Kandil – five holy nights in the Islamic world

Come learn about kandili and the night of power!Most people are aware of the big events in the Islamic world, such as the fasting month of Ramazan (Ramadan) and Kurban Bayramı (Eid al Fitr), when an animal is sacrificed to Allah. Less well known are the five holy nights on the Muslim calendar called kandil, meaning candle. The tradition dates back to the reign of Sultan Selim II in the 16th century, when he ordered that kandil, that is candles, be lit on the minarets of the mosques to announce these holy nights to the public. Mosques are brightly illuminated for these special evenings and the Muslim congregation recite special prayers. People usually worship and sing the Mevlit, an epic poem written to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad. Most of the pastry shops and bakeries sell Kandil simidi, similar to a small simit with or without sesame seeds. In some apartments the neighbors hand out helva or lokma tatlısı (a special Turkish dessert made of deep fried dough served with lashings of honey syrup).

Special kandil simit packets from my local Safranbolu Firin shop.The nights on which these holy nights fall are calculated according to the revolution of the moon around the earth so the dates of the kandil differ every year. However, the names and meaning of each night remains the same. They are

Mevlid Kandili – The birth of Prophet the Mohammad
Regaip Kandili – The conception of the Prophet Mohammad
Miraç Kandili – Prophet Mohammad’s ascent into heaven
Berat Kandili – The day of forgiveness
Kadir Gecesi – The Koran’s first appearance to the Prophet Mohammad

Of all the nights, Kadir Gecesi is the most revered. According to the 97th chapter of the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, this is the night on which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to Mohammed so Muslims are encouraged to seek out God’s forgiveness on this night. It is a special time when the blessings and mercy of Allah are abundant and all sins are forgiven. One prayer in particular is recited, the words of which mean, “O God, verily you are forgiving and love forgiveness, so forgive me.” Prayers made on this night are thought to be worth a 1000 months of worship.

It is not certain in which of the last ten days of Ramazan Kadir Gecesi falls, so many Muslim countries, including Turkey, usually designate the 27th day of Ramadan for this special night. Each year men and women of all ages and social backgrounds flock to large historic mosques in İstanbul such as Eyup Camii, to perform the terawih. This is a night prayer specific to the last ten days of Ramadan which is derived from the Arabic taraweeh, meaning to rest and relax. Muslims will sit and reflect on their lives, offer prayers and supplications and listen to sermons and recitations of the Koran. Known in Arabic as Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power is so important that many mosques remain open all night. Those unable to get out can watch live broadcasts of the prayer services going on at some of the larger mosques. In addition Laylat al-Qadr programs are shown, featuring talks on the importance of the night for Muslims.

 

Posted in Culture & Tradition, Religion | 1 Comment

Turkish Awakening – A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey

Read what Alev Scott has to say in Turkish Awakening!In her introduction, Alev Scott states that Turkish Awakening is as much about her personal discovery of the land of her mother’s birth as it is an exploration of contemporary Turkish life and politics, and she is true to her word. She skilfully combines personal insights with an objective gaze to focus on a confusing and often contradictory culture, teasing out a much fuller picture of Turkey than is usually offered. As a result Scott goes beyond the overused East meets West paradigm usually applied to writing about Turkey, to try to unravel the complex relationship between modernity and religion which is so much a feature of daily life in Istanbul.

I particularly liked her chapter titled ‘Conversations with Taxi Drivers’. As a long term resident of the city, with reasonable Turkish, I’ve come to know that if you want the low down of what’s going on, your local taxi driver is a great source of information. Scott goes well beyond what I’ve ever managed to find out, and reveals some surprising facts about Istanbul and its inhabitants.

From this first chapter she goes on to detail the ‘village in the city’ nature of many Istanbul neighbourhoods. Most surprising is the way prostitution and transgender inhabitants coexist, albeit sometimes uneasily, alongside their devout Muslim neighbours who have relocated from the country. She goes on to explore the influence of popular soap operas featuring the new rich, living in ostentatiously flashy homes most Turks can only dream of, and the way these surreal stories have brought Arab tourists to Turkey in search of their new heroes and heroines.

