Turkish Baths and Bazars October 25th

Kirsty and I arrived at Ataturk airport in Istanbul late at night.
"I have an idea," Kirsty said as we collected our bags at the carousel. "Why don't we take what we need for the night and tomorrow in our little back packs and leave these huge ones in left luggage?"
"That is a brilliant idea," I replied. And that, Dear Reader is why Kirsty is a doctor. So we rifled through our things, searching desperately for a pair of knickers that weren't totally embarrassing, our toiletries, a swim suit for the baths (I really hoped with all my heart that swim suits wouldn't be necessary because mine actually crunched in my hand) and a change of clothes. We then lugged our bags to left luggage and sighed with relief when they were finally off our backs.
We sought a taxi and went to our hotel. It was around 1:00AM when we arrived in the foyer, dead tired, to find a couple being checked in ahead of us. I could tell immediately that this hotel was little more swank than any others we had stayed in. The floor was marble and there were two large leather chairs that looked oh-so comfy, exactly the kind you would find in an impressive library by a fireplace.
The couple was parked very comfortably in them, munching placidly on peanuts and drinking a nice cool effes. They were clearly not in any hurry to vacate these chairs having just embarked on a discussion about what tourist destinations they really shouldn't miss and what kind of tour package the concierge could set up for them.
At 1:30AM.
At 1:45AM the guy began reminiscing about his previous visit to Turkey in the 1970's. Do I sound bitter? Or annoyed? This would be because Kirsty and I were sitting on a not so comfy couch in a little antechamber, waiting for a very simple procedure and a key so we could go to bed.
Neither of us were subtle about our lack of patience and it is for your own safety, Dear Reader, that I disclose that I am not at all a nice person when I'm tired. When I'm super tired I get cranky and irritable, putting it mildly. Little children are better behaved than me when I'm tired.
While Kirsty was checking her watch and sighing through pursed lips, my head was nodding and then snapping up with, I admit, a certain amount of theatricality. I was about to slide on to the Turkish rug, curl up and fall asleep and I told Kirsty as much using a tone of voice that people in Ankara may have been able to hear.
Finally, at 2:15, they finally stood up and left. The gentleman at the desk beckoned to us and apologized for keeping us waiting.
"Please, sit," he gestured to the chairs.
I really wanted to, but I replied coldly, "No thank you. I'm afraid that if I sit, I'll never get up again." There was a bit of an awkward silence. Then he began clicking away on the keyboard and asked for our passports.
"How long are you staying in Istanbul?" he asked.
"Literally 6 hours," Kirsty replied with an unmistakable tone that really said you're wasting my time.
"Would you like to join any tours while you're here in Istanbul?" He began reaching for some brochures. "There are some very informative..." One look at our faces and he faltered. More typing on the keyboard. "OK," he said. "You are in room 45, take the elevator to the second floor and it's on your right."
"Thank you."
For all the waiting and the inconvenience, and as tired as I was, I could still see that this was a very nice room. I sank into the luxurious bed with the soft white linen and pillows.
We slept so soundly that even the warbling of the Ezan from the many minarets studding Istanbul passed unnoticed.
Our last day in Turkey was a big one, however. On the first day of this trip, when Kirsty and I had met up in Heathrow's Terminal 1, we had discussed our itinerary. It made sense to us both to save a Turkish bath experience at the end of our travels, counting on the fact that by then we would be tremendously grimy and unwashed, not to mention a bit sore from lugging back packs all over the place. Visiting the Grand Bazar also seemed like a good thing to do at the end of our trip. By then we would hopefully have a better idea of what to buy for people as presents. Kirsty was fairly certain our Mum would like a trivet (at every little souvenir stand we passed she'd say, "do you think Mum'd like a trivet?") but there were other things we needed to investigate. Plus we didn't want to haul all those presents around Turkey.
So, we got up to Kirsty's iphone chiming like Big Ben at 8:00AM. We both showered, shedding perhaps half a layer of grime from our travels. My hair was shocked into submission having tasted shampoo and conditioner for the first time in about 10 days of heavy abuse. I don't know, Dear Reader, if you can see from my picture on Facebook, but my hair is fairly long and pretty fine. It gets to be a hot mess fairly quickly.
Feeling somewhat more presentable, Kirsty and I went down to breakfast. What a breakfast it was. I don't really expect or demand too much in terms of breakfast when I travel. I just need something to get the day started and to last me until lunch. I make some pretty damn good eggs and bacon myself, thus others generally have a hard time competing for my satisfaction. Kirsty, by contrast, really needs her hotels and hosts to get it right in the morning. When she visited me in St. Petersburg she told me how excited she was to find a place that served coffee, juice, and croissants (a Russian breakfast is heavy on the black tea, cold cuts, cheese and rolls with a lot of butter). Both of us, I think, had happily tolerated Turkish offerings in the morning; I discovered that I actually do like olives. But this breakfast was... well!
