Then follow @carpetblogger1 on Twitter. You probably won't regret it.
Then follow @carpetblogger1 on Twitter. You probably won't regret it.
We've said it before: we're tired of blogging. We're rarely inspired anymore. We can hardly come up with a thought that's so sophisticated and insightful that it can't be said in 140 characters. We feel like we exhaust the creative potential of every medium available to us on a cycle that both shortens and increases with intensity every month. It's the plague of the modern: too many means to communicate too few thoughts.
We were wrong. And the solution to this problem has come from the most unlikely corner: The Turkish government.
In response to what has become the scourge of Istanbul's urban environment -- residents banging pots and pans at 9 pm in support of the Gezi Park protests -- the government has come up with an innovative idea to allow people to anonymously report their neighbors' irritating behavior by placing their complaints in a "neighborhood informant box" (NIB) for police to review.
Some people argue this is a terrible idea. We are not among those people. In fact, this is the best idea the Turkish government has proposed since it banned porn.
Opponents have clearly not spent any time thinking about its practical applications. Has it not occurred to them that they can use this mechanism to express their grievances -- ranging from the petty to the existential -- against every person, entity, animate or inanimate object or animal in Istanbul that has wronged them? Given that our list of Istanbul-related grievances is as long, complex and historical as the Talmud, this opportunity cannot be passed up. It's much better than bitching on Twitter.
Are you not yet seeing the awesome?
Anonymity means you can settle some scores using half baked theories, circumstantial evidence and idle speculation, just like you do with your friends and on Twitter, but with zero accountability and more police involvement. As someone who is striving to remove all accountability mechanisms from our life, this is exactly the creative outlet we've been seeking.
After approximately 45 seconds of thought, we have came up with a complaint list with which we could fill our NIB and probably the one up the hill too. Here are just a few: construction sites that pour cement at 2 am, the Istiklal Tramway Groper, Istiklal in general, Efes, Ramadan drummers, our upstairs neighbor who has terrible taste in music, the friend who never shows up for dinner on time, Deli Komsu, nasty street cats, the annoying guy at that party, sidewalk parkers, nosy cleaning ladies, Bambi delivery drivers who go the wrong way at high speed up Luleci Hendek, annoying houseguests, every taxi driver we've ever ridden with, people who bring Turkish wine to parties. Those are just the people against whom we have legitimate complaints but haven't yet found a better way to address them than Twitter, which never results in satisfaction. As for the list of people against whom we'd like to exact revenge for less honorable reasons, well, that's why we need the anonymity promised by the NIB.
The Turkish government has bestowed a rare gift on irritated Istanbullus as well those who have plumbed the depths of social media and found it wanting. We urge you to create a partnership with your local polis -- if he's not too busy bonking someone on the head with a teargas cannister -- and take advantage of the NIB. Everyone knows how the Turkish polis respond with alacrity and common sense whenever yabancıs file complaints, accompanied by color-printed documents in triplicate and multiple stamps, in person; if you use NIB, no one knows you're a yabancı. Let's view them as our Partners in Score Settling (PISS). It's a gift whose time has come.
Sayın Anadolu Agency!
When we read the advertisement for English-speaking reporters on your website, we knew we had to apply in One Minute. It would be an honor to work for a news agency with such a nuanced grasp of the language and a duty to report the truth as interpreted by Turkey's ruling party. We hope you view this post as our CV.
Anadolu Agency, in line with its target of "being the powerful news agency of powerful Turkey", is aware that it has to have a new vision of the world in its 100th year. With offices throughout the world, AA became one of the most important news agencies in the region. A project called "Centennial" was put forth, which means that the Anadolu Agency will present its understanding of "reliable, impartial, ethical and fast" journalism to the whole world as a new teaching.
You may not be familiar with our work (yet), but there's obvious synergy. Indeed, we like to think of ourselves as a "powerful blog of powerful Turkey --" a brand positioning we had not, before today, even considered. Carpetblog has enthusiastically promoted the Turkish wine industry (Wait. Is that a positive or a negative in the current context?), supported Istanbul's finest eating establishments and pretty much served as a Chamber of Commerce for the Turknology industry. We are practically an unpaid PR flack for Turkish Airlines and have single-handedly come up with a line of lifestyle enhancement products based on our own experiences in Istanbul. No one who wasn't educated here is as concerned about protecting the Turkey's image abroad as Carpetblog.
We have news agency experience too. In an effort to serve an unarticulated demand, we formed our own news agency, CihangirWire. CW served Yabancıköy faithfully until it was subsumed in a hostile takeover by GalataWire, the mission statement of which remains, to this day, "covering all news that's binocular-visible from the balcony." Furthermore, we dislike the international media as much as you do and would happily join forces in an effort to school them in the innovative reporting techniques AA has been pioneering lately.
We share your commitment to "reliable, impartial, ethical and fast journalism" and believe Carpetblog deserves the kind of platform that only Anadolu Agency can provide. We hardly ever make up stories, suck up to authority figures, take oblique shots at our enemies, embellish facts to make them more interesting or strategically alter them to present ourselves in a more favorable light. We hope that doesn't disqualify us from consideration for this position. Any rumors on Twitter that we're batshit crazy and fact-averse is just the kind of social-media based calumny that we've both been fighting so hard against (respect!).
We're eager to open salary negotiations; however, in the interests of full disclosure, we are in talks with Russia Today. They offer an attractive package but we question RT's commitment to uncovering international conspiracies. AA is breaking new ground in that department and we can help. We can think of several salacious international conspiracies right off the top of our head, but we're not going to share any of them unless you hire us immediately at our typically inflated day rate.
We are waiting for your call!
I'm a writer and I will soon arrive in Turkey to cover the Gezi Park protests -- super excited. I haven't been there since my fellowship in 2001! I'd like to ask your advice because I really want make sure my stories break new ground and demonstrate my deep understanding of modern Turkey. It shouldn't be too hard to stand out, right? I mean, it's not like there's anyone there already writing anything useful. Most Turks speak English, right? Where do I buy a gas mask?
Hoş geldiniz (welcome!). We here at Carpetblog World Headquarters are thrilled that you've submitted the question because we've been dying to offer our advice on this topic but no one has ever asked.
