Thursday, May 08, 2008

Three Stans - Back to Istanbul

Istanbul May 8th 08....65 degrees cloudless...feeling much like San Francisco though better! Aysegul and I left a 2:30am call at the Hotel Tajikistan and of course this type A personality wakes up every 30 minutes and looks at the trusty LL Bean clock....what happens next is KEYSTONE COPS but when it is happening to me it is not remotely funny. Our wonderful driver Svengali (neat name-eh) was there...we got stopped on the way to Dushanbe Airport only once by cops for no reason. They earn STRAF which is a nifty word to know and means all over Central Asia a dirty bribe. Police in Dushanbe make USD80 per month and it makes them all a little rapacious though the usual STRAF is about 2 Somalis which is 76 cents. We arrive at the airport which has exceeded my former WORST [that was Moroni in the Comoros] and what follows is rather boggling. The check in with TK is ok...though oh-so slow. This is after security check #1. Then it is to security check #2, where an enormously bovine Russian-looking woman takes a little time from chewing what must be the largest wad of gum between Tashkent and the Wakhan Corridor. Though the gum could have been a large bale of alfalfa come to think about it. She has never seen nor apparently heard of a pacemaker and I get lovingly patted down. Aysegul stands aghast. I am determined not to give him STRAF...we have a 10 minute standoff with a huge line building....he says that I will not be allowed to board the flight because there is something missing from my visa documentation...I stand my ground though Aysgul says my face was crimson....finally the guy gets the picture.

Now we are in the departure terminal. There is one active gate and the only two international flights of the day are scheduled within 10 minutes out of the gate. The other flight is Air Ghastly going to Yekaterinburg - that is how they spell the Russian town where the Tsar and family were murdered. One can tell the TK passengers, generally a well groomed lot smelling of bottled and sprayed essences....the ruffians (a hundred of them] bound for Yekateriburg all smell like exceedingly tired cheese---that peculiarly Russian smell which reminded me instantly of the Moscow Metro. Of course the passengers are totally confused....a gang fight almost develops...but it is all sorted out. It is now 510AM and my mind is like a lava lamp....we board...utter serenity. The attendants are lovely. I am so glad I have a window seat for the Aral Sea view again. Turkmenistan looks about as inviting as E New Mexico from the air. Then we flew over the Caspian and Baku and Tiblisi and good old Ararat looming up to the far south… over Batumi. It is a radiant clear day as dawn follows our progress over the Black Sea. We had a perfectly lovely breakfast too served in 2 courses; muesli, a fresh fruit compote, lovely yoghurt and then the main course, a lovely Turkish börek (flaky cheese filled pastry) with to shame Starbucks. We arrive at Istanbul’s Yeşilköy airport on a radiant morning. The driver EYTOO who drove us in Eastern Turkey is there. I’m wafted to the simple, utterly pleasant Richmond.

Istanbul seems SOOOOO welcoming and after Central Asia so WITH IT and European. Zegna has their main shop across from the hotel. Also a branch of the wonderful Viennese coffee house-pastry shop Diglas.

Eyüp, Ayşegül, Eyüps sıster, Amre and I had dınner at a Meyhane very close off the İstıklal, my favorıte walking street ın the cıty. A MEYHANE sort of translates into a neighborhood dive and thıs one on an impossibly lovable little lane ıs called AMALI. the place ıs narrow and crammed wıth old photos and other art...the clientele is exceedingly local (a favorite of author Orhan Pamuk) but it is decidedly REAL and the lace hasn't a cute bone.


Post a Comment

<< Home