So, it was my last full day here in Istanbul. Christmas is coming and that means major cooking. I figured I’d better get to the spice market, which I did. I’m glad to say the bird will be covered in pretty red harissa paste and there will be saffron in the mashed potatoes. Life is good.

The big news is that Pandeli has reopened. For those of you thinking ,”Oh? And so?” This is the story.

Long ago, when the spice market first opened, merchants would come into town to do business. Maybe it was “business,” I don’t know, but the wives came too. They would shop, maybe hit the hamam, and then they would go to rooms upstairs in the spice market and wait for hubby. These rooms were covered in beautiful tiles.

Over time this ritual ceased and the rooms became a restaurant, Pandeli, favoured by expats and tourists. Then one day it was decreed that the spice market was to be renovated. As part of this, Pandeli was closed. The thing is, the spice market reopened with its new paint job and all, but Pandeli remained closed, for years. I have no idea why.

All I can tell you is that it has reopened and the tourists are gone. In their place are super-wealthy Turkish people. Unless people were talking to me in impeccable, educated English, I heard only Turkish. I don’t know where they live or where they go when they leave — they look nothing like the people on the street — but I’d love to know where they buy their clothes. I’m thinking Milan or maybe everything is tailored.

Seriously, where do they live? Too much of Istanbul is still crumbling away, like the building above. A guide told me that there are often inheritance disputes that keep buildings in this condition. You can’t see the pretty 1920’s detailing, nor can you see that only the ground floor is inhabited. Maybe you can still tell that this is a neglected gem– in a great location, too. I’m renovated out. Somebody else will have to rescue it.

Actually I think they live in an area called Nisantasi. It’s pretty but kind of a cultural dead zone. I bet there are good tailors there and shops that import — from Milan, I think. Paris clothes are fussy and fit tightly. Milan is more about elegant wool and the perfect funnel-neck sweater.

Okay. Enough. I’m just glad that I decided to step my own travel wardrobe up a notch, so at least I didn’t embarrass myself.

Today it’s home again, home again, lickety split. I’ve got to get down to the house and get Christmas dinner on the table. I might even get Jacques to look a little less miserable when I put on his elf hat. Anything is possible.

Merry Christmas, all.

Kemal’s Istanbul

Here’s a fairly dreadful photo of Kemal Nuraydin, who took me on a tour of the workshops around the Grand Bazaar today. Kemal is on the right.

It was a long day, easily nine hours. For various reasons I arrived with just one lens, a 100 mm macro, suitable for closeups and portraits, not exactly optimal for today. Kemal showed me how to make the most of the lens and basically kicked my butt until I became reasonably comfortable using it in manual mode. Until today I had used manual, but in a kind of cheater mode, where the settings were suitable for most situations.

You won’t see any fancy camera shots. However I will show you a random assortment of cell phone pictures. In no particular order and with no claim that this is a complete summary of the day’s events, have a peek at my day.

It’s Too Cold!

Too Cold, I say. We thought we’d escape it by going to the Guler Museum, intended to celebrate the work of Magnum photographer Ara Güler. It is the centrepiece of a sort of arts complex that is being developed in a gentrifying section of central Istanbul. It is all very new and the museum hasn’t quite jelled yet, but the building is lovely. I’m sure by the end of the year, it will come together.

We had better luck at the Ara Cafe, named after the same guy and featuring a few of his photos. Then we headed out, Jen to work and I to the hotel to thaw out. Here are a few shots of the hotel garden — cool and relaxing in summer and in winter, just cold.

Rug Done

That was fast. I expected a little tea, a little chitchat to find out what I really wanted, then maybe a repeat visit when they had pulled together a selection. Nope. The guy looked at my photo of the room.

Then he asked one question. “Do you prefer red or blue?” I said it depended on the rug, but maybe red. Jen showed him a photo of a Hereke (flowing pattern, nice colors) that I had said I liked and we were off. The fifth rug he pulled out was The One.

Someone in California must have done a shamanic ritual to draw this Persian rug to me. Persians are single-knotted, while Turkish ones are double-knotted. I came here looking for a nice, sturdy, Turkish double-knotted job for my sturdy country house. As you can see, the fine-weave Persian single knots won out. I’m already fine with that.

Should you find yourself in Istanbul looking for a rug while looking to avoid your basic rug merchant, I can absolutely recommend 5K Rug Store. Granted, I went with Jen, who is a friend of nearly two decades and a part owner. But I think anyone would have a hassle-free experience and, if the right rug appears, a fair price.

Update, New Year’s Eve: the rug has arrived, 27 kilos in a pretty small package.

The room now looks like Grandma’s house, if either grandma had had money and super-conservative taste. No question, it’s conservative, but I like it anyway. Now I have to get used to the idea of actually putting furniture on the rug.

