Full day at the show yesterday. Turkish exhibitions have unusual opening hours: from 10 am to 8 pm. Great to take things easy in the morning, but when the exhibition draws to a close in the evening I am rather tired! In fact the show does not really get going until 2 pm or so – it seems that the average Turkish businessman likes to go to the office in the morning and visit shows later.
I do not have much to do at the stand as my Man in Turkey and his colleagues take care of the punters. I smile and nod at appropriate moments, with a merhaba and tesekkürler to greet the people. Meanwhile I observe the visitors: Turkish businessmen are rather formally dressed, with dark suits and smartly pressed shirts and ties. None of the more informal wear in vogue in Italy. As for the women, well, here we come across the paradox of Turkish society: plenty of attractive girls with tight trousers and bare midriffs, but also conservative “Islamic” women with long dresses and headscarves. Not that there was a split between the two: curious to see both varieties of women chatting together on a stand and playing with their mobiles. Another unusual aspect of Turkish exhibitions is the presence of large flower wreaths on many stands. No, these are not funeral wreaths but are intended as celebratory gifts by business partners to wish a successful show!
After the show, we decide to go for dinner on the Bosphorus – a 40 km drive away from the exhibition in Yeniköy – “new village”, on the shores of the Bosphorus, overlooking Asia on the far side. The restaurant, called Deniz Park but known to locals as “Aleko”, by its former owner’s name, is set in an old 19th century wooden family house. Similar waterside houses, appropriately restored, are luxury mansions fetching $ 3-4 million! The main dining area at Aleko is set right over the water, with large picture windows open to envoy the stunning view. Large schools of fish jump in the clear waters a the diners throw scraps of bread. This being a balik lokantasi, fish we eat! Assortment of starters, amongst which delicious titbits of marinated sea bass, shrimps, puréed aubergines and tomato and cucumber salad. As a main course, an excellent grilled sea bass. Turkish coffee and baklava to follow.
Our party is a mixed one, featuring one Turkish Muslim, two Italian Catholics, one Israeli Jew, and another Israeli Jew of Turkish descent (there is a large Jewish community in Istanbul who arrived from Spain after their expulsion by the Reyes Catolicos in 1492). As the raki flows, our conversation turns to the role of religion in a modern state. Our Turkish host is decidedly on the secular end, strongly in favour of the banning of headscarves in public offices, à la française, and warning that the mildly Islamist party in power has a hidden agenda to impose shariah in Turkey. Our Israelis shrug: Israel is a Jewish state, where politics and religion are inseparable. Strangely enough, I find myself in the middle, supporting a certain tolerance for religion without it being enshrined in the state. An interesting mix of views!
Back to the hotel via the scenic route: first through the well-to-do neighbourhood of Etiler, full of expensive shops, Mercedes, Porsches and Hummers on the streets, then to the central Taksim square, and down to the Galata Bridge with a splendid view over the Golden Horn towards the minarets and domes of Sultanahmet. On this moonlit night, Istanbul is one of the world’s most beautiful cities.