ferry with his crutches only to slip and fall as he tried to make it over the ledge into the boat’s warm salon.  Several men rushed to help him and he thanked them as he sat down to rest a minute....only to jump up as soon as we set sail and begin to hobble up and down the aisles heralding the virtues of the hand cream and hot water bottles he was selling.  Even though I already have one, it was enough to make me want to buy another hot water bottle just for the sake of giving him some business.  In hindsight, I wish I had.

It’s so hard to know what to do with all these people.  My heart wants to show mercy to every single one, but really, how many packs of wet wipes and lemon juicers can a girl use?  And is buying from them just perpetuating the system?  How do I know which kid on the train is telling the truth:  the one holding the sign that says, “I’m deaf, please give me money for school” or the one passing out little cards asking for donations towards her little sister’s cancer treatment?  

So often, I end up just averting my eyes to avoid having to look at them and feel guilty, and then I hate myself for not at least giving them the dignity offered in a smile.  Then again, I’ve handed out plenty of smiles and loaves of bread in the past only to be told that all they’ll accept is money.  What I want more than anything is to give them the reason for the hope that I have, but so often in a ten second encounter, I’m at a loss as to how.  

I have long loved Istanbul for both its seaside tea gardens and its dingy back alleys.  But I think I’ve crossed that line into no longer being able to see what I want to see and pretend the rest doesn’t exist.  The more Istanbul becomes mine, the more it gets inside of me, the more layers it peels back, the less shiny it looks.  And the more I really look at the people who give it its colour, the more I see that they are not so much characters dancing for my entertainment on the stage of a majestic city as they are souls living lives of ordinary, daily desperation.

Saturday, January 26, 2013 - No comments

Two Homelands, No Home

“See that island over there?”  I looked across the moonlit waves to where tiny pinpricks of light shimmered in the late July humidity.  “That’s Greece.”  

The smoke stack at the olive oil factory 
My friend’s mother and I were sitting on chaise lounges on a beach in Bademli on the Aegean coast of Turkey.  The sizzle of the grill could be heard from a hundred yards away where her sons were cooking us up a feast of freshly caught fish and fried octopus.  The aroma of our dinner mingled with the salty sea air and whiffs of honeysuckle as it danced in the evening breeze.  

“They say there was a Greek man who owned the olive oil factory here in town.  When the order came for all the Greeks to leave, he rowed his boat to that island over there.  And every morning, he would look out over the sea to Bademli.  And he would hear the bell clang from the tower of his factory and he would cry.”

This conversation took place two years ago.  I had read books about the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, but this was the first time I’d had a human face to put to it.  Arife Teyze herself was the daughter of a man who had come over from Greece during the exchange.  A Turkish Muslim, he and his family suddenly found themselves living on the wrong side of a newly drawn border and were forced to “return” to a homeland that wasn’t their homeland at all.  

An abandoned Greek 
building in Bademli
Following the First World War, when the fallen Ottoman Empire was being carved up by the Allied countries, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rose up for the cause of “Turkey for the Turks.”  He led his troops in a bloody war against the Greek army for the rights to the Aegean coast, then mostly populated by Greeks.  By 1923, hundreds of thousands of Greeks had been violently driven out, and that year, the Treaty of Lausanne made official what had already been taking place:  a mandatory population exchange based on religion, rather than ethnicity or mother tongue.  

In accordance with the newly drawn national boundaries, the Muslims of Greece and the Christians of Turkey were forced to trade places, uprooting them from their communities and sending them with little more than the clothes on their back (and no small amount of trauma, loss and disease acquired along the way) to begin new lives in countries where, despite being among people of their own religion, they were seen as strangers.  There are still pockets of transplanted Greeks who, to this day, speak Turkish as their first language, and even a generation later, the Turkish descendants of this tragedy were often still referred to as "infidels" because of where they had come from.  

The house Arife Teyze grew up in, and raised her children in, was the house of a Greek family who had been forced to leave Bademli.  The family had taken most of their valuables - whatever they could carry - but their furniture and animals had to stay behind.  Many people left their possessions in the care of their Turkish neighbours in hope that “the whole thing would blow over” and they would be able to return to their homes.  That day never came.  

