“What is that Daddy? A dragon?”
“Yes, Tiffany, it is the family dragon. It‘s been in the family for more than a hundred years.”
“That’s what Lung means, right, Daddy? Dragon? I even know how to write it!”
“Very well, Tiffany. Show me.”
I stuck my tongue between my teeth. Took my time and proudly wrote:
“Very good Tiffany. Now that is the simplified version for Dragon. Next time, you will try the classical form. Here, let me show you.” He took a small brush out of a drawer, a bottle of black ink that always sat on his desk and wrote in a few,swift, elegant strokes, on the same piece of paper:
I have kept that piece of paper. Hoarded preciously in my treasure box. Dragons in the West are fearful creatures. For us in China, well, I’m Malaysian, but for our people in China, the Dragon is a symbol of good luck, strength and power. My father was the Dragon in my family. Now? I am the Dragon. I bring good luck. But do not mistake my smile for weakness.
Chinese dragon. Collection particulière: Stéphanie Lung
The so-called dinner date with Roger the DJ turned out to be a rather fancy affair. He Whatsapped me a mere two hours before: ‘Dress up dear. The event will be ever so black tie. Pick you up in 2 hours’. Men! Two hours warning for a black tie thing? Two hours is all right for casual dress. But ‘black tie’? And who but a Brit would use the term ‘black tie’ anymore? I could almost hear my father saying ‘Black tie, Tiffany, your mother and I are going to a black tie thing. A legacy of the Brits’. my father was not a Brit. But his were other times.
So after an hour, I’d pulled out everything out of my closets. Again. Even shaken down my empty suitcases just in case. I was a mess. Black tie, black tie? I tried my black dress twice. No dice. I looked like a Lokum wrapped in black. Severe diet as soon as I get home. Time was running out. I hadn’t done my hair yet. I settled for another Cheong Sam dress. Yes. I’d brought two. Do not ask me why. And both green. This one was light green silk. To go with my eyes. Hehe! The dress belonged to my great-grandmother. She’d had it made in the 30’s in Shanghai, when and where the fashion started. The Cheong Sam is really an adaptation of traditional Chinese woman dress. The garment used to be ample, wide, so any woman could wear it without despairing about extra pounds. Now, in the 20’s and 30’s while European women cut their hair and dress hem, Chinese women (also) cut their hair, kept the dresses long, but shrank them sidewise. Body-hugging. Tight. Very tight. So much so, that a slit is cut on the side, sometimes all the way to the hip, so you can walk.
Such was the quality of the silk that the dress looked practically new. I had had to lower the hem a bit, my great-grandmother was not as tall as I am. Cut the slit further up for effect. Since she was on the Lung side, my father’s side, the dress had a four-claws dragon embroidered on it. I didn’t think there would many Chinese waitresses at a black tie Turkish event, so I was probably safe. The four-claws dragon, even in the times of Sun Yat-Sen’s Republic was quite a dare. Five claws were reserved for the (then deposed) Emperor. Four claws were meant for imperial nobility and high-ranking officials. I never knew my great-grandmother, but I asked my grandmother once about the four claws. She smiled and said: “My mother, your great-grandmother came from a respectable Shanghai family, who technically only qualified for three claws, but since she was extremely pretty, she got away with a lot of things.”
I did my hair up. A few pins. Hair spray. Problem with Asian hair is that it can be very luscious but tends to have a gravity of its own. Lots of hair spray will fix that. I thought about long elbow-high silk gloves (why had I brought that?) but decided against it. Didn’t want to look like a Chinese Audrey Hepburn. This was not an Istanbul holiday. I did have my grandmother’s vintage black enamel cigarette holder though. 🙂
Green heels. High of course. I’m an expert at high heels. Put on a pair of Van Cleef & Arpels emerald and diamond earrings. Just for effect. On my right arm, a dozen 24k slim golden bracelets I’d bought in Delhi. Gold goes with everything. And an undetectable fake Cartier ring. The earrings were my commission on a small recent art transaction. The fake ring? Well, I use it as a decoy. Sometimes as a test to see who I am talking to. I’ll skip the nails colour. Green? Red? Took me another half hour to decide. While Roger was downstairs waiting. Teach him a lesson about time planning. Two hours ahead? Tsss. Time does not exist anyway. It is just a male invention.