Istanbul, Day 1

So, you want pictures of my escape from the Crusaders, right at Christmas? Okay. Be careful what you wish for.

The next few days will be mostly photos, not much story. There isn’t much story to tell.

I’m staying at the Empress Zoe. It was dark when I arrived, so all I could photograph was the house cat.

I arrived just in time for dinner. I’m on a tourist street and allowed myself to be finagled into maybe the most touristy restaurant on that street. Here is my server, firing and destroying the clay pot that contains my dinner. High drama, ordinary food, but it was fun.

Below much of this area are remains of Topkapi Palace. It used to be much bigger than it is now. Someone told me these were service areas, which makes sense. So after dinner I got a look at the basement.

Be Happy Anyway

Hi there. I doubt that the folks at Bon Marché intended for their holiday decorations to be prescient, but that’s certainly how things worked out. Right now a whole lot of things are up in the air.

I could rant again about the Gilets Jaunes, but I just won’t. Not right now, anyway. I will mourn the lack of a Santa at my local shopping mall. Seriously. They have the Santa Chair, flanked by two little child chairs. They have the sign that tells you how much this ritual photo op will cost: 15 euros! They have me, hoping to get Jacques in, finally, for his picture with Santa. This is the first year I have had him all cleaned and groomed, but no, no Santa. Even a Santa in a yellow vest would be better than no Santa at all. Too bad.

I am doing my holiday post early because I’m headed to Istanbul in the morning. I need, need, I say, a carpet for the living room, so I’ll head to a friend’s shop to pick something out. I may do a rather nerdy post on Turkish vs Persian rugs; I’ll try to keep it brief. I’ll be connecting with an old buddy for a photo shoot in some workshops. Istanbul has changed, not for the better, but I still love my time there.

Then it’s the holidays. I’ll be insanely busy doing dinner for seven, eight if you count Jacques, who has the Beggin’ Face down cold. Among them are a new friend, Danica, and her family. Danica works with refugees — the still-undocumented ones who live in camps. Some things are being done to pull them into the system, though not enough. Danica collects things like diapers, which she distributes. So hey, I’ll donate a few things and make a nice dinner. She’s already doing enough.

That’s my strategy for getting through a crazy time. I’ll be grateful for what I have and I’ll share more than I normally would; diapers and sleeping bags are the least I can do. I’ll pull friends and loved ones close. I’ll hope it’s enough to pull us through.

It looks like folks are doing something similar for the kids in the photo that Danica sent me — used without permission, but they’re so adorable I couldn’t resist. Apart from Jacques, I think they are the cutest beings I have seen all year. I should at least make clear that I have no idea whether these kids are refugees.

So. Celebrate anyway. This year the gods are not smiling, so we’ll have to take care of ourselves.

Disaster Tourism

So, the gilets jaunes. Here is a sullen little flock of them, all that were left after a fine day of rioting. Last week they could claim naivete regarding their more violent members. This week, no excuse. They came out anyway and took no precautions against their more violent members. I make little distinction between the guy who threw the rock and the guy who stopped the cops from getting to him.

From what I can tell, French journalists are on the lazy side, reporting only what they can show in today’s images and relegating analysis to a man-on-the-street pop quiz. So I can’t pull together a reliable history of how we got here.

A cynical friend tells me that the Socialists saw that they were going to be voted out and passed a time bomb of legislation, raising taxes yet again, after doing zip to rein in government spending for all those years when they ran the show. This time they arranged for the increase to take place after they were going to be gone. If this is true, Hollande is surely sitting with his little Julie on a sofa somewhere and they are laughing their Machiavellian heads off.

As you can see, the streets are leaning left. Well, except for when they are leaning right. I gather there is not much political consensus under those vests.

That’s an ATM. Used to be an ATM.

I’m trying to figure out how it helps the French people to destroy their cars and keep them from getting to where they need to go. Their gas expenses, their insurance, their, at this point mine, too, taxes will only increase. How else will we pay to clean up this mess?

The SO’s office is very near the Arc de Triomphe. We decided we’d better go see whether it was safe for his staff to come to work in the morning. Yeah, we think it will be, but you can see what we found in the neighbourhood.

All the tourists were out with us, snapping away. These photos are going all over the world. How does that help French tourism? I have one reservation for this summer. I’m afraid it’s going to be one and done. Julien tells me tourism in our area was down last summer. This year could make last year look pretty good.

Of course Christmas shopping will be done online this year. Why go out if you can’t get anywhere? One bad Christmas season can spell the end for a lot of small merchants. Of course, once folks get used to shopping online, it’s game over.

Dunno, folks. I m flabbergasted. I can understand the reasons for dissatisfaction, but I don’t see how this form of protest will do anything but make things worse. And the SO? Bah, he says, no problem. It was so much worse in ’68 and we got through that. I hope his optimism is justified.