14 Oct – An imperial Harem and the Niqab

Yesterday’s adventure was sheer luxury. We were picked up at our hotel,in a van and driven to the boat dock. We boarded a very fine craft with a few others and were soon enjoying a tasty lunch as we set sail up the Bosporus towards the Black Sea. We cruised along, getting commentary about the rich and marvellous mansions along the coast up to where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. At,this point we had some time ashore at a village which was really just a bunch of expensive cafes and ice team places. We bought ice cream – it was too hard not to. Back onboard we motored  south again back to the dock where we were met and driven back to our hotel. A very lazy and delightful way to spend the day. We were glad also for the relative quiet of the boat. 

We were among a very few foreign tourists on board – most other passengers were locals. Including a fully veiled (Niqab) woman with her  husband and child. I admit to staring while she ate as I was interested in how that feat is accomplished while so garbed. Numerous subtle flicks and liftings of the veil to enable food to be transferred from plate to mouth. Needless to say knife needs to be set down between cutting and scooping to free up a hand for lifting and flicking of the veil while transferring fork under the veil to month. Complicated. How she could see what she was doing and consuming seemed rather dubious.

Pat and I have noticed a significant number of young women so attired. We are a bit mystified. This is a secular country. Presumably these are educated women. So are they dressing this way of their own free will? If so – it seems a bit reactionary. Is there a message here? And if so what is the message? In trying to figure out what the reasoning might be we’ve found some interesting (disturbing) information. Some research indicates that this is likely a youth movement in the spirit of defiance more than conformity. We have noticed there do seem to be a greater number of young – less than 30 – women in full veil than older women. Maybe the older women are all at home and it’s the young ones out and about – with husbands – not solo. But another explanation is a strongly implied “look and imagine” statement of sexuality.  Unlike the “look at everything because  I’ve left nothing to your imagination” displays of sexuality of young women’s scanty clothing choices at home. The packaging is different but the message is much the same. Young women here are presumably just as rebellious and willing to make their own evocative fashion choices as those at home.

The eye make up that often goes with the niqab veils is significant! Nothing is demure or modest about the amount of make-up these women are using to enhance the eyes that peer out at the world from behind the black shrouds. So what’s that about if it’s not meant as an attractant. These are “look at me” eyes. There is so much palpable pent up sexual frustration in the men we have fleeting contact with (ordering food in a cafe, shopping, saying “no” to carpets, guides, pottery and sweet confections), it’s quite sad really. We watch their hungry eyes following every female as she passes, be she wearing western dress, Niqab or anything inbetween.When guys are making puppy eyes at 60 plus year old women dressed very conservatively – you know something is amiss!

We spent most of today at Topkapi Palace and Harem. An extensive palace complex – now a museum – once the opulent home of  Ottoman Sultans and their extended families. The place is lovely. Great rose gardens, numerous tiled rooms for greeting dignitaries, hearing petitions, dining is state and all those regular trappings of rich rulers of nations. The most interesting area is the harem. This is a large rabbit warren sort of place with few windows, thick walls and a dungeon like atmosphere. Only the special – favoured – pregnant – women got garden privileges. All the Royal women got dumped in this place. The Queen mother, all the wives, all the concubines – there was a hierarchy. They were guarded day and night by soldiers and eunuchs.  An incredibly restricted in-prisoned existence no matter what fanciful stories we might read and hear. 

We have finally found a relatively inexpensive place to buy wine! Alcohol here is ridiculously expensive due to the sin taxes.  However we have persevered in our quest for good wine and an affordable price and have been rewarded! Joy.

Will send this now and pictures separately as the Internet is slow this evening.

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