Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ali Baba and the Third Hamam ... and ... Tea with the PKK

I thought I would relax yesterday, maybe head to the museum, maybe head to the beach and read my book. I didn't know that the day had already made plans for me.

The day started off in French. The pension owners speak almost no English, but the son went to school in Paris and is fluent ın French. And I'm not sure how this works, but my French all came back to me, seemingly out of nowhere. Two years ago, in Montreal, I could barely manage a merci. Now suddenly I was having a casual conversation with no difficulty. My only guess is that we store second languages in the same part of the brain, and struggling to learn one will bring back other, long forgotten ones.

So that was cool. We watched Black Music America'da - a hip-hop show out of İstanbul. Most of the music here is Turkish pop and dance, but you also hear plenty of house remixes and diwalli style hip-hop.

After lunch I was passing by the Broken Minaret (depending on the century and the conqueror it had been a pagan temple, a Church of Mary, a Mosque, a Church again, and a Mosque once more before being destroyed by fire) and nodded to the old man who I see selling crafts every morning. Bonjour, he says. Bonjour, I reply. He jumps up, excited that I speak French, pulls me into his shop, pours me a rakı, and tells me his life story. And what a life - he had joined the French Foreign Legion as a youth, and was stationned all over the South Pacific. When his son converted to Buddhism and took off for Tibet, he decided to do the same. He met with the Dalai Lama, snuck into Tibet, and studied at a monastery for two years.

Ali Baba (that's his name and I'm not kidding) was also a fishermen, and invited me to stay for lunch. I didn't have much choice - Turkish invitations are near impossible to turn down. I've tried. So around three the neighborhood gathered at his place for grilled sea bream, flat bread, and more rakı.

Each corner and alley in Kaleiçi has it's own subculture. The sea shore guys are all handsome, but don't seem to know theır neighbors. The street outside Hadrian's Gate - where my soccer team is based - is full of small tourist shops run by young guys who spend the entire day standing outside their shops joking with each other and flirting with tourists. And the men outside the broken minaret were a motley collection of bachelors, with only a single devout Muslim among them. The rest were mystics, Buddhists, and - as a second Ali Baba said - members of the world religion.

Towards evening Ali Baba offered to show me a local haman - one for Turks, not tourists. We left Kaleiçi, hopped on a bus, and soon enough I was once again completely lost. I'm a big fan of being geographically aware - I love maps, and love knowing where I am on a map. It's been a big adjustment for me to not know where the heck I am on half these adventures.

The hamam was crowded. I'm glad I had Ali with me, because I would have been lost in this one. There were half a dozen marble tables in the first room, with men being shampooed and massaged on each table. It was hot. It looked gentler than the other hamams - until I watched one worker slam his open hand into a guys chest - hard - then grab his head and jerk it down to his knee. The worker then pulled his head up, punched him again, and threw him down the other way. I will break, I thought. I will not survive that.

But they were more gentle with me. We showered, relaxed in the main sauna - the hamam proper - for awhile, then went into the first room for the scrub down. After I showered again, was toweled off, and then led upstairs for the final lemon oil massage. And damn was the masseur hot. He led me to a cubicle, pulled the curtain shut, took off his shirt, and went to work. Yeah it was good. Ali Baba popped in after ten minutes (damn!) to watch over me. He was a bit like a mother hen, checking that everything was alright and making sure his vulnerable chick didn't get into any trouble.

Later, back in Kaleiçi, I went to hang with the younger (20-40) crowd. They were all hurting from the game last night - I guess I wasn't the only one. Met a lot more of the guys in that neighborhood. And - this was a pleasant surprise - we had some pretty interesting talk about politics. A lot complained about how hard it was to get a visa for the US. I said that things might get better after Bush leaves. They don't think so. The problem wasn't Bush, they told me. The problem was the system. Are you talking about revolution? I asked. And sure enough they were, and did I know the PKK?

Sure I do. PKK was the main rebel party for Kurdish independence, and they waged a guerilla war against military rule in the east for over a decade. Their leader was captured in 1999, and the PKK later turned itself into a political party. I've heard that some have taken up arms again, though I'm not entirely sure.

These guys were admirers, and most weren't even Kurds. It's the Marxist doctrine that appeals to them. And while I know plenty of campus radicals, I don't think I've ever met a genuine revolutionarry. I wanted to learn so much more, but some shoppers came by and the guys lept into action: Yes? Hello? You like shopping? Later Big Boss came by with a Russian lady made up like the working girls along Kuhio (and I don't really know what was going on there) , and we couldn't continue. Maybe later today.

I made plans to go drinking with them, but when I went home for my jacket I was so tired I crawled into bed.

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