Tag Archives: Istanbul

Reciprocating Soup – The Tantalising Cuisine of Google Translate


They seem harmless but look out for avalanches

The last time I went to Istanbul I had supper at Çiya Sofrasi, a restaurant which is by now famous (a long article about it appeared in the New Yorker and it has also been mentioned by the New York Times). It serves traditional food from distant Turkish provinces which  is so different from the standard fare of Istanbul that the locals I was with couldn’t figure out what we were eating.

The day before I went I consulted the restaurant’s website, which had a huge list of dishes but, unfortunately, only in Turkish. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to use Google Translate to find out what was being served. What I found instead was that I was transported across a mental ocean into a new world of uncharted cuisine.  Read more…

Istanbul – Above the Ring

(Listen to the poem here)

Eminönü  jumps up
the staircase
of its vowels
in a hurry

out from the Golden Horn.
It’s not a place to dawdle
waving one’s hands
over the slender minarets
trying to uncork the sky:
here all is cars and boats
and bustle. Read more…

Put a Sheep in Your Pocket – Proverbs in Istanbul

Once in Istanbul I was eating at a cheap restaurant near Sultan Ahmet- the Blue Mosque. It was one of those times when a bomb had gone off or somebody had invaded someone somewhere, and despite this being a tourist area there was nobody but me in the place. And then a lady walked in. For some reason I decided she must be Korean. She had a little girl, just about to experiment with walking, but mostly an experienced and very fast crawler. And as soon as the lady tucked into her meal, the little girl was off, under the next table, round the corner, past me and straight for the door on the street. On the threshold one of the waiters whisked her up and carried her back to her mother, who paid her no attention whatsoever. Five minutes later the girl was off again, and again a waiter carried her back. On the girl’s fourth outing it was the cook who came out from the kitchen and grabbed her. He held her in his arms, put his chef’s hat on her head and stood in the window with her and  they both waved at passers-by until the mother had finished eating.

The city was full of little poetic gestures like that.  Every now and then someone would give you their time or something they owned in a completely unexpected way. I got really used to it, so that one day when I was trying get back to the city from half-way down the Bosporus, I got on a dolmuş bus and as I stood stooped in the small vehicle just behind the driver, I was not really surprised to find that people were handing me money. It took me a few seconds  to realize that these were all fares I had to hand over to the driver and that I would then have to sort out all the change.

The only people who ever bothered me were the carpet sellers who would follow you for what seemed forever, turning everything you said into another question.  No thank you, would be answered by Why not? and Because I don’t want a carpet by Why don’t you want one? and so on and so on. And if you said nothing it was even worse because they would then go through every nationality in the world in many different languages. Français ? Italiano ? English ? Deutsch ? I realised that there were not many potential customers but I didn’t see why I had to subsidise the whole trade on my own. At one point, I thought of buying a small carpet and carrying around with me all the time, so that I could show them I already had one, but obviously that wouldn’t have worked. They would have told me I needed a bigger one.

Then, one day, I chanced upon the Sahaflar Çarşısı the outdoor
book market near the Grand Bazaar and there I found a big red book entitled A Dictionary of Turkish Proverbs.
I learnt an easy one at the front of the book – At var, meydan yok – We have a horse but no parade ground. And the next time I was propositioned by a carpeteer, just to change the script a little, instead of saying No, thank you,I said At var, meydan yok. And then something  strange happened – words failed him and he fell behind me – for about five seconds- then he caught up- but I had bewildered him for a bit. So I learnt some more proverbs, I thought that if I could master eight or nine I might be able to put enough distance between us to escape. And sometimes it worked. Lack of logic was not something they were prepared for.

Fish are in frying pan, hares in the plain,

If you cannot find a great man to consult, find a great rock,

When a snake  has a headache it comes out into the middle of  the road.

If you don’t have a mirror, look  at your neighbour

If you want yoghurt in winter, carry a sheep in your pocket.

I had no idea what they meant. I actually tried carrying a sheep in my pocket one winter, but nothing happened – well, no yoghurt at least. But I did manage to get away more often and in a much better mood, go down to the Spice market and the fish market and the lane where they sold wonderful old knives and kitchenware and as in the famous poem, listen to Istanbul, or move on to the waterfront and do what I most enjoy there- ride the boats – and this poem is about the feeling I have when I am on one of them.

Orhan Veli – Istanbul’u dinliyorum – I am listening to Istanbul

by Orhan Veli (1914- 1950) – English translation by Murat Nemet-Nejat from  I, Orhan Veli

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
First a breeze is blowing
And leaves swaying
Slowly on the trees;
Far, far away the bells of the
Water carriers ringing,
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
A bird is passing by,
Birds are passing by, screaming, screaming,
Fish nets being withdrawn in fishing weirs,
A woman’s toe dabbling in water,
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening,
The cool Grand Bazaar,
Mahmutpasha twittering
Full of pigeons,
Its wast courtyard,
Sounds of hammering from the docks,
In the summer breeze far, far away the odor of sweat,
I am listening.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
The drunkenness of old times
In the wooden seaside villa with its deserted boat house
The roaring southwestern wind is trapped,
My thoughts are trapped
Listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
A coquette is passing by on the sidewalk,
Curses, sings, sings, passes;
Something is falling from your hand
To the ground,
It must be a rose.
I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed.

I am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
A bird is flying round your skirt;
I know if your forehead is hot or cold
Or your lips are wet and dry;
Or if a white moon is rising above the pistachio tree
My heart’s fluttering tells me…
I am listening to Istanbul.

(Original poem)

İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı
Önce hafiften bir rüzgar esiyor
Yavaş yavaş sallanıyor
Yapraklar, ağaçlarda;
Uzaklarda, çok uzaklarda,
Sucuların hiç durmayan çıngırakları
İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı

İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı
Kuşlar geçiyor, derken
Yükseklerden, sürü sürü, çığlık çığlık.
Ağlar çekiliyor dalyanlarda
Bir kadının suya değiyor ayakları
İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı

İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı
Serin serin Kapalıçarsı
Cıvıl cıvıl Mahmutpaşa
Güvercin dolu avlular
Çekiç sesleri geliyor doklardan
Güzelim bahar rüzgarında ter kokuları
İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı

İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı
Başımda eski alemlerin sarhoşluğu
Los kayıkhaneleriyle bir yalı
Dinmiş lodosların uğultusu içinde
İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı

İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı
Bir yosma geçiyor kaldırımdan
Küfürler, şarkılar, türküler, laf atmalar.
Bir şey düşüyor elinden yere
Bir gül olmalı
İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı

İstanbul’u dinliyorum, gözlerim kapalı
Bir kuş çırpınıyor eteklerinde
Alnın sıcak mı, değil mi, biliyorum
Dudakların ıslak mı, değil mi, biliyorum
Beyaz bir ay doğuyor fıstıkların arkasından
Kalbinin vurusundan anlıyorum
İstanbul’u dinliyorum.