Friday, April 25, 2014

The Narghile Bar (Istanbul)

> The Narghile Bar > > The wind pushed down the dark, fast moving Bosporus, its current dancing with reflected lights, penetrating everything with dampness. It was December and we'd taken the Metro to Tophane, with 15 narghile (hooka) bars, all in row. > > The bars looked inviting from afar, golden light spilling out into the night, their big banks of windows steaming up. The cultural tradition of narghile smoking was re-embraced in the 90's. Before that the bars were the domain of the old-school Turks, enjoying a tradition dating back to Old Persia, probably before the 1600's. Now they are filled with people of all ages. Though called bars, no alcohol is ever served. > > I hadn't seen Aydin in 4 years. He looked very cheerful & rosy, his high color aided by the chilly night. Sitting in a low booth across from each other over a small coffee table, the waiter arrived and we chose our tobacco flavor, cappuccino for something new. At the tall counter to the side the ates(h)cuk - fire guy - stoked his brazier preparing coals. Next to him were long rows of the 3 foot tall, rainbow colored glass pipes and the snake-like hoses that carry the smoke from bowl to mouth piece, hanging long and limp from wooden pegs. > > Ayden was handsome as ever with his elongated Modigliani face, hazel eyes, perfect Turkish bird-wing eyebrows and aquiline nose. My Turkish had not improved since I'd been out of the country. His English had - somewhat - more foreign girlfriends, no doubt. We worked at our conversation using the translating dictionary and our old-faithful system sketching out some of our nouns and verbs, faster and a lot more fun. We also used a kind of sign language we'd invented for ourselves. My brain was working overtime to recall any of the 3 (out of a dozen or so) verb forms I knew. > > Another server had come for our drink order. We started with tea that arrived on a big tray full of small, steaming tulip glasses. Our pipe soon arrived with milk in the bottom instead of water and was set on the floor. The atescuk made a bee-line with his sleeve of coals, picking out several with a flourish and laying them neatly on top of the tobacco. The head waiter had a silver mouth piece and offered assistance, puffing mightily to get the pipe started and blowing out a dragon-like cloud of smoke. We all laughed. Ayden entertained me with his usual mime-like expressions and gestures, covering his undercurrent of huzun, classic Turkish melancholy. That's Islam, they're all fatalist, it's "written in the book." We passed the pipe hose back an forth, puffing contentedly and lighting an occasional cigarette for variety. The fire guy came around to refresh our coals. > > Next I ordered a Turkish coffee, orta (medium sugar). It doesn't take too long to drink the tiny cup (making sure you sip daintily so the sludge on the bottom doesn't end up in your mouth). Then I tipped the cup upside down on the saucer and placed a coin on the bottom to absorb any remaining heat. After a few minutes I rotated cup to the left three times and turned it over. Although it was my cup I offered to read the coffee grounds for Ayden. Nothing too decipherable there, tho I must have come up with a couple of predictions. > > > It takes about an hour to smoke a narghile. We called for the check - hetsap. I offered to pay, but WHAT?! The cappuccino pipe was more pricey than I expected. We bundled up and walked out into the frosty air hand in hand. It wasn't until later I figured out they thought I was a tourist, so had charged me double. > > > > > > >

Friday, April 4, 2014

Miss Balbina, Treasure Beach, Jamaica

Shortly after I got in Billy's Bay, Treasure Beach Jamaica, Miss B, my proprietress, said her hair was making her scalp feel "scratchy," so she went next door to her son Jerry's and Gayon, her grand daughter shaved her head! She does this periodically. Her hair had been short and curly, fluffy and silver with some darker areas. It looked lovely. It took a little getting used to seeing her like this! B is 75 now and may have lost a little height, but still is tall. She uses a staff (fish trap stick) for moving around the yard. I got her a good knee brace a couple of years ago but I think it isn't very comfortable. She has that goat corral on the property next door. The goats come down in the early evening and she puts them in there for the night. The goats and kids belong to 3 different parties. I counted 11 adults, but there are probably more that aren't so regular in their habits. Many kids were being born while I was there. I LOVE them! And I love to see her walking up the slight incline in the morning when she lets them out and they form a line walking behind her as the come up the path to their day of freedom and foraging. I helped her doctor a couple of new kids, she still does the vet work and buys all the supplies herself with her limited funds. She moves around the yard sweeping up, hand washing in the yard, dragging wood up from Delephina's land next door for yard cooking and roasting coffee. Gone are the days when she would leave the yard with her machet, a towel and an length of rope. In those days she came back from the bush to the north with a huge bundle of firewood balanced on her head. My guess would be 40 pounds or more. Her out building, the wood fire kitchen is full of Jerry's fishing equipment, so she has a fire pit over by the fence. Andre got fish for us one night from the incoming fishermen and she prepared and fried them, then "cooked them down" on 3 stones in the pit. Delish! Andre, the Polish guest, found out when Uke's boat was coming in and he walked down to the sea after dark with - no light - to get some. He invited me to go down there with him, but it had just rained hard and the path was muddy. It was overcast, so no moon or stars. I said no thanks. He said there were NO lights down at the beach where the fish were being unloaded, sorted and weighed for sale. Not sure how they could weigh them in the dark. Maybe they just part out by size & by basket. Or perhaps they were weighing them a little later using headlights from the trucks that come down there to ice them down and ship them out. Back in the day B would rush down to the beach at dark when Jerry's boat came in and help unload the catch. She came back to the house energized and full of sea water! Slice of life -