Do I look like the type you could strike up a conversation with at 1.15 pm on a Sunday afternoon and after a litany of no, no, no, to your offers to show me the Blue Mosque or the hippodrome or your uncle’s carpet shop? Do I honestly look like the type who would go back with you to your apartment so that that you could show me all that special energy you have inside only waiting to get out? And no, I don’t care how big it is, I don’t want to see it…
That was the first of three propositions I had in an hour – each one raunchy and too explicit for my taste (lady, I won’t even charge you…). In my defence, the only bit of skin showing was my calves – and although they might bring out the latent maternal instincts of a nursing cow, they’ve never been known to excite such blatant come-hithers. Couple this overt sexual banter with the black-clothed eyes of the women here and it’s confusing to say the least. And a tad upsetting. Did I mention that it was a Sunday?
You never get a chance to make a second first impression. I know that. And my first impression of Turkey (extrapolating from my first impression of Istanbul – which is dangerous to do, I know) is that it’s a country with a split personality. For every helpful, friendly, smiling citizen I met, I met an equally cranky, obdurate, streak of misery. And it started the minute I landed.
I went to passport control. I didn’t have a visa (Ireland needs a visa but visitors from the Czech Republic don’t. Or Switzerland. Or Serbia). The helpful immigration officer pointed me to the visa office.
Hi – I need a visa.
That will be €25.
I only have Turkish lire.
You can pay in US dollars.
I only have Turkish lire. Do you take credit cards?
Cash only. ATM is over there.
[I get the money and return]
May I have a receipt?
No. You only paid for a visa. No receipt.
But then a second lovely immigration officer let me skip the queue and fast-tracked me through the diplomatic lane.
On the way in from the airport, the juxtaposition of conventional and modern, the contrast of box-like concrete tower blocks and ornate mosques all added to this impression. It was difficult to decide what I was looking at. What century. What region of the world. Add to that the confusion of crossing continents, from Asia into Europe. Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents.
At the metro, to an official
Excuse me, where can I get a ticket?
At the machine
Is there no ticket office?
Use the machine
I don’t have the right notes
Use the machine
To a young girl getting off the funicular, having finally managed to find a shop that would give me change if I bought something.
Do I have to get another token for the tram?
No – it’s too expensive – get an Istanbul Card and charge it
Where can I buy one?
Over there – here, let me show you…
Down at the bazaar, the personalities were also in action.
I have a particular colour pashmina in mind – and I don’t see it here.
Look at this one – it’s your colour
Nope – I want cream with an orange and green thread
Nope – that’s purple
This one is your colour
Nope – that’s pink
So what can I sell you?
Go away then
Then the next chap who tried to sell me one:
I have a particular colour in mind – and I don’t see it here. Cream with an orange and green thread.
Your mind’s made up? So I’d be wasting my time trying to sell you anything else?
Thanks for telling me – enjoy Istanbul (laughing)
What I did admire though is that they point out the fakes without any attempt to hide them.
These are silk. Those are cashmere. Those are a mix. And that shelf over there – all fake brands.
Fake. It’s all fake in Turkey.
Even the cashmere?
Yes – that’s fake, too. Except for these ones.
The honesty is refreshing.
Come, lady, come to my restaurant
I’ve already eaten
How could you? Without me?
You never told me you were waiting for me.
No thanks. How expensive is a glass of local wine?
20 lire – that’s what everyone charges
I saw one for 9 lire earlier
That was vinegar – that’s what we feed dogs when we want to kill them
20 lire is mad
Hey – this country is ruled by people who don’t drink. All alcohol is taxed at 68%
Amazing what you learn.
So now I know what I need to know to get around. I have decided I won’t be shopping. I have resolved to clothe my calves in future. And I finally found some decent wine that didn’t cost 20 lire. Once the prude in me recovers, I think I’ll like this city.