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LPT Symbol Real True Lies about Turkey

The Personal [oft-times embellished] Turkish Experiences -- of visitors to LPT

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Misunderstanding mama...whats new
Especially soothing syrup...whats new
Fouled-up Flirting...
Young Love
Person to person, hand to hand...
Politics spoken here...
For Language Lovers?
Stoned near Ankara
The Ladies Turkish Bath...
Driving in Turkey...
John can do...
To pay the bill...
Our "Private" Conversation...
Were you talking to me?
The Tell-Tale Thud
Cussin' in the Rain...
Ayran a good race
Just peachy ...
You're my beloved...
A dolt by any other name...whats new
Shish enough, and more...Ed. 5.0

The Ladies Turkish Bath

When I got to Turkey, I wondered what it would be like to go to a Turkish Bath (Hamam). Most of my Turkish friends said, "Don't go!" Many under 35 had never been to one, except as children with their mothers or aunts.

In a discussion one evening with four rather upscale Turkish women, only one friend said that if I wanted to try it I should go to a good one -- in a five star hotel where I'd be treated like a Sultana. Basically, the rest of them shook their heads and asked why on earth I would want to do that!?

So the one brave friend and I went to Istanbul and I forced myself to sit by the pool all day at our 5 star hotel. After a grueling day in the sun and water, I got up the courage and decided to have that Bath.

Hee Haa, the things you learn in foreign countries. It was an incredible experience from start to finish. (But pricey...The Istanbul Swisshotel provided a lush warm room with a hot whirlpool, a hot steam room for the bath [with bathperson], and a relaxing room afterwards -- for slightly less than a box of emeralds...)

First, I was greeted by two women who helped me out of my clothes. Ever helpful, they took me to the hot whirlpool room. (The room was not just warm, but past that -- and just short of bake ! )

Then they helped me step into the re-eally hot pool. (Getting into it was difficult and I am convinced they were afraid that I wouldn't get in if they didn't make sure... and they may have been right!) There they left me, and I simmered -- for about 15 minutes.

Just when I thought my body would melt like hot play-dough, my guides returned. They wrapped me in a linen sheet ('pestamal') that covers about as well as a wet T-shirt, and I was escorted into a round warm, slightly steamy marble room with a domed ceiling and indirect lighting.

There were little niches in the wall with marble shell sinks and brass spigots shaped like fish. In the center of the room was a large altar (or, marble table). They "asked" me to lie face down on a clean and dry linen sheet on this warm marble slab. And the wet linen sheet was taken away.

The Turkish bathperson (short Turkish woman, great upper body strength, no English, really sweet smile...) was wrapped in a linen sarong. She poured (using a special dish -- 'tas') cool water over me -- which felt wonderful, because it was as warm as a sauna in there! Neck, shoulders, arms, hands, back, waist, thighs, legs, feet...ahhhhhh.

At this point, she put on loofah mittens ('kese') and began to scrub every square inch of my body... leaving no crevice unscrubbed. (Disconcerting, was a word that came to mind.)

Then she motioned me to turn over. (It worked best for me, to just keep my eyes shut.) Basically, every millimeter of dead and dirty skin was scrubbed off, even between fingers and toes. Then, she took off the loofah mittens.

She helped me sit up on the marble slab and she started pouring what felt like buckets of cool water all over me from my head down. Soon after, she motioned for me to stand and started sluicing off all the dirt with her hands. (I remember cleaning a horse with exactly the same motions...) Then she changed the sheet and I lay down again on the warm slab.

She put a spongy mitten on one hand and had a bottle of liquid soap in the other. She scrubbed and massaged all my muscles starting at my neck and working every muscle down the entire length of my spine to my feet. (This was an especially wonderful part... And after it, I truly understood the concept of bonelessness.)

Then it was time to roll over again, and she massaged and cleaned, starting at my throat, to my shoulders, arms, and hands -- as she worked her way down to my feet and toes... She helped me sit up and washed my face, ears, neck and finally my hair -- as if I were a small child.

Just when I thought I was going to dissolve, she pulled me up to a standing position and poured cool water all over me again and again. Little by little, the water got colder and colder, until I almost couldn't stand it. (In fact, the last bucket evoked a screech from me...and we both laughed out loud!)

Now came the Turkish towels, one for my head and a big fluffy bathrobe for the rest of me. The two women from the boiling pool came back and gently led me (staggering, slightly) to a room where I lay on a soft lounge chair and slowly came back to the real world. (The real world in this instance included a television set playing a Turkish version of MTV.)

Finally, it was time to go -- so I got up and dressed. And as I passed from the bathing rooms, I caught a fleeting glance of myself in the mirror. My skin glowed rosily (and felt as soft as a baby's). My eyes were bloodshot and my face was pink... Turkish people would know I'd been to the baths.

One caution. Having a Turkish bath with a sunburn is not the best idea.... JS (April '97)

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Driving in Turkey

Driving in Turkey requires preparation. But there really isn't anything available that fulfills the need -- so the best you can hope for are really good reflexes, excellent vision, and an ability to feel comfortable while you make flexible interpretation of Driving Rules You May Have Known (Omigod Press, New Yawk, 1997).

