In less than twelve hours in Istanbul, T., I., and I managed to pick up 2 carpets, 3 men, and one hell of a late-night
taxi ride through the city.
It all started innocently enough. We arrived on Tuesday late in the afternoon, checked into our hotel, and headed
to the Grand Bazaar. Conveniently, I. found a hotel within easy walking distance of the bazaar, because we spent a lot
of time there over our five days in Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar is the main covered bazaar in Istanbul, and it's overwhelming - huge, crowded and loud. High domed
ceilings painted brightly in yellow, blue and red arch over endless alleys of shops selling just about any kind of souvenir
you could possibly want - everything from cheap T-shirts and tacky jewelry to lovely ceramic tiles and hand-woven carpets.
First we got sucked into a store selling cheap handbags, and then we just got lost.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, I. was waylaid by a vendor who wanted to sell her a five dollar flute.
As a result of this transaction, he gave us little charms that are supposed to repel the evil eye, and herded us into his
brother's carpet shop. The five minute deal for the five dollar flute led to a long story about the history of carpet-making
in Turkey over several glasses of sweet apple tea, the unfurling of a number of carpets, ending with "crazy prices" for T.
and I., and an offer from the salesman to take us to a nice place for dinner.
After all the deals were finalized, we headed back out into the city to explore. Istanbul is a lovely city with
wide streets, lovely old European architecture, and plenty of green spaces. It was a perfect time to visit - it was
sunny and warm, but not hot, and the parks were green and blooming. The city had a freshness to it that was very soothing.
The men in Istanbul have a certain freshness as well. :-) We had several amusing encounters that evening.
One man called out "You are shiny like sunny" as we were walking through a park. Near the Blue Mosque, another one offered,
"You are three and we (indicating his two friends) are three. Let's be tight like a double-knotted rug." And these
were only the ones who weren't trying to sell us anything.
That evening, we met our new "friend" from the carpet shop in Taksim, a modern, upscale neighborhood of the city.
He had invited two of his friends along, one who was also a carpet seller, and the other who was friends with a number of
carpet sellers, and they entertained us with samples of some of the simpler tricks of their trade. A friend of theirs
made a present of a carpet to a tourist he befriended, asking him only to pay the price of the VAT for shipping the carpet
- which was at least double what the carpet was worth in the first place. One of the guys told us how he'd sold a carpet
to a man who had only stopped to ask him where the nearest taxi stand was. At the close of the deal, the customer gave
him his business card and said, "If you ever come to New York, you'll have a job at my car dealership." And then there's
the legendary Uncle Mustafa, who has been known to forget the prices he quoted to customers, to calculate the cost of carpets
on the remote control for his air conditioner, and to generally carry on in a fashion that amuses his younger counterparts.
We had a very pleasant evening - the guys were very nice, the restaurant they took us to was lively and served good food,
and we went to a club afterwards and listened to a great local band. Finally, we said good night, and got into one taxi
while they got into another. But apparently, our respective cabdrivers were good friends - at the first traffic light,
the driver of the other cab hopped out and popped the trunk of our cab open. Our driver responded by flipping up his
friends' windshield wipers and folding in his side mirror. Then they took off, and a mad race through the streets of
Istanbul ensued. I was sitting in the front seat, clinging to the door and squeezing my eyes shut every time we approached
another car or a tight turn, while T. and I. tried to keep from sliding into each other in the back. Possibly the worst
moment was when we tore through, at I don't know how many miles per hour, one of the narrow openings at the base of an aqueduct
that looms over one of the city's main roads. (One of my favorite landmarks - when taken at a reasonable speed) It was
exciting, but I kept thinking, "Oh god, I'm going to end up dead in Istanbul." But our driver had excellent reflexes,
and excellent brakes.