So here in front of our very eyes – ‘We are lowered into it, we listen.‘ – there was THIS shoe-shining event taking place (see yesterday’s photo in the post ‘Definitely out of Order’)).
In the context of asking Uncle Walter (see yesterday’s post – ‘Definitely out of Order’) about what to do about righting the wrongs, either of a fob-watch being broken by a twelve year old boy, or over two millenia of slavery in the Mediterranean; first about the man doing the shoe-shining. Let me say right away the Turkish people are enormously proud of their Army and their miltary traditions, and have successively beaten the S*** out of:
1. Byzantium – culminating in the ‘Great Miracle’ of the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453
2. The British – at the great repulse of Gallipoli
and in more recent times…
3. during the partition of Cyprus – despite the current EU impasse
4. and the Kurds in eastern Turkey – up to the present day
For instance, walking in Istanbul an hour earlier, we had heard a drone that gradually overcame all other noises in the City, and had looked up and seen a flight of five military helicopters in perfect formation, like gigantic bees passing overhead. And we had walked among many men whose height accorded with the opinion given by Major Lowe writing in 1801 that the Turks were – ‘invariably men of large stature who appeared to look down on us’ [quoted in Fit for Service: the Training of the British Army, 1715-1795, J A Houlding (Oxford 1981)]
And women too.
But Uncle Walter was not tall. Nor was he an effeminate man. One should add that. As regards the heavily muscled Uncle Walter, short in height as compared to most men but a ship’s stoker, it would never have been wise to make jokes about or insinuate an effeminancy (or humourous insults of that kind, made perhaps in the tradition of the common ‘Islamicist’ cultural sneer frequently adopted in the past by British and other writers in the West – about the effeminacy of the East, and of the Ottoman in particular – and exposed to such great effect in the writings of Edward Said). Walking in Istanbul we had seen few if any effeminate men, and Uncle Walter I wish to repeat the fact was not effeminate.
Nor of course was Uncle Walter actually the man shoe-shining the woman’s boots, such a coincidence would have been too far-fetched. But let me say again, Turkish men with their long military traditions, are not used to being in this position. This was an uncommon occurrence, but not exceptional… for instance in the photograph, the man on the pavement walking past appeared indifferent.
In Istanbul women may broadly go and do as they please. Most do so with some restraint, some wear Islamic styles of clothing, some wear western, but clothes exposing nakedness are not to be seen. There is also a refreshing absence of sexually-orientated advertising, so that after a few days in the City, to suddenly see a bus shelter with a huge poster of a deep bronzed woman advertising suntan lotion caused me to remark about it. I noted in that respect how calm I had become in Istanbul, and this in contrast to the continual assaults on the senses and attempts at inducing sexual excitement made by so much advertising in London and the West.
So the surprise in the first instance was not one based on a sexual charge. It was the surprise of juxtapositions, immediately after the meeting with the super-charged Uncle Walter, and the physicality of his ship-stoker’s wisdom, that of immediately meeting this other kind of powerful wisdom. How to describe it? She was attractive, but her appearance to a contemporary western eye was in certain respects out of place and strangely old-fashioned. The focus of this wisdom was all on the shine itself, the delicacy of the high-heel boot being balanced on the wooden block, and the humility of the man as he crouched over attending to his brushes. The attraction was in the being looked down upon; this other super-charged wisdom of how somebody is put in their place; this other way of righting the wrongs.
Her face of course is hidden and her name, as it must be, remains unknown.