In all fairness, we got a late start on dinner. I met Owe in Taksim Square at 8:30, and first we had to have drinks and catch up. I took him to my secret bar, which is tucked away off Istiklal Cd., and which I love because even on a Friday night it’s never crowded, the drinks are reasonable, (you know, for Taksim,) and there’s the loveliest view of the Haliç imaginable with Eminonü and Sultanahmet all lit up and spreading up the hill behind it. I like to take visitors there because it’s a good place to chat, and the view makes you go, “Oh right. THAT’s why I’m in Istanbul.” Because sometimes after fighting the crowds and slogging through a work week it’s easy to forget.
Owe and I talked business for a bit and then settled into companionable chit-chat. He’d done his homework on me and had read quite a lot of what I’d written.
“Why did you stop the blog?”
“Well honestly, it never really did take off the way I wanted it to, and it started getting less and less fun to write. My bosses and coworkers found it, my students were finding it, and I was starting to feel stifled by all the things I couldn’t say, knowing who my audience was.” Then too, the blog started out with a stranger in a strange land sort of voice, all starry eyed and bewildered, and as I got more used to living in Turkey and more immune to its charms and more stuck in my working woman’s life I dried up creatively. Often I couldn’t think of anything at all to write within my new, increasingly uncomfortable parameters. “Yesterday the photocopier broke down again. And my student said this really amazingly hilarious thing unintentionally but I can’t write about it because he might read it and complain to my boss. Then I went to the grocery store and bought lentils and cheese. The cheese would have been 75 kuruş less but I forgot my discount card. Then I went home and watched two episodes of 30 Rock before falling asleep in my clothes. Tonight I’m going out and it’ll be really fun and interesting but I won’t be able to write about it because god knows which of my friends have found this blog and who I might offend. I guess I could write about the bar or restaurant or whatever but there are plenty of blogs that do that better and I don’t read them anyway ’cause honestly I find that shit boring as fuck.” You’re welcome, readers.
“I can see the problem,” he mused. “You should just write it anonymously.”
“Hmm. Take it off the grid. Create a new identity.”
“Yeah. Just be careful with it.”
“I could set up a new e-mail account. No one’d ever know.”
“Exactly.” He started listing possible angles but I kind of tuned him out for a moment, my mind whirling.
We settled our tab and headed out into the night, dodging potholes and masses of not-paying-attention-to-anythingey pedestrians all the way down Istiklal until we got to the Galata tower. I picked a restaurant and we sat inside. It took twenty minutes for someone to take our order but that was okay ’cause we were having a grand time talking. When the waiter came back finally I ordered us a bottle of insanely overpriced wine in my very best Turklish.
“Sorry, yok,” he said.
“Shit. They’re out of the shiraz,” I said to Owe. “And we already voted against the quatro and I have no idea what this other stuff is. What,” I asked the waiter, “what’s good?”
“Hayir hayir. Alchohol yok.”
“Yokmı?” I said, astonished, and, frankly, hurt.
He said something which I believe meant that they’d temporarily lost their liquor license but they’d have booze again in two weeks. (Turkish time- 6 weeks minimum.)
“We’d better get out of here,” I said mournfully.
We went next door to what I realized was actually the restaurant I’m MEANT to take us to, but got confused because how often do I even go to Taksım anymore?
Now, the end of this story notwithstanding, Kiva‘s a pretty awesome restaurant. The food’s delicious and very inexpensive for the quality, they have great vegetarian options, and it’s just a swell place to go and sit outside in the summer.
We grabbed a table outside under a space heater and resumed our conversation. Every so often I tried to flag down a waiter but they generally avoided eye contact, choosing instead to elaborately rearrange the chairs at the very next table, or pick up and set down the cutlery before disappearing back inside. We finally managed menus, and Owe is the kind of fantastic dinner companion who’s up for anything, so we decided to get a bunch of stuff neither of us had ever had before.
“How does this strike you? ‘Cubed lamb with roasted in its fat.’”
“Sounds dangerous. What if it’s not cubed? What if it’s, say, actually rectangular?”
“Well then, we simply pitch a fit and refuse to pay.”
Half an hour after sitting down, roughly an hour after deciding to eat, we got the waiter to come take our orders. We got a bottle of wine and then opened the food menu.
“Sorry. Kitchen close,” he said quickly.
“It’s after 11. Kitchen close.” It was at that moment 11:05. I must have looked like I was about to cry because he quickly said, “We have two dishes left. That.”
“You only have two meals left, and they’re both cubed lamb with roasted in it’s own fat,” I said dully.
“So if we wanted, say, yogurt, or patlican salad, we couldn’t get it.”
“No. Kitchen close.”
“Okay. Bring us one entree.”
“Evet. bir tane.” When he’d gone I turned to Owe and laughed. “Well I’m just about the best tour guide ever, aren’t I? Do you think if we pitched a fit and pointed out that if they’d taken our order when we came the kitchen would have still been open, that we could get a salad to appear?”
The waiter came back with our wine and spent a good minute opening it. Then he just stood there so Owe reached for the bottle.
“No!” the waiter practically shrieked. He explained with elaborate accompanying gestures that there was a camera above our table and if his boss caught us pouring our own wine he was a dead man walking. He poured us two neat fingers of indifferent merlot each, made the bottle a little neck tie out of a napkin, and with a final stern, “If you need more wine, you call for me,” left.
Some other lackey came up with paper placemats printed with the menu and placed them before us.
Owe looked down and began to laugh.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “They don’t, and I’m not insinuating deliberately of course, take our order until after the kitchen closes, they offer us exactly one thing to eat and then put menus in front of us showing us all the stuff we can’t eat, and we’re not allowed to touch our own wine which we just purchased.”
“Welcome to Istanbul, friend,” I said.
“I think we’ll die of thirst if we count on him to keep us topped up, don’t you?” he said, reaching for the bottle.