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Matador network recently published  “what not to do in Istanbul.” Suggestions to avoid crowds, tourist traps, deal with time constraints and low budgets, partake in local customs. It can be an overwhelming city and a list of what not to do is very helpful.

After seven years in this surprising megalopolis I agreed with very few of the suggestions.

I rarely contribute travel pieces anymore — focusing more on cultural identity work and pursuing hybrid entertainment — but since the tourism season approaches here are the points I see differently:

Emirgan Grove by A.Ashman

Emirgan Grove by A.Ashman

Ø   *Skip Dolmabahçe*. (It’s a 19th century European-style palace and if you’ve ever seen one of those, this won’t be news). No exhibits and you can’t wander by yourself.

√   *Don’t skip Topkapı Palace* and don’t skip the separately ticketed harem tour. (Just go early after a big breakfast like I suggest here). It’s worth seeing the treasury, and the tiled kiosks at the far end of the compound, as well as the kitchens. Also you can pop into the stupendous archaeology museum on the grounds.

√   *Do stay in Taksim* if you want to experience a more authentic Turkish scene. Istiklal is perfect for dining, bar-hopping, strolling, people-watching, cafe-sitting. Some hotels are on raucous streets (travel with earplugs), but not all of them. (Sultanahmet may be close to the historic sites but it’s shark-bait touristy, and lifeless at night.) Taksim is on the Metro line, with a funicular that puts you on the tram to Sultanahmet. The most painless commute in town. Plus, the trek back and forth between old town and Beyoğlu, across Galata bridge, is one you’ll enjoy having to make as my walking tour for National Geographic shows.

√   *Do take a Bosphorus cruise*, just not the overpriced tourist traps from the Eminönü dock. Catch a lovely one hour $5 ferry from the landing behind the Ortaköy mosque like I describe here.

Ø   *Skip the Princes Islands* if the reason you’re getting on a boat is for the views and breezes.  The high speed boats that carry you to the Sea of Marmara have scratched plastic windows you can’t see out of, and you’re not allowed on deck.

Ø   *Don’t accept tea* if you don’t want to spend your time with a particular person, or in a particular place. Don’t confuse a tourism sales tactic with the fabled Turkish hospitality. As a traveler in a big city, it’s still your time, and your choice who you drink tea with. If you’re interested in chatting or shopping, fine. If not, politely decline and keep moving. When hawkers in the bazaar and tourism district are unrelenting a clucking of the tongue and upward roll of the eyes is Turkish for “no, and don’t ask me again”. Plus, apple tea is only for tourists. If you aim to drink tea in a traditional manner, ask for normal black tea.

What would you suggest we *not* do in Istanbul, and why?

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Passion fuels the lives we envision for ourselves better than discipline or elbow grease alone.

However, a little bit of passion’s dark side — anger — may be the best defense of our identity, and a future that looks like us.

Sousse 2009 by A.AshmanThis week Dialogue2010 participant Elmira Bayraslı shared the anger that keeps her hybrid. Rather than assimilate or choose one social group to belong to, the daughter of Turkish immigrants in New York ferociously defends her hard-won ability to switch to independent American woman — and back again.

As an expat I know this righteousness-to-be-hybrid. A defense mechanism not only kicks in but is kept in place by a low level anger about external pressures to live and be a certain way. It’s been a cornerstone of my survival, and for many people living between worlds.

Today I was reminded exactly how homegrown this righteousness is by a Facebook group of one-line jokes about Berkeley upbringings. How counterculture taboos affected childhood is dizzying:

  • boycotts of table grapes and iceberg lettuce make kids anxious when visiting un-PC families,
  • a sneaked McDonald’s meal draws punishment while smoking weed does not,
  • the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are off-limits (pseudo-military!),
  • while the whitebread Brady Bunch and misogynistic Barbie are what’s wrong with the world.

Free Speech protests witnessed from baby strollers make this group a veritable Red Diaper Baby playdate.

Also glimpsed: the realization that  much of what characterized a Berkeley childhood thirty or forty years ago — that is, the lifestyle and belief system of an alternative community, the anger that separated it from the rest of the nation — has now become mainstream in America.

So, my righteous sisters and brothers, what are you going to keep being angry about when it comes to who you are?

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