Three bouquets, six kisses

Today I got three bouquets and six kisses.

I was busy today and have a busy week ahead. Four hours of Turkish class three days a week (too much time in those little chairs with attached desks), plus homework, plus studying so I remember the difference between a “carrot” and a “rabbit”, a “shoe” and a “car” (these are just some of the words I get confused). On top of that I have to put together the two-day seminar I am debuting this weekend on “Strategic Supply Management and Purchasing” (riveting stuff), and proposals for April seminars.

Lots of new stuff which can be either exciting and exhilarating or stressful and tiring, depending on my mood, the time of day, and the weather.

I also spend lots of time running up and down the streets between my flat and my cafe. The change of scene and the air help me focus and keep my energy up so today the people in between my flat and my cafe saw me passing back and forth, forth and back several times. Lots of life happens in the street in Sultanahmet. The shoeshine man and flower lady sell their goods and services on the street and every cafe and carpet shop has at least one guy out front encouraging you to come in. On most days shopkeepers stand in their doorways chatting and smoking and watching the people pass by.

Mid-day I stopped in a favorite restaurant for a quick light lunch. The staff is always very welcoming, friendly, and attentive. They were receiving their flowers for the week as I ate and when I finished the waiter brought me a long stalk of white flowers and then some foil for the end to keep it fresh on the way home. As I waited for my change I smelled the big bouquet on the table beside me and when he brought the change he brought me more flowers, pink carnations and some other lovely curvy pink flowers. As I walked home past the usual cafes everyone teased me asking, “are those for me?” and I told them “no, no, you can’t have them they’re mine, they’re a present!”

At home I snip the ends and put the flowers in the carafe I keep on hand for that purpose, take care of some housework, trade my Turkish books for my laptop and notes, and head back out to the cafe to work on my seminar. On the way I pass the shoeshine man. I usually pass him in the morning and we exchange good morning greetings in Turkish. Today he is distracted when I rush by but I say good evening and he does the same and smiles broadly and gives a little wave as I pass. I work, work, work until my computer battery is exhausted and then head home. When I pass the shoeshine man is still in his spot and he stops me and tries to tell me something, and I think I understand that he’s saying something about seeing me run back and forth today. I laugh and nod and he pulls a small bunch of white flowers from the flower lady who sits beside him (his wife?) and tells me they are a present. He makes me smell them and then says over and over “cok guzel, cok guzel it means very very good in English. You.” He keeps saying “cok guzel” and touching his hand to my chest and then he starts kissing my cheeks, one side, then the other, then “cok guzel” punctuated by more kisses. He is very, very sweet and I am touched and happy that my work day is ending so nicely.

When we are finished I rush off again because I have to make a phone call but decide I better pick up dinner because I don’t want to take the time to cook and clean up tonight. I pass the restaurant where I had lunch. The waiter is in the doorway and says hello and asks, “where did you get THOSE flowers?” I tell him the shoeshine man gave them to me and he says, “because he knows you are a good person.” Really, these people barely know me and I am continually amazed by their generosity. I keep walking but then can’t think where else to pick up dinner quickly and double back to the restaurant. Most of the staff is sitting at a table outside eating and they turn to look and smile at me when I come back and my waiter takes me inside and helps me decide what to get for take-away. As I wait for them to wrap it up they sit me down and give me tea and then an even bigger bouquet of flowers with shasta daisies and carnations and good-smelling white spears and curvy pink flowers all wrapped up in paper. I think they are trying to out-do the shoeshine man, but they don’t know about the kisses.

I thank them profusely and head home with a big grin, past the same people who saw me earlier, who want to know where all THESE flowers came from. I try to share the wealth a little bit by giving my chocolate spoon from the cafe to a friend’s little girl. She is not interested but one of the guys I know is very pleased with it. It doesn’t really seem a fair trade, three bouquets for a small chocolate spoon and I think maybe I should start carrying little presents around to hand out so I can reciprocate some of the random generosity I enjoy so much here.

So, I arrive home, work done for the day, dinner in hand, with more flowers than I know what to do with. I have to empty some food containers in my kitchen in order to find containers for them. There are worse problems to have.

Things I can't find

Because I am too busy to make sentences for my blog, I have decided to make lists. Here’s the first:

Surprising things I can’t find in Istanbul

1. Horseradish
2. File folders
3. Vanilla extract
4. Rubber cement
5. Watercolors in tubes

Comments about the surprising things

1. Wasabi is a good substitute.
2. When I used the one file folder I brought from the US as a visual aid, it was opened, looked at from all directions, heads were shaken thoughtfully, and then I was asked in a vague tone of incredulity and amazement, "what's it for?" Then, when I explained, came the question, "how does it work?" And I am just as confused about how exactly the Turks organize their paperwork.
3. I now realize why Turkish desserts taste different.
4. May be available somewhere, but I don't have the verbal skills to explain. You try pantomiming "rubber". Then, "cement".
5. This one I was able to explain and was told, "oh, they aren't allowed in Turkey." And I'm pretty sure I understood that right but couldn't wheedle the "why" out of the salesman.