She even writes about her experiences teaching in a highly regarded government university. Through her experience, we see how the respect with which teachers are regarded in Turkey clashes with low salaries, a serious lack of resources and students whose primary aim in learning is to know only the answers to the exam questions and nothing more. Indepth academic research is shunned in favour of multiple choice based exams, and excellence for its own sake has become a sad remnant of a distant past.

The book is rounded out by looking at Turkey’s changing relationship with the EU, no longer seen as a positive aspiration, and the rise and rise of the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP – Party for Justice and Progress). Having initially been seen as a praiseworthy example of moderate Islam, Scott reveals how the AKP is now seen as the harbinger of a darker future facing Turkey.

Many of her observations were made against the backdrop of the 2013 Gezi Park protests. During that summer Istanbul, Ankara, Eskisehir and numerous other Turkish cities saw extraordinary displays of public unity against what many saw as an increasingly Draconian government. Scott captures the vitality and hope of those days brilliantly, but her perspective is very much coloured by being in that particular moment. Consequently the book ends on a high which could be misleading to readers unaware of more recent Turkish history. Granted, Scott does offer some analysis of events from the perspectives of supporters of Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, as well as those who continue to support the AKP. However I suspect she might offer a significantly different take on events were she to rewrite the final chapter now.

Nonetheless this is a seriously good read which will see you turning the pages non-stop until you reach the end. Scott gives us fascinating glimpses into her personal experiences in Istanbul and Turkey, breathing fresh life into modern history so that we live and feel it as we read. Turkish Awakening A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey is one of the most engaging histories of contemporary life in Turkey I have read for a long time. I highly recommend it.

Posted in Book reviews | 2 Comments

The Evil Eye in Turkey – Nazar

Evil eye 'nazar' tree in Cappadocia – don’t leave your fate to chance!From new born babies to wise old grandparents, everyone in Turkey will wear a nazar boncuğu, a blue bead evil eye, at some stage in their lives. Turks believe that ill-wishers can cause harm just by looking malevolently at their victim. Wearing an evil eye protects against this. However, if an individual is unfortunate enough to be cursed, there are a few things they can do to lift it. The easiest way is to put on a muska. These small, often silver amulets contain a prayer written on a small piece of paper, blessed by an imam, the prayer leader of a mosque. Should the curse prove too strong, it will be necessary to call on the services of a lead pouring specialist. Usually women, these individuals melt lead on a fire in a small pot. When the molten lead is ready it’s poured into a basin of cold water containing some bread and onion. The bowl is held above the head of the accursed who has a sheet covering their head. The bread and the onion are believed to absorb and dispel the negative energy of the curse and are later thrown away. The shape the lead took when it contacted in the water is interpreted to try to identify the people who are the source of the evil wishes.

Can you match my evil eye collection?The nazar in this photo all belong to me. The little fellow with the blue hat is one of two I was given by a shop keeper in Kaş in 1990, when he’d run out of small change. Originally I had two of them, pinned to my jacket, but when I lost one the other went in to my wallet, where he now lives with the coins. My husband and I bought the middle one in Istanbul in 1996, and it lives above our apartment front door. The worry beads were given to me by my students at Erciyes University on November 24, 2002. They formed part of my Teachers Day present, which consisted of the beads, a scarf, hat and gloves all in yellow and blue, as well as two plastic roses, also yellow and blue. Those of you familiar with Turkish football will know these are the Fenerbahçe team colours. The other little bead nazar was a present from a student from the same university, given to me in 2004 when we went away on an excursion to Eastern Turkey

Nearly all Turkish bead makers are descendants of Arab bead makers who migrated to Izmir at the end of the 18th century from the West Bank town of Hebron, an important centre for the glass industry. I can’t imagine how we’d cope with the evil eye if they hadn’t come to Turkey!

