Swallowed by a Hammam

Summertime in Istanbul is hot. It is not the kind of hot that lets you lounge languidly in a plush green garden, drinking white wine spritzers with blackberry garnishes and enjoying a sweet siesta in the salt tinted breeze. No. It is the kind of hot that greets you with a punch, squeezes your breath between its wicked fingers, and melts the soles of your feet to the bottoms of your shoes. It is the kind of hot that creeps through stone walls, breaks through doors and windows, and rises up in sordid haze from sticky pavements to blinding white skies. Summertime in Istanbul is that kind of hot.

On my third day of trying to find respite from the heat, I was offered a cup of sweetened cai by a time etched cobbler who own an unlikely shoe factory in the  bazaar. He offered me a chair which had long lost its back, and helpfully turned his tiny fan towards my glistening face. I accepted the cai, and in my broken Turkish, managed to gracelessly deflect his stories about the eligible bachelor that was his nephew and to ask him where I could go to escape the suffocating heat.

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A Con by Any Other Name…

I am not ashamed to admit that there have been times throughout my travels when I have been a victim of con.

Once, I was visiting the small village of Sirince, in Turkey, when an elderly lady called to me. I could barely see her from the other side of a tall stone wall, though I could make out her time-etched face and the sprigs of a plush private garden.

My Turkish at the time was patchy at best, but I was able to ascertain that she was inviting me in for traditional cai and to show me the pregnant fruits of her apple tree. I assumed, naturally, that she had been overwhelmed by the aura of intrigue and cultural openness which I emanated as I wandered aimlessly through the streets with my camera, and wanted desperately to embrace me into her authentic Turkish bosom.

I pictured us sitting on her floor, drinking sweetened tea, and coming together as women despite our cultural, generational, and linguistic divide. For a moment, I even wondered if this is how my true call to cultural journalism would begin- on the carpeted ground of this villager’s home. Turns out, she saw me as just one more in a line of gormless tourists, and wanted to sell me her apples.

To her credit, they were pretty tasty.

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