Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 2 comments

How Bazaar, How Bazaar (Part Three: The Headscarf Bazaar)

Not all headscarves are created equal.

A headscarf isn’t just a headscarf.  It’s a statement.  It says a lot about the girl underneath, but also about her family, and possibly the religious sect she belongs to.

For example, if it’s loosely tied with the ends flowing down the back or hanging forward over her shoulders, she’s probably your average village lady - possibly covered more out of tradition than religious conviction.  (You might even - gasp! - catch a glimpse of a little hair showing around the edges.)

Hair pulled up into a bun underneath with a bone (band/wrap) covering the upper part of her forehead (no exposed tendrils here!) and a silky/shiny scarf tied tightly under the chin means she’s covered-with-a-purpose.  Depending on the style of tying, she might be part of a religious group or attend a religious school,  and certain styles often signify a lot of money and certain political affiliations.

The full black çarşaf (this literally means “sheet” and refers to the head to toe covering most know as a burqa) is the most conservative.  It used to be that you’d find these mostly out east, but they are increasingly common in the big cities in the west now, too, which the secularists find a bit alarming.

I always wondered exactly how many layers some of those girls were wearing, and I’ve marvelled at how they manage to cover every bit of skin but their face and hands without sweating to death.  But in the “Yazmacılar Çarşısı” (“Headscarf Bazaar”) I found my answers.  That street (and the surrounding area) had every style, weave, fabric and design of headscarf imaginable, so that everyone from the accessorizing Bohemian to the ultra-religious Saudi tourist would find something to please.   (Not to mention a huge selection of prayer mats and "pilgrimage supplies" as well.)

There the mysteries of The Covered Girl’s Secret Weapons unfolded before my very eyes:  a bone that also comes down to not only frame the face, but cover the chin and neck, kinda like the top of a diver’s wetsuit.  This would be handy in the summer because it means she doesn’t have to wear a turtleneck underneath her other shirt.  Or, even more useful, the “turtleneck dickie” that covers just the neck and shoulders.  And then there were the arm covers that cover the forearm up to just above or just below the elbow, so you can get away with a short sleeved shirt and not expose your skin, but not have to roast to death underneath either.

Now, if the day comes where hair flowing freely in the streets is no longer acceptable, I know where to go for supplies.  And with as hot as it gets where I live, those "secret weapons" would come in mighty handy!  (And if, for some crazy reason, men begin to cover their heads, well, apparently there's an answer for that, too!) 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday, May 18, 2014 - No comments

How Bazaar, How Bazaar (Part 2: The Tailors' District)

Tradesmen of Istanbul's bazaar quarter originally set up shop according to their wares, and they still hold loosely to this tradition today.  Street names indicate what type of trade was centred there, resulting in names like Fincancılar Sokak ("Mug-Makers Street") and Sandalyeci Sokak ("Chair-Makers Street").  Örücüler Sokak ("Knitters Street") today is still lined with shops bursting at the seams (pun intended) with yarn, ribbon and thread.

My favourite discovery of the day was this button shop, Kut Düğme.  As a lover of photogenic patterns and rows, I could've spent all day in there.  The "button man" was dying a set of blue buttons in a pot on the floor, and I was amazed at the speed with which he whipped out several dozen while I was there.

There was an entire district dedicated to everything a girl needs for her pre-wedding henna party - from satin bindallı outfıts to the gloves she wears while the henna sets to the little souvenir henna packets guests take home as party favours.

I am forever in awe of the way simit sellers balance their trays of "sesame bagels" on their heads.  Who needs charm school when you've got on-the-job training like this?

We weren't sure what to make of these bins we saw in the "hunting supply district."  Exploding duck decoys, perhaps? 

Customers with a lot of items on their list can hire a hamal to follow them from shop to shop and carry their load on his back.  That has got to be an exhausting job, especially considering how the entire bazaar quarter is built on a rather steep hill.  

I had to laugh when I saw this - someone clearly got called in to look at a customer the moment they sat down to take a break.  The cigarette is getting what it deserves, but what a sad waste of a perfectly good cup of çay!  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014 - 2 comments

How Bazaar, How Bazaar (Part 1: The Hans)

I'm always looking for an excuse to spend time in Istanbul, so when a couple of Canadian friends asked if I'd come up and be their guide for the weekend, I was more than happy to oblige.  

Thanks to this book - İstanbul'da Ölmeden Önce Yapmanız Gereken 101 Şey (101 Things to Do in Istanbul Before You Die) and my own innate Istanbulophilia, I have a bucket list for the city a mile long.  So every time I have a few days up there, I try to explore at least one area I haven't seen much of before.  This trip, I knew we'd be sticking close to the Historic Peninsula and doing a lot of the classic first-time-around stuff, so I tried to come up with something new to do in an area where I've played tour guide more times than I can count.  And another recently acquired book, Istanbul's Bazaar Quarter:  Backstreet Walking Tours, gave me just the inspiration I was looking for.

Despite the fact that Istanbul being Trip Advisor's #1 Must-Visit City has turned Sultanahmet into a place where you can't move an inch without bumping into a Nikon or a pair of shorts, the Bazaar Quarter is still surprisingly Turkish.  (This doesn't so much hold true for the Grand Bazaar itself, but for the district below it as you head down the hill towards Eminönü.)  Locals come to the area around the Spice Bazaar for the city's widest variety of dried fruits, nuts, loose teas, Turkish Delight and, of course, spices.  The Tahtakale district is one of the few places to find paper goods like gift bags and wrapping paper, as well as a dazzling array of henna party costumes and supplies, wholesale candy and specialty household goods.  And the "jewelry street" in the Grand Bazaar is still, so I hear, the best place to get a good deal on an engagement ring.  

What intrigued me so much about the Backstreet Walking Tours book was its descriptions of the hans in the Bazaar Quarter.  These huge stone buildings are mostly two or three storeys with an open courtyard in the middle.  As the citified cousins of the Silk Road's kervansarays, they served as inns for travelling traders and included stables for horses and camels, sleeping accommodations, and workshops.  The hans were often organized according to trade or religious affiliation, and several have small mosques or syangogues inside.  Some have been modernized and are used as shopping centres or storage facilities, but many retain their 200-300 year old faces and are used as workshops for the various craftsmen to this day.  

I've walked past dozens of hans in the past but never realized what lay inside, beyond those huge iron doors.  So, this trip, a few of the main ones made the "places to explore" list.  The Büyük Valide Han ("Grand Han of the Sultan's Mother") was definitely the most impressive, with its medieval archways and multiple courtyards.  Built in 1651, the han has been home to metal and tanning workshops, and, until recently, fabric weaving looms.  The view from the roof of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn was well worth the climb up the crumbling stone staircase.  I definitely plan to go back there when I have more time and see some of the creating still going on inside the ateliers on the upper level.

The Büyük Yeni Han ("Grand New Han") had less activity going in its stalls, but I loved the arched corridors looking down over the courtyard and could easily picture it in its heyday, full of stinky camels and (probably equally stinky) tradesmen.

These are just two of dozens of hans in the area.  I'm already plotting out which ones I want to see on my next trip.  First on the list?  The Kurukahveci Han - "Coffee-Makers Han".  A coffee house that's been around longer than the Republic?  This I have to see.  (And smell.  And sip....)