Got your coffee? Good. It’s time for Monday Morning Coffee Stories!
Once again, dearest cousin and gentlest reader Mike, known to me as Jason and to his sister as Pig, regales us with an early morning (or late-night) tale. Read on!
I always assumed that closing the hotel bar down in Istanbul meant the night was over. Turns out that isn’t always the case.
I was having a few rounds of nightcaps after a tremendous Turkish dinner with a number of friends in the hotel bar not far from the Ataturk Airport in the Bakirkoy District of Istanbul. Since it was my first day in Istanbul I wasn’t quite ready to call it a night, even though we had closed down the bar at 2AM. Luckily one of my friends had been there for a few days of early sightseeing and told us that he knew about a place around the corner that had extended hours for the local restaurant workers and residents. (It’s always good to have someone that doesn’t mind abusing his liver in your group.)
So the eight of us got up and walked out into the balmy night. There were two couples, one from Boston and one from Minneapolis, one Republican gun nut from Memphis, one thick-necked New Yorker who now lives on Long Island, a California surfer type and me. The cool breeze off of the Marmara Sea seemed to push us to our destination not far from the Cinar Hotel and the conversation about the sightseeing for the next day took up the five minute walk to the bar.
If you haven’t been to Istanbul, you have to understand that when you walk into most bars it could be assumed that everyone there was training for the next Olympic chain smoking competition. I have been to bars throughout Europe and Asia and nothing had prepared me for the amount of heavy cigarette smoke that was waiting like a 2 x 4 as I entered that bar. Luckily, I was already a little hazy from the Devil’s Milk (Raki and water) I had been drinking since dinner. Raki is the Turkish equivalent of Sambuca. The locals mix it with purified water which gives it a nice finish and also turns the water milky white, thus the name Devil’s Milk.
So, the eight of us had staked out the end of the bar next to a partially open window and resumed curing all of the world’s ills in the still-busy bar. We were trying to stay as inconspicuous as a pack of Americans in Turkey can be and had all agreed that if asked we were all Canadian. Everyone loves Canadians. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Americans, or more specifically, our government. Mercifully, most people I have had the opportunity to meet abroad can make the distinction, but you can never be sure. So as we sat and stood and had some drinks I realized a group of pretty big guys on the opposite side of the bar had noticed our presence. They looked like they were straight out of central casting for Big Turkish Guys. They all had tufts of what looked like bear skin rugs sticking out of the tops of their shirts, they all had big bushy mustaches that would have made the early Politburo proud and every one of them had hands that looked like they could crush a bowling ball.
Just about the time I thought we should leave, one of them sauntered over to our group. My expression must have changed because my friend who was extolling the virtues of the designated hitter stopped mid-sentence to see what was coming his way. The giant approached and, in broken English, asked “Do you like Georgy Booosh?” Being the geo-political geniuses we all were, we shook our heads no. Then, the wife of the couple from Boston spits out the following in the thickest New England accent you could imagine, “Like em? We all hate the cheatin’ no-good bastaad.”
At this point the bar got real silent and then, everyone cheered. I expected to see a band come out of the back room and balloons drop from the ceiling. It seemed like we had somehow spoken the secret code to get the party started. Turns out everyone there had been pretty subdued when we walked in out of politeness and they had not wanted to scare us off. The somewhat tipsy fellow was a Kurd from Iraq with some deep-seeded resentment of both Bush Senior (whom he said abandoned them after Gulf War I) and his child. His name was an unrepeatable slur of vowels and consonants strung together with liquor and peanuts. I think the pronunciation changed three times and after the third attempt I just called him Ed. He thought that was pretty funny.
So Ed and I discussed soccer, what it was like being a pilot (me, not him), life in northern Iraq and the sights to see in his new home city Istanbul. Even though I think we both understood about a quarter of what each other was saying, it was an awesome night with the occasional song, lots of unfiltered cigarette smoke and shots of various sweet libations that went down hard but stayed down easy.
Four in the morning is early or late, depending on your disposition at the time. For me, it was very late. The walk back to the hotel was the safest early morning walk I have ever had thanks to our newly found Kurdish bodyguards. We kept them amused with a stirring rendition of Frank Sinatra’s Summer Wind. We exchanged goodbyes at the hotel security gate and they went on their way. We could hear their laughs echo through the deserted streets as we walked into the hotel lobby. It was a great start to a wonderful time in Istanbul.
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