Istanbul is the meeting point of Asia and Europe, where the Grand Bazaar chants and the Bosphorus, teeming with ships day and night, separates the two continents.
For many the sole reason for travelling to the melting point of the world’s cultures is to wander through the Grand Bazaar, past the 4000 shops of the world’s most wonderful traditional basilica – a secular commercial and trading festival, and in this city virtually surrounded by grand mosques. This basilica, or bazaar, is as fabled for more than 500 years as the Golden Horn waterway.
On this visit to the Grand Bazaar we walked from the hotel and entered through Gate 7 that leads directly to the street of gold merchants, one of the few broad walkways of this covered bazaar. It took not very long to remember why this bazaar is one that welcomes back visitors coming time and again to sample its antique and modern wares and atmosphere of excitement.
The merchants of Istanbul are a level above those of markets and bazaars in other great cities. Yes, they thrill to the chase, to the art of selling, but astounding to the first time visitor, who is warned against the risks of the market, it is a place of safety and politeness.
At no time does the visitor feel threatened, and rudeness is anathema. Rather than avert your eyes from the searching merchant, the warmth of their approach and the obvious but welcome platitudes bring you to engage with them, but be wary of your wallet, because it is not the thief who will relieve you of your lira, but the art of the salesman if you chance to enter his tiny shop.
Every visit has its story and this is only one of thousands each day. Perchance you wish to purchase a new hand bag in the area where leather goods are concentrated. Espying a possible candidate, you enter the tiny diagonal store and confront the merchant – and for the seasoned shopper, you know that he has already won, as you made the ‘mistake’ of entering his store. But it is never a simple conquest.
It is similar, for a lady, to agreeing to dance with Don Giovanni – you know the outcome, it is the trip that is uncertain. The first dance involves testing your desires, this is the waltz of price range. Once a few manoeuvres are completed, you are ready for the ‘quick step’.
This is when you are invited to take a few steps along the dance path to his ‘grand store’ with some astounding colours and a finer range. It is here that you find the four levels of the grand bazaar store, narrow ladders that test your dance style as you climb into the ‘gods’ of the bazaar. Now you are tested, can you escape the trading clutches? Will you dance every dance, how many bags will you buy? And it is here, trapped in his arms, that you find the price of your desire and the negotiations begin.
It is a futile argument to declare that all you wanted was to dance as he has a tango ready for you – the real store hidden just on the edges of the bazaar, with a dance floor and fine coffee the likes that you have never seen. Now, as his dancing puppet, you follow swiftly through the bazaar, stepping left and right, climbing again many stairs to the boudoir of his dance academy.
Shown the finest of his tango steps, you seek refuge, hoping for a rescue by a long lost husband, but realising that all is lost, your dance clothes are to be adorned by not one, not two, but three new bags for you to parade to your friends as the result of your dancing lesson in the Grand Bazaar. And you also realise, possibly with a twinge of disappoint, that you lost nothing but the contents of your wallet, deftly extracted by ‘love’ and given freely with some pleasure to this grand dancing teacher who now moves onto his next conquest with a final complement – ‘you look wonderful in your beautiful skirt’ and you are happy.