Sitting, waiting ...

It’s still the men who sit around in Istanbul’s covered bazaar

It’s still the men who sit around in Istanbul’s covered bazaar

Back in the last century I worked in Istanbul for over a year

After a bumpy start, it turned into one of the best experiences of my life. As English teachers, my colleagues and I had to work weekends, but we’d make the most of our mid-week days off.

Istanbul’s covered bazaar was obviously somewhere we enjoyed visiting and I’m proud to say that by the end of my time in Turkey I could navigate the bazaar’s labyrinthine passages with confidence. A knowledge of Turkish helped me deal with the friendly but persistent hassle from shopkeepers.

A subtle but successful technique

We used to visit a carpet seller called Hassan who was well aware that if you try too hard to entice somebody into your shop, they are quite likely to walk away as fast as they can. Hassan’s subtle but successful technique was to have an array of rather nice ceramics outside his shop. Tourists would often enter to make a purchase, he’d gently engage them in conversation, and sometimes they’d come away with a carpet too.

It’s years since I last visited the bazaar, but seeing this photo of some middle-aged men in the bazaar (courtesy of my friend Monica H. – evidently making good use of her new camera!), made me realise how much things have changed … And how some things have stayed the same.

Before mobile phones

Of course there were no mobile phones or internet, so shopkeepers could keep a close eye on potential victims. Facial hair has changed, though. In the eighties, nearly every single man had a thick black moustache, but few had beards. However, the male custom of sitting around on white plastic stools, with a coffee or some prayer beads, is the same as it ever was.

Lost in their own worlds

Imagine you were walking in the bazaar and you needed some information. Looking at the top photo, which man would you approach? Clearly neither of the two talking on the phone, so it would perhaps be the black-trousered man with the white shirt who has already noticed you. Blue shirt is looking elsewhere and seems preoccupied. Red collar looks uneasy.

The man with the white shirt appears to be sitting comfortably and is open to the outside world. He’s holding beads but they are not taking up all his attention - in contrast to the man on his left, who’s so involved in his conversation that he’s closed in on himself.

Young men absorbed by their phones

Young men absorbed by their phones

Looking at the second photo, would you ask those young men a question? Probably not. They’re lost in their own worlds, curled over their phones, turned in on themselves.

Look after yourself

Becoming so involved in an activity that you forget to look after yourself can mean your back or neck aches, your breathing is restricted, and your digestion suffers. On top of that the message is ‘don’t come near me because I’m busy’. Maybe that’s what you want, but just be sure you’re not giving out that message inadvertently!

Returning to the top photo, you can see how the man with the beads is sitting on his sitting bones, both feet flat on the floor, back unsupported.  The man in the front of the picture has crossed his legs and has made the act of sitting much harder, because he’s lost a lot of support. He’s almost sitting off the back of the stool and is hunched forwards to balance. Let’s not make life harder than it needs to be.

Use yourself well

I’m not talking about ‘correct position’ or even ‘good posture’ but rather, good use of yourself. The more you get into the habit of noticing your whole self and how it responds to the environment you’re in, the easier it will be to keep well-balanced when you’re busy or in crisis.

If you’ve visited the bazaar yourself you’ll remember the murmur of voices, the cries of salesmen, occasional blasts of music; aromas of cigarette smoke, coffee, grilling meat; the cooler, darker corridors that contrast with small patches of sunlight; and the overwhelming urge to touch it all, to gauge the texture of the fabrics, to feel the hard gloss of the ceramics, and sense the weight of the jewellery. All the senses are fully engaged. I don’t remember any more what I bought there, except for the kilim from Hassan, still going strong more than 30 years later!

My first kilim

My first kilim