Roger was waiting for me in the street. In an E type Jaguar. Come on! Do you have any idea how to get into an E type Jaguar wearing a “painted on” Chinese dress and high heels? He came out of the car. Took my hand and very aptly pursed his lips half an inch above my stretched out hand. A very good baise-main. Never, ever actually kiss the hand. That’s for morons. I was now wondering who was more snobbish, the French Philosopher or the English DJ. Both probably. That would be the underlying reason for their thousand year wars. Their competitive objective was not the conquest of the world, but to determine who was most snobbish.
“I like your white tux, Roger”, I said. “But I thought we were in Istanbul, not Casablanca. Should I go upstairs, change and dye my hair blonde?”
“No, my dear, absolutely not. You look superb. Don’t change anything. You do have a cigarette holder in that little purse of yours, right?”
“Yes, just for show. I don’t smoke. But we will always have London, right? Now please help me get inside this contraption of yours.”
The “event” was veeery black tie, set in the gardens of the Khedive Palace. An Art-nouveau thing built in 1907 overlooking the Istanbul Strait. It has the largest rose garden in Istanbul. Fountains, pools, marble terraces. This was a Tout-Istanbul affair. Big wheels.
Little Roger appeared to be very well introduced. I wondered what this had to do with the DJ thing. We mingled. Not that easy to mingle with four or five hundred people. I was introduced to a number of obviously powerful potentates as “the best art expert” in South-East Asia. Got appreciative smiles from the men. Got mean looks from some of the women. Guess my high slit dress was not quite… respectable. Too bad.
After half an hour of drinks, mainly orange juice and çay, we got seated at our designated table on the largest terrace. Roger made the introductions. Stephanie Lung… Mr and Mrs So and so, Mr so and so. Mr and Mrs Ali Pasha. Pasha? I thought this title had been abolished by Atatürk in the twenties. Ali “Pasha” was about sixty or seventy. Very bald. A small dyed-black moustache. A large man with the too many pounds on that come with power. An unlit cigar dangling from his mouth. The shrewdest eyes I’d seen in Istanbul. And I’d already seen quite a few. He introduced the young man sitting next to him as “Mustapha, my personal secretary”. He did not introduce his wife. The food was delicious. I don’t know how, but Roger had managed to get me a vegetarian dish. Good point for him.
“So Miss Lung, Ali Pasha asked, my friend Roger here tells me you’re the best art expert in South-East Asia. Why are you in Istanbul? That is a long way from home.”
“It is, Ali Pasha, but this Palace is still in Asia, isn’t it?” (I put on my big smile).
“Touché, Ali Pasha said. Now, Roger has already told me a bit about the reason for your coming to Istanbul. However I’d like to hear it from you if you don’t mind.”
(Oh he has, has he?) “I’ll be glad to.”
So I gave Ali Pasha my usual now well-rehearsed spiel. He listened very well. The wife was clearly for show. About thirty years younger. Blonde. She could have been Russian. Never said a word. The other guests were also for show. Only Mr Personal Secretary was taking discrete notes on his I-Phone. When I finished I said:
“That is the project, Ali Pasha. Now, can we work together? Otherwise, I assume you would not be wasting your precious time here.” (And mine). Re-Big-Smile.
“Can we work together, Miss Lung? I don’t know.” He put on a crooked smile. Lit up his cigar. (I hate cigars. Especially at a dinner table). “Roger here is a good friend of mine. But that may not be enough. I understand you were shot at, this afternoon in Karaköy.”
“News travel fast, Ali Pasha. It was probably a mistake. And we were lucky.”
“Or maybe someone tried a shot at your friend Jean-Louis? He and I are not exactly in good terms, you know. And if we, you and me, do any business at all, Jean-Louis and I, well, are somewhat competitors. On different scales of course. There would need to be some sort of exclusivity.”
“That, Sir, depends on value and volume. I always go for the highest quality.”
“And why should I trust you young lady? You come from the end of the world. Dress in a fancy Chinese dress. Wear fancy jewellery. Which could be fake. Why should I trust you?”
“That’s a very good question, Ali Pasha. You have no reason to trust me. But let me tell you two things.”
I started taking my Van Cleef earrings off. Put them on the mantle piece close to Ali Pasha’s plate. Gestured for him to take them in his hands.
“Those earrings are the real deal. They’re worth a year of your Personal Secretary’s salary. Make that five years.” (I got a mean look from the Secretary) “Consider those as a gift to your wife” (or your mistress).
