It was dreary in Istanbul. Not the way I wanted to spend my last day in such a magical city. I was visiting for 4 weeks. I had finally gotten accustomed to clear skies, yogurt-engorged foods and crowded public transit.
My final day included hours of walking the crowded Istiklal Street, gawking at the trinkets and beautiful headscarves surrounding me. The normalcy was overwhelming. My feet weren’t sore this time. I learned to sport more comfortable shoes on several thousand year-old cobble stone.
I closed my eyes briefly, and let all senses take over. The myriad of languages, hint of sea water and spiced meat – the ancient breath of the city swirled around me. I was transported to a time when only tales could describe the other side of the world to someone. I was standing where millions of others have stood, through religious quests, and sieges of empires.
What was I doing here? I got a chill. I had traveled here alone, on a whim of experiencing the rawness of the culture, Turkish life, and simplicity of tradition. I was extremely vulnerable in that moment. I felt terrified.
“Ehm, hello Lady. This Turkish delights. You can come try – please.”
Beconings of a shopkeeper filtered through the wildly swirling thoughts in my head. I looked at her kind eyes and acknowledged her. A request to merely come take a look at her powdery sweet and aromatic products. It worked, and I was no longer uneasy. Sticky hazelnut Turkish delights (lokum) would be the perfect addition to my afternoon – I had to make a purchase.
Making my way back toward Taksim square it began to rain. Shops were hunkering down, and a few people climbed under street side umbrellas. I saw several women in modern Turkish fashion hustling across the square to a large Ottoman looking building. Silk scarves billowing in the breeze. I glanced up at the sign. “No. That is not what I think it is,” I whispered to myself. But it was, in bold white and green letters – a Starbucks. What good would a Starbucks do in a place like this? A place where coffee is already king. I was so curious, and the rain was falling harder with each drop, I made my way to the entrance.
Boom. I was back in some US city, or so I thought. The place was designed in a western coffee shop style. The music sounded like something off of some hipster Pandora station. And most people were on a laptop, phone or tablet. Even the menu was in English. But the aroma, no, that was definitely Turkish.
A group of young men sat by the window playing a table game, what looked like Chess. They were drinking tea heaping with sugar. A large orange pressing machine operated behind the counter, preparing fresh squeezed juice. I saw the same women sitting in the corner, sipping water, giggling and boisterously looking through each others recently purchased items.
“Madame, allo. Ne istiyorsun?” I was startled. The barista had asked me what I wanted. I requested a cup of Turkish coffee, sweetened. I had taken up learning Turkish through friends at my local university. I felt certainly prepared for the task of communicating.
I found a small table by the window and sat down. Shortly thereafter, my beverage arrived. The clerk smiled and gestured as she set it down in front of me. A small porcelain cup and saucer engraved with brightly colored mosaics, a glass of water, and a piece of rosewater lokum. I was stunned at the presentation.
I suppose that wasn’t the norm for an order in a Turkish Starbucks. That drink was more intimate, and prepared at home or in a restaurant. I noticed a few curious looks from the clientele. I must have marked myself as a foreigner with that – when I thought I was doing quite the opposite. Nevertheless, I raised the cup to my lips and melted into the moment.
18 hours later, I was forced to reconcile with departure. I found myself in the window seat of a jet bound for another hemisphere. People filed down the aisle, some happy, some indifferent. During our ascent, I looked down over the city. The glistening water, towering domes of religious structures, white puffs of smoke rising from the alleyways. This has been my home for a month. I was blissfully unaware that this would possibly be the last visit I could make to this beautiful place.