What follows here are some phrases and visuals that we strongly suggest you include in your stories. They will go a long way to showing that you can both nail Istanbul's sense of place after just 36 hours and still grab a refreshing Efes at one of Beyoğlu's charming outdoor cafes.
We respect you too much to suggest you get some variation of "Turkish delight" or "bridge between east and west" in your headline or lede. Any intern can get that right. We do suggest you soak in the carnival-like atmosphere at Gezi Park and find a couple of locals -- one in a headscarf, the other in a mini-skirt --walking around arm in arm. It may be hard to find the headscarf girl at this particular event but don't give up easily. At the moment, there is no minaret at Taksim to complete the miniskirt visual. Shouldn't be too long before one gets built but don't make that mistake now. Embarassing.
Istanbul is a mixing pot of cultures: It doesn't matter that the Armenians mysteriously disappeared after World War I, the Greeks and Jews left in the 1950's and the Kurds are only just now starting to descend from the mountains. Europe! Asia! Continents meeting! That's all you need to say. It remains a powerful metaphor that can't be used too often.
Street cats: OMG cats! They're everywhere in Istanbul and are so cute and healthy-looking too. More pictures please! Maybe a tumblr with lots of moody hipstamatic vignetting and oversaturation, if you have extra time.
Pronunciation of Erdoğan's name: That little "g" with a hat is hard to pronounce correctly. Just harden it. No one will notice.
Gezi Park is central Istanbul's last park: It would be too hard in this heat to walk downhill to Tophane Park (which is small but has trees and grass), or north a few blocks to Maçka park (big, with trees and grass) or to Sanatkalar Park (which has grass and junkies, but no trees). Gezi Park has been variously (and acrimoniously) described as a few square blocks full of rats, used condoms, tinercis, homeless, concrete, a few trees, some trees, thousands of trees, and, as of very recently, dirty hippies. Go ahead and shorthand all that and refer to it the Hyde Park of Istanbul. We know what you mean.
Explain How X Event Affects Turkey's Chances to Join the EU: Turkey's highest aspiration is not to be a regional power broker with a booming economy and a bursting middle class, but rather be France and Germany's redheaded stepchild tasked with bailing out Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Some handwringing about its accession prospects is never unwelcome.
The Inherent Melancholy (hüzün) of Istanbul: Go hang out in Nişantaşı and talk to some Kemalists despondent over the headscarves driving Rangerovers. That's some serious gloom for you.
Carpetblog is here to make sure that you don't fall into common traps that have embarrassed your colleagues behind their backs at dinner parties for years. You can thank us later.
If you really want to see how it's done, follow on twitter @Aylajean, @Piotr_zalewski, @theTurkishLife, @JoeWSJ, @AChristieMiller, @aaronstein1, @FinkelAndrew, @Hugh_Pope, @RoyGutmanMcC, @aylushka_a, @BenjaminHarvey, even though none of them ever listen to Carpetblog advice.*
*No, really, those guys are the bosses of this story -- correspondents and freelancers alike, many of whom are Friends of Carpetblog -- and they are reporting their asses right off. Mad props to them. Lots of others are too! No hate! Some even report in languages we don't speak. We're pretty sure they're awesome too, but are looking for some outside confirmation first.
"Given that photos of Devushkas continue to drive what little traffic this blog still enjoys, we don't make such a declaration lightly," Carpetblogger said in a statement. "An era has ended and we feel obligated to inform the readership: Stick a fork in it. Russian ladies have moved on."
Carpetblogger reports seeing more stunningly beautiful, stylishly-dressed women than classic Devushkas in Moscow. "It made us so sad. We looked around for some Zhigulis and Volgas and saw none of those either. Moscow has really changed a lot," she lamented. "If you have to argue with your friend if a lady is a Devushka or not, she just isn't."
Heels are still high, skirts are still short, bedazzling abused and animals embarrassed by the uses to which their prints and skins are put. These elements are no longer combined, however, with the ferocity and confidence of 2006, widely considered the peak of DS, according to Carpetblogger
Devushka watchers still can catch the end of the long Devushka tail in Omsk or Yekaterinberg, but style will be derivative, unoriginal and, like all hinterland trends, long past its prime. "Don't expect innovations in form, such as boots that become fishnets. Those were specific to a time and place and, like the most compelling ephemera, lost to memory until they return in the typical 20 year nostalgia cycle as irony," the blogger noted.
Carpetblogger speculates on why Devushka Style faded. "The ladies at the cutting edge 10 years ago have aged out of their leopardskin capris and their feet hurt too much to wear over-the-knee-stilettos anymore." Furthermore, like hipsters around the world, their successors prefer boring skinny jeans. "Devushka Style is another victim of globalization," she added.
Carpetblog readers demand to know What Comes Next. How will Carpetblog adapt to changes in the marketplace of post-Soviet fashion? "If we thought our readers wanted to see photos of middle-aged devushkas grinding out a living as traders, hauling cheap clothes back to Moscow from Istanbul, we'd give them some." Traders are generally fed to excess on salo and sport short frosted-tip haircuts that add years to once-high slavic cheekbones. They're as much a type as their younger counterparts, but Carpetblogger questions their appeal. "We doubt there are quite as many message boards devoted to them as there are to Devushkas and we have SEO to think about."
Always one to see the glass as half-full, Carpetblogger still has faith in the region's pensioners. "They're like oak trees resisting the harsh winds of fashion. A good floral headscarf never goes out of style. They bring stability to an unpredictable world."
A fan suggested the other day that Carpetblog has been too nice lately and that perhaps, due to unspecified reasons, the edge has dulled. We generally treat constructive criticism with absolute disdain and respond with harsh, but silent, judgment of the criticiser, but we paused to consider. Perhaps this is true. We pledged to try harder.
We had the most Istanbul of dining experiences at Unter, a trendy "gastropub" in Karaköy that's part of the Nu chain of popular awfuls, on Saturday night. For this, we take partial blame. We had high expectations. After six years of dining out in Istanbul, you'd think we'd know better than to think a "concept" restaurant might be good, even (especially?) if it serves pulled pork and even if people whose taste is generally impeccible recommend it.
The dining room, set in the corner of a nondescript building near the Turkish Orthodox church is bright and nicely designed. The menu, characterized by the "put a bird on it" graphic design aesthetic so popular these days, was well-written and lacked the common misspellings and malapropisms typical of people who think their English is fluent. Promising!
