Friday, July 20, 2007

(Not as) Lost in Turkey #4

All the goings-on in Moscow have detracted from the fact that there's still plenty happening in Istanbul. This weekend, the national elections are coming up, so the entire city is covered in flags, banners, billboards, and stickers for all the 22 parties participating. There are also lots of trucks for the more affluent parties that ride around blasting propagandist pop music through tiny speakers, so it basically just sounds like AM radio coming through a very loud tweeter.

But first, a recap of last week's Turkish bath: me and the other two guys on the program are instructed to disrobe and put on some wooden slippers that are basically just blocks of wood with some straps to hold our feet in. It's impossible to walk in them; a more appropriate verb would be "shuffle" across the floor, clad in nothing but a very thin towel. Exiting my "disrobing cabin", I see a man with a huge beer belly and just as huge mustache, also clad in nothing but a towel, waiting for me. Apparently this is my personal scrubber. He grabs me roughly by the arm and begins to pull me towards a door that leads to the bathing room (keep in mind that we spent about $30 for this experience I'm about to describe). Once inside the incredibly hot room, he drags me towards a marble bench and begins pouring water on me. Actually, pouring is a bad verb as well: "violently throwing hot water while chuckling and making me wince" is a better description. Dudeman then begins scrubbing, thankfully nowhere under the towel, and asking, "GOOD?". I timidly answer yes, then realize that he is staring me directly in the eyes as he scrubs. I'm not sure whether to get up and run, because my slippers will definitely prevent me from getting anywhere fast, so I just decide to wait it out. After he's finished dousing me with water again, he gets to work on one of my roommates, who is sitting directly across from me and looking as if he's being tortured. Then our guy, whose name is Cem (pronounced "Jem"), points at both of us, then points at a doorway in the corner of the room and says "HOT ROOM. NOW." We enter the sauna and it is indeed a hot room. Everyone else in the room is looking just as traumatized as we are; it kind of feels like we are prisoners waiting to be tortured, all looking nervously at each other about what is supposed to happen. No one has explained anything to us. A man from Barcelona sits with us, clutching his waterproof money belt, and then he gets called out for his massage. He looks at us as if to say, "What should I do?", and we all shrug nervously, wishing him luck. When I see him a few minutes later getting a massage, he looks like he is in excruciating pain. Another one of my roommates attempts to leave the sauna because it is too hot, but his guy yells at him, instructing him to get back in the HOT ROOM.

After about 30 minutes of this very strange Turkish ritual, we make a break for it and are finally allowed to leave. After I have changed back into my clothes, I leave my cabin to put my shoes on. Cem is still in his towel, standing in the foyer by my cabin folding new towels. Every time I look up, he is staring at me, smiling. I sheepishly smile back and get the hell out of there.

As requested, no photos of the bath. But look:

At Topkapi Palace, which produced some of the tourist photos from last week's post, an Ottoman-era tribute marching band performed for the throng of tourists. Notice the 3 dudes who pose for photos about 30 seconds in. This video was interrupted by a palace employee whose job it was to yell at jackasses like me who were filming the procession and walking through the flowerbeds.

The march continues. If you look closely enough through the highly pixelated visual, you can see how fake most of these mustaches are.

The "G" is silent, so this first word sounds like "Boaz".

If I was the woman in this situation, I'd advise the man against the purchase.

Another Turkish custom. This poor kid in the prince outfit is about to get circumcised. I'm not sure if he is aware, but he sure is excited to be a little sultan for a day.

We went to a concert of Spike Lee film music, performed by Terence Blanchard and the Istanbul Orchestra. Blanchard has composed the music for all, if not most, of Lee's films. It was very moving. The figure in the red jacket is Spike Lee, who showed up onstage at the encore.

Interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque; the Arabic scripts in circles are the names of Allah and Muhammed, from right to left.

While trying on some authentic Turkish bootleg man capris, I was joined in the dressing room by this large, sweaty man, who invited me to go "disco dancing" (he shook and shimmied his body to emphasize the dancing part for me).

We visted a rabbi, a priest, and an imam all in one day to ask them questions about God, the afterlife, natural vs moral evil, etc. In the Greek Orthodox Church, the priest received a phone call on his cell while pontificating upon moral evil. Didn't miss a beat in his answer, either.

Special "BIG DEAL" award goes to us for getting an audience with the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Basically, the Pope of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, who decided to grant us a 10-minute audience this morning. Check out that BLING!!!

Special "EXTRA FUCKING CREEPY" award goes to my man here, who was taking pictures of the girls in our group on his cell phone while they were dancing at a restaurant. His wife was sitting right across the table from him. One of the girls later pointed out that he looks just like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.

bonus videos:

The AK Party, who is currently in power, is fighting hard to stay that way. Here they illustrate their platform on synchronized dancing.

One of several Young Turks who were freestyle biking on the deck of a ferry we took across the Bosphorus Strait.

Tomorrow we are off on a 9-day excursion through central Turkey, taking us to the Syrian border and up the Aegean Coast. Will do my best to keep the updates coming during that time, as we're bound to see some crazy shit. Hold it down in the NC, or wherever you are.

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