Life in an Hermès Scarf

Elegance in a Head Scarf

Liam has become quite the Mrs. Beaton of late, honing his once impoverished, improvised gastronomy and turning his hand to exceptional cake making, biscuit baking and seasonal specialities. Today’s impressive delight is walnut and carrot wholemeal bread. He’s been inspired by domestic guru, curvaceous Charlotte and Kirazli Karyn’s various online cook booklets. I secretly fear he is gradually going native and that head scarf moment is inching ever closer – Hermès, naturally. Methinks I should leave him to his culinary creations, withdraw to the tea house, play parlour games with the local boys and take an illicit lover or three. It’s the Turkish way. I’ll expect my supper on the table when I get home.

Tequila Slammers for the Last Hurrah

Bodrum was the venue for our inaugural Turkish New Year revelry. The pretty town has been draped in festive adornments and Harbour Square next to the Crusader castle is graced with a chic snow-white Christmas tree in the shape of a multi-layered hooped skirt. We jostled with the cheery crowd of many generations to catch the act performing at the free concert. An energetic Turkish diva pumped up the volume with catchy Turkopop tunes and the animated audience swayed in happy recognition.

As 2011 dawned, the midnight sky was set alight by a cacophonous pyrotechnic bonanza that dissonantly clashed with the rhythmic Turkic beat. Liam and I embraced and no one minded. With gunpowder spent and smoke hanging in the air, we looked about to observe the assorted assembly; the mobs of mischievous young men, the pantaloon’d grannies with their infant charges, the courting pairs of trendy young things and the gaggles of covered girls variously sporting elaborate head-scarves or Santa hats. We were the only yabancılar in view and we loved it.

We waded through the throng in search of a watering hole and happened upon Meyhane Sokak, a narrow lane off the bazaar and home to a cluster of small crush bars exclusively frequented by Turks. We delicately forced our passage through the rowdy horde, inching past a pretty thing in a sparkly, silver sequined ra ra skirt shaking her booty in wild abandon on top of a table and snaked around a busking band of moustached minstrels. Finally, we squeezed onto one of the tall bench tables lining the lane to enjoy the drunken scene being played out around us. I’m told that alcohol consumption, particularly by women, is generally frowned upon in wider Turkish society. However, there was little evidence of this among the tequila swiggers.

We sent and received various festive texts. I received a message from London life friends, Ian and Matt, who were enjoying their New Year in a bear bar in Brussels. What a tired old twink like Ian was doing in a Brussels bear bar is anyone’s guess.

Defeated by the cold night air and in need of bladder relief we ventured inside one of the bars to be pinned up against the wall by the maelstrom. We were much taken with a group of grungy fellows who wore their hair up in a bun – in the style of Japanese sumo wrestlers and Katherine Hepburn. Turkish appreciation of music is refreshingly unsophisticated and the melee whirled just as enthusiastically to dirgy Depeche Mode as to the Weather Girls’ infamous gay anthem “It’s Raining Men”. Forgive them Father. They know not what they do.

This was the clearly the last hurrah before a short, sharp winter.

Cappuccinos and Rent Boys

IzmirOur hotel is equidistant between the city centre proper and a trendy, Sohoesque district called Alsancak. No one would describe Izmir as beautiful. Much of it was burned to the ground in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish War, and the city was unsympathically rebuilt with block upon block of mediocre concrete box architecture that surely wouldn’t withstand even the slightest tremor. However, the place does have a certain appeal and Alsancak, in particular, has a real buzz, all trendy shops and pavement cafés.
We decided on a trip to the Roman agora, the largest market place ever excavated from the period. We strolled through the modern pazar and delighted in confounding the catcalling hawkers by responding in German, French, Spanish, and a little Turkish, anything but English. We found the agora remains on the wrong side of the tracks and gazed through the railings. Having been spoilt by the glory of Ephesus, I’m afraid an enormous hole on the ground with a few old stones randomly scattered about looking like London after the Blitz really didn’t impress. We didn’t bother going in.

Alsancak is where the few gay bars are to be found. We had done our internet research and went in pursuit of the twilight world of Turkish deviants. It was hopeless. We found only one dismal little bar down some dark alley. It was a tawdry, dirty dive, virtually empty and pounded by deafening techno. The drinks were absurdly expensive and even the ‘free’ bar snacks came at a price with a specially prepared bill. The bar staff were so bored they poured alcohol on the bar and set it alight for a laugh. Taking a leak was a surreal experience as the entrance to the toilet was guarded by a head-scarfed granny in pantaloons demanding a lira to spend a penny. The few punters were rough rent boys in cheap shell suits looking for punters of their own. As they began to circle us like a pack of hyenas, we knew it was time to leave. We sprinted to the entrance fully expecting it to be locked. Thankfully, it wasn’t. That was Izmir.