We ought to have left after the appetizer plate of prosciutto, because it was downhill from there. Our out-of-town friend made the first mistake by asking the waiter to recommend one of several dishes. "Oh, gosh, we should stop him from doing that," we thought, but we wanted to see what would happen.
The waiter, who had perfected the deer-in-the-headlights look characteristic of the Turkish service sector when faced with a request from a scary foreigner, scurried away to find someone who could speak English but still couldn't answer the question. Our friend ordered the beef tenderloin on green lentils. "Oh, gosh, he shouldn't have done that, either," we thought but didn't say. Beef orders can be risky in Turkey. (So, apparently, can dining with Carpetblogger).
We shared this beef tenderloin as it was the only dish placed on the table for, oh, about an hour. Apparently, the kitchen staff had to run down to the Karaköy fish market to get our sea bass, a rare delicacy in Istanbul, and, finding the market closed and the fishers on the Galata bridge retired for the night, set out a pole at the ferry dock.
After both of us had approached the kitchen (no point in bothering the waiters, who had perfected the "we have no idea how to solve this problem" shrug native to the Turkish service sector) to inquire, the sea bass, an overcooked scab, finally arrived. It lacked the other accoutrement (basil and onion jam) listed on the menu; just a few leaves of roka and a brussels sprout. We ought to have sent it back and gone down to the fish bazaar for a more skillfully prepared balık ekmek, but we were hungry and didn't want to appear high maintenance.
That, combined with the high prices and expensive (95TL) but OK bottle of Turkish wine, would have been enough to put this in the category of an unremarkably mediocre night out Istanbul. But the utter failure on the part of anyone in that restaurant to acknowledge that anything might have been amiss or admit fault really pushed Unter into the Peak Istanbul Dining Experience stratosphere.
Anyone seeking the experience of high-end dining in Istanbul could do worse than Unter.
We have been closely following the controversies in which Turkish Airlines has embroiled itself recently: that its proposed new uniforms are ugly, and that it may or may not stop alcohol service on a few domestic/some/all flights everywhere all the time.
This may shock some of you, but here it is. We don't give two shits about what THY flight attendants wear nor what they serve.
When we get on a THY plane, we have several expectations:
Those are the non-negotiables.
THY, admittedly, has a mixed record on some of those criteria*. As far as we know, no plane has fallen out of the sky. But the debate in Turkey about how well THY pilots can, or more accurately, cannot, communicate in the lingua franca of international air traffic has been, shall we say, muted (and, sadly, mostly in Danish). The wrong airport landing pilot is a favorite story here at Carpetblog. And, could they park planes farther away from the terminal and not demand passengers get a Bulgarian visa stamp? We doubt it.
We don't really care what flight attendants wear, as long as the uniforms do not inhibit their ability to prevent the plane from falling out of the sky or landing at the wrong airport. So you think the proposed uniforms are ugly and impractical? Lots of things in Turkey are ugly and impractical and people seem to live with them just fine.
Sure, we'll be annoyed if we get on a flight from Erzurum and can't have a plastic cup of Doluca, because no one deserves a cup of warm Turkish wine more than someone who's been in Erzurum. But, we'll probably get over it, because it's a 90 MINUTE FLIGHT and there's plenty of easily-obtainable Doluca in Istanbul. (We'll revisit this policy if THY switches the wine selection on European flights from "French or Turkish?" to "Doluca or Yakut?" That justifies an uprising).
But, this is the really important thing. When an airport transfer bus approaches a line of north African airlines, with six or seven planes from airlines you've never heard of waiting in a row, and yours is the one in the middle with the red tail, delightfully named "Afyonhisar," and not the one with the airline name written in handpainted Arabic (or Cyrillic) with a staircase leading into the tail section, you say to yourself -- or maybe out loud -- "Looking good, THY!" Then, you board, and you have a glass of Doluca and everything is fine.
If we might offer some branding alternatives to "Globally Yours," may we suggest "Yours When all Other Options are Unspeakably Awful."
*As always, we speak with love! <3 U THY!
When not watching Russian dashcam videos, we have been following the European horsemeat scandale with enthusiasm. Despite having had a close relationship with a number quality equines, we don't really object to the consumption of horsemeat and have eaten our share of it in Central Asia where it's a staple. We're a bit bothered, however, by the mislabeling and the corruption of the industrial meat supply chain. And since we do live in Europe, we've wondered how, if at all, such problems plague the Turkish meat supply.
Everyone knows that the propensity to skimp on quality to save a few kuruş is not part of the Turkish national character. Even so, beef is expensive in Turkey. How can places serve a 7TL plate of köfte (meatballs) for lunch?
Even though we already know the answer, we, and our friends, have wondered aloud why some Turkish journalist hasn't done a random sample of döner kebab and published the results. Could it also be because no one really wants to know what's in a 5TL döner? But think of the upside! There could be pork in it! And, frankly, are people who regularly eat kokoreç going to be all that upset about finding a bit of at eti (horsemeat) in their (F)Atburger? It's not like it's you're going to find pig anus in your calamari here, right?
Unlike our friends at Istanbul Eats, we've never developed a taste for the late-night Taksim delicacy işlak (wet) burger, a garlicky 'beef patty" marinated in grease and tomato sauce, marketed primarily to people leaving bars at 3 am. At 2TL each, discovering those are made of horsemeat, rather than the much more readily available and economical sıçan eti, would actually be a huge relief.
It's no secret that we have a poorly concealed ladycrush on Georgia. We have written about it frequently, so much so that some of our favorite Carpetblog posts were written in or about Georgia. We fail to understand why our adventure-seeking, sybaritic Istanbul contemporaries have not yet shelled out the $300 for the two-hour flight to Tbilisi for a weekend. Do they not know passport control officers give you a bottle of wine after they stamp your passport? We have often worried that, in a haze of propagandizing, we have oversold the place. This has never happened. After a decade of living and travelling around the world, Georgia remains our favorite country, full stop, and everyone who has surrendered to our pleas to go agrees.
