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.