Posted in Book reviews | Leave a comment

Kas – Land of the Sleeping Giant

See for yourself what Kas, Antalya has to offer!

“Kaş has the high mountains and sparse covering of undersized scrub that impressed me when I first saw the Turkish coastline back in 1990. Unlike then I am not afraid when I look up at the distinctive rock formation known as the ‘Sleeping Giant’ that lies across the range, encircling the town. Instead I marvel at the stark majestic beauty of the scenery. Kaş is as beautiful now as it was the first time I saw it. Although the town has grown as much as the mountains surrounding the bay will allow, its character has remained essentially unchanged. Originally a small fishing village, the physical appearance of the population is evidence of its proximity to Greece. The locals are short and well-built with incredible upper body strength which was handy in the past when they made their living working as fishermen. Nowadays most of the little boats like the one I went out on back in 1990 have been replaced by much larger well-appointed wooden boats called gulet, custom fitted for daytrips or diving courses rather than for fishing.”

Kas Meydan - quiet by day, thriving by night “We have come here eleven times. We stay at the same pension, and do the same things every day. Mornings see us up on the terrace, eating breakfast and watching the sun shimmer over the nearby Greek island of Meis. Then we cross the road to a waterfront hotel to lounge under their beach umbrellas, taking frequent dips in the sea. We catch up with the hotel owner when he’s in, asking after his mother and seeing how the boys we have met over the years are doing now.”

A typical seaside restaurant in Kas “We always go back to our pension for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Depending on just how hot it is we will either go swimming again or sit around reading on the terrace. After a dinner we have cooked ourselves or a meal eaten at one of the many restaurants, we wander around the main square eating ice cream from Kahramanmahraş. Made from goats’ milk, a chewy, edible resin called mastic and natural flavourings like blackberries, raspberries, almonds and honey, as well as the more ordinary flavours, this ice cream is slightly stretchy but divine.”

Lazy days spent by the water in Kas

The ever lovely Kas tea gardensWhen we finish we go to the teagardens previously owned by the council and sit languidly amongst eucalypt trees with their trunks painted white to deter insects. The service is as slow as ever but we entertain ourselves by watching the other tourists, a mix of Turks and a sprinkling of foreigners. Everyone is dressed in their summer holiday best, but while the former sport honey coloured suntans, the latter smart from angry red sunburn.”

“We have come here so many times and we do less and less each visit. We’ve been to the nearby beach of Kaputaş where freezing cold fresh water from high in the mountains feeds into the sea from an underground cavern, we’ve visited the beach at Patara and acknowledged the small ruined amphitheatre. The one ramshackle teahouse built on the rocks overlooking the beaches known as ‘big’ and ‘little’ fork has expanded to become an all-in-one outdoor bar, restaurant, and disco with music playing almost twenty four hours a day. We don’t go there anymore, preferring instead our simple routine. Kaş is one of the few places where I feel free to do nothing, often not finishing one book the whole time I am there, and there is no guilt attached. It is the perfect place to recuperate.”

The fabulous clear water of Kaputas beach If you’ve enjoyed reading these extracts from my book “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul”, click here to buy a copy. Available in paperback and e-book form.

Posted in Aegean Turkey, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Henna Night

Enjoy the excitement of a traditional Turkish henna night!

I’ve lived in Turkey for a long time and been lucky enough to participate in lots of traditional activities. One of my favourite things to do is to join in on a kına gecesi, or henna night. This is the night Turkish women get together before the wedding to celebrate and commemorate the upcoming nuptials. Kına, or henna, the thick red ochre paste used in many cultures to decorate hands and feet or to colour hair, represents sacrifice in Turkey. During Kurban Bayramı, when an animal is sacrificed as a religious offering to Allah, the cow or sheep is marked with henna. Young men preparing to go into the army are hennaed, sometimes on the ends of all their fingers but usually just the little one. It’s a symbol of their future, as potential sacrifices who might die for their country. When a woman marries, a circle of henna is also placed on her hands on the henna night. The tradition and meaning of henna is both cultural and religious, with the traditions changing from place to place. In some areas, the tradition of the kına gecesi remains strong, but in the more modern cities it’s dying out, for both practical reasons and a newer belief that these are peasant ways and should be abandoned.

