Sunday, August 15, 2010

She is Still Fresh

As you know from the previous blog post, I recently spent 5 days in Istanbul with Mr. Big and Charming Daughter.  Here’s one thing I loved about the city.  It feels foreign.  Really foreign.  If I’m going to take the time to go all the way to Asia, I don’t want to feel like I’m in New York.  I want to feel like I’m in Asia.  And I want it to be authentically foreign, not Disneyfied foreign.  For example, for the first three days, we stayed in a modern hotel in the business district.  It was a Marriott.  (I know I said it was a Sheraton in the earlier blog but now that I’m thinking about this story, I realize it was a Marriott.)  Anyway, in the minibar in the room was a “Survival Kit”.  In the Survival Kit were bandaids, Tylenol and condoms.  You just don’t get condoms in the minibars back home in the Marriotts.  Marriott is a MORMON company.  You see?  Foreign.

Directly outside the window of the hotel was the wholesale fruit and veg market where all the restauranteurs came early in the morning to pick up their foodstuffs. 

Some came by pickup and some came by donkey.  Yes.  By donkey.  Pulling carts.  Fabulously foreign.

After Mr. Big was finished with all of his meetings, 6 people in our group moved across the continent into Europe to a more centrally located hotel in the old town.  Sooo weird that you have to show your passport between countries, but not between continents.  Crazy!  This was a typical European boutique hotel and by that I mean the room was approximately 8 feet x 10 feet, no iron, no coffeemaker, etc.  You know the drill by now.  A hand-held shower, no internet, sketchy air conditioning, yadda, yadda, yadda.  BUT!!  The windows along the back and the rooftop bar overlooked a neighborhood mosque.  We had been fascinated by the five-times-daily wailing of the Call to Prayer coming out of the minarets over loud speakers for the past three days over on the Asian side but this was up close and personal!  Have you ever heard the Call to Prayer?  It sounds just like a cat in heat.  Anyway, Charming Daughter was so excited by this bird’s eye view inside the forbidden walls THAT SHE STOOD ON THE DESK IN HER ROOM AND MADE A VIDEO of all of the men praying to Mecca.  I hope I am not targeted now by a Jihad or something for saying that.  If any of you find me beheaded, you will all know what happened.

Of course, we had to take Mr. Big back to the Grand Bazaar (refer to previous post).  And, yes, we made him ride the Metro in all of its’ odiferous glory (refer to previous post).  Due to our prior reconnaissance mission, Charming Daughter and I already had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to buy.  Chandeliers.  Mosaic glass tile chandeliers, to be exact.  (I had to wait until now to put this on the blog because one of the chandeliers was meant to be a wedding gift for my niece back in America.  I gave it to her last weekend, so I can now write about it without spoiling the surprise.)

The young man who made the chandeliers was quite pleasant and his English was nearly perfect.  His younger brother was also there working in his booth.  Neither boy could take their eyes off of Charming Daughter.  Let me just reassure you the rest of what I’m about to tell you took place AFTER our purchase.  There was no further monetary incentive involved at this point.  Our lights were wrapped, packed and paid for.

Older brother:                  You are not the Mama of this Angel.  You are the sister.

Me:                                        No, I am the Mama.

Younger brother:             But you are only 35.

Me:                                        No, I am considerably older than 35.

Older brother:                   That is not possible.  You are married, no?

Me:                                        Yes, I am married.  That is my husband right over there looking at those rugs.

Older brother:                   He is American Sheik, no?

Me:                                        I wish.

Older brother:                   Your daughter, the Angel.  She is married or has boyfriend?

Me:                                        No, but I know that she is worth 39 camels, 8 goats and 9 sheep.

Older brother:                   Ah, the men in America must be blind that she is not married.

Me:                                        What is your best offer?

Older brother:                   How old is she?

Me:                                        22.

Older brother:                   Ah, she is still fresh.

 OK, that observation right there was worth the price of the plane tickets.  What mother does not want to be reassured that her daughter has not gone past her sell-by date?  Priceless stuff.

Fast forward to that evening.  One of the people in our group of 6 who were extending our little business trip into a mini-vacation was Mr. Big’s Irreplaceable Right Hand Woman.  Thank God she was there.  She saved us from certain death, or, if not death, at least a large amount of intestinal discomfort.

