Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hidden Spaces of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

İstanbul's Kapalı Çarşı, or "The Grand Bazaar," has taken on many faces with each time that I return to Turkey. Recently, I returned with camera in hand to explore some of its hidden pockets, backstage infrastructure, and peaceful courtyards.

 Like many newcomers to Istanbul, I initially found the Grand Bazaar to be an exciting and vibrant space with exotic wares and opportunities to bargain over a glass of tea. Ottoman antiquities, carpets, lamps, spices, jewelry, and more are on display, seemingly unchanged since the bazaar opened in 1455.

Kapılı Çarşı's Main Streets
 A few years later, I came to understand the bazaar differently. It started to appear not as an authentic shopping experience, but as a kind of interactive renaissance-faire performance for tourists.  Indian jewelry is rebranded as Turkish. Imitations of old items are passed as one-of-a-kind antiques.  Apparently unique Ottoman detritus mysteriously reappears all over the city.  Visitors arrive with certain expectations of Turkey, and, in turn, the shopkeepers perform what is expected of them. They are character actors in an oriental marketplace that crowds seek in the hopes of experiencing something exotic. This is not where locals come for a deal. 

Küçük Çebci Han
Recently, however, I have taken interest in the Kapalı Çarşı once more. Exploring the surrounding areas and the bazaar's hidden spaces has given me a huge appreciation for the backstage infrastructure that keeps the bazaar alive. In the center of this infrastructure are the "hans," hidden courtyards which once served as inns during the spice trade but now serve as quiet pockets of recess from the chaotic bustle of the bazaar's main streets.

"Cezve" for Turkish Coffee
The hans are home to storage depots, workshops, and restaurants that cater to shopkeepers. They also contain studios that specialize in refurbishing items in preparation for sale. Stores specialize in labels for clothing, empty boxes for jewelry, mannequin parts, and so on.  Intercom systems allow for the quick delivery of steaming hot tea to the shops, a key technique for facilitating sales. A whole secondary layer of trade exists here: a bazaar within a bazaar that functions to support the Kapalı Çarşı behind the scenes.

Murat (Polisher). Çukur Han. 

Tea Intercom at the Bodrum Han Çayocağı
Ahmet. Owner of Bodrum Han Çayocağı
Polisher. Astarcı Han.
High above the Kapalı Çarşı

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turkish Whistling Language

As I was reviewing videos from my time in Turkey, I found this little treasure. . . I remember in my introductory linguistics class learning about a unique dialect of Turkish centered around Kuşköy, Giresun where the sounds of Turkish are expressed in coded whistle sounds. As an avid whistler myself, I was excited to meet people who were actually familiar with this language, a family on vacation from Girseun to Batumi, Georgia. Here is a video of him welcoming me in whistled Turkish, followed by an English news story on Kuşköy and the whistling language.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Seating Raid

Today I read a good description of what is going on in Beyoğlu on the great blog Istanbul Eats. The municipality has confiscated all street-side seating without warning, something that surprised me upon returning from my travels. As I was sitting having a tea at my street's "Börekci" the Zabita, a kind of civil police, came in a big parade down the street with a few journalists trailing them to document the event. They looked at me and gruffly ordered me to stand up and then violently toppled the table where I had been sitting and threw it in the back of a truck in a manner more reminiscent of a dramatic child pornography warehouse raid than that subtable for a café. I was left, startled, clutching my tea standing on the street as confused as everyone else around me.

Later in the week I saw cafe owners clinging to the back of Zabita trucks refusing to abandon their tables. Istanbul's cafe culture is entirely outdoor and the raid has made a huge, and negative, impact on the city. I've heard several rumors about the reasoning behind it. The first is a secret religious agenda to block drinking from the streets during Ramadan. The second is that the prime minister was recently in Istanbul and made an offhand comment about a crowded street and that the municipality is subsequently reacting.

It's important to realize that although this is really hurting bar owners, like Bade who is mentioned in the article, it has a broader impact. There is a whole economy around Beyoğlu's sidewalk bars and many people depend on it for their income by selling snacks, souvenirs, napkins, or playing music for people drinking. 

Read the Istanbul Eats article about it here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Svaneti: The heart of the Caucasus

The final part of my trip to Georgia brought me to Svaneti, a remote area in the Caucasus and an important center of Georgian culture.  It is also widely declared as the most beautiful mountains in Georgia, a statement that I'd have to agree with and also one with a lot of weight since Georgia's landscape has nothing but beautiful mountains. The region is quite isolated, which is one major element that has preserved the pristine landscape there. 

The road to Svaneti has been in the process of being paved for nearly a year or two now, a topic of much discussion and also conflict in my mind. While Svaneti is becoming increasingly touristy every year since the government cracked down on banditry there, the people who make it to Svaneti are still quite a self-selected bunch who are willing to brave the incredibly long and uncomfortable process of getting there in order to appreciate what the region has to offer geographically and culturally. When the road is completed that will all change as Mestia will subsequently be accessible to busses and the tourists who frequent them. While tourism is the only major source of revenue to build Svaneti's economy and provide the financial support people there could really use through long winters,  I fear the road and what it will bring will significantly change Svaneti's cultural and geographical landscape.
(More Photos after the break...)

Panoramic Photography of the Caucasus

Near Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Hat Stand, Georgian Military Highway.

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Above Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia.

Enguri River, Svaneti, Georgia

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia

Outside Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi is a very nice little city, and above all else I was really astounded by how many areas looked exactly like the treelined streets where I grew up in Brooklyn. Unlike in Brooklyn, however, nearly every building in Tbilisi has a kind of passage leading to a courtyard. Much of the city has a very grand Central-European feel to it, especially in the vicinity of Rustaveli Boulevard, other areas, however, one example being Avlabari where I stayed,  as well as the backstreets of Rustaveli have a sprawling and endless village feel to them, with dirt roads, fenced houses, and vegetable  markets in the heart of the city. The "Dry Bridge" flea market was one highlight for me and reminded me much of the "Dolapdere Bit Pazarı" in Istanbul. At the market, old Babushkas set up blankets on the sidewalk and sell all sorts of things (the vast majority of which are useless) from broken cameras, overpriced old worthless ruble banknotes, accordions, electronic components, the usual old Soviet knicknacks, and more. 

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