In smaller towns and villages, the henna nights often take place outdoors, so when you’re in Turkey for a holiday, there’s a good chance you’ll come across one. Before you step onto the dance floor though, here’s some useful things to know. The henna night isn’t just a party for the bride. It’s also a chance for mothers looking to match up their sons to check out the form of the unmarried girls. The way they do this is to watch the girls as they dance, so be careful how you move! I didn’t know this when I went to my first henna night, which I’ve written about in Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul. Here’s an extract to give you an idea what it was like.

“Fatmagül immediately dragged me to the centre of the seated women and made me dance with her. Others flocked to the small dance area too, until we were surrounded by several hundred women. The male spectators on the walls and balconies were still there, ogling us, and I could hear the word ‘yabancı’ being whispered from woman to woman back through the rows (of seated women). Yabancı not only means foreigner from another country but also not local to a particular village, and from the way they all looked at me, unblinkingly and not smiling, it was clear I was a foreigner to them in both senses of the word. It seemed like every eye was on me and I was finding it harder and harder to stay relaxed. Fatmagül danced on, laughing at my general discomfort until I finally gave in and just went with the mood. From the nods and smiles of my audience, it seemed the right thing to do.”

When the music stopped Fatmagül had to fend off lots of inquiries about me. Luckily I had just enough Turkish to tell all my new admirers I was already married. Their disappointment was quickly forgotten because it was time to take our seats for the entertainment. The entertainment is a bit like pantomime really. Young men sneak into the dance area dressed as virginal maidens before being chased out, and then a woman dressed as a man enters stage right. Her role is to act the letch, ably accompanied by an older woman dressed in traditional baggy trousers and droopy cardigan, sometimes topped off with a lurex boob tube or scarf to show she is playing the vamp. Each time the ‘man’ makes lecherous advances on the woman she repels him while the watching women loudly jeer and heckle. Some of their comments are surprisingly fruity, or so I’m told.

Join in with a traditional Turkish henna night!After the laughter come the tears. Henna is brought out and applied to the hands of the bride. It signifies that she goes as a sacrifice from her father to her husband. While the sentiments might seem old-fashioned and out of step with modern life, it is the moment a young girl becomes a woman, leaving her parents’ home forever. The bride is expected to cry at the thought of the separation, and even the most sophisticated of girls sheds a tear or two.”

Although it can be nerve-wracking to be the centre of so much attention, if you’re invited to a henna night, I urge you to go. You might feel out of place at first but if you let go of your fears and join in the fun you’ll have a night to remember. It’s really similar to our hens’ parties without the drinking, strippers or flirting with the opposite sex, because it’s the night when the bride-to-be, all her female relatives and more girlfriends than you can count, get together to dance the night away.

Posted in Culture & Tradition, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom, Women | 2 Comments

Inside Out In Istanbul – The People You Meet

Come meet my former Istanbul students!

In my many years of living and travelling throughout Turkey, I’ve met a lot of different people, all of whom called themselves Turks. I’ve written about some of the most memorable people in a piece called “The People You Meet”. It’s in my book, Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City, available here. The following are extracts from the story

“Working here as a teacher has given me a great opportunity to meet a vast range of Turkish people. I once worked at a private college teaching English. Most of my students came from the same companies and I taught them in evening classes, but I had one morning class of all women. They were mainly well-to-do mothers wanting to help their school age children succeed and get a good place at university.