You see, Right Hand Woman is Turkish.  She wanted to stay a few extra days as well so she could visit with all of her relatives before going back to Switzerland.  She was like our own personal Insider’s Guide to Istanbul!  I was like, um, where were you on the day when Charming Daughter and I almost got thrown in jail for beating the bus fare, but I didn’t say that.  I didn’t want to piss her off.  She was a gold mine.  Anyway, one night, we had no dinner reservations.  We were just going to go out walking around and find a restaurant.  Right Hand Woman was down with that.  We started walking and like the clueless tourists that we are, we stop at the first decent place that we see.  Five of us slide our butts into one of the booths out on the patio, but Right Hand Woman says, “Not so fast.  I want to go inside and look at their meat.”

Huh?  We all looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  OK, let’s just assume that she does not mean their penises.  Surely she is not bursting into their kitchen to inspect their lamb, is she?

Well, yes she was and out she came.  She says to Mr. Big, “I am not going to tell you where to eat, but if it was up to me, I would not stay here.”  Hey, RHW, you are the expert, not us.  So, up we pop from the table.  We look at the waiters and RHW says something to them in Turkish and shoos all of us back out into the street.

O Great and Powerful Right Hand Woman!  What did you just do back there?  The meat, she says, was not so fresh.  The fish, she says, was not so fresh.  Apparently, in Turkey, it is perfectly acceptable to go into a restaurant kitchen and ask to look inside their walk-in coolers.  She was not impressed with their hygiene.  Do you think she will ever be downsized by Mr. Big after that performance?  Of course not.  She now has Guaranteed Job Security for life, as well she should.  I’m sure that when we get transferred back to the US, she will be coming right along with us.  I, for one, credit her for saving me from seeing the inside of a Turkish ER and I think they should make her CEO.  I’m just sayin’.

And she was not done!  She was on a roll!  After receiving instructions in Turkish from a random woman walking along some dark side street (who then attached herself to RHW thinking she was due a free meal), Right Hand Woman (after breaking the heart of her new “friend”) then led us to a very happening square packed with at least 30 restaurants and about 2 or 3 THOUSAND partying locals.  Again, she asks to see the fish.  The proprietor brings out a giant, fresh fish hanging on a meat hook.  Right Hand Woman says “Yes.  Very good.   We are eating here.”  Y’all, the fish was delicious.

As I said, this square was packed with locals.  They all seemed to be celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or something because all of the tables were overflowing with at least 10 or 12 people.  This was not a place for a quiet, romantic dinner.  This was Party Central.  There were all kinds of performers and vendors squirreling between the tables.  There were whole 5- or 6-piece bands going from table to table looking for permission to play for money.  There was a belly-dancer 2 tables over that kept Mr. Big’s attention for a great while.  But the best, THE BEST, was the dude selling baby dolls.

Every 20 minutes or so this dude would stroll by with an armload of giant baby dolls.  Sometimes the baby dolls were white.  Sometimes they were brown. Sometimes they were black.  I asked Charming Daughter, “Who goes out to dinner and suddenly feels the urgent need to purchase a baby doll?”  Of course, there is no logical answer to this question.  It was just, um, foreign.

Which brings me to the little boys in the gold and white polyester suits.  On our last afternoon in Istanbul, we parked our butts at a bar that had great street views and just watched the people going by.  Shortly, we began to notice a specific phenomenon.  Various little boys all dressed up in elaborate white and gold suits, complete with capes and hats and walking sticks.

How cute, we said, out loud.  Our very helpful host in our bar then explained to us that these small gentlemen in costume had just UNDERGONE A RITUAL CIRCUMCISION and their families were celebrating by parading up and down the streets of Old Town.

Let’s see that one fly in the good ole US of A.  “Junior, we are now going to chop off part of your penis and stitch it up.  Then, approximately 10 minutes after you stop bleeding profusely, we want you to dress up like the Sultan’s Son and go out in this polyester garb in 110 degree heat and walk around for about 2 miles.”

Right.  Fabulously, fabulously foreign.

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