I could write about going to get my residence permit last week, or the rooftop fish barbecue at my building or a dozen other things, but I’m feeling a little lazy today so I will just tell you what I see in front of me.

I’m sitting in “my” café, on the wide pedestrian boulevard leading to the Grand Bazaar. Lots of people are walking down the gentle slope that leads to the bazaar. They come in mobs and in trickles. The men who work in the carpet shops stand outside, some carrying their small glasses and saucers of tea, many of them smoking. Some of them sit at the tables around me. They watch what I watch, the people walking by.

I’ve noticed that the larger the group of people, the slower it moves. A family of three, all large, tall, pale, mother and father holding the hands of the daughter between them, moves much more quickly than the group of eight Japanese women who stop and start and seem to move back and forth as much as forward.

Men in suits travel in pairs, walking quickly, talking seriously. A man with two trays of food passes, it must be lunchtime. Two Turkish women walk quickly uphill, arm in arm.

A tour leader walks past, carrying her round paddle with its green and white insignia. She is followed by 30 people. Their heads swivel from side to side as they walk in pairs and threes behind their leader. Gray ladies in twos, a mother and daughter, retired couples.

I’m surprised at the number of large video cameras I see. Do people ever watch these movies they hang from their necks?

A father walks past, towed by his dark haired son. The mother follows behind, tugging their fair-haired daughter with her curly-frizzy braids. The little girl walks sideways in her mother’s wake arms stretched wide by the pull of her mother and the desire to linger and look.

As lunchtime approaches the crowds thin, the carpet shop men condense in the center of the walkway. Some of them look at me surreptitiously, curious about what I’m writing and how I can do it while I look around. I know, because one by one over the weeks they have asked me what I’m doing, what I’m writing, why they see me here everyday watching and typing.

An elderly man walks past pulling a big hand truck loaded with enormous boxes. He walks briskly, pushed down the hill by his load, smiling broadly, showing his missing front teeth and talking happily to the man walking beside him.

After a brief lunchtime lull, the crowds thicken again, the voices multiply, and the parade continues.

Going Native

It’s starting to feel like fall here and I’m starting to feel more and more like hunkering down and nesting. A couple of funny things happened this week that made me feel a little bit more like I live here and a little bit less like a visitor, although of course I’m sure that no matter how long I stay I will always be somewhat of a yabanci (foreigner).

I spent a few hours yesterday, on a gray Sunday afternoon, sitting outside in my new writing cafe drinking hazelnut cappuccinos. I come here often because I can sit outside when the weather is nice, and they have good cheap coffee and free wireless. I have a regular table in a quiet corner and I am strangely comforted by the fact that my regular waiter knows I want a hazelnut cappuccino and a water, and that I will need a second cappuccino later. When I went inside to buy some chocolates as a gift a few days ago the cashier said he sees me working here all the time, expressed his amazement that I type so fast without looking (it seems this is a rare skill in Turkey because I get comments about it all the time) and wanted to know if I am a writer. I told him I do some writing and have a blog and he said maybe one day I will mention them, so here is his plug: Kahve Dunyasi, or “Coffee World” in English, is a Turkish chain which competes with Starbucks. The stores are big and clean and the coffee is really good, on par with any I’ve had elsewhere. And I get my two cappuccinos and my water for less than I pay for a latte at Starbucks.

I walk the same route to and from my apartment every day, often passing an older gentleman who runs a car park in a small lot on a side street. For weeks we just kind of looked at each other, but soon we starting saying hello, and after the day I walked past with Chloe he started giving me big smiles and trying to talk to me. Of course I don’t know enough Turkish for us to have a real conversation, but it’s nice to walk past and get a big smile, a hello, and a “good morning” or “good evening”. And he always manages to ask how my dog is. There are some things that don’t require a common language.

After I pass the car park man I often come to the homeless man. He made me nervous my first few weeks here because I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or a little crazy. He would often be talking to himself, often quite loudly, and the fact that I couldn’t understand what he was saying made it even more disconcerting. But I never saw him approach anyone, and everyone else in the neighborhood seemed to take him in stride so I decided he was harmless, which a neighborhood friend later confirmed. I passed him Sunday afternoon on my way to the café, and for the first time he made a point of nodding at me politely and then held out his hands and made typing motions! I was amazed because I thought he was always in his own little world, and my café is nowhere near his usual haunts so I don’t know how or when he saw me working away. Later in the day when I walked past with Chloe he made a beeline for her and I picked her up so he could pet her. He was a little rough, but nice enough, and after a few pats retreated to his chair by the side of a building. This morning heading through the quiet streets I heard a loud “merhaba” (“hello”) from across the street and there he was, greeting me as he made his morning rounds.

I have also managed to get to the point where most of the guys in the restaurants on my usual route don’t harass me to come in and eat or drink. Some of them are really very sweet once you get to know them so I stop and chat with them and it’s kind of nice when they ask “how is my hocam (teacher) today”, or especially to hear, “my hocam looks beautiful today!” Even if it is part of the usual flattery it’s still nice to hear now and then.

