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In Trabzon

see photos at Dick Osseman’s website:


     In Trabzon, in a room with hot and cold running cockroaches. Still haven’t seen even a single carpet for sale. Hoping for some textiles here. Woke up at 2:45 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. Truncated yoga on the bed whilst Alisa snored.

            Mike, the fellow we stayed with in Istanbul is hurtling through life toward destination mental disorder. His obsessive-compulsiveness is so prominent you can almost see it straining on him like a thousand hands, pressing on him, pushing and pulling him so hard, in so many ways, the veins stand out on his temple, straining with the effort to maintain a semblance of normalcy.  Tiny muscles move constantly over his tensile bones, worrying his skeleton out, out, out, until the skeleton is practically on the outside of him; his body wasted.  There are those moments though, when you can look him in the eye, ask him a question, and his freer self pops out unguarded and he’s just a nice guy, answering a question. It is not often, though. How he manages I can’t say.

Friday evening

            We walked and walked and walked along the car-less bazaar road today, shopping and threading our way through thick crowds. It being Friday, the call to prayer came, and many shopkeepers actually abandoned their shops to go pray. They barely notice the call to prayer on other days. And of course, we happened to be just around the corner from a Mosque, so duty combined with convenience to get the men praying. The men were packed like sardines around the steps of the Mosque, listening to the Imam I am sure, but spending a considerable amount of attention on looking at us looking at them. Alisa is apparently a striking, statuesque beauty to Turkish men, I’ve noticed. They look at her and smile. They don’t look at me, which is good. I planned it that way, wearing my long skirt and a scarf. But it is new for me. I’m usually the one being stared at in a crowd. There is some sort of radar we have that allows us to feel eyes trained our way, isn’t there? Here, when my radar picks up the looks, I look and all eyes are on Alisa. She notices it, and says it must just because she’s tall. I know better. I’ve seen the smiles. In any case, there is no one to sell us the things we saw, so we pushed on.

We reached at the end a huge fish market alongside a fruit market. Both fruit and fish are beautiful.  They pack the fish in boxes in overlapping rows – herringbone – and their white bellies glisten iridescent and seemingly in flux while their mouths fall open at times in semblance of either deep sleep or a scream.  The fruit, for its part, gleams in a predictably, charmingly colorful way. What surprises the eye is the depth that comes from the muting power of that faint, mildew-y  powder you see on grapes.

            The grapes!  There were plump, purple, weighty ones, dainty, lively green ones and mottled pear-colored grapes of an indeterminate size, among others. Nowhere have I seen such a diverse bunch of grapes: certainly not in any produce aisle in America, where the old-fashioned, difficult-to-grow varieties that have soldiered on through droughty crop failure, pestilence and love are supplanted by those round, green, juicy, tasteless balls of bioengineering. But I digress.

            While I was done in by the grapes, Alisa was slain in her own fruity way by the fragrant peaches. The shopkeeper – in his talented way – sent her away with seven when all she had wanted was one. Se we headed back up the bazaar to purchase those things we had seen on the way down. We stopped at the scarf man’s stall who sells headscarves to observant Muslims and heathen tourists alike at a set price of five Turkish lira. We tried to bargain him down, saying that since we were buying six of them he ought to cut us a deal, but it was no dice.  In the end we wanted the scarves at what was, after all, a fair price more than we wanted to win the haggling war. Next it was the Nazar man.

            Nazar is the Turkish word for a symbol – a blue glass eye with light blue, white and dark blue stripes defining the iris while the dark blue sits at the center like a pupil.  It wards off the evil eye. People hang them from their necks, their walls, their rear-view mirrors and depend heavily on their powers.  I don’t know the history of the Nazar, but I’m sure it is eclectic and surprising. There is a Nazar painted on the jets belong to the Turkish company Fly Air. There are Nazars hidden in the intricate designs of the bank note. Any Turkish baby at all will have one or two. We bought some Nazar strings, getting taken royally by the seller, to the tune of something like 70 cents.

            And then it was on to the copper man. Alisa had seen a brass bell topped by a little Sufi. Making our way back up the Bazaar was a little like being a salmon on the spawn. The good people of Trabzon take their Friday afternoon shopping very seriously indeed. And when they shop, they do so en masse. So we floundered like the good, determined, shopping salmon we are. Or, I should say, as Alisa is. I am not a shopper. When I’m rich and famous, I will employ a personal shopper and never enter a shop again. But this is Alisa’s vacation as well as my own, so I shop with her. Later she will be the one suffering, as I spend interminable hours looking at rugs.

            The copper man had delightful etched copper trays, pewter coffee pots, and brass coffee grinders ad infinitum. Better than the booty, though, were the proprietors; a father and son duo with good will and good humor to spare.  They weathered my bad Turkish enough to establish a rapport. Inevitably we were asked what our nationality is, and we had to say, regrettably, given the present world order, that we were American. I had not yet thought to say I was Canadian – that came later when a waiter responded rather poorly to the fact of our American-ness.  But here in the copper shop, the response was a bit different. It was here that I learned the term “dilli dilli” which, when emphasized by the internationally recognized gesture of the forefinger, pointing to the temple and describing a few circles whilst the eyes roll up to the ceiling and back down, means exactly what you think it means.

            And dilli dilli is exactly what this coppersmith from
Trabzon, Turkey thinks of G.H.W. Bush, otherwise known as the Lesser Bush, or, more affectionately, The Shrub. Dilli dilli. So our mottled, language-stricken conversation went. At which point the father coppersmith brought forth a plate of plums which he shared with us, as we had agreed passionately with his assessment of the leader of the free world. Tasty. Shortly thereafter, while milling around, admiring the plates, bowls, tea cozies and Narghile pipes (with crocheted covers for the tubes), Alisa remembered her peaches, and offered one to the father, who accepted it gracefully.

            Purchases were selected, money was exchanged, photos were taken and the mood was right, good, wholesome and proudly democratic when we left. As we walked away, though, and discussed the series of events, we became certain that Alisa was now, by virtue of having offered food and having it accepted and by accepting food offered by a man…she must be married. Married! To a man who could be her Uncle, he was so old and kind. Her “Abi” in Turkish. All because of a peach – a şeftali. He will be known forever more as Şeftali Abi, and he won’t even know it. Sigh.


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