Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meeting John Travolta, and flirting with a Turk

During our stay in Istanbul, some people from the group and I decided to go for some tea and nargile (known elsewhere as shisha or hookah). Looking forward to a night of relaxation, we stopped by Adem and Burhan's textile shop for some recommendations. Adem and Burhan are brothers, and very good friends of Omid. They held a carpet workshop for us earlier in the week, check that out at the ART\Islam blog. Burhan, in his nifty European scarves and skinny jeans, graciously walked us to a nargile place nearby, explaining that he and Adem had taken Omid there, and that is was his favorite place.

As we walk, he says, "Ever since you come into my shop two nights ago, I've been searching for your face. Come visit after tea?"

Burhan is a genuinely nice guy (pretty handsome, too), but apparently has quite the reputation as a smooth operator. I smile and agree, because I can always use another friend, and he seems, despite the reputation, like a lovely person. After we're seated in the café and he orders Bomba tea (rose, mint, and lemon) for all of us, he and his contagious smile are gone. The evening progresses over flavored smoke and laughter, induced mostly by a ridiculous and highly entertaining TV drama playing on the big screen TV. It's like The Tudors, but for the Ottoman Empire, specifically Emperor Suleyman and his wife (second, to be exact) Roxelana. As well as all of the women in his harem. The costumes were beautiful, the storyline was engaging even with the language barrier, and we had a grand time predicting what would happen next.

(On a slightly (very) nerdy note, watching the show made me a little uncomfortable, because it was as though Turks were Orientalizing themselves. European artists went on a kick a couple hundred years ago in which they depicted "Oriental" scenes, usually involving scantily clad "exotic" women, and very angry, almost animalistic men (Whom the women had to be rescued from. Obviously). Harems were a topic of special interest, as you can imagine, and are basically depicted as places where women would hang around naked, waiting wistfully for their Sultan to stop by and choose them to bed. We know, however, that this was not the case. Harems (though they're by no means my favorite institutions) did a great deal for educating the women who resided in them. Most of the time, they weren't busy in bed, they were reading, learning music, or making art. Furthermore, life "in the Orient" simply didn't just consist of decadence, naked women all in love with the same man, and angry men. The TV show, however, did a pretty good job upholding that image. All the women in the harem fought over the same dude, and the Sultan was depicted as pretty gnarly and generally unapproachable. I guess this formula of silly women and fortress-like men exists in many a historical drama, but something about this felt particularly off. Rant over.)

So, as we're all giggling over the silliness of this show, a man at a nearby table starts telling us who's who and what everyone is doing. Eventually, he introduces himself as John Travolta. He moves his whole, extremely large pipe over to our table and joins in the fun. He's about 50, and certainly looks nothing like John Travolta, so we ask where the name came from.

"When I was about your age, or a little older, I had these great white suits. American tourists would come and see me, especially when  I went dancing, and point and smile and say 'John Travolta!' Eventually, I asked someone what they were talking about, and they told me about his movies and I watched them, and now I love him. Here's a picture."

He proceeded to pull out a picture of him in the 1980s in which he did, in fact, look pretty much like John Travolta. He shared many stories with us, including his smoking escapades with Daniel Craig and Rachel Weiss. He also, upon finding out Lily was from DC, called his American friend who lived in DC, and had Lily talk to her on the phone. Turns out they've got very similar educational backgrounds and interests, so the two of them are meeting for coffee when Lily gets back. Networking is an amazing thing.

Upon his promise to get us into the best and most expensive club in Istanbul for free, we took our leave. He was quite a character. Some of the other girls were a little sketched out, but he was harmless. We headed back to Adem and Burhan's shop, to say good night and thank them for the recommendation. Lily, Jo, and I began looking pretty seriously at their pashminas, and the shopping began. I chose a few to try on, all of which Burhan  insisted on tying for me. Homebro has some skills. He even showed us how to make trendy little vests out of our scarves! It was quite impressive. Eventually we were all alone in a side room, and as he was folding one of the scarves I had decided against, I noticed an eyelash on his cheek.

"Do you wish on eyelashes here?"

"Uhhh, pardon? What?"

"Do you wish on eyelashes? When an eyelash is on your cheek do you ever wish on it?"

Burhan is looking at me like I'm a little crazy.

"No, no. I don't think I've ever heard of that."

"You just put it on your fingertip, and then make a wish and blow it away."

"Okay. Will you get it?"


Upon retrieving the eyelash in question and presenting it to Burhan, he flashed his eyes and smiled mischievously before squinting like a child, making a wish, and blowing it gently off my finger.

"I will not tell you what I wished for," he said, "But I will say that you are in it."

Oh, Burhan. What a line.

He asked if he could see me when I came back to Istanbul, and I said sure. Because you're only in Istanbul once, right?

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