So, these are my neighbors: the car park man, the crazy man, and the café guys. And I am probably the crazy American with the funny little dog.

Making things

Finally I succeeded in making something. This is an accomplishment because my “making implements” are mysterious.

I made a roasted chicken in my odd oven thingie. It sits on my countertop looking vaguely toaster oven-like but according to the pictures on it it can be used to make:
1. A sheep
2. A chicken
3. A shoe

Interestingly, the times underneath the pictures suggest it takes longer to cook the chicken. This reflects my experience because although I haven’t actually tried to cook a sheep or a shoe, it did take me at least four hours to cook my tiny chicken.

According to the book of instructions I found in the kitchen drawer and which I roughly translated with the use of my Turkish dictionary, my oven has three settings: roast, bake, and roast/bake. I decided to roast my chicken but after 90 minutes it looked a little rubbery and not at all roasted. So, I set it on roast/bake for 90 more minutes and that did the trick.

The chicken was nicely browned, the onions were carmelized and the quartered lemons I had added seemed to tenderize it. It was the best chicken I ever made, which was a good thing because after four hours of preparation it would have been very disappointing to toss the whole thing in the trash. Although the street cats would have been pretty happy with that outcome.

Next up: lasagna. I just have to find a baking pan, noodles, tomato puree, mozzarella, ricotta…

Mademoiselle Chloe

Chloe made her debut in Sultanahmet a few weeks ago.

I had been keeping her in my apartment because for one thing I was really busy moving and buying all those little things you need (towels, can openers, shampoo, knives that will cut a tomato and not just squash it) in a foreign language, as well as starting a new job doing something completely new to me. For another, even though I live about 2-3 blocks from the most touristy area in Turkey my immediate neighbors are rather traditional and I didn’t want to brand myself as that weirdo foreigner with the fluffy white dog. At least not right away.

But after more than a week in my building (she did get to travel four flights down to Musa’s atelier a few times) I decided it was time to take her out into the world.

First, she sniffed around in the street in front of my building for awhile. We started down the road, but true to form she balked after a few yards so I picked her up and carried her. I just don’t have the patience sometimes to cajole her into walking and there’s too much traffic on some of the streets to worry about her stopping in the middle of a road.

But the little bit of trouble I had getting her going was worth it because we had some interesting encounters.

I walked her through the Hippodrome which was crowded with Turkish families, mostly tourists from the towns outside of Istanbul. Dogs are becoming more popular pets here but are still not common, although it is common to see feral, but friendly, dogs in the streets. But tiny white dogs are almost unheard of so the reaction to a tiny white dog walking through the Hippodrome was what I might have expected if I had a giraffe on a leash. There was oohing and cooing, and children ran towards us. Toddlers either shrieked gleefully and ran toward her or, more cautiously, stood well back despite my encouragement and that of their parents, simply jumping up and down and flapping their arms but not daring to approach.

One girl in her twenties ran up and asked in Turkish if she could pet her, or so I thought, but when I nodded she picked her up and cuddled her, posing in front of the Egyptian column so her boyfriend could take a picture.

So I made my ways slowly across the park, through Chloe’s admirers, to my friend’s shop on the main street. All the guys came out to see her and one of them took her leash and tugged her toward the shop next door chattering excitedly and showing her to the guys over there. While the men at home make fun of my tiny, fluffy, white dog, the men here in Istanbul are enthralled. Anyone who has seen me walking her now asks me where she is and how she’s doing whenever I pass by.

After making the rounds I headed back home, and just as I was passing the last shop before entering the quiet streets of my immediate neighborhood the shop guys gathered around and started asking me questions about Chloe. They asked her name and then as usual my limited knowledge of Turkish hampered things a bit, but finally one of them said “mademoiselle…?” So I told them yes, she is a girl, “Mademoiselle Chloe”. I think it fits her.

But the last encounter was my favorite. As I walked her slowly down my very quiet street, four boys of about 12 years old or so were playing soccer in the street. After I walked past they huddled together for a minute and then walked toward me, sneaking looks. So I stopped and picked Chloe up to show her to them. They asked the usual questions (her name, age, sex) and stood talking to me for a few minutes. Some of them spoke English better than the others and would translate my answers into Turkish. They were very interested in Chloe and in me and wanted to know my name and what I was doing in Istanbul and where I was from.

I waited for them to get bored and go back to their game, it seemed funny that four pre-adolescent boys would be interested in my little dog and in me, but they really seemed to want to talk, and paid very close attention to everything I was telling them. One of them stood beside me with his hand on my shoulder the whole time and they were all very sweet and very polite. I finally had to break up our conversation or I think they would have kept me there all day.

So there it is, Mademoiselle Chloe, ambassadress to Istanbul.