There were plenty of empty Greek homes to house all the newly arrived Turkish immigrants from Greece, though many refused to live in “infidel houses,” thus leaving many to be looted and fall into decay.  For the Greeks that crossed over to Greece, housing options weren’t as plentiful.  For the 500,000 Turks who had left, there were nearly three times as many Greeks, and thousands died of typhoid and cholera while waiting on ships or in refugee camps in overcrowded port cities to be assigned a new home.

That morning, Arife Teyze’s grandson had shown me that old Greek house where his father had lived as a child.  It was made of solid stone with wooden shutters, now all boarded up.  “My dad says they heard there was treasure buried under the house from when the real owners left,” he told me with the wide-eyed wonder of a seven-year-old.  “I wish we could go in there and dig it up!”

Living in Turkey is like living in a museum of inhabited exhibits, and the past is never more than a layer of paint or a renamed village away.  One can visit mosques that used to be churches, Kurdish slums that used to be centres of Jewish commerce, and streets lined with houses crafted by Armenian architects, none of whose descendants are anywhere to be found.  1923 is not so long ago at all, and the violence and deportations through which the republic of “Turkey for the Turks” was formed has left stains on today’s population that won’t soon fade from common memory.  Said stains may not be discussed out loud, but they don’t have to be.  The wounds that caused them are on display in plain sight.

Last month, I had to opportunity to visit one such “exhibit” - the ghost town of Kayaköy near Fethiye in the province of Muğla.  The town, which dated back to the 1400s, had been called “Levissi.”  It was bustling and prosperous, with Greek craftsmen and artisans living in the town on the hillside while their Turkish neighbours, with whom they lived in peace, farmed the land in the valley below.  But despite the degree of closeness experienced between the inhabitants of this town, their lives were being lived out against the greater backdrop of a war in which their two nations were enemies.

The Turkish village of Kayaköy today,
as seen from the Greek town above

It is said that when the news came that all the Greeks were to be deported, the Turks sent a plea to the government in Ankara to let their neighbours stay.  The Greeks packed up their belongings, locked their doors and headed towards the harbour to await the news of their fate.  When word came from Ankara that the request for exemption had been denied, they made their way weeping down to the sea and, boarding whatever vessels could be found, they set sail for Greece.  

The Greeks from Levissi (Kayaköy) landed first at Crete and continued to make their way through Greece until finally settling just north of Athens in an area that reminded them of home, which they name Nea Levissi (New Levissi).  Muslims transplanted from Thessoloniki in Greece were assigned to settle in Kayaköy, but most chose to continue on to other parts of Anatolia more suited to the rural lives they were accustomed to.  Rumour has it that superstitions about “the Christian houses” played a part in this decision as well. 

Thus, those once-loved houses remained empty.  In 1957, an earthquake destroyed many of the buildings, and the government gave the Turks in the village below permission to use the wood from the roofs and floors of the Greek homes to repair their own.  Wind and weather aided in the process of their decline, and now all that remains are the stone skeletons of their formerly beautiful selves.

Books like “Twice a Stranger”  and “Birds Without Wings” and conversations like the one I had with Arife Teyze in Bademli had torn at my heart and brought the stark historical facts about the population exchange to life for me.  But nothing prepared me for the weight of what I experienced in Kayaköy.  Seeing an entire town of gutted houses utterly devoid of life brought home the sheer magnitude of the loss and grief that had been played out there when all those thousands of people were uprooted and then just....gone.  

Kayaköy is now an “open air museum” run by the Turkish Ministry of Tourism, and it costs 5 TL to wander the town-turned-graveyard.  From the parking lot, houses were piled one on top of another on steep hills stretching to the left and the right.  As we began our ascent towards the Upper Church, it became clear that the houses were in fact not as haphazardly jumbled as I’d first assumed; instead, they were arranged so that each home had a view of the valley below, with no one roof blocking another’s window.  