We just spent five days there, celebrating the fourth-annual Thanksgiving throwdown -- always a highlight of our year. After the turkey funk wears off, we try to do something somewhat adventurous. One year we visited the village of Sighnaghi, another year we cluelessly watched Georgia stomp the US in rugby, last year we went to the high Caucasus village of Gudauri. Each activity usually shares in common excessive consumption of food, wine and/or chacha. Things were a bit tamer than normal this year, mostly because key rogue elements stayed home.
We headed out to the Schuchmann winery in the Kakheti wine region. This was the first time we'd been out to this eastern Georgia valley, which is crammed up right to the base of the snow-dusted Caucasus, a view we've come to love and miss.
Overall, the German-owned lodge and restaurant were a bit disappointing. They were well-appointed but with service so sweetly incompetent that we commented "What this place needs is some Turks to whip it into shape." Thse are neither words we frequently say nor words Germans want to hear, but Turks can usually run a hotel pretty well.
But let's talk about the important thing: the quality of Schuchmann's wine, which was fantastic. We didn't get the tour we'd hoped for but we tried a variety of their wines, both European- style (aged in steel vats) and Kakhetian-style (aged in underground ceramic pots called Qvevri). We didn't much care for a traditional white called Kisi which tasted like it had gone off but apparently, we were told, it's supposed to taste like that. We much preferred the European-style 2008 Saperavi, the cabernet-like red for which Georgia is best known. They also have a 2008 Saperavi, but aged in Qvevri. We might have tried it. It can be hard to keep track.
Sometimes, after drinking a lot of wine, we worry that our judgment gets impaired -- there's plenty of hard data to suggest this is more than a vague perception -- and that the wine we've drunk a lot of isn't quite as good as it was on that cold night in front of a fire at the foot of the Caucasus with a friend.
The next morning, these residual warm feelings drove us to buy six bottles of the European-style Saperavi. The possiblity that we could be making a mistake occured to us. But, and here's the rub, it was only 6 Lari ($3.60) per bottle*. We figured it was low risk investment and it's not like it could be any worse than a 25 TL ($14) bottle of Turkish.
This, officially, is our favorite cheap wine, possibly ever. We served it at dinner last night with a bit of trepidation given our clouded judgment that night. The reaction was strongly positive. We concluded that it is actually too good to serve to the common riffraff who typically dine chez Carpetblogger.
So this is what we suggest: Germans at Schuchmann, bring in some Turks in to clean up the service at the hotel/restaurant so it justifies the rather steep rate. In exchange, teach the Turks how to make a decent wine. This is a win-win situation. We are happy to facilitate.
*That's the price at the winery with a tax-free card. It was 8 Lari without the card and 10 Lari ($6) in the supermarket in center Tbilisi. This a deal at all those prices. The 2008 Khakheti-style Saperavi was 30 Lari ($18) at the winery. The labor-intensive Qvevri aging explains the substantially higher price. We can't recall trying it so can't comment on whether it's worth it. It probably is.
In the event that an Istanbul expat doesn't want to go out to eat Turkish food -- something that is extremely unlikely because everyone agrees strongly that Turkish food is one of the world's top cuisines and there's no reason to try something different -- options are shockingly limited for a city of this size. We have theories about why this is, ranging from the conservative Turkish palate to a dearth of non-Anatolian immigrants, but several recent developments have given us hope that options for quality, creative, international dining and drinking here are increasing.
First, we will broker no counter-argument to the assertion that Efes is poison and is the worst beer ever. Back in the day, we used to like beer a great deal and drank it frequently, particularly the Pacific Northwest microbrew variety which was conveniently available at multiple locations near our front door. Since moving to Istanbul, we have stopped drinking beer in protest at the awfulness of Efes and had forgotten how nice a good beer can be.
Barriers to doing something different and well here are notoriously high. So when we heard about the opening of the Bosphorus Brewing Company, we were cautiously optimistic, but also a bit skeptical. Other brewpubs have come and gone and no one missed them because they were expensive and not very good. But we're willing to try new things, even if doing so requires leaving Beyoğlu, physically dragging our companion out the door and paying for dinner.
BBC receives the highly-sought after, unqualified Carpetblog Stamp of Approval. Other people can comment on the authenticity of its brewed on-site English ales or the legitimacy of its gastropub atmosphere, but we liked everything about it. They have five beers on tap right now (but have the capacity for 10) and we tried them all. We ate almost the entire bar menu (memo to self: next time don't offer to buy). Nothing was wanting. Early rumors suggested it was expensive but it was no more per person than a mediocre mezze night in Beyoğlu-- the primary difference being ample, DELICIOUS BEER. And anyway, if you want cheap beer, go to Istiklal and drink Efes.
Phillip and Jill, the friendly British proprietors promised all kinds of appealing innovations -- like frequent drinker cards, tastings, growlers and kegs (pause, for a moment, to imagine how a keg of Hops and Glory positioned on the balkon next summer will improve your outlook on life). Our companion quibbled about stupid shit that does not even bear repeating, but we have no complaints other than the fact we can't walk there. We hope it becomes the friendly expat hangout that doesn't really exist here. Go support them tonight.
Second development: Culinarist is the project of a Dutch and Turk foodie team and is hosting regular "open table" dinners at a space in Cihangir. In the interest of full disclosure, we haven't actually gone to an open table dinner yet, but we plan to and not knowing anything about something has never before stopped us from offering an opinion about it. The menus offer creative international dishes with a "Turkish twist." Their Thanksgiving menu this weekend includes crostini with smoked mackarel in a dressing of homemade mayonaise, apple and chives and ravioli filled with spinach and Turkish ricotta in butter-sage sauce, all of which sound like things we would consume with enthusiasm.
We have, however, participated in a Culinarist Turkish wine tasting evening which was delightful. It was enjoyable not because the wine was good (it was, after all, Turkish wine), but because Jotham is knowledgeable and we had an interesting discussion about why Turkish wine isn't very good and why it tastes the way it does (there are good reasons, it turns out). It was also a useful primer for folks new to wine tasting. So, go to those events and support local efforts to do something different well.
Third! Wine tasting at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet on Friday nights. This is the best deal in town. For 45 TL you get to try four flights of not necessarily Turkish wines (we tried Italian wines one night, Turkish another night -- some of which were good -- and a different night they offered sparkling wines). They also put out an impressive cheese spread -- mostly good-quality Turkish varieties and a few imports. We don't typically think first of the Four Seasons when seeking a Friday night wine drinking bargain, but this is a good deal.
