But there’s more to the city than girth; Istanbul is old, too. Like the size, it is difficult to put the age into perspective–the entire city is a mosaic of 6th century churches, 16th century mosques, and 21st century shopping centers. Eras are layered on top of one another, history and present are inseparable. Every view of Istanbul is festooned with domes and minarets, half-constructed apartments, and satellite dish arrays. Istanbul is always modernizing. The last decade has seen the construction of dozens of malls and the replacement of hundreds of thousands of buildings with new, earthquake-resistant ones. New bridges span the Bosphorus. But look anywhere and you will see hints of an earlier time: cobblestones, defunct aqueducts, crumbled walls. Many shops and bazaars, though they’ve updated their inventory a bit, have been in business for hundreds of years.
Pazaars are small, mobile bazaars; they travel around the city, settling in a new location each day of the week. Each one is a perfect depiction of why shopping in Istanbul is a stressful ordeal. You must simultaneously shove your way through crowds, endure unending harassment from salesmen, vigilantly protect yourself from pickpockets, and actually try to find what you’re looking for among a tangle of rugs, produce, and knock-off fashion accessories. Then you get to haggle.
But to me, bazaars and pazaars were just museums exhibiting beautiful produce still-lifes, traditional textile art, and (cheap reproductions of) ancient artifacts. This attitude seemed to irritate every single shop owner, men who try very hard to make sales. Walking by shops became a tricky game of avoiding eye contact and sounding unenthusiastic about everything. Each shop owner was a master of deduction and consumer demographics–scrutinizing each customer, building a sales profile in their head. Your nationality, your potential budget, your interests. If I let my eye stray on one item for too long, they’d keenly take notice. “You like this rug, yes?” From there it was a delicate dance of turning down their offers while still staying in the shop owner’s good graces (a dance I never really pulled off).
However, I will say that I prefer the bells to the startlingly loud, five-times-daily, nasal chanting of the call to prayer. The shrill voice made me jump every time it was blasted at volume volume across the city, through megaphones attached to minarets. It became an anchor to structure every day around; at once an alarm clock, a dinner bell, and a reminder that I was very far from home.