The expansive town was empty, and we only saw four or five other tourists during the two hours we were there.  I wondered if this was because it was the off-season, or if it was simply because a tragically abandoned town is a depressing thing to see on one’s vacation.

Built of solid stone that has withstood natural disasters and time, most houses had two floors - the upper storey for living and the lower one for keeping animals.  Some still had conical fireplaces and staircases intact, and faded paint in blues and oranges still clung to the interior walls.  There were overgrown wells and rainwater cisterns, now choked with weeds and litter, and many houses had outside nooks that we assumed had been used as iceboxes.  But the floors, roofs and window panes had long ago been removed, and there was not a rug or a curtain in sight.

As I stood at the top of the hill, I noticed a two-storey house inside which a fig tree had taken up residence.  Its branches poked out through the empty windows and its top had long since pushed up through where the roof should have been.  

In the town below, I heard the faint voice of a hurdacı with his wooden cart, calling out for people to bring out their “old things.”  I laughed a sad laugh at the irony of his request.   It would seem that anything of value here had long since been carried away.  

The Upper Church, 17th Century

The Upper Church, built in the 17th Century, was a shell of what must have been a beautiful building.  Portions of mosaics made of tiny stones still remained on the floor and peeked out from the grass in the courtyard.  Traces of painted frescoes still clung to the high arches of the nave’s ceiling, but nearly all the others had long since been scratched off.  The Lower Church has undergone restoration as part of the UNESCO “World Friendship Village” project, and was much better preserved.  Signs written in Greek were set in new stone over the entrances.  Images of Jesus and the apostles adorned the front of the apse, framed by Turkish children’s names scratched into the sacred stone.  In the churchyard, a small cell housed the bones of Greek ancestors who had been evicted from their graves when space was needed for more recent arrivals.

Interior of the Lower Church

I hiked up to what looked like a small chapel atop a hill above the village and was rewarded with a hazy view of the sea below.  I assumed the small stone structure had been the tomb of a saint but there was no signage, so I asked a couple of Turkish tourists if they knew what the building had been.  

“An old Ottoman lookout,” came the reply.  
“Oh.  Not a Greek chapel?”

“No.  Ottoman.”  Of course.

On another hill, the Turkish flag waved over the expanse of the ghost town below me.  The sight of that crescent and star, emblem of my beloved second home, left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as it proudly staked its claim over what was formerly someone else’s home. 

It was easy to imagine what the town must have looked like when it was filled with lives and hearts and voices.  I kept expecting to see a lady leaning out her window and calling a neighbour in for tea, or a child running up the hill to his house carrying a loaf of fresh bread from the bakery.  But no shadows graced the windows, no footsteps rung out on the cobblestones.  There was only silence.  And not the peaceful silence of a sunny day-trip - no, this was the mournful silence of loss and grief and absence.  Where once had been potted flowers gracing windowsills and mothers in doorways calling children in for dinner, there were only gaping holes, each house staring back at us like a wide-eyed, open-mouthed skull - a specter of the life it once housed.

Just after noon, the silence was broken by the call to prayer, carried on the wind from the mosque in the Turkish village below, echoing off the hillsides and filling the valley.  The ezan was followed by an announcement for a funeral to be held after Friday prayers.  “Mehmet So-and-So, son of so-and-so, born on such and such a date, Allah rahmet eylesin....”  (“May he rest in peace.”)

I winced.  Was there an announcement like this for those who were forced to depart from Kayaköy in 1923?  Were their lives honoured when they were torn from their homeland?  Did anyone list off the names of the ones whose lives had suddenly ceased to exist?  

What was it like for those left behind - for those Turkish neighbours who had pleaded with Ankara not to send their friends away?  Did they weep for the ones with whom they’d once drank tea and played backgammon with in the town square?  Did they feel guilty when they finally ate the cows that had been entrusted to them when it became obvious the Greeks weren’t coming back?  Did they say a prayer for their old friends as they warmed themselves beside fires fed by the wood from the roofs and floors of the abandoned houses?  How long did it take until they claimed the dishes and picture frames and dowry chests for their own?

