Istanbul: Guide Capital of the World

We stayed at the very nice Four Seasons on the Old Side. Well it should be. Very nice, that is. At $600 a night. In Istanbul. I didn't realize real estate was the same price in Istanbul as it is in midtown Manhattan. And a club sandwich was $24. The concierge looked like George Clooney and my mum advised me to think up some questions for him and maybe he would ask me out. Oh pulllease, Mother. What on earth was she thinking? Doesn't she know that I only like 62-year-old art dealers who have no interest in me? And by the way, if you've ever wondered about that water they're charging you $25 a bottle for, I watched them watering the plants with it at this place. And then we were sent to supposedly the best restaurant in Istanbul (Miklas, and it was pretty horrible, which is why I know what the club sandwiches cost), where we declined this $25 flower-nourishing water but they still tried to charge us for it anyway.

This is pretty much what Istanbul is all about.

The first day, we realized the locomotive of Istanbul's GDP is the Guide business. There's a guide for everything. There's a guide for buying beads. There's a guide for buying flip-flops. There's even a guide for finding a guide. Wow, these people are so helpful. 

Our first “guide” was a “retired teacher.” Oh. Okay. But then we found out the retired teacher was not only a guide, but he also owned the biggest rug store in all of Turkey. Boy, this guy must have a lot of energy, was all I could say. Now having the biggest rug store in all of Turkey is not like, say, having the biggest rug store in all of Levittown. In Turkey this is saying something. Because, after the Guide business, the second biggest locomotive of Turkey's gross domestic product is the Rug Business. So after he walked us around the Blue Mosque (and trust me, you only have to see one mosque), he had three guys waiting to mug us because my Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm mother insisted we go with Mr. Helpful to look at his biggest rug store in all of Turkey.

No more “guides,” mother!

We also saw the Hagia Sofia (no guide,) and the Dolmabahce Palace (no guide,) and the Topkapi museum (no guide,) and I have to tell you, incredible as this may seem, we got along pretty darned well all by ourselves. And I'll tell you another thing. If I was one of those Turkish people I'd be pretty darned embarrassed about my design legacy. I mean those sultans had about the worst taste I've ever seen. I mean they had these baccarat crystal banisters and then they went and put mahogany handrails on top of them. Next to mirrored fireplaces. And red-and-blue tiles. And mother-of-pearl commodes. And faux marble-painted Corinthian columns. I mean all in the same room. What they really needed was an optometrist. 

And you would think they'd be mortified to show all those 500-carat emerald pendants, too, and the jewel-encrusted baby basinettes. No. Not the Turks. These people make Dennis Koslowski look like a Mennonite. And not since my parents took me to see the Pennsylvania Dutch in an effort to reform me have I seen such an ugly palette.

Then, there were the kiddie Kleenex vendors. Someone must've told these little ragamuffins that Americans have a lot of sinus problems because we had thirty-five kids trying to sell us Kleenex every time we sat down to catch our breath after escaping from another Guide. Oh. And the menus. I mean the no menus. I mean the no menus with the no prices. If you sit down at any outdoor café, there are none. No menus, no prices. They just take a look at your shoes and do a little calculation and present you with a bill for what they think the market will bear.

The Taksi Drivers

Unless you have masochistic tendencies (which is entirely possible given all that abuse you take from those 25-year-old art dealers) stay away from that Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is more expensive than the Rue de St. Honoré, unless you're looking for a tee shirt and even then I can't be sure.

 But the very best thing was the Cistern. Now all I can say about this place is they have a nice café down there in the sewer. And people were eating in it. Eating in the sewer. Some restaurants even advertise catch-of-the-day fish caught in the Cistern at special higher prices.

It’s a good thing we weren't carrying our sightseeing guns like we usually do, because we were searched and frisked at every attraction that required a ticket.

Then we had the Taksi drivers. First of all, when the Taksi driver hears you're going to the Four Seasons, they sextuple the fare. And when they're not driving you around with two eyes and one hand on a map and a steering wheel in the other, they're taking you in the opposite direction from where you're going and charging you five times what the fare should be. Or I should say, trying to charge five times what the fare should be. They haven't met many women over there in Turkey like The Art Advisor.

And getting directions is also interesting. They point right while saying "go left" in Turkish. And then they laugh. And don't forget: there is a bounty for hitting American tourists with their cars. You're going to wish you had that sightseeing gun.

After I figured out everyone is a guide, I took to walking the streets and asking if anyone was a guide, that I wasn't looking for a rug, I was just looking for a guide. They got the point and stopped offering us their valuable services. And in their defense, they actually got it and laughed. Me mum was absolutely horrified and said she wasn't going out with me anymore. Of course this from the lady who almost waltzed us into a mugging-rugging ambush.

The Istanbul Modern? 

Well, they get two points for actually having something they call a Modern Art Museum. And they should be thanking their lucky stars that they have David Elliot, ex-Mori Art Museum, ex-Oxford University Museum, World Expert on Russian Art, ex-Swedish Modern Director. But I don't think they are. Thanking him, that is.

 And then they have another contemporary platform called Platform 4. Vasif Korton is the Director here. They had the de riguer giant photographs on display with a bunch of Cyrillic script. Vasif was offered a major director job in Boston at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Which he didn't take. I don't know, Vasif….

Well, anyway, I have to catch a plane to Shanghai for the Shanghai Art Fair.

Don't spend all your hedge fund money in one place!