Sunday, February 16, 2014

Public Transport Stereotypes - I

The government continues to pour investment into the transport infrastruture of the city, which makes the commuters glad! There are the usual disputes, complaints and moans about other political issues I'll not comment on here, but getting around the city is getting easier (as long as you avoid using a private car!). 

One anachronistic mode of transport remains; the minibus. I expect precious few tourists who come to the city would brave transport on a minibus as it's pretty hairy and requires knowing some of the Language. You can flag one of these minibuses down anywhere along it's route, although you'd only know it's route if you were pretty familiar with the area. Likewise you can get off one of these at any time too, if you can make it to the door past the human flesh and bones that are often crammed in tight. 

Map of Istanbul minibus routes
Passengers on the minibuses are a set of different stereotypes. There are the young students (usually girls) who quietly sit listening to music through head-phones whilst furiously texting. They look to be in a world of their own trying to ignore (understandably) the riff-raff around them. They are also impervious to the hard stares of any standing elderly passengers, who by all that Turkish culture holds precious should be offered the seats of the younger passengers. This particular type of passenger often sits down in a seat and then passes the fare up through the bus via the people sitting in front. This is a clever ploy to avoid losing the possibility of getting a seat through wasting crucial seconds walking up the bus and paying the driver. I have sympathy with these young people as commuting on a minibus everyday is a tiresome thing and these habits are born of necessity, plus my daughter is one of them!

Anyway, lots more sterotypes to come, I'll stop there.

Untitled Watercolour - on 600gm paper

Monday, February 10, 2014


Growing up I was always told to keep my shoes polished. Those were the days when 'proper' shoes were leather and supposed to be shiny. However, growing up in the 70s and 80s all the people that I can remember aspiring to never wore shiney shoes, in fact as I remember they were probably wearing swade desert boots or something like that. Moving to Central Asia in the late 90's mean I had to rethink my attitudes. Many of the people I worked with were exceedingly concerned about the shinyness of their shoes, pieces of tissue paper would be used to wipe off the ever present desert dust a number of times a day, my slovenliness borne of out-of-date beatnick aspirations had to be reformed. 

The other thing I picked up in Islamic Asia was a habit of never wearing outside shoes inside a house. This brings a whole pile of implications concerning what footwear to choose; lace up boots are out, 'slip-ons' are in. So despite the bad memories of taking the bus into town to buy shiney, slip-on 'sensible shoes' (which marked the end of the summer holidays for me in the 70s) I am back to wearing sensible, polishable slip-ons wherever possible. What goes round comes round.

Shoes in a forgotten attic - Istanbul - Watercolour on Paper

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


This city never ceases to surprise me. Today I was staring at a forge. Sometimes I head over to the small streets that skirt the Golden Horn in the Karakoy district of Istanbul. It's a fascinating area where ancient Ottoman 'hans' (sort of trading centres for craftsmen of all types) nestle amongst fish markets or hardware markets. It's a great place to go to buy drills, scales, large chain saws, ball bearings, rope and chains (you never know when a 30kg coil of chains is going to come in handy).  

Yesterday I found a mouldering two storey brick edifice that was another one of these old Ottoman structures that I'd overlooked before. It had a long path running down between workshops that was partially covered by the second storey. Everything was black and sooty, at one end in a darkened cave-like room was a forge with flames blasting out of the gaps in the cover. There were a few men scurrying back and forth with various items to be melted down. They were very patient and endured my questions and our 'oohs' and 'aaahs' as they tried to go about earning a crust. 

We didn't out stay our welcome and continued to roam around the less travelled parts of the old city. It is fascinating to see so many diverse lifestyles, trades, occupations, social classes and religious identities live and work so close to one another. As we were admiring a particularly interesting doorway in the han I mentioned above, one of the workers passed by and with an ironic smile yelled out 'Harika!' (meaning 'fantastic!!'). 
He was apparently fairly at home with the presence of foreigners finding remarkable what he no doubt sees everyday, live and let live.

Watercolour on paper: '39'

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