Thirteenth Turkish Epistle
An Adventure With The Turkish Banking System:
While at Christ Church, we noticed that there was going to be a lecture on the history of Turkey from the Ottomans to the First World War. This was to be held at the former British Embassy in the grand ballroom with a glass of wine. Sounded fascinating! To buy tickets (this is the short story), we had to deposit 70TL into the rector’s bank account. He sent us all the relevant information and off we went to the closest branch. It turned out that because it was not his branch we would have had to pay a fee of 35TL. We thanked the teller for saving us the money and giving us the information about the branch we needed.
The next day we went over to Taksim (Murray had an appointment with a scholar there anyway). Stopping in at the branch closest to the church, we waited a 1/2 hour for service before Murray had to leave to get to his appointment – so I was left in charge. Speaking to a teller I was assured it would only be another 10 or 15 minutes. Half an hour later, this same teller called me over and with concern said – “your number isn’t coming up”, and decided to look after me. Opening up the account he saw that this still was not the correct branch but found the right one for me and told me how to get there. Fifteen minutes later I was in the correct branch, took a number (by this time I knew the routine) and sat down to wait. Thirty-five minutes later my number was finally called. But … things were not going to be easy. It turned out that I needed a Turkish tax number to complete the transaction and it didn’t matter that I was from outside the country and couldn’t possibly have one. I was not too happy with Turkey at that moment. In sheer frustration, I walked to the House Cafe and drowned my frustrations in a tall glass of House Limonata with lime!
Later, at home, I emailed the contacts at the church and described my experience. They were very apologetic, very sympathetic and said they felt they could trust the reliability of Canadians to show up. So, our names are on the list – and we will let you know how things go from there.
I am very impressed with the energy conservation protocols here. I mentioned that the lights in our stairwells are motion sensitive. This is the same for all other buildings. Not only are the lights in hallways designed this way but also those in washrooms. One day, we came across a public escalator that only ran when someone needed to use it. It is all very sensible.
As you can well imagine moving 18 million people is a challenge and we think they do an amazing job here. There are the ferries – both public and private. Then there are regular taxis; small buses which are 15 person minivans; slightly larger buses ,called dolmus, that can negotiate the narrow side streets; larger buses like ours; funiculars, tramways – big and small, subways and, of course, the Tunel. Thanks to Murray’s perseverance we are beginning to understand and make use of these various forms of transit. We haven’t been able to figure out the dolmus and minivan system but as all the other forms of transit work we are ok.
A typical line used by sales men here is as follows:
The Scene: 2 tourists (like us) standing or walking alone in a square. A lone Turk comes along side and asks, “Where are you from? Have you been here long? Have you been to the Blue Mosque yet?” By now the unwary traveller is probably beginning to enjoy this conversation. Then comes the punchline, “Perhaps you would like to visit my shop?”
This happens so often that now we don’t bother engaging with these guys. Yesterday, however, we were reading our guide book and a lovely fellow came up, started with the opening line and we just brushed him off. He assured us he wasn’t a guide, etc., and did help us get oriented. As he left he said, “I truly just like to help”. We felt pretty foolish.
I forgot to tell you that the young woman carrying twins had them the Friday after we saw her in church – a boy and a girl. This past Sunday they were in church – just a month old and of course awfully cute. Lots of eager people waiting to cuddle them.
I’ve been trying to understand some of recent Turkish history – and by that I mean from the Ottomans on. Bit by bit through tours of old buildings, novels, and museums I am beginning to get a sense of the people involved in the history of this complex society. One thing I found interesting was that originally Turks were nomadic people and therefore lived in tents rather than fixed abodes. Even when they began to establish themselves in urban communities this simple, pragmatic lifestyle governed how they lived. For example, instead of the rulers building palaces, they built pavilions. So Topkapi Palace is a series of buildings or pailions. As more space was needed, they simply built another pavilion. This was the pattern until the 1800’s when more of the Turkish elite began visiting European cities and saw the palaces in France, Britain and Italy. In the mid 1800’s the Sultan ordered the construction of an opulent new palace called Dolmabache. It was so extravagant (and built at a time when the Ottoman empire was almost bankrupt ) that it is said that the debts incurred hastened the decline. Turkey had to borrow from other countries to pay for this palace and then was unable to repay.
The lecture at the British Consulate was very interesting. The lecturer was Dr. Phillip Mansell and spoke on the period from the Ottomans until the First World War. This was part of a series to commemorate the anniversary of WW1. To illustrate his talk he used slides of pictures from two art galleries we had just visited the previous week – both Ottoman collections – one at the Pera Museum and the other at the museum in the Dolmabache Palace. Having our separate experiences beginning to overlap is one of the delights of having time to absorb the information coming to us from all directions.
The British consulate was built in the 1800’s on a palatial scale to illustrate the importance of Britain as a world power. The ballroom was magnificent with 2 impressive crystal chandeliers and all the gilt that goes with pomp. What was most astounding was to be in such luxury both in a historical and a structural sense – but currently in use! It was extremely well maintained and all the side rooms and seating areas in hallways were furnished with beautiful antiques that were functional. It looked like a museum but was,in fact, a government office building that was still relevant.