First off, the lady in black. This Muslim woman passed me as I was fiddling with my camera and waiting for a friend on an ancient stone street in Anatolia. Her steps were deliberate and heavy, almost as if she'd made those exact steps every day of her life and - if separated from her legs -her feet would somehow continue to set out on that path the very next day. There was something about her... something about the quiet way she walked... that intrigued me. I snapped her picture and followed.
I wanted to look up and take note of all the scenery - of street names and each passersby - but I didn't. One of the first things I was told when I arrived here was to be discreet. Don't stand out and don't be glaringly American, I was told. And don't look men in the eye. And NEVER smile at them.
What? I asked. Why in the world not?
They get movies and The O.C. over here, my friend said. The men watch it and think all American women are cheap and openly promiscuous. They'll take your eye contact and smiling as an invitation. They could follow you.
Right. Got it.
So I followed the woman, keeping my eyes down lest I should inadvertently nod and smile like I did at that guy on the boat on the Bosphorus Strait Tuesday. I kept my head down and followed the woman.
Eventually she turned a corner and left me standing in front of the most delicious thing I'd ever seen:
A Turkish bakery. I went in. It was warm and immaculate and bread and pastry lay stacked in every corner and basket and case. Golden loaves. Studded cookies. Crusty baguettes. Chewy rolls.
I couldn't keep from being in awe of the tiny shop on a twisting stone street high above the sea. Here it was, for hundreds of years, all tucked away and waiting for women in black and nosey Americans with rapidly-clicking cameras.
They had a bread slicer on the floor of the shop. It had long, sharp teeth that chewed clean lines through the bread without mushing it. It fascinated me. The whole bakery did. You saw the dough rising. You saw it go into and come out of the oven. You saw it stacked into baskets and onto wooden shelves. And you picked your loaf and handed it to a young man to slice and wrap in paper and hand back to you.
I wanted to take pictures of it all but was afraid to... was afraid I'd catch the bread slicer's eye and smile and look flushed by the warmth and steam of the bakery and have a real live Turkish problem on my hands.
So I didn't. I looked at trays of carbs instead.
But I did stay for a few minutes, breathing in the essence of the place and discreetly watching the baker roll puffy, risen dough into snakes of skinny baguettes before shoving them in the oven.
Oh, the oven!, I exclaimed to my friend later.
Yep, came the reply. Makes the story of Hansel and Gretel tricking that witch into climbing in the oven make a little more sense, doesn't it?
It does. It did. I think that's what I like the most about Istanbul. It's like you've read about this place your whole life - without even realizing it - and suddenly all the palaces and boats and kings and moats loom before you. And you can touch them. You can roam the castles and sail the water while the tales of your childhood come to life in front of your averted yet curious eyes.
And, of course, I partly have the woman in black to thank for that. She and her quiet, purposeful steps that called me out on that stone street in Anatolia. I know I'll always see her picture and remember this day....
(Edit: I re-read this post and suddenly remembered I became equally fascinated with a similar figure in a very different city last year. Istanbul's Lady in Black, meet the Monterrey Man.)