To begin with there was a row of heated dishes with things like eggs and bacon being kept warm, a toaster in which to make toast, platters mounded with green olives, cheese, bowls full of creamy youghurt, pitchers full of what looked like freshly squeezed orange juice, slices of papaya, slabs of pistachio halva (love), and urns of what smelled to be good coffee (!). Best of all, though, was the log of honeycomb. It glittered and oozed on this wooden board like a sparkling wet mass of gold. I would have run away with it to our room if I didn't think I'd get weird stares. Even then I might have done it.
Fed, and feeling substantially more human, Kirsty consulted The Book for directions to the Grand Bazar.
The Book had forewarned us that the Grand Bazar could be a little much. Thus during breakfast we made lists of gifts for specific recipients. Mum was obviously going to receive a trivet from Kirsty, and so were a bunch of other friends and family members. But there were also Turkish towels we thought would make nice easy souvenirs for people. Maybe a few bars of olive oil soap and, of course, tons of Nazar Boncugu to protect my loved ones from the evil eye.
Those were the generic gifts (and I mean that in the best way possible). But there are friends and family for whom I had a specific plan. For my uncle, who reminds me of Hemingway's impish younger brother (assuming he had one), I planned to deliver a nice inlaid wood backgammon set. My cousin had specifically requested a Fez hat (though it's worth pointing out Ataturk had banned them) and I did not plan to disappoint him. For two of my closest friends, who smoke (I know), I planned to get a cigarette case and lighter (I know). Quick joke: Who smokes more than a Turk? Two Turks. I also wanted a little something for myself, but I wasn't sure what.
We were prepared, we had our golden thread to navigate the labyrinth.
It's not like there's a sign from Las Vegas, flashing brightly saying "GRAND BAZAR! SELL YOUR SOUL AND FIRST BORN HERE!" Instead there are these arcs tucked back between a mosque and the attached bath. You see these corridors that go beyond them and you wonder where the hell the space comes from. It's like the Room of Requirement except it's a complex network of corridors and there's nothing within them that you could possibly require from them (desire is another story completely).

We descended within and I felt a distinct possibility that we may never see daylight again. Everywhere junk was piled as high as it could possibly be with Turks shifting in their expensive leather shoes, clearly desperate for a cigarette and even more desperate to pry lira from our lily white hands. Then we took a right somewhere, or maybe it was a left, and were dazzled by the blinding lights from a corridor of gems.
That's when hope, for a fleeting moment, left me.
In Disney's Aladdin, Aladdin goes into the Cave of Wonders with the strict instruction to touch nothing but the lamp. He is able to do so with pretty much no difficulty. Abu, on the other hand, simply can't control himself. I've often wondered why Aladdin, for all his thieving and envying of riches, was able to control himself. Wandering around the corridors of the Grand Bazar I realised it was because when diamonds, silver swords and tea services, gold rings and necklaces, plush jewel-toned carpets, and antique medals are heaped so grotesquely and ostentatiously upon one another they begin to lose their allure.
I clutched my list tightly and proceeded on.
Just about every other nation/culture expects an argument when exchanging money for goods. They call it haggling. In America, Canada, UK etc; this doesn't happen, putting both Kirsty and I at a distinct disadvantage.
We cut our teeth haggling over some things we had absolutely no intention of buying and thus giving up and walking away. After debating the price of the fifth tacky lantern, we felt we were ready to do it for real. It was still pretty difficult, of course. Neither of us had any idea what the market price was for Turkish towels, or olive oil soap. I felt I should be paying $00.25 for each Nazar Boncugu, but I think I may have actually paid $00.75. Oh well.
At a certain point we found ourselves wandering the antique market of the Grand Bazar and that was fascinating. It felt like wandering Tutankhanum's tomb or a museum. The passage ways were crammed with tarnished swords and knives, relics from glory days now gone, and illuminations of lessons from the Koran.
These hallways were structured so as to provide little cubbies for the vendors, with glass storefronts through which items could be displayed. Peering at them as we shuffled along I decided I wanted a knife.
The knives on display were beautiful though, of course, there were your garden variety knives that were cheap and looked it. But there were others that gleamed with inlaid detail and I can only imagine that to die on their point would have been a beautiful death. Of course, you'd have to pay for them with your soul and possibly your left testicle or ovary depending on what's available to you.
