Then follow @carpetblogger1 on Twitter. You probably won't regret it.
During my last two weeks in Istanbul, I am taking care of business that would be impossible/too expensive/tortuous to accomplish elsewhere, particularly France. One of those tasks is getting rid of ten years of accumulated world currencies, several of which no longer exist, and which weighed about five pounds. They weren’t coming to France. What to do?
Currency is only useful if you can find someone to give you something of value in exchange for it. There aren’t a lot of takers for a stack of Uzbek Som that’s worth less than two dollars. So what should I do with it? Throw it out? Seems wrong to do, especially the grossly devalued Ukraine Hryvnia, the $2 of which I have probably makes up half of some poor, cold babushka’s pension.
There’s a döviz (currency exchange) in Karaköy, near the ferry terminal. Every time I walk by it, I laugh at the sign in the window, “we take the whole world’s currencies.” They probably just mean Bulgaria's, right? Still, it seemed worthwhile to check it out, just to see if they meant it.
In preparation, I sat down on the floor of my office and made piles. Pakistan. Libya. Afghanistan. South Africa. Qatar. Uganda. I labeled the piles and put coins and bills from about 25 countries in sandwich bags. I was mocked for doing this, by the way.
I filled a small backpack with the sandwich bags full of coins and bills. I swaggered into Nursever Döviz.
“Really? All the world’s currencies?” I asked the two guys behind the window. I smirked.
“Really, all of them.” They smirked back.
I dumped my backpack out on the counter. I handed them the bag of Azeri Manat, an easy one. They scoffed and counted it out. "Of course we take that." OK, so I handed them the Rwanda bag as test. They laughed and counted it out.
They didn’t blink when I gave them bills from Yemen, Saudi, Indonesia, Israel and a stack of Estonian Kroons, which aren’t even used anymore. They made some phone calls, consulted charts and kept a neat list of value in Turkish Lira. The only one they wouldn't take: 1000 Iraqi dinar. Not sure why.
Too be clear, their exchange rate was not generous, but they took a handful of Malaysian coins from me! What else was I going to do with those?
So, taking into consideration that leaving every country with $1- $20 worth of its currency in your wallet deserves some kind of penalty because it's dumb, I am pretty happy with my 108 TL, or about $46. I will buy myself something nice and not share it with my tormentors. They know who they are.
It's not like anyone writes Carpetblog anymore, or reads it, but ten years of reports from Crapistan seem worthy of a passing mention, right? Carpetblog was born this week in Baku, in 2004.
The bigger news is that for the third time this decade, and eight years to the day since my arrival in Istanbul, Carpetblogger is decamping. I've been blabbing about leaving Istanbul for more than a year, so it's not as sudden or as secret as the word suggests. But, with glacial speed and inevitability, it's happening.
I considered the obligatory expat gesture of a "why I'm leaving" post but I find those self-indulgent (something careful readers know is studiously avoided on this blog). Because, who besides me, cares?
Istanbul, and Turkey, are headed in a different direction than they were when I rocked up. That's fine. It seems to be what many Turks want. It's not what I want, so I'm exercising my ability to check out. Turkey's chauvinistic political and consumer culture, once dominated by an arrogant secular elite and now by a pious middle class, interests me much less than it used to. I'm sick of water and power cuts and having to use a VPN. I like all laws to be enforced, not just the ones that restrict the media or peoples' right to advocate for their interests. I work in places like that. I don't want to live in one.
If you like how boring Carpetblog has become as it's moved west, you're going to love the next move. After this long navigating the choppy waters of countries in economic, social and political transition, I'll be based in a country that I'm convinced, despite its best interests, will never, ever change: France. It's possibly the least dynamic country in the world. There aren't even as many Russians on the Côte d'Azure as there used to be, something that both saddens and thrills me.
I'm still finding it hard, when people ask, to answer "I live in France." It sounds like I gave up. In my head, I live in Istanbul. When I think of "home," my eyes see the Bosphorus view from my balcony. My friends are the complicated people, located mostly between Cihangir and Galata, who've accommodated my faults and let me into their lives despite them. I've lived in Istanbul longer than anywhere else in my adult life. Accordingly, it's hard to synthesize years that, often simultaneously, were among the worst and best of my life; full of catastrophic, systemic failures and marginal but satisfying victories.
Ironically, the Yeni Türkiye might provide more fertile ground for Carpetblog than the Eski one, but I don't care to stick around to see what happens next anymore. Given the environment in which Carpetblog was born and thrived like a meth addict in rural America, I already have a pretty good idea. Thanks, but I'll pass.
We caught up recently with the Adventurous Ladies' Dining Club, which we've heard is the hottest new eating trend in the greater Galata/Cihangir area.
