Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Turkish Cafe Culture

our favorite cafe in Istanbul
When I thought of cafes, I used to think primarily of Paris and Rome-- quaint sidewalk affairs with croissant and cappuccino and let's say a man dressed like a mime smoking a cigarette.  But Turkey has a cafe culture all its own.  Perhaps because alcohol isn't such an important drink in Turkey (as my elusive hunt for drinkable wine would suggest) Turkish coffee and tea has pride of place.  Tea is seemingly drunk at all times and was much better than any German/French/Italian cafe could muster.  Ryan and Yang seemed to mostly enjoy the coffee, though they do not recommend drinking the muddy sludge at the bottom.

The Turkish cafe is about more than drinking coffee, though.  You can smoke a nargile (hookah), though we generally saw only tourists like ourselves doing this; but the real deal is backgammon.  This is a seemingly simple game with endless combinations of strategy and luck.  It also can draw quite an audience, as we discovered.  Bored waiters seemed to relish the opportunity to walk past Ryan and Yang's game to mutter things like "Close the door!"  "No, no, here!  Pieces here!"

I was a late comer to backgammon and chose not to involve myself in the blood battle between Ryan and Yang.  I sat writing postcards, my pens and stamps spread across the table.  A waiter came and complimented my pens.  One of them asked if we could "change" pens.  He handed me his pen, I feigned skepticism.  "Does it work?" I asked.

"Of course it works!"  The waiter replied, "look at it-- very nice pen, very good color!"  I weighed it in my hand, wrote with it, and told him that it was okay for a trade.  He happily took my pen and went about his business.  I thought this was funny but found it even funnier 15 minutes later when another waiter came over to trade for the pen I'd just received from the first waiter.  We repeated the same charade, and the waiter seemed very happy.  This happened a few more times, and looking at my pens now, I have one that I originally took with me, and two from Turkish waiters.  I sat out of backgammon, but I seemed to have been drawn into a cafe game of my own.

No comments: