Ninety degrees today. I know it's boring to comment on this abysmal heat in every entry, but if I have to suffer, by god so will you. Ninety Fahrenheit, of course, a mere 32 Celsius, which sounds much less impressive and is one of the things I prefer about our senseless American thermometers- everything is much more dramatic that way. Someone should invent a temperature scale which sets the boiling point of water at thirty billion degrees or thereabouts so I can whine with appropriate flair. "Ten billion degrees today, oof!"
As I've mentioned before, people are very fond of pointing out that Turkey- and Istanbul in particular, as the only major city on earth which straddles continents- is a cultural mix of Europe and Asia (or the Middle East, if you prefer). It's all but mandatory, apparently, to touch on this in your opener if you're writing a guidebook or a travel article about this place, and even Lonely Planet lists "crossing between Europe and Asia" as one of the top ten must-dos in Turkey. I'm personally of the opinion that the spot would be better occupied by something else. The transition is unspectacular if you go via the bridge, just a sign welcoming you to the other side and a staggering taxi fare to pay on arrival. Incidentally, GPS devices seem to agree; someone told me this morning that upon reaching the bridge's midpoint, they'll instruct you to "turn right".
(As an aside, I think it's interesting that nobody's thought to cash in on this with a little booth at the ferry terminal offering I CROSSED THE BOSPHORUS TO ASIA passport stamps for a lira or two. I smell big business.)
In any case, yes, Istanbul is a city of opposites. Women in burkas and women with halter tops and full sleeve tattoos; centuries-old mosques next to H&M stores; Starbucks built across from the entrances to the winding alleys of covered bazaars. But for the most part, the city seems to take no particular notice of the juxtapositions which fascinate us foreigners. Istanbul has spent so long at the center of come-and-go empires, both west and east, that it's difficult to even frame a photograph illustrating the contrast. It's all a blend. Not the two separate identities of Asia and Europe "meeting" so much as centuries of disparate influences creating a third independent identity.
That's a big part of why I like living here. Theres's enough Western influence to make life straightforward for an American- I don't spend my days muddling through a swamp of cultural misunderstandings the way I often found myself doing in Palestine- and enough of the East to keep me fascinated. Also enough of the East, apparently, that I'll never have a working relationship with a Turkish man, as my coworker kindly informed me.
We were sitting in his apartment a few days ago and he was struggling to find a way to politely tell me that I had to vacate his living room. I wasn't upset- I'd already been sleeping there for two weeks, which is probably longer than I'd let anybody monopolize my own couch. His reason surprised me, though.
"I got back together with my girlfriend."
"Ahh," I said, remembering that he'd mentioned the original reason for the breakup had been her jealousy over one of his female friends. "And she wouldn't like it that I'm staying here."
"Not exactly," he answered. "She would literally kill me."
We talked for a while about jealousy and its role in relationships. When I said that I wouldn't be okay with a boyfriend telling me I can't hang out with other guys, he seemed a bit taken aback.
"Turkish girls like that. They like the man to be... a man. They want him to keep her away from others."
"Well, the day a boyfriend of mine starts telling me who I can and can't spend time with is the day we break up."
He frowned at me. "Then you can never marry a Turkish man."
Well, there go my hopes for Turkish citizenship, I guess. But he's probably right. Turkey is a very liberal country in some ways, and a very conservative one in others. Dating seems to fall, uncomfortably, somewhere in the middle. Arranged marriages are almost entirely a thing of the past in Istanbul and young couples walk around freely, hand-in-hand. But gender roles are very much alive and well- the man is the protector (and to a large extent, the provider) while women cook and clean and fluff their boyfriend's pillows and do everything possible to take care of them in a domestic sort of way. When I then told my coworker that there would be no pillow-fluffing from me, or at least limited pillow-fluffing on a voluntary basis, you could almost see him mentally adjusting my relationship potential into negative numbers.
Which is sad, really, because Turkish men look like this:
From The Jaundiced Eye
Labels: Istanbul, Turkey