While strolling the Çukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul, I wandered into a cluttered antique shop filled with seemingly everything in existence. The elderly shopkeeper sat cross-legged at his desk reading and smoking as old standards played in the background, providing a whimsical soundtrack for the lazy afternoon. He had bushy eyebrows, one of which sat permanently arched. He paid me no mind as I browsed the labyrinth of vintage cameras, military-issue lighters, records, and dusty old postcards.
As I passed his desk, he invited me for tea, a standard Istanbul ritual. I paused. During my previous travels to Istanbul, I quickly learned that an invitation by a young Turkish lad for tea generally preceded a sexual proposition and an invitation to "visit my uncle's carpet shop, very good prices." He didn't strike me as that guy, likely due to his ornery expression, so I accepted.
The old shopkeeper introduced himself as Nevzat. I began speaking when he interrupted, "I don't speak English."
I took another pause. Eyebrow still arched, Nevzat opened a translation app on his phone, spoke a few Turkish words, and out came the robotic monotone of the app's English speaking voice.
Asking me about myself, I shared my interest in photography. Nevzat remarked how photographers treat the camera like a Kalashnikov, popping into his store to snap photos without asking, leaving as quickly as they walked in, and making no effort to connect. I internally winced thinking about the times I treated my own camera like a Kalashnikov while traveling and took gentle accountability.
However, I felt no desire to defend or condemn photographers and their methods today, so I drank my tea as we sat in a comfortable silence listening to old music. Surrounded by Rumi figurines, black and white family photos, antique vases and suitcases, I felt transported to mid-century Constantinople in all its glamour and grit.
The next day, I found myself in Çukurcuma again searching for the Museum of Innocence, incidentally located opposite Nevzat's shop. I went inside.
"I was looking for a museum nearby, so I wanted to say hello." His eyebrow arched, and he shook his head, indicating he didn't understand anything I said. I typed my short greeting into a translation app and read the Turkish translation aloud to him in whatever rustic pronunciation I could muster, clumsily stomping over each word.
The biggest smile and the heartiest laugh escaped Nevzat. He kissed my forehead sweetly before saying something in Turkish with the tone of a grandparent receiving a lovingly, yet horribly drawn cat from a 4-year-old. I realized I had never seen Nevzat smile before.
Offering tea, he shared photos of his grandchildren, ranted about photographers again, and reminisced about one of his college professors. He shared a few Turkish sayings through the app, but with each messy translation causing him to grunt and arch his eyebrow, he simply shrugged his shoulders and took another drag.
Once again, we sat in a comfortable silence over tea and old standards as cigarette smoke wafted from the table.