And at what point had enough time passed to where their children’s children weren’t ashamed to charge 5 TL to let tourists come see the town their grandparents’ friends used to call home?

Kayaköy today
P.S. For further reading, check out this heartbreakingly informative article:  Abandoned Kayaköy a Symbol of War's Painful Consequences (Hürriyet Daily News)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013 - No comments

The Dolmuş Detectives

We’ve been having very un-Mediterranean weather this week, with temperatures consistently dipping below freezing at night.  It’s the sort of cold that’s been forcing me to wear long-johns just to survive in our un-insulated house and prompted us to pick all the lemons from our tree to prevent them from dying sad deaths as lemonade slushies.

On Monday, there was a particularly vicious wind blowing, so I bundled up in a hat, scarf, and extra layers before heading out to do a few errands.  After I finished my grocery shopping, I sat a minute at a cafe for a cup of hot tea to fortify myself before braving the elements again.  (I know, that sounds wimpy for a Canadian, but I’m telling you, my blood has turned Mediterranean and I am not built for this!)  I fought the icy gusts all the way to the bus stop and was relieved when I only had to wait a minute for my dolmuş.  

Swiping my card, I squeezed my way back to the middle of the crowded minibus, secured my bags between my feet, grabbed a handhold and settled in for the half-hour balancing act that was sure to do my abs a lot of good.  

This particular bus was full of respectable looking older folks and thus rather quiet.  But just after we’d pulled away from the curb, one gentleman’s voice rose above the polite hum of conversation with great urgency.

“I want to report a robbery.  I just saw some kids steal a motorcycle!”

All heads swiveled in his direction, and I turned to look, too.  He had his cell phone up to his ear and his nose pressed to the glass.  From where I stood, I could just make out two dark heads of hair outside the window, keeping pace with the bus.

“They didn’t have a key.....They rubbed those contact thingies together and - whoop - off they went......Yes, I can see them - they’re right beside me!” he continued.  

A pause, then an exasperated laugh.

“No, I can’t stop them.  I’m on a dolmuş, for the love of God!”

By this point, several passengers had crammed themselves onto the right side of the bus and all heads were craned towards the window, straining to see the action.  

““The brand is a....uh....I don’t know.  It’s white!  And old, really old.  One of those little ones.  We’re on the 30A heading away from Real towards the Mevlana intersection.  They’re going the same way as us.  There’s lots of traffic, so we can’t keep up with them.”

“Tell them what they’re wearing!” shouted an older lady with bleached blonde hair sitting in the front of the bus.

“Officer, there are two of them.”  He spoke with authority, clearly taking his role as “witness” very seriously.  “The one driving is wearing a black coat, the one in back is wearing a white coat.  Teenagers.”

“I can see the license plate!” exclaimed the pink-lipsticked grandma beside Bleached Blonde.  “It’s 07 HR....I can’t read the numbers underneath.  They’re rubbed off.”

Mr. Witness repeated these details breathlessly into the phone.

We slowed to a halt as the light ahead turned red.  The motorcycle, along with a laughing Black Coat and White coat, veered in front of us and snaked its way through the stopped vehicles.  The driver cursed.

“They’re getting away,” lamented Bleached Blonde.  

“Okay, they’re turning left!” the driver, his head out the window, called over his shoulder.  “Tell him they’re turning left onto Kızılarık.....and they ran a red light!  Tell him they ran a red light!”

“That’s two crimes now,” said Pink Lips to Bleached Blond amidst much tongue clucking from the rest of the passengers.  

The light turned green, allowing a mere five cars through the light.  Our driver laid on his horn.  

“Well, they’re gone now,” Mr. Witness said.  “Down Kızılarık, away from town.....You’re welcome.”  He hung up the phone.

“Eh, let ‘em go.  It’s cold out,” said Bleached Blond with a chuckle.  “Serves them right.  They’ll freeze before they get too far!”  

We all laughed.

“If I were going to steal a motorcycle,” piped up a man in the back, “I’d do it in the summer.  Only an idiot steals a bike in the winter!”