Wednesday, August 12, 2015

But first, tea.

As soon as I arrive in Istanbul I am already infuriated with it. It is dirty and crumbling and foreign, and I can not figure out where I am.

I think I am starting to burn out. There always comes a point in time, after about two months of travel, that the alien foods, the language difficulties, the social miscues, the constant movement and the long, sweaty stretches between cities and showers begin to tax the appeal of being on the road. I start longing for my own bed in the safe and familiar surroundings of my cosy flat in Sydney. Last week I hit the two-month mark.

I'm looking for a specific patisserie that was recommended to me. It is in Galata, near the famous tower. I figured such an obvious monumental landmark would make navigation easy, and I am not incapable with maps. I have a printed map, Google and GPS on my phone. I even fancy that I'm a decent orienteer. But this 1,600-year-old hilltop quarter answers to no map. I am flummoxed after repeated assaults on it. The surging maze of lanes drapes and twists over the tower's hillside, tossing and tangling me in the ramble of streets.

A sixty-something-looking leather-skinned shoe-shine tries to swindle me in the conniving way of the Turkish tout. After I pick up a dropped shoe brush for him in instinctive common decency, he shakes my hand, asks me where I'm from, and makes to give me a shoe shine in appreciation. I suddenly remember this ruse of intentionally dropping the brush and preying on the decency of innocent tourists. But I am not innocent. I am jaded, lost and shitty.

I protest as he insists my shoe onto his footstool, "No. No! It's not good for my shoes." It's ridiculous; they aren't leather. They are high-tech synthetic outdoor hiking runners designed to allow water to flow through the porous upper, and after hundreds of kilometres of hardcore use, from the wilds of British Columbia to the muddy jungles of Uganda, they are far beyond any hope of scrubbing up a bit.

He counter-protests, "no, it's okay! I am shoe doctor!" and further, as I pull away from his stupid ineffectual brushing and sponging, "no, sorry, I am not finished!"

I'm not buying any of this. I step to walk away and he calls out, "eight lira!" (about A$4). I sigh, irritated with this game, and drop half a lira into his palm, the equivalent of twenty-five cents.

"What is this?" he objects.

"Meh," I shrug and walk away annoyed. An insult, I suppose.

Distracted now. Trying to read the map of Galata's bundles of lanes is like navigating from the scalp of a shag carpet. I finally throw my hands in the air. "The map is not the terrain," I remind myself, and simply meander in circles instead, in which manner I find the patisserie. It was less than a hundred metres away.

It's closed.


Weary, exasperated and harbouring a growing irritation with the volume of people in the streets, I cut down a side alley in these maniacal laneways and give in to my feet blathering across the roiling cobbles, which ripple like a carpet, until I stumble upon a cozy room called Cha'ya Galata that catches the eye with a seductive sign: "But first, tea."


It comes on a round wooden platter. First flush Assam. The pot is kept warm over a tea light and the leaves have been removed so it doesn't over-steep. A slice of orange is served over the teacup on a bamboo skewer. Warmed milk has its own pot. I have biscuits. I have honey.

Painted on the window is another sign: "You can't buy happiness but you can buy tea, and that's kind of the same thing."

I love Istanbul.

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