Why the Adventurous Ladies' Dining Club?
The mission statement of ALDC is "To stop complaining (as much) about the homogeneous monotony of dining in Istanbul, locate pockets of immigrants and eat the food they make for themselves." Despite enormous barriers to entry (both literal and figurative), groups of permanent or temporary migrants have settled in Istanbul's outlying neighborhoods (i.e. the cheap ones) and they have to eat. We are going to find them and make them feed us.
We also appreciate how hard life in Istanbul must be for the non-European/North American yabancı, especially those with dark skin. We want them to succeed. For example, we don't know how you run a place like the amazing Ethiopian Habesha when locals don't patronize it. Maybe it's a money laundering or trafficking front, but the food is delicious, service friendly and atmosphere authentically Ethiopian, so we go there with enthusiasm. And they have a ballin' nightclub.
The name of this group sounds very discriminatory. Did you frighten all the men?
We like to think of the name as misleading rather than discriminatory. While it is true that a group of ladies conceptualized the club, we frequently accept applications from qualified male diners to join us. We really aren't that adventurous either. A restaurant is a candidate for the ALDC if it requires us to take public transportation (though we're allowed to take a taxi home if it's hot or we are really irritated or it's a day that ends in "y"). This, by most definitions, is not adventurous. But, since at least one member typically refuses to leave Beyoğlu or go anywhere she can't walk to, we view the name as positive reinforcement.
How do you identify restaurants?
Of course, we rely on Istanbul Eats to do the hard research, as everyone who wants to get beyond the kebab/mezze axis in Istanbul does. In normal cities, we would ask cabdrivers of varying ethnicities where they eat, but that's not fruitful in Istanbul because there aren't any. When we run out of dining ideas, we'll ask the West African watch sellers on Galıpdede, or the Filipino dogwalkers in Cihangir. Sorry, but "Chinese," "Italian," "Thai" or "Mexican" restaurants run by Turks for Turks may have their charms but they don't qualify for ALDC. After some internal debate, neither does Eataly, even though the local Italian immigrants love it. It's in a shopping mall. That's not adventurous!
Where have you eaten so far?
We're working our way through Aksaray. So many Syrians have moved there we wonder if there's any room left in "Küçük Halep" for the Russian and Moldovan prostitutes. The welcome we received at the delicious Şam Şerıf was enthusiastic bordering on mania. We've spotted a number of Arabic places near it, including one called, promisingly, "Beirut." [it's a Turkish restaurant with a Lebanese name] Our two Georgian favorites, which may have real names but are fondly referred to as "Bus Station Georgian/the one with dirty astroturf," and "The Other Georgian, the Nicer One, you know, the One with Wine" are in that area as well. We've had to physically restrain a founding member from entering the nearby Pamir Disco, but at least we'll know where to look first if she ever goes missing.
Zeytinburnu, home to Uzbeks, (already approved by ALDC), Uyghurs and other Turkic diaspora is another promising neighborhood. It's on the ALDC's August agenda. We've heard rumors the old Aksaray Turkmen Carpet Bazaar has moved out there as well, which adds extra incentive. Maybe we'll create a franchise: The Adventurous Ladies' Carpetshopping Club.
But Istanbul is so cosmopolitian, a bridge, it's been said, between east and west! Why is it so hard to find these restuarants?
Our response is "cosmopolitan doesn't mean what you think it means."
It doesn't, actually, mean "big, loud, dirty, overdeveloped, overtouristed with shitty infrastructure." In fact, when people describe Istanbul as cosmopolitan we assume they don't know much about Istanbul because it's just not. A cosmpolitan city encourages and embraces diverse inhabitants and cultures. Istanbul used to be very cosmopolitan, with many different nationalities and religions living together, but it isn't anymore and hasn't been for many years. If you don't know why, here's somewhere to start learning. Istanbul is an overwhelmingly Turkish city. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's hard to make a convincing argument otherwise. Its slim selection of non-Turkish food is just one example of a dominant culture that offers very little breathing space for others.
Our hope that one positive outcome of the terrible regional upheaval is that all the displaced people who settle in Istanbul do what immigrants everywhere have done: Resist the dominant culture, both its scorching prejudices and its sly temptations, to carve out a little bit of home. Adventurous Ladies' Dining Club is here to support them and eat their food.
Got a restaurant suggestion for ALDC? Tell us in the comments!
The views herein may, or may not, represent the views of all the members of ALDC. But they don't all have blogs so you'll never know for sure.
All the time, people ask, “Carpetblogger, can you please explain Turknology? I think you popularized the term, didn’t you?"
Yes. Yes, we can and we did. Thanks for noticing.
