Aladdin’s Lamp Shop, Istanbul

My old friend Aladdin and his Istanbul lamp shop, from my travel memoir, Bright Sun, Strong Tea(The previous episode is Midnight Express.)

It was time to check on my friend Aladdin, the antikaci (antique dealer) with all the good copper and brass Ottoman lamps, pots, trays and curiosities.

I strolled along Çadircilar Caddesi outside Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and as I neared his shop I noticed a monstrosity: a five-foot-high copper water pitcher.

It was an Ottoman ibrika ewer of classic design, fancy with spiral indentations swirling around its bulbous shape and a long spout that emerged from near the bottom of the vessel and rose to the top in a graceful sinuous curve. It was enormous, and it was standing right in front of Aladdin’s shop.

I approached it, amazed. What on earth was it, where had it come from, what was it for?

I peered through the door. Aladdin looked up and smiled.

“How do you like it?” he asked.

“It’s amazing,” I said. “What on earth is it?”

“You see what it is. It’s an ibrik. I made it.”

Okay, I knew that Aladdin, a talented craftsman trained as a coppersmith in his youth, made some strange things. I caught him once making a traditional Turkish coffee pot. It was beautifully, carefully made, but it had wheels on it. Putting wheels on a coffee pot was like putting wheels on a frying pan.

“Why does it have wheels?” I asked Aladdin.

“Why not?”

The best was the time I caught him sitting on his three-legged stool critically inspecting an elaborate nargile (water pipe).

“How do you like it?” he asked as I stepped inside. “It’s from the reign of Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730).”

“Beautiful,” I said.

“Thank you,” he said. “I finished it yesterday.

It certainly looked three centuries old.

The gigantic ibrik, the ewer, was obviously just decorative. It could barely be picked up by a strong person when empty, let alone full of water.

“What do you plan to do with it? ” I asked.

Sell it, of course.

” I haven’t decided how old it will be yet,” he added. “From which sultan’s reign, I mean.”

“But who will buy it? It’s so….so big!”

“I dunno,” he said with a grin. “We’ll see.”

I was not interested in enormous ibriks,wheeled coffee pots or even in brand-new imperial Ottoman water-pipes. I looked at other things, and found some I liked. I set them before Aladdin, who ignored them.

“I’ve seen American raincoats,” he said. “They look good. Waterproof, too, I’ll bet.”

I knew a cue when I heard it.

“Would you like me to bring you one?” I asked.

“That would be very kind of you,” he answered. I sized him up for it: shorter than I, but heavier. Sort of, well, troll-like.

We completed our bargaining. The prices we ended at were good. Surprisingly low.

I wrote to my mother, the factory-seconds maven, and asked her to look for a raincoat in Aladdin’s size.

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(Next: Rockefeller Geldi!)

(Excerpts from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Teacopyright © 2004, 2005 by Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)


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