Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Open Mind in Istanbul – Nargile

Dear Art Lover,
Istanbul: exotic and fun, and full of shopping and imbibing. My friend Kumiko and I went there for a few days after we finished carving stone at a symposium in Bulgaria. How inviting some of the spaces are: so cozy and comfortable! I tried to keep an open mind or at least the mentality of “When in Roma…” I was delighted to experience the Hamam and discovered that a sauna of steaming marble is actually much more refreshing that the direct hot summer sun in a city.

We were in Istanbul during Ramadan, but also during the World Cup finales. That meant for a lot of people out in the bars and restaurants that had large or multiple screens. I had no idea of the close ties between Turkey and Japan, but Kumiko did not even have to pay for a tourist visa, while I did (it was only 25 euro for an American, paid at the border). The Japanese have built tunnels under the waterways to connect Istanbul to itself, among other wonderful business deals. Kumiko was spoken to in Japanese more often than I ever anticipated while she and I toured the city by foot.

So, it was no surprise when she made friends with some rug merchants near our hotel. One of the men had even lived in Japan for over 15 years with his Japanese wife and was returning this month.

So, we found ourselves getting taken to a nearby restaurant and offered things by this man’s friend. I had been curious of the Nargile, the Turkish water pipes one sees almost everyone sitting around and smoking.
It is legal and yet, I think that I had hoped it was something exotic by the expressions on consumers’ faces.

Admittedly, I have a hard time just sitting around and relaxing. During this trip, I was often distracted by thoughts of my work at home. However, when the restaurateur offered to let me try Nargile for only 5 bucks (normally about 15, I think), I thought, Ok, why not? Even my hero Audrey Hepburn made her long cigarette holder next to her lips look elegant and beautiful in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Yours truly on holiday.  Foto by Kumiko Suzuki - Istanbul

They had no coconut, so I tried strawberry. The man set the mechanism on the floor beside our table and lit it with hot coals, sucking on the end to get it going. Then he gave us two plastic reeds. We each had one to slip into the mouthpiece for our own use. I was sadly disappointed. I think some part of me wanted this to taste good, the way that I will drink Turkish coffee, but really have no affinity towards any other.

But … tobacco is tobacco. I have hated it even before childhood friends wanted to get me into it. And this tasted only slightly better than how splashing perfume over stale and horrendous body odor smells. I waited a bit, then gave it a few more puffs, hoping that maybe I was just biased against it. Nope, I just do not like the taste nor the smell of tobacco.

The next morning Kumiko and I walked under an open arch somewhere in the city. We found a bunch of Turks sitting around smoking. But for me, these next three gray images just reminded me of what tobacco puts in one’s body. And I am sure that I would be unhappy in a lifestyle of just sitting around numbing myself. But, I DID give it a shot.

Happy birthday wherever your energy be, Vasily Fedorouk.  You are missed!

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