Fourth! Istanbul Eats and IOM sponsored Migrant Kitchen last week for which Liberian, Cameroonian and Ethiopian cooks living in Istanbul prepared and served a typical lunch. Although we missed two of the three lunches, the Ethiopian chef, in particular, received rave reviews. Sadly, this was a temporary exhibition but we hope it encourages immigrant chefs to establish more formal operations to serve both their homesick compatriots and expats tired of kofte. Istanbul's growing community of Africans, while transient and not well-off, might be the best hope for the development of a more international dining scene in this giant overwhelmingly Turkish city. As always, count on Istanbul Eats to keep you up to speed on developments in this area.
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Turkey's Great Leader recently floated the idea of the "Lira Zone," a TL-based currency bloc alternative to the Euro Zone. Finally! Turkey has a leader with the vision to thumb his nose at the club that doesn't want it LIKE A BOSS. Like the premeditated arbicide of Taksim Square, this is a plan whose time has come. To show our unmitigated support, we've offered naming services for the new union -- gratis:
The Crapizone, with its own unified currency, the Crapistani (dim: the Crappi).
If we were more graphically-minded, we would create the symbol too, but we advise sticking with the new TL symbol, 'cause nothing says "bouyant" like an anchor.
“Theoretically, only Iraqi Kurds (in Northern Iraq) and Azerbaijan could consider joining the Lirazone, but even for them, it would be very difficult,” he said.
Oh Mr. Atilla Yesilada, political analyst at Global Source Partners, an Istanbul-based research firm, what's with the small thinking and petty discrimination? While you absolutely cannot have the Crapizone without the participation of anchors Baku and Erbil, don't exclude other worthy participants just because they don't have functioning economies or are ruled by oligarchic authoritarians. In fact, the latter should be a prerequisite for participation.
If you've forgotten how to tell if you are in Crapistan, here's a helpful reminder. But what should be the criteria for a country joining the Crapizone? Here are a few thoughts:
With a wallet bulging with Crapistanis, there's no limit to the crystal-encrusted jeans or pointy shoes or $7 cups of Nescafe you can buy. It's the new status symbol, which blinged out white hiphop artists will be wearing around their necks in music videos filmed on the shores of the Caspian.
In fact, we're going to start trading dollars for them today. That's how bullish we are are on the Crapizone.
Calling Istanbul the Whitest City in the World is probably unfair to some city in Ukraine but if you've ever danced at a Turkish wedding you know it can be pretty white here, and frequently souless (afro-Turks notwithstanding!).
Lots of us have been getting our soul fix from Dirk and Ansel's Soul Sendikası radio show, which they host weekly, in Turkish, on Istanbul's Açık Radyo. When they announced the launch of Soul Nights at the Peyote club, we cleared our very busy schedule. So did lots of other folks -- Turks and yabancılar alike.
As DJs, Dirk (Belgian) and Ansel (American) -- to whom we occasionally refer (with only love!) as the whitest guys alive -- bring it. Their VJ (who might be Ayça Yürük, who posted a video of her great work that night here) coordinated with their playlist brilliantly. It was a super fun night.
But, have you ever gone to a bar or a club frequented by homesick immigrants who just want hang out and listen to music that reminds them of the old country? You felt cool and maybe edgy, like you were re-living your teenage years spent grooving in Addis or Guadalajara rather than shoveling horseshit in the rural Pacific Northwest. But you probably didn't notice the old guy sitting in a dark corner alone with his beer, looking at you like "you're on my lawn, would you please step off?"
Well, we've now been both those people.
We would never, ever begrudge Turkish audiences their fill of funk -- in fact, we think it's wonderful that Turks embrace Soul Sendikasi and are developing an appreciation of an important aspect of American culture and what it represents -- but we saw those Soul Train clips when they originally aired! Josie and the Pussycats were at our house on Saturday mornings! We listened to the Jackson 5 on AM radio in morning carpool! That was the music of our youth (true, so was Paul Anka, thanks to the whitest ancestors on the planet)! But that a white girl from Issaquah Washington can appropriate music made by blacks in Detroit is what makes America America.
Anyway, if you're a non-American interested in learning more about a vibrant period in American music or a cranky American nostalgic for a vibrant period of your youth, you shouldn't miss Soul Sendikasi's Soul Night in November.
Were you as sad as we were to hear that Cafe Euro, the only source of legitimate Georgian food in Istanbul, had closed? Well, little girl, stop your sobbing and get yourself back to the bus station in Aksaray. There's Khingali to be had!
The brand formerly known as Istanbul Eats, Istanbul Culinary Backstreets, broke the news about Cafe Niko, located a stone's throw from the late Cafe Euro. We agree with everything they say. Owner and Batumi native Beso is chatty and friendly, the khingali is the bomb and -- wait for it -- there is real pork meat. He serves all your favorites: Khachapuri (adjarian and imrelian), khingali, swine shashlyk (baked with onions, not grilled) and lobio (sadly, out when we went). He predicts a real bounty in October, when he starts serving kupati, homemade pickles and xaş (bone and tripe soup that you'll just LOVE).
Every ingredient, except the potatoes, flour and onions, comes from Georgia. There's no Georgian wine -- sad face! -- because Beso's homemade wine doesn't travel well. Beso is, however, a chacha usta and his homebrew, served in recycled plastic water bottles, is smoother than you'd expect. He attributes this to the wood charcoal filtering process he uses.
Beso has grand expansion visions. He's clearly a man whose ambitions will not be confined by a crappy bus station in Istanbul. At 20 TL/pp for a full meal of Georgian gloriousness, however, a lot of us will have to devour a lot of khingali to provide him with the capital he needs to grow.
We do feel a professional obligation to issue a few words of warning about Cafe Niko. If you thought Cafe Euro was a bit too chi-chi, you'll love Cafe Niko's earthiness. The kitchen looked mostly clean-ish but the astro-turfed terrace, while pleasant on a late summer evening, is, uh, gritty. You might want to leave your high maintenance friends and visitors at home. The crowd looks rough but friendly so unaccompanied ladies might not feel super comfortable. Also, if you don't speak Georgian, Russian or know Georgian food, you might have to take what you get (the menu is only in Georgian but Beso speaks a few words of English). Turkish isn't going to help, either. But wanting what you get is the key to expat happiness, right? What's the worst that can happen?* You eat something delicious you've never had before?
