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Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Making of a Moment [2]

Main | Part one | Part two | Part three

I return back to my brother's house from my travels in the city somewhat disappointed.

The practicality of Istanbul has frustrated some of the romantic notions with which I had arrived at the city. But as I say, that is Istanbul for you. She never makes anything easy.

The places listed in the food blog's list are each beautiful and quaint in their own right, but commercialism dictates that they are for tourists, and not authentic enough for me.

They looked perfect for other occasions, when one just wants to go for an evening meal, but I was imagining a whole night of authentic musical revelry, with the stars and the sea, and dragging myself off to sleep as the sun wakes up. I know there are places like this in Istanbul; there must still be some around. You can find anything in Istanbul, as long as you know where to look. And I know I'll be getting emails with some great suggestions after this post, but still it doesn't help me for now.

I just want a rickety old table with a square chequered table cloth clipped to the corners with wooden pegs, accompanied by a shaky, sea-spray damaged Catalina weaved chair to sit on by the Bosphorus.

The Optimistic Tourist

Searching for a suitable table by the Bosphorus for a ceremonial evening of raki and meze

I imagined I'd be able to hire a oud player to strum and sing a repertoire of Turkish classical pieces, as I began the rakı drinking ceremony which would last until the sun's first rays scorched the edges of a crimson night.

Well, okay, I'll put my hands up on that, and admit maybe it does sound far-fetched on such short notice, but I can but hope, or at least try to find what I've come looking for.

Still, a little voice inside tells me quietly that I should know better; this is Istanbul after all - not the broker of dreams, but the breaker of them, so maybe I have been behaving like an optimistic tourist.

I didn't factor in on the weather, either. As moody as the city itself, Istanbul's weather is completely unpredictable, one of the few similarities it shares with London.

The snow and rain I left in England, I found remnants of in Istanbul. I hadn't envisaged that my plan would involve spending all night in the cold, and I'm not the type of person to wrap up warm.

When tourists usually think of Turkey, they might be reminded of their sunny summer holidays, but the country is elongated - a true rainbow bridge that crosses through south eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Iran in the east. As you traverse across that bridge, you experience all the weathers typical to those regions.

And the typical thing in Istanbul is never to get your expectations up, but to go with the city's illogical flow, because nothing ever goes according to any plan you might have devised.

But I don't give up so easily, and the weather is the least of my worries.

Obligations of Love

My sister-in-law (born and bred in Istanbul) greets me with a small smile as I enter the kitchen. My brother doesn't look up as he sets the table. She reads my face well, although I haven't yet told either of them my plans.

I love them dearly; they are both so intuitive that they always know the right thing to say or do, but I think they're a little angry with me right now.

Planning on this being a private trip, I'd come to Istanbul without informing them, but my nephew who drove me to the airport must have been the culprit. When I arrived at Istanbul's main airport, I found his father there waiting for me.

I told him I had booked a room at The Bentley. It has been hailed as one of the ten funkiest design hotels in Europe by MSN UK, so I thought I'd give it a go, I said.

Think again.

It was a good reminder that love has obligations and responsibilities, too. My brother and sister-in-law have always respected my privacy, but they would never let me stay in a hotel while they have a home in Istanbul. I guess I should have known better on that score, too.

It's a Turkish thing, a family hierarchy "chain of command" thing that requires I comply; sometimes a warm, beautiful, wonderful thing, sometimes a suffocating thing, but it is always a love thing. We may not understand it, we may not agree with it, but we respect it because it comes from the heart.

So (as the saying goes) when in Rome do as the Romans do, and never refuse hospitality, especially when it is from a man you love more like a father, than a brother.

I decide to tell them at dinner my plan for Valentine's Day, and ask them for help. My sister-in-law's smile widens, as though I have finally done the right thing. Within the space of two phone calls, everything is planned.

I will take a ferry over to Büyükada, the largest of the nine so-called Princes' Islands of Istanbul, where a friend of her father's will put on for me an authentic evening of fish and rakı, oud player and all.

It's not the Bosphorus, but it couldn't be a better plan.

I'll catch a morning ferry the next day and come back - home, she says. Go do what you need to do, then come back safely, come back the Ali we know and love.

I promise, suddenly realising that I'm glad I gave up The Bentley for this, for a place I wouldn't trade for the best hotel in the world.

I always believe it is often times best to go things alone, to try and do things without help, but it is good to know that when you least expect it, you can get a helping hand.

My sister-in-law reads my thoughts.

It's because you make the right choices in love, that it finds you so often, she says, taking hold of my hand.

Whether that is true or not, I cannot say, but I promise to keep trying.

I get ready for bed, in anticipation of the day ahead.

Read part three

See also: Valentine's Day Specials

Read more: On Love | My Say >>

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