Friday, February 29, 2008

Hoş geldiniz, günes!

Fishing seems to be a pretty democratic pastime in Istanbul. On sunny days, you'll find old men, young couples, even whole families casting their lines off of bridges, piers, or, in this case, the sidewalk, with empty yogurt tubs or water bottles full of wriggling fish behind them. My favorites are the iş adamılar (businessmen) in their suits, collars loosened and cigarettes dangling out of the sides of their mouths as they wile away their lunch hours.

Catch of the day

And yes, this is the same city that was covered in snow 10 days ago.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Little victories

It shouldn't be that exciting to have figured out how to get bottled water delivered to the apartment and add minutes to my phone, but it is. I fumbled and bumbled with the language, but I got it done. I even made a little (very little) small talk with the water guy, although at first I thought he said he had children in the neighborhood, when actually he'd lived in the neighborhood since he was a child.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I had a funny experience yesterday at Koç Taş, a Home Depot copy-cat located in Europe's largest mall. I was looking for a door stopper and, not knowing the right word, mustered my courage to go up to one of the employees and fumblingly ask, "Pardon, bir şey kücük... kapı... açık... kapalı... var mı?" (Basically, "Do you have a small thing... door... open... closed?") while pointing at the ground.

The guy thought for a minute and then responded, in what sounded like the phony French way we pronounce Target "Tarjay," "stohper?" Uh, yeah. What he said.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Çok garip

Maalesef (unfortunately), commentary on my Turkish classes probably makes for tedious reading, but they have pretty much consumed all of my brain space at this point, mostly with trying to learn the language, and sometimes with puzzling over the sheer strangeness of some of the exercises.

Sure, it's useful to be able to say "Sinemaya gitmek istiyorum" (I like to go the movies), and if you're angling for a job in one of the many Turkish bureaucracies, you might want to learn "Evlenmeden önce, senin soyadın neydi?" (Before marriage, what was your last name?) But tell me, please, when one of these sentences might come in handy:

"Benim annem gençken çok zayıftı, şimdi biraz şişman."
(When she was young, my mother was very thin; now she's a little fat.)

"Senin kulakların eskiden çok büyüktü. Şimdi küçük, ne yaptın?"
(Your ears used to be very big. Now they're small - what happened?)

I am, however, pleased that I finally figured out how to get my keyboard to type all these wacky characters.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hava karlı

Snowy nightAt 2:30 a.m., İstiklal Caddesi, the popular pedestrian thoroughfare in my neighborhood was full of people having snowball fights and making snow angels in the street.

I live in Istanbul and it's snowing. Somehow, right now, that's enough.

Snowy night 2

Friday, February 15, 2008

Adamlar ve kadınlar

So far there have been a couple of "day-in-the-life" stories in my Turkish-language workbook, one about Ahmet Bey (Mr. Ahmet) and one about Fatma Hanım (Mrs. Fatma). They're very similar, but I think there's some subtle contextual differences that I'm not picking up on yet...

They both go to work every day.
He's a doctor.
She's a secretary.

They both do things after work...
He kicks back, then goes to a bar.
She goes shopping and makes dinner.

...and on the weekends.
He reads, listens to music, watches TV, and plays tennis.
She does the cleaning and the laundry.

I can't quite put my finger on what I'm supposed to be learning here, but I think I need to go wash, cook, or sew something.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I've moved

...from one rapidly gentrifying, hipster-ridden neighborhood to another, or so it seems. After staying with my friends Ayla and Simon for my first couple of weeks in Istanbul, I've found a room to rent in nearby Çukurcuma, a neighborhood that my 2007 TimeOut Istanbul guide refers to as "a quiet Beyoğlu backwater" and a "shabby chic antique district." Last week, these same antique shops were featured in the New York Times travel section:

Day Out | Cukurcuma, Istanbul
A More Intimate Grand Bazaar
Forget the Grand Bazaar. If you want to return from Istanbul with truly memorable souvenirs, head over to the winding streets of Cukurcuma, the city’s funky antiques district, where you can get anything from camel saddles to decorative brass faucets from defunct Turkish baths.

Just call it the Mission District East--way, way east.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bu bir pipo değil.

We've spent the better part of the last two days in my Turkish class pointing at desks and asking if they are chairs.

"Bu bir sandalye mi?"
"Bu bir sandalye değil, masa."

I've also learned that there are not kangaroos in India ("Hindistan'da kanguru yok.") or camels in France ("Fransa'da deve yok."), and that in Turkish, "there is no discrimination." This last bit of wisdom was from our öğretmen (teacher), Mehmet, in response to a student's question about whether the word for a profession was the same whether the practitioner was male or female.

There may be no discrimination in the language, but I've decided (in my latest cockamamie theory) that language is at the root of the country's sexist attitudes. For our homework today, we also started learning verbs. A noun is often made into a verb by adding the suffix -mak or -mek. For example, düşün is "thought"; düşünmek, "to think." And then kız is "girl" and kızmak is... "to get angry." Makes sense, right? We'll just get a new word for getting angry and gender equality will reign over Turkey.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


One of the things I noticed immediately on my first trip to Turkey in 2001 was the omnipresent Turkcell logo.

Rather inexplicably, the country's main cell phone provider has chosen to identify itself with what looks like a be-tuxedoed banana slug. Since that strange creature was also my college mascot, it made me feel right at home.

Now, thanks to Ayla, I have a Turkcell of my very own. Here, they call voicemail "SekreterCell." As the Turkcell website* explains, it is "just like a private assistant" who will "save the message of the person that called you, when your number is busy, or when you can’t answer it." Quelle nouveau!

You also have to tell your phone that you want to divert missed calls to your "secretary" -- it's not the default option. When I get a little fancier, I may try out one of the assuredly hilarious prerecorded greetings, like "Funny butcher," "Listening to you, honey," or "How we used to stay with our moms." Either that, or the theme from The Godfather.

* UPDATE: Sadly, this feature, or at least the hilarious description of it, appears to have been discontinued...