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Pre-Blog: Istanbul Vol. 1


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This was originally an email I sent May 30, 2005.

Dear Family and Friends,

I write this missive to you from the rooftop terrace of my hotel. Beside the marble table, at which I am tapping away on my laptop, are a row of petunias. Approximately 300 yards to my right are the six minarets and dome of the Blue Mosque. One mile beyond, in the gray hazy distance, ferries ply the Sea of Marmara, where it meets the Bosphorous. In a nod to modernity, I seem to have jacked into a fellow named "Ibrahim's" wireless network, so Thank You, Ibrahim.

The scene is almost perfect. The sole fly in my ointment, as it were, is that if you re-read the paragraph above, not once do I mention the presence of a waiter. Hence, I am unable to rely on raki, beer or even tea for inspiration in writing to you today.

The Blue Mosque, however, is the strongest intoxicant I have ingested in a very long time. I had forgotten how utterly breathtaking, how magnificently detailed and splendid it is. I use the word "breathtaking" in a very literal sense, in that as you walk in and behold the rows of renaissance arches, the complexity of the deep, azure mosaic tiles, the luminous stained glass, you forget to breathe for a few seconds, and suddenly you feel a bit dizzy, and if you're very religious you immediately fall to your knees.

Ah, a waiter. Sukran-al-hamdu-lillah! Beer, please. Much better, thank-you.

Istanbul is very relaxing if you take it at a Turkish pace. Have 2 or 3 cups of tea at lunch, sitting outside watching life at the café. Sit on the immaculately polished hardwood benches in the garden in front of the Aya Sophia, listening to the fountain. Take it easy before you go shopping at the Grand Bazaar.

In the Grand Bazaar, that teeming, covered market that I dimly remember visiting as a teenager, you follow the regular rules of conduct under conditions which my professors at The Wharton School referred to as "asymmetry of information". In May, it's relatively quiet, so you have a little more leverage than in July or August. You inspect the goods thoroughly, making sure that he knows that you know all about tanning, stitching and treated as opposed to untreated leather. You try to leave at least twice before really getting down to business.

"Sir, you are Canadian, not like these snobbish Europeans. As I said before, I am making a special price because you are a young man."

You nod, absently. Look at your watch. Tug at your beard. Start muttering aloud about whether or not you can afford this type of extravagance. Finally, after a couple of attempts to leave, you make a lowball bid.

"Sir, but you are being unreasonable. I can't do that! Wait, wait, come back, don't go, maybe I can talk to the boss. . ."

My buddy Ace won't close a deal until he is a) physically thrown out of an establishment, b) spat at or c) had his parentage questioned in his interlocutor's native tongue. But the Turks are a civilized, decent sort of people who will do no more than glare at you and perhaps raise their voice if you drag things out too long. These are aspiring Europeans, remember. So all is well when you finally shake hands to formally close, stop to ask after the man's family before continuing on your merry, insouciant way.


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About me

  • I'm Sunset Shazz
  • Living the dream in Istanbul, Turkey
  • I grew up in the hardscrabble streets of suburban Ottawa, Ontario, committing petty crime, insulting the elderly - basically the classic misspent youth. When I was 19, I moved to West Philly, where I put myself through the Wharton School by dealing crack and hustling. After stints in Paris and London, I eventually graduated and moved to San Francisco, where I put in eight years hard labor working for The Man. But now I pop bottles with models, deciding cracked crab or lobster - who says mobsters don't prosper?
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