Spinning the web

Since yesterday was Saturday I decided to head up to Istiklal Caddesi (“caddesi” means “street”). Istiklal is a very, very busy pedestrian shopping street, and I really hate crowds but figured if Istanbul is at all like New York everyone will sleep in on Saturday so the crowds wouldn’t hit until later. It turns out I was right.

I found a café near Taksim square looking out onto Istiklal, so it was good for people watching, and ordered scrambled eggs with mint (sounds a little strange but it was yummy) and a latte which turned out to be very good. Then I walked toward an English language bookstore I found on my last trip hoping to pick up the teeny mini Turkish/English dictionary everyone seems to have. On my way I heard shouting and started seeing police and a small crowd, but luckily I didn’t have to go through the crowd to get to the bookstore. When I went in I asked the clerk what was going on and he laughed and said he didn’t know, but every weekend there is some kind of demonstration and no one really pays any attention. He didn’t have the teeny dictionary, only a huge one so I headed back the way I’d come, stopping on the way in some clothing stores, the Swatch store, and the MAC (makeup, not computer) store to browse and see what’s available.

When I reached Taksim Square I bought a copy of TimeOut Istanbul. Maybe I will finally go out and do something one night instead of being such a homebody.

Heading down one of the steep, twisting streets I decided to stop in a salon and finally have the pedicure I so desperately needed. The word for pedicure looks the same as it does in English so I pronounced it the same but they looked confused so I pointed to my feet. I feel like an idiot many times every day because I am always enthusiastically and vigorously pointing at something to try to explain myself as if great amounts of energy will make it clear. But it worked and I was taken to wait beside another woman who was having a pedicure.

I was waiting patiently when the woman having the pedicure started talking to me and asked where I was from. When I told her New York she looked surprised and said she thought I was Russian, which was new for me. Often I’m mistaken for French or British. She said she had been trying to speak to me in Russian but I ignored her and so I laughed and apologized. She was very friendly and so we chatted and she would ask me some questions and then confer with the other two women in the shop and we would talk some more. She really wanted to know why the British (for some reason she kept saying “British” and “English” even though I’m sure she understood I was from the US) were so white and I really didn’t know how to explain that other than that we just are, genetics and all that. We really didn’t have enough language skills between us to get into a discussion of gene pools and the evolution of skin tones!

After my pedicure I headed down to the tram for the 30 minute trip to look at an apartment on the other side of the Golden Horn. It is in a neighborhood called Capa and was HUGE, at least by my standards, and the rent is the equivalent of about $650 a month. The space made me drool, there was a decent sized entryway, a narrow but adequate kitchen, a large bathroom, three additional rooms, and a balcony. Lots of windows and light and one of the rooms would make a fantastic studio or I could rent a bedroom out to someone else. The man who was showing the place, Ertan, has just returned from living in New York for eight years, so we had a nice talk. He kept telling me there were no foreigners in the neighborhood-- fine with me-- but it is safe and there are lots of conveniences which was obviously true as he made it a point to take me the long way round to the place so I could see the shops.

I really like the apartment, and it is near the tram line but I’m afraid it’s a little far from the center of things and the people and places I know. I think I’d rather commute to work and live near my social life than have to commute to my social life. Later that night I look around Vivian’s apartment and wonder if I care that it’s smaller. I don’t think so. Less to furnish. At least now I have two points of reference in my apartment search.

Ertan and I hop on the tram together as he is headed to a wedding in my direction. He says he can hold the apartment for a week (I assume this means he doesn’t have any other offers) and tells me I can call him anytime for help or advice, even if I don’t take the place and need help finding something else. Very nice and typical Turkish manners. We say goodbye and I climb off in Sultanahmet to visit a friend who owns a shop on the main street. I hadn’t heard from Erkan for awhile and assumed he was out of town, but it turns out he is here and he asks why it took me so long to visit. The Turks keep saying, “you’ve been here a week already, why haven’t we seen you yet?!” whereas I keep thinking “I’ve only been here a week!”

It’s nice to sit and chat and drink tea. He asks where I’m staying, what job prospects I have, what I need and I tell him. He knows and meets lots of people and I know he’ll help me out if he can. I ask him to read the electric bill I need to pay for Vivian and he does and then offers to pay it for me. Nice, but I tell him I need the practice so he offers to come with me when I go to pay it. I tell him I’m going to try it and see what happens, but I might take him up on it if I have trouble. THIS is why Turkey seemed so manageable to me, things are confusing but it is second nature for friends to help you out.

In the course of our conversation about getting settled and what I’ve been up to I mention Alexandra, so he asks about her and what she does and his mouth drops at the same time it dawns on me and he says “ and why haven’t you brought her to meet me?” Oops. I feel silly for not thinking of it. She’s a designer, he manufactures and sells clothes. I will get on this right away. Finally something I can do to pull my weight in spinning the web that holds this city together.

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