Cafe Niko: Carpetblog Stamp of Approval.
*the worst that can happen is that you go after 8 pm or on Sunday, when Cafe Niko is closed.
Address: Emniyet Otogarı (bus station), Küçük Langa Caddesi 190, Aksaray(Go 20 meters after walking through the gates of Emniyet bus station, then look left and you’ll see the balcony of Café Niko above Emniyet Café.)
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I recently read an article with that exact headline and I got worried! Is a minority attempting to use legislation to limit the rights of a majority in Istanbul? That sounds crazy to me, especially regarding booze. I am curious what you think.
An Istanbul Drinker
We here at Carpetblog saw that article too and it worried us for a couple reasons. First, is Eurasianet (which we typically love, so no hate!) so tone-deaf that using the term "apartheid" in a headline for a story about restrictions on drinking in a Muslim country sounded like a good idea? Good clickbait but that's a regrettable word choice.
It also concerns us because the article falls into traps set by the typical secular vs. religious debate framework and fails to break any new or important ground on an interesting topic with broader implications. Eurasianet is usually better than that.
And, it concerns us because people's panties get more twisted about their inability to drink Efes anytime, anywhere than the lack of transparency and ongoing erosion of rule of law in Turkey.
Yabancilar and hysterical secularists tend to point to a couple examples that "prove" alcohol is getting harder to consume in Istanbul. The media (not just Eurasianet) tend to repeat these examples to bolster the case that the Islamists have arrived in Beyoğlu, ignoring how the claims fit into the larger -- and much more complicated -- narrative of what's happening in Turkey right now. An argument could be made that restrictions on alcohol consumption in Turkey are increasing (such as increased taxes) but, in our view, none of these commonly cited cases fully support it.
We shall address these claims. They include:
The Outdoor Seating Fatwa: The outdoor seating ban has made social life in Beyoğlu grim. We hate it with the white-hot passion of 1000 suns. But is it really designed to curb drinking? We have never been convinced it is, in whole. If it is, then why is it so unevenly applied? In our observation, it applies to both teahouses (see: Kartal Sokak) and bars/restaurants alike. Why is outdoor seating -- with alcohol -- allowed in Talımhane, Karaköy, Nevizade (where it was never banned) and on Galata Meydan? Why does it affect Beyoğlu and not other AKP-run municipalities, like Sultanahmet/Fatih, which are much more conservative? To us, it seems like more of an arbitrary and non-transparent application of a "law" or someone's poorly thought out reponse to a real problem (illegal tables blocking sidewalks) than an attack on outdoor drinking, which frankly, is a lot more troubling.
The Efes Festival Skirmish: No question, this epic battle was over serving beer at the Efes-sponsored One Love music festival last month at Santralistanbul on the Bilgi campus in Fatih. We were at a concert a week later at the same venue at which no beer -- except the alkoholsuz variety, the only possible way Efes could be made worse -- was served. It looks like the conservative residents of Fatih who object to beer drinking so close to the holy Eyüp mosque the week before Ramazan scored the point, right?
Fifty meters from the entrance to the concert venue, you could buy as much beer as you wanted at Bilgi University's campus bars, including one set up outside solely devoted to dispensing beer. So, is drinking not allowed in Fatih now or does the ban only apply to concerts at Santral? Is Bilgi shutting down all its bars or is it exempt? Why or why not? What about drinking in Sultanahmet, which is also part of Fatih and is close to holy Eyüp? Who or what is making these decisions and according to what authority?
Instead of looking into the issue further, the Eurasianet story repeated yawn-inducing CHP boilerplate and Pasha Erdoğan's typically incendiary quotes about the corruption of youth, but didn't actually talk to anyone who sells booze in Fatih to see if they face new restrictions, such as -- just a non-journalist thinking out loud here -- Bilgi University. It sounds to us like the same issue: the arbitrary application of some "law" or someone's poorly thought out solution to a problem. Or, it could be an ad-hoc response designed to placate a mob and provoke media hysteria. Either way, it succeeded and is much more troubling than the issue of "can I drink beer at a concert?"
The Routing of the Tower Drinkers: A few months ago, the nightly crowd of young drinkers got booted from the area around the base of the Galata Tower. Frankly, we were not opposed to this. In the mornings the area reeks of piss and vomit and fights are frequent. Hurriyet Daily News framed the debate-- as it is contractually obligated -- as a battle between conservative yobs who are offended by public drinking and sexing (Sorry about that! Won't happen again!) and freedom-loving intellectuals, rather than regular people who are pissed off by drunks making a lot of noise below their bedrooms at night. The area around the tower is now cordoned off with police tape so no one can sit there -- day or night, tourists or young drinkers alike. Outrage! Another sign of "alcohol apartheid."
Except the drinkers have moved 20 meters east and number twice as many because there's a lot more room for them. Now, hundreds of young people sit on the steps of Galata Meydan every night, drinking beer, cracking sunflower seeds and smoking cloves. No one seems to care. Is it an alcohol crackdown or flawed implementation of a response to an actual problem? It's easier just to say "booze crackdown!" than to look closer at the problem, which to us, is no-brainer but didn't actually get solved.
The Midnight Sign Genocide: This article about the city removing signs from restaurants and bars in the middle of the night is mystifying in ways only an article in Hurriyet Daily News can be: torturous use of language, zero sources and factually impossible claims. We live near Galipdede and Galata -- two of the areas mentioned where the sign massacre took place -- and not only are there no bars and very few restaurants beyond tourist-oriented büfes on Galipdede, plenty of ugly signs remain.
Has anyone in the English-language (or Turkish for that matter) press spoken to a proprietor whose sign got taken down? What, exactly, was the nature of the anticipated mayhem cited by HDN that forced city officials to take signs down in the middle of the night? Could there be another explanation for signs being removed besides "alcohol apartheid?" Thank god Eurasianet found a media studies teacher at Bilgi to illuminate the issue:
"'In Beyoğlu, they [authorities] don’t say [anything] directly, but the right to drink alcohol in public places is diminishing, and that is an entertainment area,' said Gokhan Tan, a media studies teacher at Istanbul Bilgi University."
