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February 19, 2009
When you enter Istanbul's Grand Bazaar through the Beyazit Gate, one of six central entrances, it’s important to have someone with you who can outtalk the shopkeepers. My friend, H., is just the woman for the job.
Everything is up for negotiation. H. advises, “Never pay more than half the listed price.” More than a few carpet dealers clutch their hearts or raise their voices in a plaintive wail as H. walks out of their diminutive shops without closing a deal. If you don’t haggle, however, the merchants will be genuinely disappointed.
Inside this wild warren of shops and stalls (4400 of them), the sun disappears, as does all sense of direction. Little boys weave through the crush of people with small trays of tea, and men with logs of rolled carpet busily scurry from shop to shop.
The sounds of ship horns from super tankers and ferries ululate from the Bosphorus nearby. Seagulls chime in, while the muezzins high in their minarets call the faithful to prayer five times a day.
Besides carpets, there are fine cotton hamam towels called pestemal (PESH-temal) that have a soft silky hand. My eyes are also drawn to beautiful prayer beads, evil eyes, hip scarves for belly dancers, and bountiful amounts of 14-karat to 24-karat gold jewelry.
It’s the salesmanship of the carpet dealers that fascinates me the most. There’s tremendous competition among them yet somehow they all survive. They have signs in Russian above their stores and if you pretend not to speak English, they’ll come at you in German, French, or Japanese.
Fortunately, I have H. to fend them off. How do you deal with persistent salespeople?
Marveling at the ornate decoration of the temple buildings, we make our way past images of demons intended to scare the evil out of us and settle into our rooms. These are bare except for a couple of small bolsters and many quilts that serve as both mattress and covering.