Tag Archives: Turkey

Istiklal Caddesi Made Them Do It, In Istanbul

Istiklal Caddesi

News Editor

Gina Czupka examines the exotic garment most likely to cause buyer’s remorse in “Ugliest pants in the world inexplicably popular with many travelers.” She’s talking about harem pants. (Gina also collects travel guides, so if you have any extra, send them along to her please.) A few years ago, Gina went shopping on Istiklal Caddesi, which seems to be, for shopping and tourist crowds, something like the boardwalk of Venice Beach, California, only it’s in Istanbul, Turkey. She saw many examples of these harem pants and had a very negative reaction. But within a few years, even hippies in Guatemala were wearing the grotesque things. Here’s the skinny on the fat pants:

…often made of jersey or light cotton, that incorporate the volume of fabric needed for a very big, floaty skirt, gathered together in a dropped crotch that sits at about mid-thigh or knee level… They could make Angelina Jolie look bulky and dumpy, and if that’s the case, what chance do the rest of us have…?

Of course, our first thought was: What if we should find ourselves one day in the Beyoglu shopping and entertainment district, on Istiklal Caddesi, tempted to buy a pair of these atrocities? What would we do, to distract ourselves from such a mistake? We started looking around for suggestions, of which their ought to be plenty. After all, in The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin describes Istiklal Caddesi as “one of the liveliest streets on the planet. It’s entirely pedestrian, really long, very wide and bursting with life.” So, here are some ideas:

1. Visit the infinitesimally small café called Mandabatmaz, which is just off the main drag, for Turkish coffee like it supposed to be.

2. If you happen to be there between the 3rd and 6th of December 2009, check out Contemporary Istanbul, a convocation of artists, gallery directors, art collectors, art critics, and basically the entire art world.

3. The city just started up something called the Istanbul Design Weekend, so look for it again next year.

4. There’s a gay nightclub on the street, and if you come at the right time of year, there’s the Gay Pride Parade taking over the thoroughfare.

5. Take the advice of Mina Ercel and visit Cremeria Milano for Italian ice cream. The flavors include bitter chocolate, fior di latte, tiramisu and Baileys.

6. Here’s another of those right-time-of-the-year ideas: hit the annual Jazz Festival, and a group like the New Orleans New Wave Brass Band might be playing right there on the street.

7. One of Istanbul’s famous churches, Saint Antoine’s, is also found on Istiklal Caddesi.

After we’ve done all those, if we still feel an irresistible urge to visit the vendor of harem pants, we intend to give in to it.

Harem pants photo courtesy of Idhren , used under this Creative Commons license; Istiklal Caddesi photo courtesy of Salim Virji , used under this Creative Commons license

Topkapi and Other Harems

topkapi harem

News Editor

Simon Winchester … where have we heard that name before? Ah yes, he wrote The Professor and the Madman, a surpassingly fascinating dual biography of…. but that’s another story. What we’re looking at today is Winchester’s recent review of The East, the West, and Sex, by Richard Bernstein, in “Books of the Times” from The New York Times Sunday last.

One of the Bernstein’s claims – and who could deny it? – is that the person most responsible for creating the reputation enjoyed (or suffered) by certain parts of the world today, was Sir Richard Burton. Not the actor, but the explorer, the one whose wife burned his journals and manuscripts when he died, rather than let everybody find out what her husband got up to in his travels. Winchester says:

Tales of the odalisque, the harem, the seraglio, the concubine, the geisha and the Kama Sutra have all become combined in the past century or so into a sweetly perfumed mélange of exoticism and eroticism…

It was that sex-as-an-art-form thing. Young men from the West have always been dispatched to the East with a nod and a wink, the result of the racist, colonialist mindset that fantasized the entire Orient as a conscience-free zone. There’s a whole other side to the mystique, as any feminist will tell you, and as Winchester also points out. Imagine an entire wasted lifetime with no options but to hang with a bunch of other women around a fancy indoor swimming pool, waiting for a sultanic booty call.

On the other hand, we did get some fantastic architecture out of it. For instance, the harem complex at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Kevin Dolgin, in The Third Tower Up from the Road, notes the differences between this edifice and the typical strongholds of European kings, with the Turkish version being kind of a castle “lite,” featuring

elegant courtyards dotted with small white buildings boasting gilded roofs; every door carved with flowing designs; window grates so delicate they seem to be made of wooden lace.

If you go there, Dolgin recommends shunning any kind of group tour. Get one of those top-notch, specially certified harem guides, and brace yourself for sensory overload.

SOURCE: ” Lands of Erotic Fantasy and Their Complex Reality ” 06/07/09
photo courtesy of Allie_Caulfield, used under this Creative Commons license