Besiktas Fish Market

It rained today and I had calls sprinkled through the afternoon, keeping me hotel bound except for a dash across Barbaros for a couple beef kebab rollup things called durum and a spicy cold meat thing called kofte. The weather was just sucky and I had no remorse about missing a day out on the streets and in the bazaars.

Finally, around 5 pm, as it was getting dark, the thought of room service  again was too depressing so I bundled up and walked down to the port of Besiktas, a very busy, vibrant intersection where the ferries dock and a big monument to Ataturk stands in a plaza surrounded by smoking buses and a perpetual queue of yellow taksis. After five days poking around the city, I realize my hotel is beautifully situated between some great neighborhoods, the Golden Horn, and the modern era of digital agencies and the like to the north.

I’d noticed a  busy little alley down at the bottom of the hill the other day, so I headed there and turned in with the crowd of commuters heading out to pick something up for their dinners. The lines at the ATMs were ten people deep. The rain was at a mist stage so my glasses were dazzled with the lights.

The fish market had more species on display than anything I’ve seen outside of Tokyo. I recognized a few things — especially the ubiquitous brawling bluefish — but there were some little fish in abundance that were staggering to behold and smell. There were some super weird fish.

The square with the fish stalls was ringed with fish restaurants of course, so I had to enter one to see what the fuss was about. Indeed, the fish was ordered, the order was taken outside, the fish was filleted on the spot, and brought into the kitchen to be cooked. I consider that fresh fish.

Now the restaurant was very nice, the Ahtapot Restaurant to be precise, and the proprietor overloaded me with mezze and salad and cheese. When we got to the discussion of the main course I was trying to convey that I wanted his freshest fish — whatever was in season — but NOT bluefish as I had eaten that a few nights before in Ortakoy. He put his finger on the bluefish entry. I shook my head. He nodded his head. I shook my head. I pointed at bonito. He shook his head. I shook my head. I asked: “What’s fresh.” He pointed at the bluefish. I pointed out the window at the market. He smiled. I gave up. “Get me whatever you think.”

I ate bluefish.

No complaints. I had to walk that monster off, so I toured the bazaar for an hour, snapping pictures of nut stores and pastry shops and white box PC sellers. I  passed a shop that sold water pipes, or nargile, or hookahs.

The bazaar felt like a real neighborhood. There were no tourists. Just locals getting bread and stuff for their dinners. It was very interesting in its own non way: a functional souk that the neighborhood depended on for life’s essentials. Each alley had a theme. There was washing machine alley and bedding alley, there was pharmacies and spice shops. The fast food — the doner spots — were bewildering in their numbers and variety. Guess who added insult to injury and threw a doner kebab on top of his fish dinner?

I walked up the hill past a monster traffic jam where the cars were spinning their wheels on the wet cobblestones and the air was filled with the stink of burning clutch. I descended along a little urban park, made my way back to the Conrad, and now must do some research on the Eastern Orthodox church as I am attending a service in the morning at St. George’s, the Rum Patrikhanesi, conducted by the current Patriarch, or supreme leader of the Orthodox Church, the religion of the Byzantines and Constantinople.

Elevator Plunge

You know the theory that if you are in a plunging elevator you should jump into the air at the last moment before impact? First of all — take a physics class. Second of all, don’t try it in a Turkish elevator because it doesn’t work in one of those either.

Here’s the setup. Turkish elevators are pretty small by American standards. Four people are cozy. Six intimate. Four of us climbed into one on the Asian side for an appointment on the sixth floor with an agency. It was the style with the door that swings — not slides — open. We climbed aboard, I made my obligatory “little Turkish elevator”  remark and pressed “6”.

We go up three floors, watching them roll by the doorway which I am standing against. Then we stop. We are not there yet. Have I pressed the wrong button?

We start to descend. More like: we start to slip. Then the lights go out.

Then we plunge.

[insert whistling sound here]

We hit. Major bang. I keep my feet but that sucked and we land three feet under the first floor. Pitch black darkness.

I declare: “I have a flashlight” and I unzip my most awesome Patagonia bag and pull out the Qualcomm combo-laser pointer LED flashlight.

My colleagues are very upset. Thank heavens no one broke wind or worse. I turn on the laser dot and that gets a laugh. then the light. Light is good. Then I find the alarm button and I push it a couple times.

I hear muffled Turkish sounds like “copchik?” I don’t even try to reply. I hit the alarm again for good measure.

And then the claustrophobia strikes. Will we be there for 30 seconds? 30 minutes? 30 hours?  A couple minutes go by, we make little jokes but none of us are excited. Then the door opens and up we climb to fresh air and I immediately think about those poor souls stuck under collapsed buildings in Haiti.

I guess the guy on the roof with the crank was tired. If we were in North Carolina Cherie Berry, the lady who’s face is on the elevator inspection certificate would have saved us. There’s even a song about her.