The Six-hour dinner party...

When I told my friends back home I was going to Turkey, I asked them if they knew anyone there. I was prepared to spend my time alone, but I thought it would be nice to have a contact in country.  Elise, who works for Skowhegan, put me in touch with here dear friend Alina, an artist and teacher here in Istanbul.  After many attempts to connect (many of which were frustrated by my not having a phone) we finally had tea at the Londra hotel.  She invited me to her place to have dinner with her partner Faruk and some of their friends.  I liked Alina immediately and told her I would love to come.

Alina and Faruk live in Beyoğlu not far from the Londra Hotel where I am staying.  Alina met me and we had a short (and BEAUTIFUL) walk to her flat.  We got there and Tom and Chris, their American friends were there.  Oliver, an ex-pat from Louisiana came as well as Ahmed, a colleague of Faruk's.  Faruk was working on dinner and had a smile for all of us.  It was a really fun time.  We ate an amazing meal and then had ice cream with maple syrup (who knew?).
Faruk works as a carpet dealer in the Grand Bazaar.  I think he may be the only scrupulous carpet dealer I have ever met.  He is not interested in haggling over prices and will tell you exactly what something costs without any crap.  I told him about my experience buying a carpet and his responses went from laughter ("You are what we call a very good customer.") to rage over the way I was treated.  (Dear reader, I will elaborate on my frightening experience buying a carpet later.  Suffice it to say I wish to GOD I had met Faruk earlier.)
It was one of those evenings where the conversation is rich and lively and fun and serious and difficult and easy all at the same time.  We talked about everything from masculinity in Turkish culture, the upcoming elections (Faruk thinks that John McCain is going to be the next "President of the World" and I am inclined to agree with him).  I thought Faruk's head was going to explode when I tried to explain American style racism.  And he had me laughing out loud so much that my head began to hurt.  The man can tell a story that is so funny and he can do it in two languages at the same time.
Tom and Chris have both been lovely.  They live in Brooklyn and visit Istanbul very often. They are big fans of Faruk and Alina.  Chris and Alina are going to work together on some design and fashion projects in Istanbul and the US.  The market for this is wide open here.  There are so many buildings being "rehabbed" in Istanbul that the need for competent structural and interior design is great.  Also, given Turkey's westward focus, modernist ideology is very much at the forefront of what is going on here for better or worse.  Alina also makes these incredible silkscreen prints onto t-shirts that will no doubt be walking down the streets of NY and Istanbul.
So we all talked and talked and then when I saw Ahmed's watch I saw the time was about 3:45 am.  I was shocked that we had been there for so long but it really was an incredible evening.  I made amazing friends.  Tonight (Friday) we are going to a party at Tom and Chris's before they leave for America on Sunday.  It should be a lot more fun.

It's a small world...

The driver of our tour bus (Omer, not to be confused with Omer, our tour guide) is one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen.  I don't know what he is doing driving a bus of tourists around Turkey.  He should be a movie star. He smokes, like most Turks and I guess he doesn't want anyone to know. He is hiding his cigarette behind his back.

I want to go on record as saying I will never do another group tour like this again.  If one more person asks me why I haven't met the right girl I really may lose my mind.  It's not like home where I can just tell someone I'm a fag and be done with it.  These people exist on a very delicate surface called "travel," so nothing real is discussed.  The other day everyone was talking about the wonder of grandparents and the love of children.  I wanted to set myself on fire.  I kept praying that no one would ask me about my family.  I didn't think I wanted to be that guy who tells the truth at a cocktail party when everyone has agreed to lie to each other.  I hate being that guy.

Because children are the most important people in the world, my group has indulged the two children in our group.  They were playing a game on the bus (during our 7 hour drive from Ürgüp to Pamukkale) that spewed the song "It's a Small World" all over the bus.  There was no escaping it, so I put on my noise canceling Skullcandy headphones and listened to Branca Parlic and the Cowboy Junkies first album.  It matched the Turkish landscape perfectly and gave me a reprieve from the family hour on the bus.
Here are some questions that have come up:
Do you have grandchildren?
Are you married?  Why not?
Don't you agree with the church that Hillary Clinton would be a terrible President?
Why is your hair like that?
Were YOU a slave?
Did you hear the one about the Polish guy who wanted a burial at sea?
Really, you cannot make this shit up. I am traveling with 8 people from India (two older couples and a family of four) a couple from north of Toronto, a really delightful couple from Australia (she's a teacher, go figure) and two women who are traveling together; one from Santa Fe and the other Puerto Rico.  These are the people on the english speaking tour.  The rest of the bus is about 16 people from Italy.  We are in the back with our guide Omer, who has really been a love.  When the polish joke was told, he quickly stood up and talked about how men along the Black Sea area were thought to have little intelligence and were often mocked in jokes.  He said that the people along the Black Sea say that "We are so smart that we make up those jokes about ourselves."  He really did cool things down a bit.
The drive today was very long,   The country is beautiful.  The sights are truly breathtaking.  At a caravanserai, we stopped for a bite to eat.  The building was incredible and housed an open and covered market with a mosque on the inside.  Then we went to Konya to see the museum dedicated to the Mevlana, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes.  We know him in the west as the Sufic poet Rumi.  It was really an amazing place to visit.  No photos were allowed in the museum.  There is an enormous green cone over the center of the building under which is Rumi's tomb.  The calligraphic carvings are exquisite and the place was packed with people who were praying, not just sightseeing.  I was very captivated.  So much so in fact that the tour guide had to come and collect me when everyone was already on the bus.  Again, I hate being that guy.
Tomorrow is hiking in the travertines and looking at the natural rock basin carved by the springs at Pammukale, then Roman ruins at Afrodisias and then on to Ephesus.
The little girl asked me if I knew Hilary Duff today.