Duygu was an Istanbullu, someone who was born and bred in Istanbul. At fifty six she had the heart of a teenager and the mischievous nature of a small child. It was her heart’s desire to dance with Ricky Martin, but she told me that she couldn’t take dance lessons because the neighbours would gossip. She was learning English because her daughter and granddaughter lived in England, and she wanted to make sure she would always be able to talk to her newest granddaughter Çiçek, her delicate little flower.

Duygu had grown up in the area, but said Istanbul was a vastly different city from the one of her childhood. She spent her early years by the water at Erenköy, playing hide and seek in the trees and staying out late on the beach until her mother called her from their house on Bağdat Caddesi to come home and eat. This would be impossible to do today. A modernisation project to reclaim the waterfront was completed in the 1980s and the beaches where Duygu used to play are now lost under Sahil Yolu, a major road leading all the way up the coast to Bostancı and beyond. At some points along the coast it’s now a ten minute walk back up to Bağdat Caddesi so you’d need a loudspeaker to call your children home. Apartment blocks built around the time of Duygu’s childhood still dot the coastline and make up some of the most expensive real estate on this side of the Sea of Marmara.

One day my morning class was talking about the tradition of the Turkish bath. I hadn’t been to one at that stage, and was more than happy to divert from our scheduled grammar lesson while the women talked. Duygu told of going to a hamam with her grandmother. She thought it was when she was quite young, maybe only about three or four years old. Her grandmother wore all her usual jewellery, including diamond bracelets with matching earrings and smaller diamonds in her hair. The chief hamam woman came into the bath and carefully helped her grandmother take off all her baubles which were then placed in a lacquered wooden box and securely locked.

Her grandmother always took her own bathing equipment to the hamam. Duygu remembers the hamam tası, the bowls for scooping up and pouring water over the body, being gold or gold-plated. She said they were very heavy, and when she looked into them she could see a fish on the bottom with bright green emeralds for eyes. There were stone couches built around the sides of the hamam, covered with a special cloth they always brought with them. The best part, she told us, was that she and her grandmother would lie in there for hours talking and sweating and relaxing.

Duygu also had an aunt who owned a large konak house on the hill leading down from Sultanahmet, near the houses owned by the old money Köprülü family. Her aunt’s house had a hamam in the basement, and the top floor was taken up by one large room used for entertaining guests. The family had a servant, a large African woman with a ring in her nose. This woman played a huge role in disciplining Duygu, as her mother and aunt frequently told her the servant would whisk her away from her family, never to return, if Duygu were bad. One day, all the women and servants of the household were engaged in cleaning the top room. First they removed all the Persian rugs from the floor, and took them outside to be beaten and aired. Underneath were squares of woven matting used to provide warmth which were also removed. The floor below was wood and had to be scrubbed with soap to clean it. After lunch, while all the grownups were otherwise engaged, Duygu created a new game for her brother to play with her. The soap for washing the floors was bought in bulk and kept in large sacks. Duygu discovered that if she rubbed it onto the wooden floor they could have endless fun sliding from one side of the room to the other. She and her brother did this for hours, only ceasing when the women came back to clean. When work started again there was a huge hullabaloo because all the soap Duygu had rubbed into the floor, combined with what the women had added, resulted in gigantic waves of suds which took forever to wash away. Hearing the annoyance in the voices of the cleaning women, Duygu hid in a cupboard for hours in fear that her mother and aunt’s threats would come true. When she was finally discovered any punishment was forgotten in the relief that she was all right.”

 

I’d love to reconnect with the students from this class, so if anyone recognizes these women, please get in touch with me.

Posted in Inside out in Istanbul, Women | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Orhan Pamuk and the Museum of Innocence

Fusun’s dressThe idea for this museum in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, based on Orhan Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence, was conceived at the same time as the idea for the book. They simultaneously came into thought in the 1990s, and the novel was published in 2008 while the museum was opened in 2012.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel of the same name, all I will say is read it, as I don’t want to tell you more for fear of spoiling the experience. What I will provide are my impressions of this exhibition covering four floors of this five storey house that was once home to the actual Keskin family.