But I wanted one.
Kirsty and I got the generic presents taken care of and then Kirsty made a fatal mistake: She paused at the window of a carpet shop.
A Turk dressed in a pale tan button down shirt and khakis complete with very nice leather shoes sauntered over to us, radiating the attitude that he was interested in us, but wasn't going to push.
"Are you interested in carpets?" He asked us.
"Not really," I firmly replied.
"Sort of," Kirsty said. It was only a small crack, but these guys are pros, I tell you.
"Would you like to see my carpets?"
Kirsty looked at me, unsure. I firmly believed that if we went into a carpet shop we would not be living without a carpet.
"Well," I began, "we have more shopping to do, so maybe we'll come back when that's done." Of course I had no intention of ever returning to this place.
"Um..." Kirsty opened the door even wider and the Turk stuck his foot in the inviting space, figuratively speaking of course.
"Just three carpets," he held up three fingers.
I was firmly shaking my head and actually stepping away from the place. Kirsty was not moving. Maybe she actually wanted a carpet. She loves to shop and hates to be rude. I think all three, combined with the exhausting overwhelming quality of the labyrinth that is the Grand Bazar contributed to her capitulation.
"OK," she said, as she took three steps to the door. "Just three."
An hour later:

Let me interpret the expression on everyone's face in this photo: Kirsty is thinking Wow, I just got soaked, but at least I have a cool carpet.
The carpet seller is thinking, There's one born every minute.
And I'm thinking, that was like watching a car wreck in slow motion and not being able to do a damn thing about it. I also really need to pee
My cramping bladder was due, in no small part, to the glasses of rose tea I was furiously gulping down to prevent my big mouth getting me into trouble.
The Book describes a typical scenario in carpet buying in Turkey: the Customer is snared by the carpet seller. He/she identifies the carpet most attractive to him/her and then the two of them settle in for a good few hours, drinking rose tea and haggling over the price. It served almost as a recipe for what occurred; I could run my finger down the list and say, "yep, uh-huh, that happened, sure we did that and, oh yeah! We got a carpet."
Kirsty and I stepped into the store, shuffling our feet, me giving the unmistakable impression that I Did Not want to go in there. The Turk procured a laminated map of Turkey with illustrations of various carpets stamped on the locations from which they hailed.
"You see," he pointed to a location, "is where silk on silk with geometric patterns come from."
We nodded and he looked around, wide-eyed with surprise that he had forgotten something. "Please," he said and gestured at large to the beautiful sofa. "Sit."
I was even more reluctant to do that. Staying on my feet would convey a much more potent sense that we were about to leave without a carpet. But I also recognized that I was fighting a losing battle. We sat down.
Almost immediately a younger Turk came rushing out with two glasses of steaming, crimson liquid on two saucers with neatly wrapped tablets of sugar. Rose tea.
That's when I knew it was all over. Kirsty would be leaving with a carpet, or not at all. All that remained was to determine which one and how much.
Our carpet seller began by demonstrating the variations of carpets. He had already mentioned the silk on silk variety, but apparently there was also silk on wool, wool on wool, wool on silk, floral patterns, geometrical patterns, landscapes, portraits (those last two I'm joking. Sort of). When he began describing all the options available to us, his assistant who had brought us tea began unrolling carpet after carpet. He began to fling them around to demonstrate their magical abilities (I need to bug Kirsty for the video she took of it).
Then the Turk and Kirsty began comparing dog stories (he was quite shocked when she mentioned that Paxil, her Olde English Sheep Dog was neutered). Three glasses of rose tea and a scalded tongue later, the Turk turned the conversation to business.
"If you were to buy a carpet, what would be your ultimate limit?"
"My ultimate limit?" Kirsty repeated.
"Yes. For a carpet. You are about to stand up ad hit your head on the ceiling. What is that number?"
"Uh," Kirsty paused. "$400.00."
"OK." He gestured to his assistant to bring more tea. "But the real, true limit, the number beyond which you cannot go..."
"$400.00" Kirsty said firmly. Go Kirsty! I thought to myself.
"$400.00" Kirsty stuck to her number. Until the Turk paused and ran his hands through his hair.
"That is your absolute limit?" He asked one more time?
"..."$415.00" She responded. I cringed inside.
"OK, that is a good number. Let me check with my partner." He got up and wandered into a back room of some sorts. I have no doubt that what he was checking was the hilarity of the bargaining and the achievement of the sale.
He came back, asked for Kirsty's credit card and when he brought back the receipt the number read $450.00.
Kirsty shrugged and signed anyway.


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