Monday, October 06, 2008


What follows is a chronicle of an afternoon spent in Ankara last summer,
which I meant to post months ago...

Pazar, 8 Haziran
Sunday, June 8

After lunch, I accompanied cousin İnci to the castle district, where she was to meet some friends. We parted ways and I wandered the steep cobbled streets, stopping for a ring of hot simit, or sesame bread, and stepping into a handicrafts shop called Öykü. A man bounded up the back stairwell, out of breath by the time he reached me. When I asked him how much for a painted ceramic fish on a string of beads, he snapped, “I am so tired from running up the stairs to greet you and all you ask is the price?" Then he burst out laughing. He turned the dangling artwork around and said, "Look, it’s on the back. You could have figured that out!”

He asked where I was from. "American?" He lifted up my arms, pantomimed a security search. “Where is your gun?” He made a gun with his thumb and forefinger, and explained that no American goes unarmed. No, I answered his questions, I am not a soldier, and no, I don’t like war. His smile softened a bit. He shook my hand warmly and called me “dost.” (Close to the word “compañero” in Spanish, this means “friend,” “comrade,” or “lover,” depending.) Then he handed me his business card. His name was İbrahim Ö., Proprietor. "But my friends call me 'İbo.'"

The phone rang, and İbo sprinted to the back of the store. (“Yes, I’m here at the store, yes, it’s going well, I am talking to an American.”) When he returned, He saw me smiling and tapping my foot to the Balkan music on the stereo. “Nice song, isn’t it?” he asked. Now it was my turn to laugh. It was the absurdly macho refrain of "Pit Bull Terrier," from the film Black Cat White Cat. Then he laughed, and we recounted our favorite scenes from the movie and its wild, absurd humor. His rapid-fire speech was punctuated by finger jabs, shoulder pats, squeezes of the arm. He was on the short side, with shoulder-length black hair turning gray, a few days’ whiskers. Blue jeans and long-sleeve black Polo shirt.

He asked if I was married, and I told him about my girlfriend. “Do you have children?” he asked. “No? You must have children, lots of children! You are a good man, I can see that from your smile. There are so many bad people having children, good people must have more children than them!”

After meandering conversations and a bit of haggling, I bought the ceramic fish, asked him to wrap it up safely, a gift for some friends getting married soon. "Fish are very good luck," he told me. "This is a great gift, handmade, hand-painted." I thanked him many times over in my poor Turkish and promised to return.

"Ah," he said, shaking my hand, not letting go. "There's one more thing I want to tell you. This store, I named it after my daughter, eight years old."

Öykü was the name. Meaning Story.

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