Kiraathanesi Corner

Taking the number 2 to the Tekira shopping mall, we go through a pretty seedy part of town. The buildings are old, waiting only for one last earthquake to bring them to their knees. Some have already succombed to the trials of time, they are littred with plasic Migros bags, empty Efes Pilsen cans, old roofing bricks left to decay. Some still have half of a wall standing; the sun weathered, wooden door is still hung on its hinges, the little blue house number firmly attached to the bricks.

The bus bumps and slams over the dirt-cobbled roads, it lumbers up a steep incline, you can hear the engine strain. We round corners quickly, narrowly missing children, stray dogs and elderly men. They don’t flinch. We bomb down the hills, passing  what I think of as Kiraathanesi Corner.

The flickering, harsh light of the overhead incandescent bulbs illuminates the yellowing rooms, the faces obscured by the smoke wafts up from cigarettes. Men huddle around tavla boards, sipping tea gingerly from the curved glasses. One man reajusts his hat, another beckens to the çayci.

This particular part of town has a disproportionate number of kiraathanesis, all-male teahouses. Their popularity still evades my understanding. They are dingy, overly lit, filthy places. They have small tables with cheap uncomfortable chairs.

Men seem to have a loyalty to these places that resembles those of the village pub. Each group of kankas considers that spot his and rarely does a man stray from his particular dive. Sons, as they come of age, are brought up to respect the importance and authority of that particular café, it seems these places also represent the lines drawn by followers of particular political parties. A place where like-minded men can sit, sip their tea and for the evening and congratulate one another for being masters of the universe.Really, all of this is a figment of my imagination. Women can’t go to these places, or rather, we aren’t barred from entry but, we are certainly not welcome. One would draw suspicious looks and there is absolutely no mistaking: this is the man’s domain.

Turks seem to be big fans of bright lights. They love neon light shows, go to any city in Turkey and you will quickly see what I mean, even Ataturk, the revered Turkish leader’s tomb isn’t safe from the gaudy flash of brightly colored lights. Restaurants are so brightly lit, that rather than reaching for your reading glasses to make out the entrees, you reach in your bag for sunglasses to protect your corneas from the glare on the laminated menu. The kiraathanesis are no exception. Light pours out brightening the typically unlit streets. The average Turk, as far as I can tell, has no desire to implement mood lighting.

All the better, however, for these aging men to see their microscopic cups of tea and the dark wooden pieces they move around their backgammon boards as they sit, nearly squatting in their miniature chairs. Why futz with mood lighting, when this is a place for men? There is no need for mood. There is a need for practicality, and visibility. And cigarettes.


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