Step into another dimension in the Museum of InnocenceThe entry way is covered by the Spiral of Time, a floor design representing Pamuk’s view of memory. The golden dots that form the spiral are moments in time, which seen as a whole provide a pleasing and calming image. Unlike Aristotle who thought of time as a line joining moments which became the present, Pamuk sees the story as a line joining the objects described in the novel. When time is linear, the overall memory can be one of disappointment, but when it is understood as a series of moments, some joyous, some less so, the final memory is one that can be treasured.

I walk up the creaking wooden stairs, gliding my hand up the darkly burnished rail, and stop when I hear a bird tweeting. Slightly above me I see a tiny window, half open and complete with a curtain blowing in the breeze. There is a miniature canary in its cage, whittering happily away, and from outside I can hear simit sellers calling out their wares and the more distant the honking of car and ferry horns. I am immediately transported back outside to the streets of Istanbul, nostalgic for a lost past I am too young to have known.

This level, and the ones above, are crammed with artefacts that are proof of Kemal’s love for Füsun, souvenirs of his lost love. Everywhere I look there are references to sights, sounds and smells that relate to the story, but more significantly, quintessential symbols of Istanbul and Turkish life more generally.

Here, in no particular order, is what I remember most from the museum.

“Of all the traditions that say Turkey to me, the use of lemon cologne is the earliest and strongest memory I will always have”.

Lemon cologne - the essence of TurkeyHow do you choose just one bottle of lemon cologne?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ways we measure time ...

 

 

The agony of love is this...I'd wait a million hours for my one true love.Do you remember your first kiss?

 

 

 

 

 

Movie memorabilia – Kurban

Sacrificial ramsNew Year’s Eve

Try your luck on the tombola board!

Raki and                                                                                                      Attitudes to women

In Turkey any time's a good time for raki.Good girls or bad women? Who can tell?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cigarette wall contains 4213 cigarette butts collected by Kemal. Each butt tells a story of his longing for Füsun.

Museum of Innocence - Evidence of love

Museum of Innocence - I’ll wait, of course

 

 

Museum of Innocence - A happy summer, very happy

I was very moved by my visit to the Museum of Innocence, and seeing a visual interpretation of Orhan Pamuk’s writings. I’ve read all his book, and while I enjoyed The Museum of Innocence, the book which speaks to me most is Istanbul: Memories and the City. It reads like a sorrowful missive to a long lost love, full of melancholy and yearning for the one who remains imprinted on his soul. Füsun is Kemal’s Istanbul.

I have been greatly inspired by Orhan Pamuk’s work so if you’d like to read my account of the way Istanbul feels to me, click here

Posted in Discover Istanbul, Turkish Literature | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ramazan* Dos and Don’ts

Come and celebrate Ramazan in Istanbul!The Holy Month of Ramazan has started here in Turkey and over this thirty day period devout Muslims fast during daylight hours. This means not eating, drinking, smoking or even chewing gum, from early in the morning until the evening. Once it’s no longer possible to distinguish a piece of white string held up to the sky, it’s time to break the fast. It’s also a time to reflect on one’s life, to examine whether you have been compassionate, generous and honest.

As a visitor you’re exempt from fasting, but to make the most of your travels during this month here are some useful tips.

DON’T

  • Forget that outside of cities like Istanbul and Ankara, restaurants might be closed at lunchtime in smaller towns and villages, because not enough people are eating out. Grab a snack or a sandwich before you leave your hotel to keep you going.
  • Be afraid if you wake up at 3am to loud noises. It’s just a man playing a drum called a davul, making sure everyone is up in time to prepare and eat the pre-dawn meal known as sahur.