The neighborhood, as far as we can tell, is still lousy with fucking ugly signage and you can still drink in as many places as before, including right there on Galata Meydan in at least two different restaurants (as well as on the steps). If there is a jihad planned against Pizza Corner and the new Best Coffee Cafe on Galata Meydan for violation of good taste, however, we would very much like to join it.
Many cities in North America and Europe regulate alcohol consumption -- when, where, to whom and what booze is consumed or sold -- as a matter of course, mostly to maintain quality of life. It's really not that big of a deal. But in Turkey, clumsy implementation, a lack of transparency and a slippery interpretation of rule of law result in a tendency to reduce every policy debate to the simplistic "secularists vs AKP" dynamic despite plenty of evidence there *might* be something more at work. The spazzy local media has little incentive to look into the issues more deeply but that doesn't excuse the foreigners.
While we are troubled about the direction Turkey and Istanbul have taken over the past year or two, we are not one who sees an Islamist under every rock. What concerns us more are the steps taken back toward paternalistic authoritarianism, crony capitalism and one non-transparent set of laws that applies to regular people and another that applies to the elite. This has nothing to do with Islamism and tends to get obscured by stupid debates over whether or not you can drink beer in Beyoğlu.
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Wow, it's super hot in Istanbul in July. I am looking for a cool way to hang out with my friends, avoid the skeezy masses who flock to Istanbul's dirty, crappy beaches and hotel pools filled with Saudis and generate stories to tell for weeks after. I have no idea what sort of activity fulfills these criteria, but I have heard spending the day on the Bosporus on a boat can be fun. Do you have any thoughts?
Hot and Cranky
Hot and cranky is right! We are sort of specialists in finding the best way to spend a hot summer day in places. Boat days on the Bosporus are like outdoor movies in NYC or rain at Bumbershoot in Seattle: the essential summer experience. We highly recommend finding a boat, renting it and spending a weekday cruising the Bosporus with your best under-employed friends. Barring that, weekends are good too, with people you have met before.
Here are some things you need, learned from our own experience, that will help make your day on the Bosporus a success.
A Boat: Finding a boat to rent is easy. Walk along the water in Kuruçeşme and you will find many
different options available, depending on your budget (a boat usually runs 1000-1500 TL for a day, depending on your boat, route and amount of time). Or ask people you know for recommendations because people have opinions about boats and love to share them. You could rent the flashy wood and brass trimmed traditional gullet that holds 15 people, max, and has no sound system, that you think will impress the young ladiez. Or, you could get a retrofitted ferry or fishing boat with an astroturf dancing deck on which no one cares if red wine is spilled and a kickin' sound system for your Robyn covers. Which boat do you think impresses us?
Rogue Elements: All successful boat trips need a rogue element, maybe two. A rogue element is someone, who will, on a 20TL bet, jump into the Halıç, a more disgusting and polluted body of water than the Marmara. Rogue elements are most often people who have been in war-zones or living in the former Soviet Union. Among the latter, what regular people would consider "roguish behavior" is just called "Tuesday night." So gird your loins and find those people. Barring that, get a couple of Scandinavians. They can be unpredictable.
Charcoal: Most boats have a BBQ on board. The boat crew will cook and serve the fish and kofte you bring with you, unless you forget to bring the charcoal. You'll only make that mistake once.
Special Cocktails: People on boats want Efes, Angora or Buzbağ even less than they do at every other moment of the day so be clever. We bring a bottle of Malibu on every trip but it seems people want to drink that even less than they want to drink Angora. Red State Sibling created the "Texas Surprise" for one memorable trip last summer, the ingredients of which to this day remain a mystery. Peach and pineapple margaritas were a huge hit on a recent boat day but require a high-quality American-style cooler, which can be hard to come by. Don't forget the ice!
A Nice Swimming Place: We broadly define "nice" as meaning mostly "upstream from Istanbul." Someone needs to explain the appeal of the Princes Islands to us. We have lived here for six years and still do not understand why people ride packed ferries full of shrieking children to crowded islands with filthy water and overpriced, crappy food. They're not much better if you have your own boat, unless you visit a more isolated cove the middle of the night which is a different and somewhat atypical experience that you should try once when it's not really windy. We like to cruise up the Bosporus and park for the day in one of the coves past Anadolu Hısarı. There, you can enjoy pure radioactive water from Ukraine that has yet to be sullied by Istanbul sewage.
Solo Cups: Solo cups, which can only be imported from America, are critical for all parties, especially boat days. You can live without silverware; you cannot live without solo cups. We have stopped speaking to people who have thrown them in the trash.
It should be mentioned that organizing a boat day can be a burden, what with the average 10-15 people invited on a boat day all having strongly-held opinions, ancient rivalries and competing agendas. The potential for drama or hurt feelings can be high. Organizers deal with this in different ways, ranging from complicated spreadsheets to complete abdication of all organizational duties, or, from passive aggression to open hostility. You should probably have a sense, in advance, of how your boat-organizer approaches the job to avoid disappointment. But, regardless, boats are almost always fun.
I know that Istanbul is the bridge between East and West and I love Orhan Pamuk. I would love to get a cool loft with a melancholic Bosporus view, maybe in Cihangir or Çukurcuma, which all the papers keep telling me OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER are the Brooklyn of Istanbul and super bohemian. That sounds like me! Tell me your secrets!
Aspiring Real Estate Mogul
Unlike many topics on which we offer opinions, this is one we know something about. HOLY SHIT, do we have strong opinions about it (making it no different, in reality, from topics about which we know very little).
Here's a bit of background. In a past life, we were part of a legally recognized, now dissolved, partnership that believed, with uniquely American ferventness, that "renting is stupid."
In July 2007, we liquidated holdings which, had we not, would have been lost six months later in what became known as the "great American experiment with privatization of wealth/socialization of risk." We bought an Ottoman-era wood frame house on a mostly nice, sometimes violent, sokak in Çukurcuma. This was not dumb. It was a lovely house and, except for the last two years during which we were tortured by near-constant construction and some other, unrelated problems, we very much liked living in it. After four years we sold the house at a profit. On the surface, it worked out great.
