A Trip to the Police Station in Istanbul

This is the first of many visits I made to the police in Istanbul.  This station has since been remodelled and is quite nice.  The police have not changed…

Nov. 2002

The legal troubles with my house have spilled over to my contractor, Cevdet, as the landlady has filed a complaint against him, saying he did not spend the money on the house. Since he had refused to give his address to her lawyer, the papers had to be served at the police station. They called him and told him to pick them up. That was a Friday. On the Monday I went with him to be a witness.

The police station in Beyoglu is in a side street off a side street. It is housed in what was once probably a very elegant apartment house. We had to go up marble stairs that were very worn from the many years of traffic. The bureau we went into was probably someone’s home at one time. The ceilings were high, and there were many doors leading off the corridors. The rooms had been painted in the past few years, a not too nasty yellow, but they had probably not been cleaned in quite some time. There were bits of paper on the floor and near the doors there were trampled dust bunnies, like old lint. The cabinets were old and some had broken doors. The desks were crammed together, like in most government offices I have been in. The policeman who took our statement—well, Cevdet’s actually—used a manual typewriter, although there were a few old computers in use in the other office. The policeman we dealt with shared an office with two other officers, with two more in an adjoining room. We were told to wait in that room for a while as he finished up with another “customer”. As we waited, one officer was doing something on the computer—I figured he was playing a game—and the other was reading the newspaper. This is very common in Turkey. It seems to me that in most workplaces in North America, it is frowned upon to be seen reading the paper while on the job. Here it is normal. I suppose the police in particular need to keep up with current events.

Finally we were called into the first room. The officer we dealt with was probably in his forties, and if we hadn’t been in Turkey, he could have been taken for an Irish cop. He was somewhat overweight, with graying hair, glasses, and a stern but still somewhat kind demeanor. Cevdet explained the situation and explained why I was there. The officer asked if I spoke Turkish and, like many people do around foreigners, acted as it I were perhaps a little simple. We established that I was an English teacher and so of course he had to ask about lessons for his son. I assured him that if his son came in and talked to me we could work out a special price for him. Once he had taken the bulk of Cevdet’s statement, he showed Cevdet a piece of blank paper and sent him out to the stationery store to buy a ream of it. This apparently was a kind of “gift” or service for the officer to look kindly on the case. While Cevdet was gone, the policeman asked me if I would talk to his university student son on the phone and proceeded to get him on the line. Actually, his son spoke fairly good English, though his proud father seemed intent on getting him into a course. He was pleased when I told him his son spoke English pretty well.

While I was waiting in the office, there was a disturbance downstairs. A woman was yelling and screaming, though I could not make out if she was the culprit or the victim. No one in the office I was in batted an eyelash. I suppose they are used to it. A few other men wandered in and out, some in civilian clothing. One was joking with them and called one a maniac. I was a little surprised that he was so casual with them until he wandered back in in police uniform.

In general the policemen were a little bemused at having a foreign woman sitting in their midst. They were brusque, but by the time we left, “our” officer was nice to both of us and I told him to send his son to talk to me. The report he typed up so quickly was going to be sent to a sort of lower judge, and hopefully it will be resolved favourably. It was an interesting visit to the police bureaucracy and hopefully all will be well.

My Galata tea garden

I am missing the good days of Istanbul.

2010

Actually, it isn’t mine, but I am a regular there.  There is no other tea garden like it, for it is at the base of the 12th century Galata Tower.  I have been going there for more than eight years, since I started looking for and finding several places in the neighbourhood. Now I am part of the neighbourhood and often sit in the tea garden to watch the locals and the tourists.

The tea garden has been there for more than 50 years.  For many of those years it was a place for men to drink tea and play tavla (backgammon), okey (a game with tiles), or cards on green felt covered tables.  This is still a neighbourhood, so the men still do that.  However, more often than not, they are joined by newer regulars and tourists.  Sometimes in winter, I am the only woman in there, but they pretty much ignore me.  They know who I am.  Unfortunately, a few years ago, they took out the wood stove and put in natural gas heating, so the inside lost some of its character, though now even people in the corners will be warm.

Most of the year, however, the outside tea garden is where people sit.  The wooden tables and chairs (they used to be plastic, but were replaced a few years ago) are under a grape arbour and we can watch the greening, flowering, and fruiting of the vine.  Even the lights look like bunches of grapes, which would probably be tacky anywhere else.  There is a walled garden along one side, with an old marble sink on the ground for the cats to drink water from.  The rest of the tea garden opens up  to Galata Meydan, a bricked and tiled open square (actually it’s sort of lopsided round).  There are lots of places to sit, on the benches or on the seated planters.  I sit in the tea garden and look at the people in the square.  The tourists are obvious, with their open books or maps and the bewildered or determined look on their faces.  I try to guess where they are from.  The Arabs are obvious, as the women are usually wearing at least a black headscarf. For the others, I have to hear the language to guess their origin.

There are other newish local regulars besides me.  Ismet and Nuri are artists and have their studios in Galata, though neither of them live there.  John is a respected poet and travel writer.  Mel is a professor and a writer. There are several other artists, writers, photographers, and architects now in the area.

The tea garden  itself is open to the flow of people that come through the square.  The garson has mastered tea garden basics in several languages and exchanges at least pleasantries with the Turks.  He greets me by name whenever I come, though I forgot his and am embarrassed to ask again.  Other cayci (ch-eye-ji) have come and gone, but he has been there for several years.  It requires a lot of running and a lot of tea to make money there.

In fact, at the tea garden, you can’t get much to eat.  There is tea, nescafe, Turkish coffee, soda (bubbly water), or maybe fruit juice.  A few years ago they added tost (grilled cheese sandwiches) and hamburgers. They sell a lot of tea and coffee, so even though they are not expensive, the volume during the season is certainly high.

On nice Sundays, the square is full of people and the tea garden is busy.  Some people buy borek, a savoury pastry, or sweet pastries elsewhere and eat them with their tea.  They read the paper and probably smoke.  Others, like me, drink tea and smoke and watch the people.  Still others sit in pairs and groups, intent on their conversations.  On spring and fall days some places are in the sun and in the summer tea drinkers can take shade under the bower.

img615 - CopyIt is amazing to sit and know that the tower that I am just a few meters away from has been solidly standing there for centuries, since 1348.  It used to be a fire observation tower, among other things. Some years ago I met an old man who had been a firefighter and knew the tower well. Supposedly in 1632 Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi flew from the Galata Tower to Uskudar, 6 kilometers away on the Asian side. I found the inside of the tower disappointing, actually.  You walk up the marble stairs through the door, and find yourself in an elevator lobby that is also a gift shop. You have to take the elevator up, as people are not allowed to use the stairs.  Upstairs there is a sort of tacky entertainment restaurant that probably looks better in dimmed lights at night and full of tourists.  Upstairs from that is an uninteresting café.  However, then it is up to the outside walkway.  From there you have a fabulous view of the old city, including Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and across to the Asian side and the Princes Islands. It is well worth going up there for that, but I have to say that I particularly like to look down at my neighbourhood. Then it is back to the tea garden.