DO

  • Remember to wish people “Iyi bayramlar”, a good or happy festival.
  • Go to an evening meal to break the fast, called iftar, if you’re invited. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get together with new friends and enjoy Turkish hospitality.
  • Take candies to give to your host if you’re invited to someone’s home. Baklava is always welcome.
  • Be discreet if you decide to drink water during the day, especially in summer. No one will think badly of you but imagine how thirsty any onlookers will feel!
  • Do go to Sultanahmet or Eyüp in the evening. Once there, join in with the families, couples and young lovers exploring the delights of the Ramadan fairs. Sample manisa macunu, a sweet sticky paste dating back to Ottoman times, have your name written in Arabic calligraphy or laugh at the antics of the Karagöz, the Turkish shadow puppets.

Join in the fun of a traditional Turkish Ramazan fete!Most important of all, enjoy taking part in traditional Turkish life!

* You can find out more about Ramazan, and life in Turkey in general, by reading my book “Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries”. Get your copy here

Posted in Culture & Tradition, Living in Istanbul, Religion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Faces in the Street – less well known Turkish crafts

Discover some Turkish trades before they disappear!In my library on Turkey, I have a lovely little brightly coloured pamphlet style book filled with the kind of garish photos I used to see on postcards when I first travelled in Turkey in 1990. This book dates from about a decade before that, and features crafts the author deems to be dying out due to progress. It includes water sellers, tailors, quilt makers, and water pipe makers. Despite the man’s dire predictions, when I moved into my lovely apartment in a quiet leafy street on the Asian side of Istanbul nearly six years ago, mine and all the surrounding streets were abuzz with the sounds of traders and craftsmen working from small shops at the base of most of the buildings. The regular rhythms emanating from their doorways were punctuated by the sporadic cries of passing watermelon sellers, simit vendors and boza men.

Add to this the sounds of my neighbours. Not the other apartment owners but the characters who inhabit the bowels of the buildings. Most visible are the kapıcı, the men who live rent free in exchange for various duties, such as cleaning, paying bills and running errands. Most of the new buildings won’t include an extra apartment for them. While this will mean an end to the sometimes invasive gossip grapevine, it will also result in less security for home owners as the ever present kapıcı see and know everything. They also come in handy during an emergency and can help if you need a plumber, electrician or any of the other tradesmen who can be found working under the old apartment blocks.

Our kapıcı Kamil is a simple man but very moody, unlike the every friendly Selim, a short solid man always wearing one of two nearly identical striped polo shirts, who delivers my water. You can’t drink the water in Istanbul, and the most economical way to buy it is in nineteen litre bottles. I’m still curious as to the volume, I mean why not twenty litres, but I’m yet to ask. His shop is under our living room and it’s my practice to lean out the window and call down to him. When his door is shut I know he’s probably sleeping, so I’ll ask a passerby to knock until he wakes. If this fails I have to ring him. These conversations are always short but ridiculously formal. I identify myself and ask Selim how he is. After he tells me he is fine, he asks after me and I tell him I am well. Only then can I ask him to bring up a new bottle of water. Often I tell a necessary Turkish pink lie and say it’s urgent, otherwise he’s prone to first sit down for a glass of tea and a cigarette, in the company of the neighbourhood kapıcı. He gets so carried away in their company that he sometimes forgets about my order entirely. Hence the need for subterfuge. Unlike most Turks who aspire to a university degree for their children, Selim’s oldest son will go to vocational college and learn a trade. In his Dad’s opinion he’s more likely to get a job and start earning sooner than if he goes to university and I think he’s right.

Next door to the waterman is Süleyman the tailor. An upright, white haired man from the Black Sea, he makes men’s and women’s clothes, mainly trousers, and contracts out for blouses. His little shop is chaotic with fabric, cottons and patterns and people constantly stream in and out with repairs and orders. He’s a friendly soul but his accent is so thick I have trouble understanding him. Even harder is when his older brother comes in to work in his place. He looks almost identical to Süleyman, but it’s only when I’ve adjusted to the gloom and noted his more kempt hair and slight tan that I realise he’s the imitation. Five times a day Süleyman’s shop appears to be empty but he’ll be upstairs on the minute mezzanine level, performing his namaz, his prayers. Except for Fridays when he closes just before lunch so he can go to the local mosque and listen to the all important midday sermon.