I have never driven in my life with as much intense concentration, as since I've been driving in Turkey.
(Well, once maybe -- when I passed my drivers ed road test in Michigan with a solemn policeman wearing a gun, sitting next to me...)

From what I can gather, in spite of all the published booklets for foreigners, there are no "real" Traffic rules in Turkey. Guidelines -- maybe. That some people follow. Sometimes. Sort of. A guideline would be, say, driving on the 'correct' side of the road.

Speed limits present interesting problems. They are marked here and there, but people usually don't see them because they are driving too fast. This is annoying when you are following the flow of traffic -- directly into a speed trap. I have done this. Three times.

And when it comes to merging right -- from a side street into a main thoroughfare? Well, for the most part, you're on your own. It's a matter of slowly inching into the traffic lane until you force the next speeding car to stop. With that done, you can turn right and become part of the traffic problem yourself ! [Left turns are equally simple, although they take a little longer, since you are obliged to stop two lanes of traffic -- instead of just the one.].

There is also that amazing European connivance known as the round-about. This is sort of a traffic circle (usually containing a large bronze statue, some grass and lots of terrified pedestrians) -- wherein seven or eight main streets merge indiscriminately. The vehicular flow around the circle is usually counter-clockwise, so if you merge into the chaos at, say, street number one and are trying to get to street number seven (which is maddeningly in plain sight just to your left), you must turn and merge right, thereby being swept into the maelstrom.

Some asides, if I may...There are lines painted on the street. Three lines -- which, in our culture, means four lanes of traffic. But remember, here in Turkey they are merely guidelines. In actual fact, there are between 6 and 8 lanes of Turkish traffic, depending on who is double-parked, or whether a bus is stopped, or whether a cab driver is taking his lunch break!

There is also a kind of car "cuddling" that takes place here. Cars often are no more than a hand-span apart. (I have seen drivers fold their side rear mirrors flat so that they can edge past another car...)

And jay-walking pedestrians provide human interest. Their facial expressions speak volumes -- with either the resigned look of a person ready to meet his maker, or the more usual "deer in the headlights" look of foreign travellers -- as they dodge traffic, one harrowing lane-at-a-time.

[Ed. Be warned... Pedestrian road death counts in Turkey are
among the highest in the world.]

Usually though, it's a safe bet -- if you are a pedestrian -- that stepping in front of a bus is the wrong choice...and that stepping in front of a horse or a donkey cart is safer. And speaking of animals, it is a good time to mention horse and donkey carts. FYI, they have the right of way. Think of them as "sailboats" in the marina of traffic life !

To get back to the original thrust of our simple story -- about getting to street seven from street one...It is important to merge (by stopping traffic, as stated before) and then to continue around the circle to get to street seven. For this purpose, a certain attitude must be cultivated. First, never look in the rear view mirror -- it is the person behind you who is responsible for all accidents back there. [Ed. Did she really say that? Oh my.] And since you are following someone who behaves in harmony with the same philosophy, you must be constantly alert.

Second, base your driving maneuvers on the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark -- especially that part where Indy says, "Truck, what truck!" This is an excellent video to watch, to refresh your memory on how to drive in the city.

If you've reached this road-point successfully, another problem arises... You see, as you drove the circumference of the circle, you got nudged into one of the inside lanes -- by the six or seven streets-worth of other "merging" cars. So as you approach your exit street -- you must somehow manage to edge back to the outside lane. Or you will be doomed to continue around and around like the poor man on the MTA (You will never return. Your fate will be never be learned).

And that's when Indy's raffish grin, and a slight turn of the steering wheel, gradually gets you to the outside edge -- and down your favorite street. Whew!

There's an important guideline about Backing Up that states, "You can back up anywhere, anytime."

Turkish people back up "legitimately" on one way streets, of course, but they also back up when coming up on traffic jams in order to make a U turn and find another route. They back up when they drive past their turn...and discover their mistake one block later. They back up when they recognize a friend walking on the street. And, I have even seen cars in Turkey back up for almost a mile...on the expressway!

I have to mention something about the 'use of the horn' and the 'flashing of headlights'.

I was told that when you start to pass another car in Turkey -- it is your responsibility to call the driver to attention...with a quick flash of the headlights and a shallow beep of the horn.

But I've learned that when I do that -- the other driver sometimes beeps back at me. What am I to make of that? Is he saying hello... even though I have no idea, who he is??? Could he be beeping at someone else...? Perhaps at the car going in the other direction ...Or the pedestrian at the corner? Or the house we just drove passed -- with the gentleman on the second floor balcony? Or the parked car on the shoulder...or or or...? Maybe horns and lights provide other ways to "talk" in Turkey...I'm not 100% sure.

Mostly though, in spite of all these traffic anomalies, I find the need to immerse myself in the Turkish driving culture. The main reason is because it's easier to drive myself -- in order to do the household shopping, to have a social life, to find the airport...And a lot easier than trying try to figure out how the Turkish bus system works ! And, besides...there is a certain renewed appreciation of your life, at the end of a car-driving experience in Turkey -- when you realize that you will live to drive another day. [Ed. Maasallah.]
JS (May '97)

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