The profit, however, was not commensurate with the risk taken. Accordingly, we would not consider buying in Istanbul again.
Before you think about buying property here (or anywhere in Turkey), ask yourself some questions.
If the answer to any one of those is "yes," you should proceed with extreme caution.
The following issues have affected us personally or have affected close friends. We've heard about lots of other problems but writing about them all would turn this into a 5000 word post. Here are the top ones.
Ownership: One thing that makes our experience a bit different than that of others who are buying now is that, from late 2006 to July 2011, foreigners were not allowed to purchase Beyoğlu property in their own names. This is no longer the case. During that time, however, the Beyoğlu Belediyesi, in violation of Turkish law and without warning or explanation, did not transfer deeds to foreigners (there is no legal barrier to foreigners owning most properties in Turkey). Our Turkish lawyer owned our house and NOT ONCE did he try to steal it. He was nothing but professional and trustworthy, mostly. However, we would never do this again. Had he decided to steal our house, there was very little we could have done about it.
Do not, under any circumstances, even look at a property without a clear chain of ownership. This is a problem in parts of Beyoğlu where a lot of Greek and Armenian owners "left town in a hurry," vacating lovely properties that are now "owned" by the Anatolian migrants who "moved in." Sure, apartments have high ceilings and beautiful frescoes and are probably a bargain. If you can't establish ownership through the tapu (deed) office, which is relatively easy (check it with your own eyes!), don't buy.
Emlakcıs: How can you tell if a carpet seller is lying? His lips are moving. The same logic should be applied to emlakcıs, Turkish "real estate agents." They are guys (but also ladies) whose main qualification to broker property sales is their ability to obtain keys to all the apartments for rent/sale on a particular street and never, ever shower. They are a scourge.
Emlakcıs are unlicensed and unregulated. Your operating assumption should be "they are going to rip me off in every possible way." Understand that they are in no way looking out for your interests, assume every listing on their website or office window is a bait and switch, never give them any money up front for any reason and never agree to any "fee" they say is "obligatory." There is no such thing as a multiple listing service, properties you see on sahibinden.com ("by owner") are usually put there by emlakcıs and the six percent "commission" they demand is bullshit. We can think of one or two whom we trust but have been screwed by many others. Since emlakcıs usually cannot be avoided, we recommend taking the most aggressive/defensive stance possible when dealing with them. These principles apply to renting as well as buying.
Construction: Never buy or rent near a vacant lot or derelict building. We have lived next to five. Four of them have undergone major construction projects through which we have suffered/are currently suffering. Istanbul is growing and changing and this will affect you --as a buyer or a renter -- eventually in at least two ways.
First, obviously, is noise and general disruption. Believe it or not, Istanbul has laws that govern construction hours. Believe it or not, these rules are routinely ignored. Builders evade the Zabita (civil police) by using their backhoes or pouring cement at midnight on a Sunday. Can you do anything about it except rage? Probably not. The average shitty concrete five-floor monstrosity takes about 6-12 months to build. Did you know pneumatic jackhammers are used 10+ hours a day for building? They most certainly are. The presence of unregulated construction nearby will affect your ability to live in, rent out or sell your place.
Second, if you own a building next to a construction site, you have no recourse if it is damaged by builders, which it will be. Ordinary people -- especially foreigners -- do not have easy access to civil courts. We decided never to own property in Istanbul while watching a backhoe dig a pit beneath the foundation of our small wooden house, knowing that if our house fell into this pit, all our money would be gone and we would not get it back. You have no recourse. Dump trucks hauling debris smashed into the exterior walls every day for weeks. The construction crew just laughed at us when we complained. They laughed less when we threatened their truck headlights with a hammer but they didn't stop hitting the house with trucks. You have no recourse. Except, maybe your hammer.
Capricious application of laws: Assume that because you are a stupid yabancı, laws will apply to you that do not apply to anyone else. Guess who is going to get shut down by the belediyesi: the yabancı carefully replacing the windows on his own historic house for which he has permission or the construction firm ripping up historic buildings at midnight with a backhoe?
Also, keep in the back of your mind, that if you buy a property today, next week some arbitrary fiat may make it difficult to sell (see above about ownership).
Contracts: So you signed an agreement with an emlakcı or with your buyer/seller? Congratuations. It's pretty meaningless. There is no mechanism to enforce it, except the good faith you used when you signed it and that the other party almost certainly lacked. It doesn't protect you. If the seller wants to take your deposit and not sell you the house or raise the price 20%, there's not a lot you can do about it.
On the other hand, you're not bound to it, either. We verbally agreed to sell our house to a buyer, then backed out at the last minute when it looked like he planned to screw us. It was a total dick move, for sure, but, other than sending some nasty emails, there was nothing he could do about it. It is the only time the lack of recourse has worked in our favor. At the time it was stressful, but once we got over the need to follow rules that no one else does, we felt good about it. We gave his deposit back because we are stupid yabancıs. We didn't have to.
Taxes: Without getting into a lot of detail, there are several things to know about the tax situation in Beyoğlu. First, buyers and sellers have been evading property taxes and capital gains taxes in Istanbul for time immemorial by lying on the deeds about the selling/buying prices. Second, the Belediyesi and mortgage companies are starting to figure this out. Third, as a foreigner, you are going to get nailed at some point in some expensive and/or catastrophic way. Don't listen to sellers or emlakcıs who say "this is the way it's done." Insist on doing it legally. Someday, the city will figure out you didn't pay 20,000TL for your apartment like it says on the deed and some chickens will come home to roost. (Is this scenario imaginable to you? It is to us. "Hi, I'm from the city and we're starting a redevelopment project in your neighborhood so we're buying up properties. Your deed says it's worth 20,000 TL -- about $11,000 -- so here's 20,000TL. What a bargain! Kthnxbai.")
You might be the kind of person who doesn't worry about these things, or you are comfortable navigating this sort of risk environment, or you don't care that much about losing a couple of hundred thousand dollars, or you have a lot of fixers and lawyers and Chechens at your disposal or you don't hear construction noise because you are deaf. If so, go nuts. Buy property in Istanbul. You might make some some money. You might never hear jackhammers at 830 am on a Sunday. You might meet Orhan Pamuk.
In other words, your mileage may vary, but you were warned.