These are only a few of the people busily making a living at the base of apartment buildings across Istanbul and I fear that in the years to come they will disappear entirely. Back when I first moved in to my apartment, it was seagulls disturbed by the first call to prayer that woke me. Now it is the sound of trucks, hammers and drills, as my neighbourhood undergoes urban renewal. Sadly it seems the predictions made by the author of “Interesting Turkish Trades” are about to come true, as the old style apartment blocks with their small, poorly designed ground floor shops are being replaced by shiny new skyscrapers offering retail rental space far beyond the budget of the local traders and craftsmen of Istanbul. I too have recently had to sign the contract which will see my beautiful apartment, with its real wood honey gold parquet floored living room floor and polished marble corridor knocked down and replaced by something less than wonderful.

Just as wandering lahmacun sellers no longer roam the waterfronts of the city…

Hungry? Why not grab a tasty lahmacun?)And fewer rabbits tell fortunes…

Have your fortune read by a rabbit before they all retire!

Personalize your home with a hand made quilt.I believe one day the dreamy heavy satin quilts handmade with elaborate and personal designs of circles and waves and meanders of thread sewn across the surface, will be completely replaced by commercially produced lightweight alternatives, but hopefully not for a long time.

IMG_2621As for the leech dealers, the last time I saw one was when I lived in Kayseri from 2002 until 2004. I can’t say for sure if the trade of dealing leeches has died out because they’re not something I look for, but I suspect like many of the crafts mentioned in this book, they too are becoming a thing of the past.

Posted in Living in Istanbul, Turkish food | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkish Ice Cream – At a stretch

You haven't takes ice cream until you've tried Turkish ice cream!In Turkey, when you a buy a fridge, they don’t tell you how many litres it holds. Instead, they tell you how much Turkish ice cream it can store. Not just any ice cream though. Called dondurma, literally meaning ‘freezing’ in Turkish, Turkish ice cream is made with two magic ingredients, mastic and sahlep, and Kahramanmahraş, in Eastern Turkey, is where the best ice cream comes from.

Find out why Turkish ice cream is so stretchy!I went to Kahramanmahraş on a tour with fifty-two university students and five teachers, of whom I was one. It was four days and three nights of singing, dancing and eating on about twelve hours sleep in total. We ate at every opportunity, and when the bus came to a stop at three in the morning naturally we were outside an ice cream shop. On the point of closing for the night, the shutter was immediately rolled back up as we piled eagerly out of the bus. A man dressed in traditional black baggy trousers, a colorful sash that matched his waistcoat and a fez, came outside and stood in front of a large barrel. He started to mix the ice cream inside it with a large wooden paddle. When it was ready he smeared it on cones for us to eat. He offered one to a student. Once it was in her hand, the man snatched away the paddle, taking the ice cream with it. The mastic in the ice cream is a natural gum giving Turkish ice cream its unique chewiness. Sahlep, a type of flour made from orchids, adds the irresistible texture.

Learn a new use for a knife and fork!On our way back through the same town we had more real Turkish ice cream. This time it was served in slices sprinkled with pistachios and we ate it the traditional way. With knives and forks. We were in Yaşar Pastanesi, a shop established about sixty years ago. Although it was once again three in the morning we met the owner, who still worked eighteen hours a day. Which is lucky for ice cream lovers, because this is where the famous Mado ice cream originates from. You can find Mado cafes all over the country so there’s no need to travel as far Kahramanmahraş for a real Turkish ice cream. However, you’ll have a great time if you do!

Posted in Eastern Turkey, Turkish food | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments