I'm not ashamed to admit it: I enjoy a drink now and again. I appreciate a full-bodied red wine, or a dry martini or a cold beer. I like to enjoy a glass of rakı -- or two -- at a Türkü evi in Taksim while clapping along to live music. And since Ümit was the one who introduced us to Canè, a live music bar in Taksim well over a year ago, we assumed that he also enjoyed similar finer things in life.
So on our first or second day in Batman, when we asked, "Is there any place around here like Canè that we can go to?", we were surprised to hear that the answer was no. And that the nearest bar was a 20-minute drive away. I suppose that Jeff and I were as baffled as Yasemin was when I told her that we were atheists. What do you mean? I asked Ümit. I don't get it. There are no bars here? Like, at all? Really? Oh. Well then.
On Friday night, our first in Batman, we asked Ümit what he normally did on Friday nights. "I sit at home with my family," he said.
Seeing the look on our faces, Ümit said not to worry, he would take us somewhere fun. So off we went to the Bahar Kültür Merkezi (Spring Cultural Center) where we watched live Kurdish music and theatre.
Kurdish children's music group
Yeah, there was a lot I didn't understand. Pretty much all of it, actually. I couldn't understand the children's music group, but they sounded good! I sorta understood the short theatrical sketch that followed it, though. Something about a crazy man with a tumor in his leg that needed to be removed with a lazer, which the doctor explained to him as something out of Star Trek. THAT I understood!
Bahar Kultur Merkezi, Batman
We were such a sight at the center that a journalist took our photograph and we made it into Monday morning's paper!
Guess not too much exciting happens in Batman, huh?
The second night Ümit's friend Yaşar convinced us to go bowling in the "entertainment center" of Batman's only mall. I declined to play, thinking I might have a chance to chat with Ümit but he insisted on text messaging his girlfriend for an hour and a half. So as I sat in silence watching my husband bowl, the lights were lowered and disco balls splayed splashes of colored light all over the lanes while loud, pulsating dance music made my ears ring. All around, people sat drinking ... tea. Yes, tea. It was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. It was sort of like what I imagine a Christian disco to be like.
Jeff and Yasar
On Sunday, when we were in Diyarbakir, Ümit was feeling a bit low, so I said we'd take him to a meyhane, a traditional Turkish fish house with live music, free-flowing raki and loads of good food. But Ümit shook his head. There are no places like that here, he said. There used to be some bars in Diyarbakir but they closed because they were not popular.
I glanced wide-eyed at Jeff. No bars? Not even in Diyarbakir? If there's one thing I've learned about Turks, it's that even the Muslim ones enjoy downing a raki or four at a meyhane or a few beers at a barbeque. But I guess things are different down in south-eastern Anatolia where people really, truly don't drink.
So we headed out to a cafe on Sanat Sokak, a pedestrian-only street filled with cafes and small shops. In summer, I'm sure it is a wonderful, gorgeous place to hang out. As it was, though, it was pretty cool. We sat in a heated "tent" of sorts, a covered free-standing structure and drank tea after tea after tea while Jeff and Ümit played backgammon and I took pictures.
Jeff and Umit, Diyarbakir
Jeff and I had managed to hit up one of the few wine stores in Diyarbakir and we bought a bottle of home-made Assyrian wine. At Ümit's uncle's house, where we spent the night, we watched TV and drank it (Ümit declined as he no longer drinks). It tasted a lot like grape juice, although it had as much alcohol as regular wine so I imagine it packs quite a punch if you're not paying attention.
Back in Batman on Tuesday night, our last night, we decided to imbibe in some beer and wine, so Jeff and I headed out to a shop we saw with an Efes sign out front. Immediately upon entering, we walked smack into the shop's counter and a smiling salesperson. I was a bit bewildered at first. The shop sold ONLY beer and wine and some random varieties of liquor, but no chips, chocolate, eggs or milk, as most bakkals, or convenience stores, in Istanbul do. This shop literally sold only alcohol.
And it was all behind the counter. You couldn't pick anything up and put it in your cart or read the backs of wine bottles without the salesperson having handed it to you first. So we told the guy behind the counter that we wanted a few beers and a bottle of wine. Happily, he obliged. He wrapped the beers and wine in newspaper, then put it in a black bag. Then he put that bag in ANOTHER black bag. Then he tied the bag up.
"Uhhhh....is this so no one knows we're buying alcohol," I asked Jeff. "Most likely." "Should I hide it in my bag" I asked. I was only half joking.
Like a bunch of guilty teenagers, we snuck back to the hotel and hung around listening to Michael Jackson -- It's Ümit! He's a bad influence! -- and Kurdish folk music while drinking Efes and red wine in Coca-Cola glasses provided by the hotel. Little did they know we were using it for alcohol! Ha!
One of Ümit's uncles, whom we met at the restaurant one day, told us that he enjoyed drinking rakı.
"Hmmm," I said, "Rakı, white cheese and melon, there's nothing better."
He nodded in approval. Wait a minute, I thought. "But where do you drink it around here" I asked.
"At home," he said.
Noted. We spent much more time during our trip drinking tea and coffee with Ümit's family at their home or at his father's restaurant, rituals that I found extremely relaxing and comforting. After all, if you can't go out to have a good time, why not just stay in?