The Grand bazaar
Cisca said that she wanted to have a bracelet shortened. I had bought the offending item for her in the second hand shop in Chepstow. It went by the grand name of Antiques, but it was really just a great priced, classy second hand shop. Cisca had very small hands and so a trip to Abergavenny was needed to have the bracelet shortened. The cost would have been around £40 and would take 2-3 weeks. We did not have this time and the Covid crisis had intervened. So three weeks later we tried in central Istanbul. We went to the jewellers that had sold us Cisca’s wedding ring, but they looked remarkably shi-shi and swish. Surely they would not effect a repair. The shop next door looked slightly grubbier and did some work on her ring, but they told us that to shorten a bracelet we would have to go to the Kapalı Carsı (Grand Bazaar). He was adamant that his skills were not sufficient and that we should seek the advice of an “usta”.(an expert.)
These instructions saw us boarding a very small ferry a few days later. The metal vessel had a diesel engine that roared into life, pushing us away from Istinye and around into the flow of the channel. We thumped along down the Bosphorus past the former Çırağan Palace now a 5 star hotel , then Dolmabahce palace, the last accommodation of the Ottoman Sultan. Dolmabahce is now a fascinating museum. I looked at it, forlorn with open gates and some staff members sitting on the marble steps. In my youth, the Turkish Army had mounted guard on this imposing building. Standing at ease with fixed bayonets and white ceremonial helmets facing the sea. None of the sentrys had moved, save to march up and down in a choregraphed move. The post 2002 government had decided that the soldiers were too military and had replaced them with police guards. The police had paraded with pistols and stood in glass sentry boxes erected for their convenience. But someone somewhere had decided that this was too much of a display, and now the boxes were gone, the guards were gone, and the gates facing the sea were open. I looked more closely, one of the staff was fishing. It was all rather deflating.
A few stops later, we reached the Port of Eminonu. Here we disembarked wended our way Through the crowds of masked people to Kristal photo. Here I dropped off my last test films and collected my previously developed medium format negatives. A few months ago, my brother had dropped a 1966 rolleicord in my flat and I was keen to test it. It was going to travel around Turkey with me, so I scanned the negatives closely looking for light leaks. It seemed to be working well. The negatives had come back perfectly exposed.
A short tram ride took us up the hill from Sirkeci to the closed bazaar. We were careful to not get too close to any of our fellow passengers, but thankfully everyone seemed to be being sensible. The tram stopped at Çemberlitaş and we made our way carefully through the side streets and managed to enter the closed bazaar through one of the side gates. At this point I started looking for the old bazaar within the bazaar. This is called the Cevahir Bedesten, and was for us the most important are to fine. It was the place that we would find a man who could repair a second hand bracelet bought in a small welsh town. The bazaar was made up of different sections that sold different items, traders tended to stick together in order to save the shoppers worry. We made our way through the useless trinkets, down towards the carpet sellers an then I felt more confident that I knew where I was. We passed by Şengör the world-famous carpet shop and I started looking for the the small entrance to the old Bazaar. I had not been here in a decade, so I was using distant memory. And then we literally bumped into the hole and found it. One of the Shops used to have a sign saying Pan Am aircrew discount honoured. Most of the shops had been here for centuries. Not wishing to give the game away, we made a short semicircle and then found our man. He clearly made jewellery as his trays of beads gold and silver showed. When we asked him if he could fix his course bracelet he said of course, he measured Cisca’s arm, took the bracelet and wandered off. He came back in 5 minutes and he had it done. Then he happily made two earrings out of the remaining pieces and charged Cisca 50 lira (£5).
Now we could relax and so we wandered aimlessly around the rest of the bazaar. It was still hot inside so we looked for a tea shop. We came Across a small courtyard on the edge of the bazaar but it had no teashop. So on we walked, now perhaps even looking for an exit, when we literally popped out into a second larger courtyard. In Turkish this was called an “iş han” or work house. This courtyard had toilets, a teashop, a restaurant and a few workshops. We say down for a welcome break.
After the Bazaar, I wanted to have a look at the blue mosque. Security to get into the square was incredible. Old fashioned armoured Landrover’s reminiscent of Belfast in the 1980’s stood beside men in camouflage holding armalite rifles. A bigger MWRAP carrier was parked on one edge. None of this was provided by the Turkish national police. We went through a bag security check and wandered around taking a few photographs. It was very impressive but there were no cafés inside.
After tiring of the compound, we walked over to the old Sultan pub. I asked for a beer and I sat on the pavement thinking of my friend Colin Adams who sat here watching the Aya Sofia and the blue Mosque Square sipping a beer in 1983.
“We have been at pub since 1975” said the waiter, breaking into my thoughts.
“yes you used to be very expensive” “We are always expensive” he said. “We only want quality clients. People like you he said smiling.”
“When I first came here you were too expensive I was a student.” I said remembering the snooty waiters. But life goes round in circles, the Sultan pub are now reasonable at £3 a beer, and if you want to be able to have a beer and watch Sultanahmet square, then you have one choice, the Sultan Pub or nothing.
The day ended with a trip to our usual fish restaurant, the Olimpiyat. In business since 1968, the Olympiat was a low key affair with excellent sea bass, salads and mezzes. And then finally, it was time to head to bed. Istanbul had not disappointed as she never does.
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