On my last trip to Istanbul, a year ago, I succumbed to a Starbucks for a wake-up cappuccino in Attaturk airport after a twin-babies-behind-me-with-mom-screaming-what-is-your-fucking-problem overnight flight, so I’m not as derisive as most about the chain opening in Italy. If it can brave the home of Turkish coffee, and also the home of the far superior Gloria Jean’s, it can barge in wherever the hell it wants. Even so, you could only read this and think a flack could not have paid for better placement.
I had to stop and take a snap after emerging from the stories-deep, gleaming-clean, efficient-and-cheap Metro and seeing this. To be fair, my lunch hostess the next day did say the place is wildly popular. She won’t go back, though, because “they’re too friendly — you walk in and eight people want to help you.” And that’s from someone who lives in a city where, when I couldn’t find a particular restaurant, I stopped in a graphic arts gallery to ask for directions and the mailman who happened to be dropping off letters insisted on walking me to the nearest corner to point to where it was.
Not fud except for the source, but: Traveling in the Obama era is always better than it was during the Reign of Error when we had to pretend to be Canadian or at least insist we were not Americano but New Yorkese. Still, it was illuminating to talk with a Northern Irishman in Turkey who responded to my lament that there’s a whole lot o’ racism and ignorance on display in this country lately. “No offense,” he said, “but hasn’t there always been?” And before returning to irregularly scheduled snark, I have to note that the consensus among the mostly youngish Turks I met was: “Fucking Erdogan is killing everything. But we need the economic stability.” Looking at the rampant destruction of the city for shopping malls and luxury housing, it did seem as if, as one young put it, “We’re losing our birthright.” Unlike Americans, though, they will at least credit their leader for the extra lira in their lives.
On the lighter side, the story about Erdogan installing a food lab in his megamansion to test for poison inspired some animated discussion over one lunch. One tablemate wondered why, if he’s so terrified someone is out to get him through the gut, he doesn’t just have his wife cook for him. My response: “Maybe he can’t trust her, either.”
I could spend another week mulling how to make any of this amusing, but I just need to type these revelations from various conversations while I can still decipher the chicken scratches in my notebooks.
–Thyroid cancer is apparently quite common in Turkey and “they think it’s because of Chernobyl.” I still remember the housewife in North Wales way back when who was worried about just that effect despite official denials and spat out: “They think we’re stupid.” And it’s a reality to harsh your caffeine mellow as Fukushima radiation in tea is now being detected in Japan.
–Twice I had extraordinary eggplant, smoky but buttery after it was roasted or grilled and then mashed with milk. But my lunch date one day was shocked when I mentioned it: “It’s not in season. You can find it in the supermarkets, but it has no flavor when you don’t see it in the markets.” There’s a concept!
–And when a great server at my last supper asked about Turkish food in New York and I said it was pretty lame, his response was: “The vegetables don’t have the heat. They put vegetables in the fridge and it kills them.” He also, finally, explained why Turkey is the only country where I have ever been able to not just tolerate lamb but actually enjoy it (and I ate tongue, cheeks and brain in one dish): “There’s no grass here. The lambs have to eat what they can find, herbs and weeds.” No wonder their severed, skinned heads appear to be smiling in all the markets.