Behind Atika and Çukurkeyif Bahçe

Three things happened around the time I discovered Atika and Çukurkeyif Bahçe.

  1. Kylie Minogue came to play in Istanbul.
  2. I got offered a summer job so good I decided, after much mental to and fro, to stay in Turkey over summer instead of taking the job I had set up in England.
  3. I made a lemon drizzle cake.

Nowhere near enough live acts I wanted to see came to Istanbul at that time. I think Shakira had been but that’s the only big name I remember. Now, I think more of them do but Kylie! This was huge.

I probably would have paid for a ticket but I remembered that my ex-student, the cute one, worked as events security something or other at that venue often. So I made use of my contacts (which Turks do all the time as nepotism in any form is rife) and texted him to ask if he could get me in and he said he’d see. Despite the fact he worked round the corner I had never seen him in Cihangir. And then a couple of days after sending that text chat which, for me, was totally Kylie infused and that was all, I bumped into him in the street.

As I’ve said, I’d never noticed him in any special way before. But he looked great. He’d lost weight or was wearing a good shirt or it was the result of being ten months older, or something. Or I was just opening different eyes. I registered it, it was impossible not to but, again, that was it. Sort of.

On the concert day, May 20th (which forever later became May 30th) I couldn’t get hold of him and almost didn’t go as I didn’t know if I’d be able to find him and I wasn’t that confident about just chancing my luck on the door. But, it was Kylie. I made the effort and managed to track him down at one of the entrances and got in no problem.

The venue is on the Bosphorus and is the most magical place for a concert. It isn’t so big you can’t see, the floor is sloped and it wasn’t so packed you couldn’t move. She had a surprising lack of stage presence but packed in all her hits, a load of brilliant new tracks off an album I think I either had or got afterwards, and the finale was an actual performance of I Should Be So Lucky. Bliss.

To this day I still can’t bear to listen to any of her music.

I remember having backache, something that had been plaguing me on and off since January when I had a) been bedridden with flu for four days and b) started cheating. I put it down to some injury caused by being in bed. Later, in August, I realised it was pure stress when I was out of Istanbul for a week and felt fine. The minute I got on the airport bus from Sabiha Gökchen, it started again. By that time Istanbul represented a lot more stress.

But also, the cute student was on my mind. A crush was starting. And that is always fun. That silly little frisson, even when it’s only in your own head and not spoken aloud or reciprocated, is potent, life affirming stuff.

In the time between hearing about and going to the gig, the job offer came. My American flatmate knew an American English teacher who was working with another guy, a Turk**, and they had got this massive contract with an engineering company on the Asian side. They had to tailor-make a course, start their own company to do it legally (although they still paid cash in hand of course. This was Turkey.) and needed shit hot teachers. My flatmate told them she knew the “best teacher in Istanbul” and I got the offer. The money was great for only 20 hours teaching time a week, the job was three months and they were hopeful it would extend into a longer term contract and you got a week free between each 4 week chunk.

I discussed it with my boyfriend. I was worried that staying in Istanbul, but being unable to do the visits I had been doing to where he was stationed, would put more of a strain on us than if I were in the UK. As if I was available but not actually available. I think that I was already pretty sure what was the best idea. Plus, the potential further job would come with a work visa meaning I’d be properly legal for the first time.

I’d been supposed to be going back to help my mum move but it was becoming clearer and clearer that that was never going to happen. It still hasn’t in fact, and she missed the  window before the  UK property crash. I was to crash even more spectacularly than the world economy as a result of staying in Turkey that summer.

I think my boyfriend and I decided that, with my not being able to go there, he would come to Istanbul during one of the weeks I would have off. He had some leave allowance through the year and had been saving most of it up.

I kept on a couple of private classes over the summer and worked my arse off. So many students don’t really stick with their classes over July and August anyway that it was more or less manageable but I was flat out. I used that as an excuse to postpone Croc’s classes to my great relief. I’d avoided him as much as possible since his return from the Cayman’s and now his class was shared with a female colleague and he often had to miss it, so it was much more bearable than it had been.

And then I made the lemon drizzle cake to say thank you for the Kylie entrance. It was the first time I’d made it, a BBC Good Food classic that was simple and hands down better than any cake anyone in Turkey would be able to find. Their cakes are awful, just like here in Spain. Made with margarine or oil, synthetic cream and no bloody clue.

Baking to show off became something of a thing that summer and it took me years to overcome my aversion to it, but at least it didn’t fare as badly as Kylie.

The showing off worked but at this point I was still only in slight crush mode. I took it to his office, we had a chat and I fancied him a bit more. I defy anyone to not enjoy that stage and seek more of it. I’m pretty sure I would have mentioned I was going to be around all summer. The cake was a big success.