“Ha-ha!” Ali Pasha laughed. He put the earrings back on the mantle piece. “What about your ring?”
“The ring stays with me, I said. I bought it on the street in Chiang-Mai for twenty bucks. A souvenir. Don’t tell anybody.”
Ali Pasha roared a mighty laugh. The Personal Secretary faked a smile. Roger was a bit uneasy. Ali Pasha laughed so much his tiny eyes got wet. He brushed them dry with a knuckle. Pushed back the earrings towards me and said:
“Young Lady, no one has made me laugh so much in a long time. Keep your earrings until we do strike a deal. You said ‘two things’. What’s the second?”
“Call Mr Li in Singapore. On my behalf. He is the authority on Art in South Asia. (But I’m the Dragon) He will vouch for me (He’d better). Roger, do you have a card or something? My tiny pouch barely holds my keys, powder-box and a pen. Thank you.”
I took out my father’s gold tip and gold cap Waterman fountain pen. Wrote down Mr Li’s corporate address, email and cell phone on Roger’s card. Blue ink. Always. Black ink is for calligraphy. Handed it to Ali Pasha.
“There you are, Sir. You can research Mr Li with anyone in Singapore. To confirm who he is. I’m sure you have contacts in Singapore. Then call him. This is his personal cell phone number. Tell him I send my best regards.” (My best regards to the old crook, indeed)
“Thank you Miss Lung. Mustapha will start the research right away, and I will call Mr Li as early as time differences allow. What is the earliest polite time to call him?”
“It is now ten PM here in Istanbul, I said. Three Am in Singapore. If you called him at ten in the morning, Istanbul time to-morrow, it would be three in the afternoon. Mr Li likes to take a small siesta from three to five. Call him at six in the afternoon there, one o’clock here. That should leave Mr Mustapha here plenty of time to do his research.” (Mustapha gave me another mean look. I gave him my best smile, the one that gets me out of trouble)
“Very good, Miss Lung. Ali Pasha said. Thank you Roger for the introduction and the lovely evening. Thank you, Mersi, Miss Lung. If the research is conclusive, you will hear from me through Roger. Good night.”
“Good night,” we all said as Ali Pasha, his wife and Secretary left and we rose from our chairs.
The other guests bowed and left, clearly Ali Pasha’s retinue. Roger the DJ and I were left alone at the table. Roger clapped silently, a wide smile on his handsome face. I noticed the hair band holding his ponytail was white silk. As the lapels of his white tux. He lifted two fingers high in the air and two champagne flutes appeared out of nowhere. Same trick as the Philosopher. Maybe a Turkish telepathic custom? I had to practice that. He extended his hand to invite me to take a flute from the waiter’s tray, took his own and raised it.
“Congratulations my dear. I haven’t seen the old man laugh so much and so wholeheartedly in years. Cheers.”
“Cheers, I said, but you know…”
“I know you don’t drink but Champagne at breakfast. Which is still a pending matter.”
He looked up at the stars in the Istanbul sky. Looked back down again and said:
“And it’s not quite breakfast yet, by far. Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué, as La Fontaine would have said. But I insist: never seen the old man laugh so much in many years.”
“Cheers Roger.” (A Brit quoting Lafontaine in French? What was a DJ doing ‘for many years’ with a shady character such as Ali Pasha?)
“Yes, Roger said, I think he likes you. Which is good. Today is Wednesday?”
“Your plane leaves on Sunday. Ali Pasha will have plenty of time for Mustapha to do his research. I will lend him a hand with Mr Li. Looks good. Ha! Before we get you back into my contraption, as you call it, allow me.”
Roger the DJ plucked a tulip from the flower arrangement on the table. I love tulips. I find them more elegant than roses. The Turks fought a long time to keep hold on one of their most precious possessions until a few bulbs were smuggled away to Holland. That tulip was red. Precious.
“Mersi mösyö,” I said.
“Birşey değil, Stéphanie. Thank me when we see the results.”
“Happy birthday Tiffany!” My mother said, clapping.
My father stood by her side, smiling. My brothers were filing behind. My grandparents on the side. There was a big cake on the table with ten candles on it. I was holding my breath to blow them.
“Go ahead, Tiffany,” my father said. “Blow as hard as you can!”
I did. As hard as I could. All ten candles in one blow. More clapping from the family. I felt very proud. Ten candles! Now, gift time! My family was always a bit traditional. Gifts had to be useful. Practical. Clothes. Jumpers. New shoes. Not a matter of money, just… tradition.
