It’s because of my semi-pathological fear of museums and my embarrassing inability to read a map that I spend my first night in Istanbul in my hotel room crying into a Styrofoam dish of baklava, clinging to a grande Starbucks latte and periodically jumping up and down on a Turkish carpet that I don’t want, never had any intention of buying and yet, somehow, now own.
The day starts delightful and foreign with walnuts and apricots for breakfast and by the afternoon I’ve walked around a large portion of the old part of town. Then it begins to drizzle and unsure of my exact location, or more to the point which direction is the way back to my hotel, I stand still. With frizzed hair and a discombobulated brain I forget not to engage in conversation with strangers and so I smile when Erol, evidently a Turkish name meaning courageous, asks if he can help me. He enquires whether I’ve seen the Serpentine column and when I shake my head he tells me about the drunken Pole who threw stones at the snake heads and broken them off the top of the plaited column. I think of how the column looks like a blue koeksister and how long it’s been since breakfast.
I giggle when he asks where my blue skirt is to match my eyes because it’s at least the sixth time I’ve been asked that same question today. So instead of grimacing, I smirk at the short man in his long trench coat, with his perfect, even in the rain, hair, dark brown eyes and shiny leather shoes. I listen as he lectures me on the column of Constantine and explains about the holes once being filled by jewels. I marvel at the Hippodrome. Then he offers me tea at his shop and a minute or two out of the rain. It seems rude to refuse.
Fifteen minutes after stepping into his shop I am back on the pavement, this time clutching a black carpet bag.
‘What just happened?’ I ask myself as I step onto Galata Bridge. I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment before walking on into the fat drops of rain.
‘Why did you hand over your credit card?’ It’s an interesting question. But I blame it on the art of bamboozling.
Inside the shop, after tea has been requested, courageous Erol disappears and another man arrives. Within seconds he’s shouting instructions in curt Turkish to four other men who are running around throwing carpets onto the floor at my feet. There are hundreds of them, flying whimsically through the air to land almost touching my toes. Even for someone, like me, who doesn’t particularly like these carpets, they’re magnificent, like magic carpets.
Like a fool I admire one and the main man rubs his hands and says: ‘For you, thirteen thousand euros.’
At this point I leap to my feet and run for the door but he blocks my way. Not in a threatening style but more in a, wait it’s impolite to leave before I’m finished, sort of manner.
‘I’m paying in rands,’ I explain as I sink back into the chair.
He keeps talking, changing prices, changing carpets and changing currencies until my brain is swirling like a runaway merry-go-round.
That’s when he puts out his hand and says: ‘Visa!’