|Spices abound at the local market.|
I had been in Turkey one and a half weeks and I already smelled like a
Turk. But I get ahead of myself. Why did I believe this to be fact?
How did I end up this way? I will tell you.
Upon my arrival in Istanbul, Turkey, I was fascinated. The sparkling
ocean whizzed by on my right outside the speeding taxi, and on my left
were the crumbled remains of a wall so old that it blended into the
landscape, as if part of the topography. We were headed to our posh
hotel, a stones throw between the famous Hagia Sofia church-come-mosque,
and the enchanting Blue Mosque. Stereo history. We had come to Turkey for
many reasons, but in a family where our stomachs often dictate the daily
and nightly activities, we were ready for the famous Mediterranean
cuisine promised to us by guidebooks, lovers of Turkey, and past taste
experiences. I was ready, armed with my sometimes alarmingly overactive
sense of smell and my willingness to eat almost anything once.
Turkey often seems like the center of world culture-after all, the Turks
invented the towel, the cymbal, and hosted the Trojan horse for one last
hurrah-what more could the world want? This country, which casually
straddles Europe and Asia, but which refuses to be classified as either,
has been host to a true melting pot of cultures since at least 2000 BC.
Eating Turkish food is a great way to experience the amalgam of cultures
that have criss-crossed the mountains, lakes and fields
over the millennia. However, there is one main ingredient that represents
strong and permeates any righteous food-loving Mediterranean
Olive oil is the bloodline of Turkish cuisine. Olive oil oozes and drips
onto your taste buds from almost every mezze dish that one chooses from
the waiter's overflowing tray. You point to the dishes you desire,
excited by the possibilities you see before you-chopped eggplant with
tomatoes, succulent muscles stuffed with rice, tender squid-it goes on
and on! The waiter waits at attention with his offerings. Your mouth
salivates profusely as you try plate after plate bursting with flavor,
and of course, olive oil. It seemed that almost everything we ordered in
Turkey had basted and bathed for hours, perhaps days, in olive oil. The
more days that I spent in Istanbul and along the Aegean and
Mediterranean's azure coastline, the more in sync I felt with the
rhythms of the culture, language, and of course, the food. Many natives,
mistaking me for one of their own, which may have been attributed to my
dark, curly hair, may have been sensing something else entirely,
You may ask, might not the Turkish people have other uses for this yummy
elixir? You would be correct. There is an annual event unlike any
other in the world that,upon learning the nature of it,
sealed forever for me the fact that Turks
love olive oil. A huge wrestling match dating back to over 600 years
ago occurs annually in a town near the border of Greece,
where the spectacle of a hundred pairs of squirming men wrestling
simultaneously can be seen. Turks and tourists come from all over
to view this unique event. The last man standing is deemed the winner.
This is no small feat for
him, as the wrestler has been covered, smothered and lubricated in a
complete head to toe olive oil dip. One wonders what happens to the
lubed-up losers after their fall from grace- do they lie on the ground or
perhaps just slither home to eat delicacies as drenched as they are? But
that is not the only way that olive oil affects the Turks.
It seemed to me that many coastline Turks were not fond of
antiperspirants. Perhaps the combination of that behavior mixed with
a sultry mediterranean sun creates for a losing battle against odor.
It took my family and me a while to figure out
from whence came that particular odor emanating from many a Turkish
person's body, and I must admit that I figured it out first.
The air was clean and as pure as can be possible in busy cities,
but taking a ride in any sort of public transportation vehicle
became an olfactory adventure, or nightmare. It
wasn't until I went native that I figured out why these beautiful,
friendly people smelled so, well, unfriendly at times.
This odor wasn't the type of smell that one gets after exercise,
nor after walking all day in the hot sun. No, this odor had an edge to
it, a personality, a place in their everday lives. It said, "here I
am, you can't escape me." It was pure Turkish and it was pure
olive oil. Eating olive oil 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it seems, will
help any tourist become a native in Turkey in about a week and a half.