My grandparents did give me a pretty dress, a jumper. My brothers gave me a book each. No doubt supervised by my parents. I thanked every one for their gifts and looked at my parents with unspoken curiosity. My mother said:
“Tiffany, you are now a big girl, ten years old is an important age. You are doing very well at school, so your father and I have noticed that…”
“What did you notice, Mummy?” (She and my father had their hands behind their backs, a wide grin on their faces.)
“We noticed, my mother said, that you like to draw. And draw very well. So we bought you two useful gifts. Here.”
I barely managed not to tear the wrapping paper of both gifts. When I saw what it was, I almost screamed: a box of Faber castell crayons and a Rotring Art pen. Everybody hugged and kissed. The crayons are long gone, worn down to the tip, and regularly replaced by another box. The Rotring pen I still have. The first drawing I made for my parents with my first crayons was a lotus flower but is now lost. I drew this one last week after I saw Iznik tiles in a shop. A very good lot of 17th century delicate tiles, some including the lotus flower that came to Turkey all the way from China around the 16th century. I bought the lot.
On the day after the black tie thing with Roger, on Thursday, I met Mehmet the Hipster Waiter at the Jewellers’ gate, East of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. At ten sharp. In the morning. An ungodly hour. I was sure I had 10 pound bags under the eyes.
“Selam Stéphanie. I’m glad you found the entrance easily.”
“I am grateful for the location app on my faithful I-phone, otherwise… This place is already chaos outside, I can’t imagine how it is inside. And mind you, in Asia, we KNOW Chaos. Probably invented it.
“Ha-ha! Then get ready for the Centre of Universal Chaos.”
Chaos? Yes and no. More like Ali Baba’s treasure cavern ten or a hundred fold. Just imagine: the Grand Bazaar, Büyük Çarşı, has more than sixty streets inside. Three thousand shops! (Yes I Boogled it) More than 90 million visitors a year! Beats Harrod’s. Dates back to the 16th century, after the fall of Constantinople.
We walked and walked. The jewellers market is Paradise. I bought a few gold bracelets on Kuyumcular Carsısı. Yes. Gold bracelets. Again? What about the Delhi ones? A woman never has enough gold bracelets. We saw some good Bukhara carpets. Leather, casual clothes. Bought myself a pair of Hammam trousers. Most comfortable! There were lanterns of all colours hanging from the roof. Fountains and fountains and fountains. Colours, noise, perfumes, scents. More tea varieties in one shop than you can find from China to India to Sri Lanka to Indonesia. I bought Hammam shoes:
I was very tempted by an Antique stove heater, but decide against it. Too heavy. Though it did give me another idea for the Penang Museum: we should open a wing for ancient, everyday objects from Penang, and then hopefully, the world. Beginning with Turkey.
I did buy an old iron. 🙂
It is probably impossible to give a correct idea of the beauty (and the junk too) one can find in the Grand Bazaar. Too many things. Mehmet had told some of the merchants might have higher quality art for my “higher purpose”. But the shops he knew were either closed or had junk. So we just walked around, caught the glimpse of a beautiful object or the other. Which would you prefer? This Ceramic heater?
Or that Kütahya coffee pot? Bought it. For the Household wing of the Penang Museum. I’d made up my mind. This was the start of the wing.
We had fun. Ate Lokum at a stall. Accompanied with çay of course.
Mehmet bought me a good luck bead.
“That is for you Hanimefendi. It’s for good luck. I cannot guarantee it will stop a bullet, but it certainly can’t hurt to wear it.”
“Mersi, Mehmet Bey! I will wear it with pleasure. So? Where do we go now? I’m a bit tired of the Bazaar. I feel I’ve been walking for miles and miles…”
“I know just the place to take you,” Mehmet said. (He did have a lovely smile. I have a weakness for good smiles. Need to work on that)
“Where are we going?”
“That’s the park behind Topkapi, correct?”
“Yes, Mehmet said. And you will not believe it.”
Mehmet was right. I could not believe it. When we arrived at the park behind Topkapi, a sheep herder was there, with a flock of a dozen sheep grazing. In the middle of the city! Gülhanne Parki is a beautiful park, the sheep notwithstanding. Lovely trees. I tried to coax Mehmet to try tree-hugging. He was not convinced. We lied down instead on the grass for a long time. Looking at Istanbul’s blue sky and white clouds. It smelled a bit of sheep, but paradise was not very far.
