Hope is in short supply for those involved in Turkish tourism after bomb attacks and a failed coup in the country this year. From Istanbul to Ankara, Antalya to Mardin, visitor numbers remain woefully low and businesses are laying off staff
I thought that I would offer the shop owner 50 Turkish Lira for the piece with a view to paying around 100 Lira maximum. I walked away to look at some other jewellery pieces and then returned, after getting lost because I took the wrong right hand turn – the Grand Bazaar is like that – and by this time the owner was outside.
I crouched down and looked at the badge.
“How much for the Lenin badge?” I asked.
The owner looked at me and said,
“Five thousand US Dollars.”
“Oh,” I said, “that’s slightly more than I was expecting.”
The owner nodded as if to confirm his own suspicion of me. He then pointed at the badge.
“The gold colour is 24-carat gold.”
“Ah that explains it,” I said and left the area in some embarrassment. I didn’t think that countering his opening price with 100 Turkish Lira would have got me very far.
Four days later I was in Tallinn in Estonia and I went to the Occupation Museum on the edge of the Toompea district.
Not all the souvenirs on sale in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul are tourist tat. Some areas in the market sell some seriously expensive articles – the way to tell which shops these are, is that the people selling these antiques and collector’s items don’t hassle passers-by. They just watch the people browsing. Such was the case with me when I looked in a shop window and saw what I thought was a little Lenin badge. He was looking earnest as usual with a hammer and sickle and a Soviet flag in the background. The red and gold colours were radiant and I thought it was a beautiful objet d’art. The owner was inside his shop but made no move to come outside
I made the mistake of lingering for three seconds looking at a blue T-shirt of Istanbul.
“Welcome back,” said a voice.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You have been here before I think.”
“Yes I have,” I said, “in 1999 and 1990.”
“I have been here for 15 years,” said the stallholder, “so I must remember you from 1999. You are German.”
“I am English,” I said.
“And last time you were here with three other people?”
“I don’t think so, just the one maybe and I might have been on my own.”
“You said you would come back and buy something. You are late.”
“You should come into the shop and then when you have bought a carpet you will have even less money,” he smiled.
“No thank you.”
“Where are you from?”
“No, further north.”
“Business is bad this year – due to the globbal cresssssus.”
“The globbal cresssssssus.”
“Oh, the global crisis.”
Although it’s called the Spice Bazaar they don’t sell just spices.
I was writing down all the things on sale there and I was asked what I was doing by another stallholder (they can all speak good English and other languages too).
“I have written down everything on sale here.”
“I wanted to remember – cushion covers, Turkish viagra, lamps, plates, caviar, silver, carpets, cashmere, sausage, the evil eye, kebabs, linen, watches, belts, t-shirts, frilly baskets, bowls, glasses, jewellery, cups, ice-cream, rings, and perfume.”
“Yes we sell everything here.”
Two days later I visited the Grand Bazaar and was still taken aback by the size and scope of this covered market. After having my camera bag searched, I entered via Gate 2
and quickly found myself in the area selling T-Shirts, which I was interested in buying. The repartee of the stallholders was soon illustrated.