A bit delayed, but worth relaying:
Monday 20 Oct 2008. We left Bindarme at 7.30am on the hydrofoil to Istanbul. The crowded port boasted ships registered in Panama, Monrovia and Valetta and there was also one from Moscow, a true fish out of water. The boat sped across the Sea of Marmara getting to Istanbul in just two hours.
Arriving at Yenikapi port in Istanbul, I was greeted by the usual plethora of men asking me if I wanted a “tacsi”. But I was determined to set out on foot. The line straight ahead was blocked by the railway to Europe so I headed east in the general direction of Asia. Eventually there is a pedestrian overpass which goes through to a narrow alley onto a busy looking street. It looks promising with signs for Internet and the all-important “otel” (after drawing a complete blank on that score in Izmir). The first two “otels” I try are completely booked out but a third can fit me in for two nights (I wanted four). I wondered if it was because of Arsenal fans in town for the Champions League game tomorrow night. I set out and barely ten doors down I found a barber. I had promised myself a haircut in Istanbul and despite a total lack of the Turkish tongue I figured the language of clippers can’t be too difficult to communicate.
As soon as I was sat in the barber’s chair I was offered a sweet. I looked twice at the offering before the second barber made the “eat” gesture. I had seen this confection barely minutes earlier on the street. It had the look, texture and taste of toffee. “Kurdish” said my new barber friend. “I am Kurdish” he went on. The Kurdish barber stopped cutting my hair to allow me digest the “toffee”. But given that could take some time, I urged him to continue clipping away. A bit of hairy Kurdish toffee couldn’t hurt.
The barbershop had the usual array of incongruous photos common to barbers the world over. Pictures of Istanbul and Pammukale were mixed in with a mural of a Canadian ski slopes.
When I advised the barber with a heavy grunt he had cut my hair to my satisfaction and the universally understood “ok”, he proceeded with the next step of the operation. I could barely believe my eyes as he reached for a cigarette lighter and proceeded to set alight both my ears – Twice! I kept my apprehension to myself, assuming this was some local rite and was surprised the operation was painless. I wondered if this was an effort to quick-dry my ears but as the next step was a hair wash that theory foundered. I assume it was either his way of burning off the hairs from my ear or else a way of taking the piss out of a stupid tourist. The wash felt like a massage and after 15 minutes in the chair I was totally relaxed – despite the earscorching. I walked away with the remains of my Kurdish toffee in my pocket for safe-keeping.