Then I had to apply for a residence permit as the job was going to make it hard for me to do my come and go thing and I was tired of the hassle and expense of having the visa runs. It was a complicated, long-winded process and you were recommended to take someone Turkish along. I could have asked my boyfriend’s cousin’s wife – the one who worked in the shop. I didn’t.

The crush escalated during the half day we had to spend together at the official visa place. There was one point where he asked a female office worker for something, I can’t remember what, and he  smiled at her and I thought “Who wouldn’t want to help that face?” He was seven years younger than me, had split from his long term girlfriend (who had been older than him and he was very serious about) since I had stopped teaching him and was very admiring and respectful of me, partly because I’d acquired status by being his teacher – and good at it. I hate to excuse the behaviour that was to follow, but those two things were in fairly short supply from my boyfriend.

Visa sorted, I now had a year to be in Turkey without having to cross a border. When it came time to renew it and I was back and forth to Turkey and needing tourist visas again. I didn’t dare renew it in case somehow the guy’s name was on the paperwork as he’d had to say who he was and I couldn’t remember whether that got written down or not. There was no way I was risking having a major blowup over that relatively insignificant detail.

I said thank you in the form of chocolate crinkle cookies. Those cookies are even better than the lemon cake which makes them the best anyone in Turkey would be able to dream of.  I just found the torn out sheet with the recipe in the other week, tucked into a book. I thought I’d lost it when my boyfriend, post The Nightmare, threw all my kitchen stuff away as it was polluting his house from the associations.

I took them round to Çukurkeyif Bahce, the cafe terrace that was now attached to his offices and operated by his company. It was lovely, all tree entwined canopy and haphazard seating. And pretty good food. I reviewed it but only gave it 3.5 stars because some things I can be totally objective about. I later deleted the review off my computer and hid it in my clippings so as not to have it thrown back in my face. I did however forget to erase the blog I had also posted it on – this one – and there was a link to it on my Facebook which I had also forgotten about. I’d stopped using the blog after The Nightmare but still, a year later during the ongoing psychological punishment and torment, my boyfriend found the link, followed it, found the post about that bar (which no longer exists) and called me  in England for some abuse.

Opening line “Where did you have ‘the best risotto in Istanbul?’. I instantly knew what he must be talking about. This kind of interrogation was nothing new or maybe I just never got good risotto anywhere else. But it was so unexpected as I hadn’t thought about any of that stuff for ages. He said it must be very important to me to still be promoting it for them. I spent the rest of a probably hysterical night deleting everything on this blog and only unable to wipe the entire thing because I had deleted the yahoo email account it was registered to. I took off the banner picture even and emailed my editor and asked her to take it off the Time Out website.

I told her my boyfriend was jealous because I had been seeing someone from the place before him and the date it was posted was later than the date I had gone so he thought I had been cheating. A complete distortion of my real guilt but she was Turkish American and needed no further questions to just do it. I had said someone might get killed and she accepted that as normal. That’s Turkey. Thank God he didn’t know about where I’ve resurrected it all from or there would have been no end to the pricks of that particular pitchfork.

You can tell from the review I went there a lot. It was the nicest place in the neighbourhood. It’s a pity it’s closed down, even though they spoiled it by putting in a glass roof later on which I saw but never ate or drank under. It wasn’t advisable to go back to Cihangir by the time  the refurb was done and I couldn’t have stomached going anyway.

My boyfriend went though. Once. A month after he found out. With a gun.

The gun he told me was the proof he had forgiven me. Because if he hadn’t, you see,  he would have used it on me. That’s not most people’s idea of forgiveness but none of the fluffy, touchy feely, make peace and let things go bullshit for him.

Anyway, I digress. (Aside: It never ceases to amaze me how many memories and associations these restaurants have!) The afternoon of the cookies, the student was distracted by msn with his ex-girlfriend. She was telling him she was engaged. He put a brave face on it but, this sounds cheesy but is true, you could see it in his eyes. He was so, so sad. She’d ended it with him because she was 32 ish and wanted/needed to get married and have a family. He was repeating university for something like the sixth year, partly because he was working. It’s weird, his job was senior in a small events management company and in my country having a career like that would  be commended and seen as a better option than finishing a degree – even if it was in engineering. In Turkey it matters what you’re called. Doctor, lawyer or engineer being the parents’ top choice. He just wasn’t providing the stable life she needed in order to build what society expected of her – a family.

I think that was where crush turned into something more dangerous. I wanted him not to be sad. Which is a real pity, as I probably did as much damage as I was momentarily struck by wanting to make up for. I hadn’t got any kind of plan, it was just a feeling. If it could have been done with cake and cookies that would have been so much better.


** In real life is stranger than literature if you look for patterns, the Turkish boss’s name was Faik and the company the classes were in was called Nortel. Faik is actually pronounced /Fye-eek/ but looks in English like it could be /fake/ and is Nortel almost….no tell? Or I am reading way too much into this stuff?






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