Leaning uncomfortably against a wall in a loud Florentine bar early one night, some hours before an epiphanal moment in front of Brunellschi’s Duomo, I strained to listen to the warnings, given well in advance of my own studying abroad, from a Puetro Rican recently arrived from Spain and staying at the same hostel, who said, “There’ll be a weekend or a break and everyone will fly off to France or Germany or Greece or wherever, but really you need to stay in the host culture and really get to know it.”
Not quite three years later, I’m sitting in a definitely-not-Turkish café off Galatasaray Square, intending very much to disregard this advice as I look into flights more and less familiar—Venice, Barcelona, Bucharest, Tashkent, wherever really—until, having just spent five hours at a police station applying for a residence permit, I stop and think about how ridiculous it is that I do feel the need to get away. Since arguably I live here (even if only for a short while), why would I rather cram on a plane for a trial-by-fire Romanian exam (though I’ve about done as much before to mild success) when I could just pack light, grab my saz, take a bus south, and spend some quiet time somewhere doing not much more than nothing?
Except that I don’t have a saz.
So, shaking off nearly eight months of procrastination brought about by a trio of sketchy lessons I took in Bursa which ended in my using an ebru artist as an intermediary to break off the arrangement, I decided to go get myself a saz (or, to be more specific, a bağlama) not by haggling to no end at the Grand Bazaar, not by wandering around the plethora musical instrument shops near the Galata Tower, but by going to the Istanbul Manufacturer’s Market (it’s as exciting as it sounds)—a sprawling Soviet-style Grand Bazaar in concrete, just below a fourth-century aqueduct.
After pacing for some time through an endless block of tens of thousands of sewing machines, I came to a stairwell which led then to a number of overstaffed furniture stores with bright silver, white and black chaise-lounges, chairs, and dining room tables being browsed by but an occasional lone woman or couple. Then, snaking some corners past work-uniform shops with stock-photo signage from the 80s, I descended some steps past a welcome-mat store, and saw before me a second-story window filled with dozens of stringed instruments. Going inside—not out of the day’s sudden heat, but better into it—the shop didn’t even feel excessively seedy! (Though unfortunately that might be more a commentary on music shops in the States than on the exceptional quality of this particular store).
At any rate, a short time later I walked out with a reasonably-priced long-neck folk lute (in case you haven’t Googled what “saz” means by now) and made a return stroll across the Atatürk Bridge and along Tersane Street, where some thirty hardware stores line a single block—meaning you’ll find just the right place for that power-drill, mower, or 5,000-liter water tank you’ve been meaning to pick up since last Thursday. And not five minutes away, you’ll find three men on opposite corners offering you fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice for cheap.