On arrival in Istanbul, I felt like a farmer on his first trip to Chicago. We had just traveled down that relentless liquid highway known as the Danube across the heart of Slovakia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria. Whenever we had ventured ashore, we had found the pace to be turtle-slow, compared to the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, Cologne and Vienna. Cars had been relatively few. Sidewalks were generally far from crowded, that is from the point of view of Miami or San Juan rush hour frenzy. 

I’d sailed across the Atlantic from San Juan aboard New Chance, my North American 40, with my high seas crew into Amsterdam where I picked up my wife, Lirio, and the Schwebels on June 20, 1997. We had dropped the mast at Workum on the Ijssomeer in Holland then motored up the Ijsel, Rhine, Main, then rose 1200 feet over the continental divide, thanks to the Main-Donau Kanal, which  delivered us into the Danube in Passau. The trip down the 2500 kilometers of Danube had been spectacular.

          It was now September 15. We had returned New Chance to a cutter rig in Agigae, Romania, tuned her up on a short sail to Constanta, Romania, on the Black Sea, then solo, as my wife Lirio had chosen to make the trip by bus, I had sailed her across the Black Sea into the Bosphorus, past downtown Istanbul and into the world class Atakoy Marina. On my first foray out of the marina I was greeted by more humanity than I had seen in the last two months all put together. The streets were bumper to bumper. The pedestrian ways were equally impassible and impossibly noisy. I honestly felt like a farmer on his first trip to a major city

          Clearing in to Turkey is close to project impossible. The marina provides a 9-page form that costs $25.00. The trick is to find the right individual in 8 offices spread all over Istanbul who must sign and stamp each of the 8 copies. I used the two days while I was alone to get the forms stamped and signed. In the process, I became a pro at moving around using the public transportation system. When Lirio arrived, and her trip was rougher than mine, I whisked her away to visit the fabulous monuments scattered all over Istanbul and to dine at several great local spots around town I had discovered. 

          Lirio and I strolled across the Galata Bridge one cool sunny day, took in the Golden Horn and once on the other side, the many stalls in Karaköy that offered every conceivable item. Back in old Istanbul we walked up a narrow open street where myriads of spice peddlers ply their trade. When we passed by a butcher shop a latent hunger for lamb chops made me grab Lirio by the arm and lead her in. After a week on Turkish food, though great tasting, I was ready for a change and hungered for a lamb chop supper, cooked aboard. 

          We entered the butcher shop, found what looked like a leg of lamb, put up two fingers and said kilos. The butcher held up two fingers and said what must have been 2 kilos in Turkish. I nodded. The man pulled out the leg of lamb, put it on the chopping table, grabbed an axe and got ready to cut about 6 inches off the shank end of the leg, which was all bone. I hollered ‘noooo’, and he stopped. I signaled I wanted the other end and he said ‘NO’. I had to take what he offered. He lifted the hatchet once again and I hollered ‘nooo’.

We went back and forth for several minutes as I reverted to Spanish, which I find a lot more expressive when I’m pissed. Ultimately I told him to go to somewhere not very nice and stormed out of the shop, my craving for lamb undiminished and frustrated. We strolled up the road until we came to a second butcher shop. I scrutinized the case and saw nothing that resembled lamb. The butcher, a lot nicer than the other guy, was eager to help. I pointed to a piece of meet and in sign language asked him what it was. I failed to grasp his answer so I pointed to the piece of meat and said ‘mooo???’ The man shook his head and came right back with ‘bahahaha’. I pointed to the next large slab, shrugged my shoulders and put my hands in the air. The butcher answered which sounded like “oink oink’. I then pointed to myself and said ‘baaaaah’. He opened his eyes wide and came back with ‘baaaah??” to which I nodded and uttered, ‘baaaaaah.’ The butcher went into a far refrigerator and brought out a nice leg of lamb, held it up, looked me in the eye and said ‘baaaah’. I pointed to myself, nodded and held up the same two fingers I’d used in the other butcher shop and said kilos. I looked over at Lirio for the first time. She was crippled with laughter.

Done deal. He cut off four nice slabs of lamb, packaged them, wrote down on paper the amount due, I paid the bill and off we went to the marina and a great barbequed lamb supper.


© William Butler, 2004