Posted by: Bruce | April 12, 2010

Istanbul, Independence Day, Soft porn and holding hands.

Europe was experiencing a record heatwave in the summer of 1987. I worked in Torone, Northern Greece during this time and on completion stayed in Athens for a week or two. I tripped to Corfu and motorbiked past the casino where James Bond did his thing.

I then gave myself a two day pass to Istanbul, couldn’t afford Egypt. The travel agent could have told me I was going during Independence Day celebrations. There were lots of people, including soldiers carrying machine guns to welcome me at the airport. It was late evening and it was hot.

The Blue Mosque

When I arrived at the hotel I walked some back streets, found a shop that sold fruit, went back to the hotel and settled in for the night.

 The next morning I woke to the sound of traffic, checked the view straight out and two floors down. There was lots to see and the main road was chockers with beeping cars. And, in the words of the immortal Lloyd Bridges who starred in Sea Hunt (a show I watched as a young shaver) “Then I saw it!”

The reason for so many mosques and the frequent calls to prayer; pedestrians trying to cross the road without being flattened! Seeing this was happening on marked crossings  only heightened the importance of the calls.

Taking a deep breath I ventured forth and considering the heat, the crowds and the maps, I covered a lot of the tourist spots and some not so touristy. The Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace (open), Grand Bazaar, Galata Tower and Bridge. A boat ride on the Bosphorus saw the mighty Bridge joining Europe and Asia. Fish were cooked over open flame in the boats rocking up and down wharfside and then sold to passers-by. I looked closely at crumbling cobblestone streets on my way to the Galata Tower and the view exposed the rooftops of the old buildings with broken bricks and washing flapping in the heat. I walked in local cemeteries and mingled with squillions of Turks during my two days squeezed between three nights.

A lot of ground was covered by foot, I would have preferred company and I haven’t included all that turned my head on my first visit to the mysterious,  religious, middle east. I will relate however, detail of three distinct cameos, though perhaps not extraordinary, became the catalyst and objective for penning this belated but not forgotten slice of my life.

Strangely, I was one of only three tourists on top deck of the boat that plied the Bosphorus with a commentator. The other two, a couple, chatted away. I looked and nodded meaningfully at the sights indicated and agreed with myself when appropriate. Whilst under way, the guide chatted to me, and finding that I was an Aussie announced that he wanted to migrate to Australia. He was keen because he understood that migrants were given a house and land if approved to stay. He was dead serious about the real estate and sought my reassurance. I said, ” Mate, maybe near Broken Hill or Ayers Rock (now called Uluru), I don’t think in the cities.” Unsettled, he gave a nodding head shake and we left it there.

Belly Dancer - Istanbul

Just a couple of blocks from my hotel I discovered a suburban picture theatre. My initial walk gave me the impression that it was closed altogether until I noticed dates and times I could understand. The following night I took myself to the movies (from the wicked west it seemed). A strange experience starting with a questioning look from the ticket office man; no words, just got my ticket. I then walked down two flights of stairs (impression of a bomb bunker) that were very dark and delivered me to the actual theatre doors. There were a lot of people, all locals I thought, outside these doors. I stood out in the darkness like the proverbial; the only Anglo-Saxon type with hair to the shoulders and fairly bleached at that from daily swims where I had worked. If it was quiet before, it became quieter with my presence. The first movie ( of a double) started and I took my seat. I don’t remember it but it had Turkish subtitles, and that was good for me. Hardly any of the locals watched it. After an intermission, the second movie got underway. This brought in all those waiting in the darkness. Movie No.2  was raunchy, with some nudity and mild sex scenes. I was surprised; after all, I was in Istanbul, a religious and mysterious middle eastern country. The audience was very quiet except for a snicker or two from one guy who was quickly shushed. I was aware of many stealthy glances in my direction. The movie finished and everyone filed out. Hardly a word spoken. Maybe because of me, certainly not to me. The movies were okay, I don’t remember the names.

Outside the theatre, everyone (all males, no women) broke off and quietly headed elsewhere in the dark. Being an involuntary conspirator in naughtiness was interesting food for thought on my way back to the hotel.

Lastly, during my walking tour I couldn’t miss the number of guys walking and holding hands. This wasn’t father and son stuff as far as I could tell although it was possible in some cases. Hand holding wasn’t secretive either.

The Galata Bridge

This puzzled me enormously, and it grabbed my attention when crossing the Galata Bridge. I hadn’t seen this many guys holding hands since driving through Oxford St, Darlinghurst (Aust). No-one seemed bothered or distracted with the hand holding either. It just seemed par for the course. There were guys in their teens, twenties or older and a mix of these ages. What I couldn’t figure was whether this was purely innocent behaviour which wouldn’t wash in my home town or whether these guys were gay. Straight guys just don’t hold hands like girlfriends do. It’s just not on, in Australia anyway.  If these guys were gay then all seemed pretty relaxed about it. Again, I reflected on all the mosques.

So there it is. Istanbul was hot, busy and different. My two days were great and memorable. I’d like to return and cover more of Turkey.

Soft porn and holding hands in Istanbul has left me puzzled though. I’d really like some help to resolve this deep and enduring mystery. Anyone willing?

A footnote: I didn’t get to see the belly dancers in action ( tsk), I didn’t ask anyone about the hand holding (on shaky ground there), I did get a belly bug from the fruit I bought the first night in Istanbul.

Word for today:    Istanbul: we’re mostly the same, just different.

More to come: same blog time, same blog channel.

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Responses

  1. Great story and photos.

    Like

    • Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked it, I enjoyed writing it. Can’t take credit for the photos, they’re courtesy of Flickr. I do have my own happy snaps but still on negs. William

      Like


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