Heart warming story set in Kosovo and Canada
Author Lisa Morrow shares her love of Istanbul
27th August 2017
#TalkingLocationWith… author Lisa Morrow, sharing her love of ISTANBUL
When most people think of Istanbul they imagine something out of Tales of the Arabian Nights. I get asked if I have to wear a headscarf and if my husband is Turkish. No one can picture a woman from the Australian suburbs choosing to live somewhere that seems both exotic and temptingly dangerous. The fairy tale usually includes odalisques waiting on the Sultan’s favourites in the Topkapı Palace harem, the call to prayer endlessly ringing out from the famous Blue Mosque, gold trinkets littering the laneways of the Grand Bazaar, and the streets of the old centre of Sultanahmet filled with silent covered women being simultaneously wooed and menaced by swarthily handsome moustachioed Turkish men.
A lot of this is fantasy woven into an admittedly fascinating history, and makes for a great holiday destination. My Istanbul, however, is made up of people drawn to live in the glittering promise of a city that was once home to Ottoman royalty, Armenian jewellers, Greek traders, Balkan street menders, Circassian slave girls, and others too numerous to mention.
The stories of the newer inhabitants of the city make Istanbul a dynamic and beguiling place.
My local area Kadıköy is a mix of old money, workers migrating from inner Anatolia, young adults relocating for university, and gypsy flower sellers. The seafront attracts young and old, rich and poor, with its diversity and regular markets featuring food culture from other parts of Turkey. This man came with his family from Antep and spent five days cooking cağ kebab over a charcoal grill in a food festival showcasing food from the south east. It was delicious!
Turks love their country and aren’t afraid to show their pride. Whether it’s for a political rally or a football match, Turkish flags are a must. I met this old man selling them in Eminönü. Perched at the beginning of the Golden Horn, Eminönü, loved by Turks and tourists alike, is where everybody comes to catch a ferry up the Bosphorus, watch the fishermen on Galata bridge or even eat a fish sandwich. It’s always been a commercial centre and these days is a very Turkish area, although back in the 16th century it was a multicultural neighbourhood largely inhabited by non-Muslims.
I can’t get the men in Hacı Bekir to stand still long enough to let me take a really good photo of them, but they always make time to ask where I’m travelling to next. They’re delighted I take quintessentially Turkish gifts when I visit family and friends overseas, just like a Turk would. My favourite Turkish Delight or lokum, as it’s called in Turkish, are the ones made from almond paste. They’re more expensive than the better known rose water jellies, but they taste divine.
Spring is one of the most beautiful times in Istanbul. Every corner of the city is bursting with the brilliant colour of freshly cut flowers. My favourites are the posies of golden wattle, that Turks call mimosa.
As a long term inhabitant of Istanbul, I’m well-versed in the reasons Turkish women wear headscarves. It can be as simple as wanting to keep their freshly washed hair clean, through to being true to their religious beliefs. However, like the choice of having long or short hair, it’s only one part of who they are. I met this young woman at a Black Sea food festival in Üsküdar. She was from Samsun and was thrilled to be able to talk to me, a foreigner, in Turkish. She excitedly told me she was the first girl in her family to get into university and was studying law.
This is the man who works in my local kiosk. I go to him when I recharge my transport card so he’ll often be the first person I speak to in the morning. He’s located just down the street from a large public hospital, on the corner of a busy transit road so he’s always frantically busy, selling cigarette lighters, chewing gum, newspapers and magazines. Over the years I’ve learned all about his daughter, who he proudly tells me works in administration for Turkish Airlines, the national carrier. When she wanted to improve her English he asked me to recommend a good school, and I love hearing how well she’s done.
Getting to know a place, like making friends, takes time. Through these small histories a location becomes something more personal, and their stories have become part of mine.
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