an excerpt from my humorous travel
Bright Sun, Strong Tea. (The
previous episode was Aladdin's
I was in Istanbul in
1975 on a Fulbright fellowship studying
dusty Ottoman legal
documents which sounds perverse but
was actually fun (well, sort of) though
almost entirely pointless, of course.
My parents arrived in May from Rome
where they had been visiting my brother
Steve who was studying architecture
"Here's your friend Aladdin's raincoat," my
I insisted that we all deliver it
to Aladdin together. For this mission
I carefully selected a taxi driver
from among the noisy pack at the end
of my street.
His name was Hayri. He was
in his late fifties, of medium height,
clean-shaven, grey-haired and distinguished-looking.
He always wore a tweed jacket, dark
brown slacks and a matching sporting
cap which perfectly matched his car,
an antique Austin. At the wheel, he
looked the perfect English gentleman.
As we approached, Hayri got out of
the driver's seat, doffed his sporting
cap, opened the rear door for my parents
and bowed slightly as they climbed
in. In one smooth, flowing, graceful
motion he closed the door, replaced
his cap, glided into the driver's seat,
and we were off.
We coasted down the hill to Dolmabahçe and
Hayri eased into the insane traffic along
the shore road like a matador finessing
a huge herd of bulls. Madcap drivers
swirled around us, imperilling the
Austin's front and rear, threatening
its brightly buffed flanks, but Hayri
drove on smooth as silk and steady
as a rock.
To be imperturbable in the madness
of Istanbul traffic
is a wonderful thing. I complimented
him on his driving.
"Great drivers are born, not made," quoth
We drew up in front of Aladdin's.
Hayri bowed and handed us out of the
Austin, accepted his fare and a considerable
tip, and glided back into the traffic
maelstrom humming a British
Aladdin had emerged to see who these
important visitors might be who came
by taxi. I introduced my parents and
we all squeezed into his tiny cluttered
shop. As usual, his boy magically appeared
and was instructed to run and find
more stools and to bring tea.
Aladdin unwrapped the parcel I handed
"Ah, güzel, çok
I held the raincoat up for him. He
put it on and modeled it for us, turning
this way and that, looking not into
a mirror, for there was none, but into
our faces for the reflection of our
approval. We beamed and smiled and
made low mutterings of approval. He
walked outside and looked at his reflection
in the dingy glass of the shop window.
He beamed with delight and satisfaction.
He came back inside, thanked us again
profusely, took off the coat, folded
it carefully and set it aside.
Our tea had
come. We sorted out the glasses, handed
them around, and the conversation paused
for an important moment: the commencement
of the informal Turkish
Tink tink tink tinka tinka tinklinklinkle,
the tiny stainless steel spoons rang
against the little tulip-shaped glasses
as we stirred in sugar, holding the
spoon-end between thumb and index finger,
pinkie aloft. Gingerly I held the gold
rim of the glass so as not to burn
my fingers. Dainty sotto voce slurps,
mixing cool air with hot tea as it
enters the mouth.
An audible sigh. Ahhhhh! Good tea.
Our minds had drifted off into the
right-brain realm of sensations and
dreamy feelings. Aladdin coaxed them
back into the left-brain territory
of purchase and sale.
"Tom Bey," Aladdin said. "Rockefeller
"Rockefeller came?" I asked,
confused. "Who? What Rockefeller?"
"Rockefeller!" he said and handed
me a newspaper clipping.
It was a photo of Aladdin in front
of his shop next to the huge ibrik. On
the other side of the ibrik, shaking
Aladdin's hand, was Nelson Rockefeller. The
caption read "Former governor of New
York and Vice-President of the USA
Nelson Rockefeller visits Istanbul craftsman."
"He bought the ibrik," Aladdin
He smiled so broadly I was sure his
face would crack. Nelson Rockefeller!
I would sooner have expected Elvis.
As they sipped their tea, my parents
surveyed the shop and picked out a
few souvenirs. Aladdin packed up their
choices and wouldn't let them pay.
We finished our tea, said our goodbyes
and left. As we walked away, we looked
back to see Aladdin sauntering down Çadırcılar
Caddesi on this bright sunny day in
his new American raincoat with a rolling
walk, chin up, looking to left and
right, waiting for the inevitable questions
and comments from other shopkeepers
on his unusual and newly-acquired
here to order an autographed
copy of the book online with
credit card or PayPal.
from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong
Tea copyright © 2004 by
Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)