The temperature was a bracing 23 degrees F with high winds, but business was as usual in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Seated in an alley outside the Varol Çay Ocagi, a tea kitchen, I talked with Sefa Ulusan, one of the men who serve çay to the merchants and their customers on the north end of the maze of shops. Snowflakes fell on my face and shoulders as we spoke. What surprised me most about Istanbul in January was that despite the bitter cold and sleet, all the restaurants and shops that I was accustomed to seeing with their street-facing walls opened wide in spring, summer and fall, never shut their doors. Instead, waiters and store clerks as well as the diners simply added layers of clothing. Perhaps they did this out of necessity (lack of space inside) and because of their socially convivial nature.
I traveled to Istanbul to resume work on a book Street Wise Istanbul, essays based on conversations with vendors, artisans and others who make their living on the street. I found their commitment to a work ethic, to the sustainability of the planet and equal rights for all, were much like the concerns and wishes of people everywhere. Similarly, so were their grievances over the ensuing tragedies that week, in their own country and abroad.
Please join me over at Huffington Post for the rest of my essay “Conversations in Istanbul in the Wake of Charlie Hebdo,” where I talk with three unique people, Sefa Ulusan at Virol Cay; Talat Sanat, a shoe shiner, and, Cengiz Tekin at Barefoot Travel.