Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tea and tradition in typical Istanbul

I just got back from Istanbul and am already planning my second trip to that beautiful Turkish city, half in the European continent, half in the Asian land, divided by the charming Bosphorus, where the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea meet.

Apart from the strictly touristic attractions, where travellers are both flattered and cheated by expert and cheeky traders, Turkish people are just lovely.

One day I happened to be in a not ver
y touristic spot and the display of some of the best cakes ever lured me inside the shop. I found myself in an old-fashioned, woody-decorated café with a mouthwatering view of any kind of pastries and cakes, of any shape and flavour, from chocolate to strawberry to raspberry.

As usual, I took a look at the cosy shop and started taking photos. The spot was way too cute to leave it behind without a picture. Lined up along the windows were the tables, and the last one was covered with books and had a pair of reading glasses on top.

At first I thought the books could have been of the boy who served behind the counter, probably an university student as that was a pretty young area and quite populated by students.

Coming back to my seat, I noticed that actually those books belonged to a tall and gentle-mannered man, most likely the owner of the café. Shamelessly, I approached him while he was concentrated on his books and I asked him what he was doing. Clearly amused but by no means surprised and with an expert savoir faire, he replied (in Turkish) something that I interpreted as "reading the Koran".

In fact, he had a book in Arabic and one in Turkish. I have always been very much attracted by Arabic culture, language, traditions, and somehow I got very excited at the idea that the gentleman spoke Arabic. Apparently, he appreciated my questions and gave me three books.

With the aid of hands, a mix between Turkish, English and Italian and a small dictionary, I understood that they were the explanation of the
Koran in English.

In the wake of 30 years spent in the desperately profit-
driven Western society, the last thing I would expect when I enter a café and order tea and cookies is that the owner will give me a book, let alone three.

After this and other stories, I can say that I will surely be back to Istanbul and undoubtedly look for that café close to Galata Tower.

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