Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Djinns of Sultanahmet

It’s true; the djinns are everywhere, not just in Sultanahmet. You’ll see them walking around, the air of otherworldliness surrounding them. Your eyes will be drawn to them or perhaps, away. They are unmistakable, strange. There is one who lives in my neighborhood. When I see him his hands are always up, palms facing away from me. That is his message to me. Hands. Create.

Not all djinns grant wishes, not all djinns are tricksters. They sometimes are reminders. They point the way. I guess you would say the djinn you find depends on you. And they come to you unexpectedly, perhaps even unwanted.

They are everywhere in Sultanahmet, it’s something the guidebooks don’t tell you. But I will tell you. You’ll be distracted, tired from waiting on line at the Haiga Sofia or rushing to meet your friends by the tram. The djinn will be your waiter or selling tickets to the Sufi theatre or the rug merchant or would you like to see this beautiful necklace, it’s as beautiful as you are.

My djinn came to me at Christmas time in the Spice Market. My friend D and her daughter L were visiting me. We’ll buy spices and presents, D said. L would take photos. The Spice Market itself is a magical place teaming with people and colors and smells. You come in and from large, lit cases honey drips from the combs. Sweets are piled, high guaranteed to be aphrodisiacs, figs crammed with walnuts, long staffs of molasses filled with nuts. The metaphors act on your eyes and your mouth and your imagination. Sacks of spices flood your senses in vibrant colors and heady smells. Everyone is welcoming you, telling you to come in. Your voice mingles with the other voices and all the languages and all the people and all the fruits of the earth.

D buys little bowls, L wanders ahead taking pictures and I’ll show them the place where I buy cotton scarves. They're lovely ones for 5 TL, but it is hit or miss, and we find nothing there to buy. We walk slowly talking about evil eyes and key chains. I am holding packages and just looking at everything, when D and L walk into a store together. I am tired among the spice grinders and shiny cellophane packages.

When someone says to me, “I have rose tea for you.”

I politely turn and smile. It does not surprise me that he is not much taller than I am and thin. He is wearing white pants and a grey shirt with turned back white collar and cuffs. Perhaps as he keeps talking to me I am not surprised by his smooth dark skin or light goatee. His hair is shaved close to his scalp and has two lightning bolts on one side. There is something soft about him. He is over groomed, his eyebrows two dashes above his eyes, the lines of his beard almost geometrically precise.

“I have rose tea for you,” he says again.

I don’t think I have rose tea at home, but smile and say, “No, thank you.”

“Ah,” he says, “but this is special rose tea.”

I smile.

“This is rose tea for you.” he says a third time. I am distracted, not paying attention that three times he has told me that the tea is for me. But my mind is on other things, where will we go next, should I suggest a place to eat in Sultanahmet?

“I will invite you to my home,” he says, “I will make you rose tea.”

I am still listening, not paying attention. “And we will…” he says, “and we will…” he says, “and we will…” he says. And even then I do not realize that what I am hearing are my desires listed one by one. It is a bit strange, but the thought is fleeting. He is smiling at me his strange smile. His co-workers smile at me too.

“It isn’t like other rose tea. It is different, it is special.”

I didn’t have rose tea at home. I had gotten a small brown package from Safran in my neighbourhood, but I had finished it.

Rose tea is not what you would expect, or at least, what I expected. It is not a cup that smells like a thousand roses in full bloom – the water pink or velvety red. Rose tea is not like that. When you make rose tea, the small clenched blooms open just a little, giving only the slightest hint of themselves to the water. It does not smell like roses, though somewhere there is a hint of that. Mostly, the tea smells green – and new – like the earth, like something from the earth. Drinking rose tea is all subtly. The water is infused with the lightest color green. Sometimes a trace of something you cannot describe crosses your palate. And then again, the taste of green, the new, a rosebud floating on warm water. Do I like rose tea? I’m not even sure I can say I like it – it is an experience that goes beyond liking. And it was wintertime and I had no rose tea at home.

But D and L now are smiling at me with their new packages.

“I am sorry,” I say, “I have to go.”

He smiles at me again, wistfully. A co-worker hands me a dried purple flower from another type of tea. I smell it and put it in my pocket hoping that it brings me luck, for remembrance, I’m not sure.

It’s been nine months now. I remember this because I met another djinn in Sultanahmet, with another message. Of course, it took me time to understand that message, too. So when you are in Sultanahmet seeing the tourist sights or in the Spice Market trying to find presents for the family or here in İstanbul among the magic and her wonder, I recommend you pay attention. I recommend that you say yes, because the djinn are everywhere, waiting.