Turkish Enchantments

They tell you that “location” is everything. I have never been one to embrace the life of the “salesman”, (I tried it once a decade ago and my therapist thinks that maybe another 10 years should set me aright). But, if you are in the business of trading goods…then the old phrase fits. Location is everything.

Late Evenings in Kazasker

This column, however, has nothing to do with commerce and everything to do with geography. The last few days we have been overwhelmed with all the things that go along with changing cultures, language, and home. The process of uprooting your life and moving to the far side of the world can be difficult to navigate.
Let me taxi around this for a moment: A few years ago we lived in a major European city. After the honeymoon stage and the romance of travel wore off, we experienced what every Third Culture family will tell you about…Culture Shock. When it hits, you want to hole up, watch “Seinfeld” reruns, and shut the world out.
However, we have found the exact opposite in Istanbul. When we miss home and family, get frustrated with our language struggles, or hit the wall physically or emotionally…we find therapy in getting out and spending time with the Turks.
After living in Los Angeles and San Diego for over 38 years…we have learned to love Istanbul and its inhabitants and have, surprisingly, acclimated quickly to the cultural differences. These people are amazing. I know we will eventually have bad experiences and run into people that are unkind. But to date, 4 months into being “Istanbullus”, we have yet to find a Turk who isn’t quick to laugh or smile.
I look forward to the good natured sparring that takes place in the tourist areas as the touts try every trick in the book to get you to spend your money. We have found them easy to disarm with politeness and by remembering that their culture and style is different than ours. Lonely Planet said it best…you have to realize that these are the “pro’s”….have fun with them and be polite….(my paraphrase). After all…this is their City…right?
The last few evenings we have been up and out late, walking the streets at midnight. The weather has turned balmy, the trees and shrubs are in bloom and the smells in the air are jasmine and roses. The breeze off the Sea of Marmara is light and cool and the moon is full….

It is a classic concoction of Mediterranean enchantment.
Tonight as I write, we have just returned from another stroll. The streets are full of families quietly walking along, fathers smoking, mothers holding the hands of children, and young people sitting on the walls talking and laughing. The older kids follow a few yards behind softly kicking soccer balls between them.


The verandas and balconies are host to colored lights, candles, and the rising smoke of countless cigarettes. In a city where the majority of people live in apartments, these balconies cast an amazing display of light, sound and mood. The smell of lamb or chicken Kebabs on the grill with roasted tomatoes and peppers mixes with the smells of cigarette, and blossom to create a heady mix. One that smacks of Bogart, Agatha Christie and Indiana Jones. It makes you want to buy a Fez, smoke a hookah pipe and solve some deep dark Asian mystery in a dingy backwater Inn.
The call to prayer rang out around 10:15pm and the courtyard of the Mosque was full of men and boys coming to pray. This was a quiet scurry to prayer, ablutions completed at the fountain and shoes left at the door. We watched as they stood and knelt in unison paying honor and fulfilling their duty to Allah.
The Durum shop was rolling sandwiches and the tea shops were filled with couples drinking and smoking. Everywhere we went we found smiles and laughter.
As I walk down the street each day vendors yell to me and laugh at my bad Turkish. They are quick to help and easy to love. Yesterday one of my friends walked out of his shop…he had learned a phrase just for me, he yelled, “How can I take your money today” before bending over in fits of laughter.
It makes me wonder what other peoples we have overlooked in our wanderings? Our life among the Turks is a rich one. We would have missed so much if we had not met these people. I understand the phrase now: Location, location, location…in our case, it’s a good one.

1 Comment so far

  1. Di (unregistered) on July 30th, 2006 @ 7:34 pm

    I don’t know … I’m a New Zealander, lived in Istanbul two years and never got tired of the people.

    Moved to Belgium and ouch, the Europeans aren’t friendly and the waiters all seem to be doing more important things at work … Istanbul rocks.

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