Turknology is not something you don’t not see. Turknology is showy. It begs to be noticed. In fact, if you can’t admire its audacity, it probably isn’t Turknology. You’ve certainly seen it in your daily life but maybe you didn’t have the right word to describe what you were seeing. If you say to yourself “boy, that looks seriously half-assed, but it seems to work OK so I’m not going to give it any more thought,” that’s Turknology.
If we had to invent a slogan for it, it would be something along the lines of: “Turknology: innovation in pursuit of mediocrity.”
There are certain places where Turknology comes in handy, particularly for maintenance of a home you don’t own. Turknology can solve a pressing problem in a pinch, provided the consequences of inevitable failure are manageable. Need to hang a window shade or shelf in a rotting wall? Turknology is perfect for that. Who cares if it falls on someone else’s head in year or so?
A Turknologist is not unskilled or without creative abilities. A Turknologist comes up with a clever stopgap measure to prevent a problem from worsening or allow it to be ignored long enough so that it becomes someone else’s. Long-term solutions are rarely the objective of Turknology so it’s not fair to judge a Turknologist by his failure to provide one. (A Turknologist is usually, but not always, male. The Carpetblog cleaning lady, for example, has an advanced degree in Turknology)
In some unique places, Turknology is less visible, but it’s still there. In those places, you seek it out because it’s vastly superior to what’s available locally. Usually, those places are called Crapistan. In Crapistan, your biggest problem is rarely the one caused by relying on Turknology. (If you don’t know if you are in Crapistan, we’ve created a helpful guide. Or two. Maybe three.)
There are situations, however, where Turknology is absolutely inappropriate. Its use must be discouraged in the strongest possible terms. These places include:
We recently had intense dental work completed in Istanbul. Over multiple lengthy visits to the dentist’s office, we meditated deeply on Turknology and how much we hoped not to be confronted with it. We are pleased to announce that there was not one shred of evidence that any part of the procedure was being done half-assedly. Inserting a permanent metal screw into a jaw is not a job for a Turknologist. We’ve also never observed Turknology on Turkish Airlines, to its credit
We haven’t spent much time in Turkish coal mines, but overwhelming recent evidence suggests over-reliance on Turknology, with predictable catastrophic consequences. Sometimes, the job just has to be done right the first time.
Back in the day, we moved to Istanbul because it was a convenient, reasonably cheap, convivial place to base oneself while one conducted one's professional activities in Greater Crapistan. Whether that is still the case is subject to debate, best left for another post. One of the few things that had, surprisngly, become more convenient over time was renewing one's residence permit (ikamet).
Our first ikamet experience, in 2007, took place on an unsigned floor at the giant police station in Aksaray, where one proceeded through a heaving mass of non-queuing foreigners to obtain stamps allocated at 6 or 7 unmarked windows. It was impossible to know what documents were needed (we remember having to obtain three or four typewritten sentences at a copy shop around the corner. We can't remember what that document was called or what it communicated to whom).
Gradually, over time the system improved. Because we believe in positive reinforcement, we recognized this and applauded it in 2009. In response, we received an email from someone claiming to be from the Yabancı Şubesi asking for more constructive criticism, which we were thrilled to provide. By last year, the process had improved to the point where it was mildly annoying but not particularly onerous to renew your ikamet.
Those days seem to be over.
People who care more can look up the details but late last year, the government decided, with the degree of careful study and forethought that typically characterizes official actions in Turkey, to revamp the foreigner registration process. We've read this, we have no idea if it's accurate. Could be. Why the hell not?
Because we believe in public service, we are going to explain what happened when we renewed this week. HUGE CAVEATS FOLLOW. If these do not apply to you, your experience may differ, possibly substantially. Everything seems aribtrary right now. I won't know the answer to your specific situation.
This is what I did to renew:
So, you've got the documents, as required on 13 May 2014 by the Beyoğlu Yabancı Şubesi, and you submit them. Once you have everything, it's not complicated; the same as the last year or two. To their credit, they give you 15 days to collect the new documents and come back without making another appointment. That's appreciated. You can just show up, and, if the right guy happens to be there, they'll accept them, collate/stamp them and send you out to pay the fees.
You thought there were no more surprises, right? Wrong. Deliver your documents and receipts back to the police.
CB "So, when can I pick it up?
YS: You don't. It goes to Ankara and they mail it back to you."
CB: "Mail? Really? When will they do that?"
YS: "I don't know. You can call them and ask."
I have found my ikamet confers few meaningful benefits, other than allowing me to enter and leave the country without hassle, which I do frequently and I have a low tolerance for airport hassle. What happens when I don't have that ikamet and I want to leave the country? Stand by! We'll find out on Friday morning.
Trust that the internet will be the first to know.
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.