August 28th of this year marks the tenth anniversary of my first trip to Turkey. Two friends from here in Chicago were scheduled to be showing their artwork at this venue up in the mountains (hills?)of Çukurbağ, Kaş, Antalya. I had decided to go because my friends had told the venue owner about me, he checked out my images and told them that I should come along and show my imagery there as well. You can imagine how excited I was at the prospect. Not only showing my imagery so far away from home, but to experience such an amazing country and see examples of history dating back thousands of years.
I was nervous, apprehensive and excited. I had no idea what I was flying into no matter what assurances I received from my friends, one who was native to Turkey. I found a few books and went online to do as much research as I could on the country and its culture. I was amazed at what I had learned. Cultural taboos (Such as openly discussing religion and politics- Considered bad form in social situations). Ataturk and the War for Independence. How such an amazing country was founded from the remains of the Ottoman Empire.
I was still a little nervous. I had no idea if there was any level of Anti-American sentiment and if so, how much? I had listened to the stupid responses to my telling various people about my upcoming trip (Trust me, you'll think of them) or the "admonishment' of being careful because the disastrously uninformed but self proclaimed helpful individuals had all seen the movie "Midnight Express". I had seen it as well and rightfully assumed that if I didn’t try to smuggle drugs or do anything else to land me on the wrong side of the law, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. One thing I've learned in my short time (The past ten years) internationally is that manners and respect really does make things easier. Learn some basics regarding the native language. Learn about the culture and history and most especially about local taboos. It Turkey almost every conversation will more than likely lead to having tea. It seems to be a tradition. Demonstrating an understanding of the local culture shows respect and earns it as well. When offered tea, just say yes. Its part of the hospitality.
Turkish society in general is anti-drug so leave it at home, no matter what it is. Public drunkeness is also seriously looked down upon, although alcohol consumption is accepted especially what is known as Raki (Pronounced "RUHkuh). More on Raki and how to properly drink it later. Getting drunk and stupid in Turkey generally leads to very unpleasant encounters with the police which never ends well for the inebriated one.
Back to my trip: I flew over with my two friends on Turkish Airlines which is a very nice airline. The food was good and the service was excellent. It was the longest flight I had ever been on in my life 11+ hours which was direct to Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport. Between the three of us, we had so much luggage that we needed not only to have my Turkish friend's father pick us up in his car, but to have a taxi follow along as well. We had all packaged and sent out our artwork ahead of time, mine going directly to a local framing shop to get them ready for the showing. The framed images were then shipped to the venue to await my arrival.
I only got to spend four days in Istanbul that first time, but we made the most of it. I got to see not only parts of Istanbul that most tourists don’t see as well as many of the usual places, such as the Hagia Sofia, The Basillica Cistern (Yerebatan), Sirkeci Station (Most famous for being the terminus of the Orient Express) and many other cool places. Walking around gave me a great perspective on the size of the city and I still only saw a fraction of it. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were there. I even went to my friend's father's favorite barber shop and got an old fashioned, straight razor shave (Face and head). One day I wanted to just walk around and explore, so my friend's father was driving someplace about 2 km SE up the coast. I accompanied him to where he was parking and I began to walk my way back down Baǧdat Cadessi (Bagdad Street) which is the main street through one of the most upscale parts of Istanbul where they see few yabanci (Outsiders) or tourists. I took some pictures but overall just enjoyed my walk back, constantly in awe of the fact that for my first real trip outside the U.S., I was over 5000 miles from home.
Next entry: More from the four days in Istanbul. Food, sights and images.