Friday and Saturday were pretty much stacked with packing and packing and packing. The heavier items I’d bought for the Penang Museum would be shipped. They came for that on Saturday morning. Saturday night I was treated to a lovely farewell party thrown by my new friends. DJ Roger was there. He’d brought an assistant to mind the music. And mind me instead. Jean-Louis the Philosopher. Mehmet the hipster waiter. Toño the dancer… All my new friends and more. Neither the flea market vendor nor Ali Pasha were invited, though Roger whispered to me that “things looked good”. We laughed and danced and cried and laughed.
I woke up to the sound of faint snoring. The early dawn was breaking trough the half-drawn blinds. I turned around slowly. He was sleeping on his back. Snoring a bit. I looked at the handsome features. The straight nose. The beard stubble. The handsome mouth. Resisted the urge to kiss the tip of the nose. I got up and dressed quietly. Let myself out without a sound.
The seagulls glide and glide over the waters. My night was short; I went home for only a few hours’ sleep. A long hot shower and here I am. Looking at the water and the seagulls and Asia across. My çay’s grown cold. I lift my hand. A waiter comes running with a new steaming hot pot. I like the hand waving thing.
I wonder who if anybody will come. If all works according to plan, someone will show up. There is no way I can know in advance: my I-phone committed suicide this morning. An unfortunate incident. I’d brought it with me in the bathroom, expecting a call from KL. And it committed suicide: it jumped right out of my hands into the steaming shower. Nothing I could do. All I have left is my faithful Blackberry. And no-one here has that number.
Regardless of what happens now, I know I will leave a good chunk of my heart here. Last week a far-away friend asked me on Whatsapp why I was so sad to leave, why had I come to love Istanbul so much. I answered on the Blackberry:
The Ottoman Empire, the magical vibe, the architecture, the history, the warm and friendly people, the great food, the street dogs and cats, the cross culture, East meets West, modern and old and the seagulls x
That pretty much sums it up. Istanbul is a lovely place. With lovely people.
The bells of Ayos Taksiarches, the Greek orthodox church at Arnavutköy just pealed the twelve strokes of noon. Mehmet has arrived, dressed in his hipster waiter garb. Smiled from a distance. I smiled back. He lifted his shoulders, hands and eyebrows in a mute interrogation. I shook my head. And looked back at the seagulls.
“You didn’t say good-bye this morning,” a voice said behind my ear.
And my heart sank. No. Not him. I managed to mumble in a controlled voice:
“Didn’t want to wake you up, Philosopher. You were sleeping like a baby.”
“That I did. Barely woke up in time to shower and catch you here.”
Jean-Louis sat down to my right. He was wearing a beige linen jacket over a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He lifted a hand. Two fingers. Two flutes of Mimosa appeared from nowhere. Another waiter. Not Mehmet. Where was he? The Philosopher handed me a flute. Lifted his.
“Cheers Stéphanie. Have a safe trip. How long are you staying in London?”
“Two weeks. At my brother’s. I have a few appointments at the British.”
“Lovely, lovely. I might visit you there if I may, I was thinking next week-end?”
“Sure,” I said. My heart was lifting a bit at the simplicity of the conversation. Maybe… Maybe… this was not what I feared it was?
“Great! Let’s do that. I’ll let you know the exact days and places where I’ll stay in London. Oh! Speaking of which, what happened to your phone? I’ve been trying to reach you this morning.”
“It committed suicide,” I said with a straight face.
I explained the circumstances of my I-Phone’s demise and we both laughed. My spirits lifted again. Then he put his hand in his jacket pocket, took out a simple white cardboard box out and put it on the table. And my heart sank to the bottom. The Philosopher said:
“Good, that’s settled for next week-end, then. I’ve brought you a “souvenir” of sorts. No doubt you can use your contacts in London next week. Should that work well, we’re in business. Aren’t you going to open it?”
“I think I know what it is,” I said. (How could I manage an unshaking voice, torn as I was between sadness and fury?)
I opened the box, took out the Sultan Validé Nakçidil’s bracelet. Aimée du Buc de Rivery’s bracelet. Rings of pearls and diamonds and gold. More beautiful now in plain daylight. A few million dollars worth at the tip of my fingers. I turned it around in my hand, catching the sun. Mere beauty. Mere sadness. I put the bracelet back in its simple, discrete, cardboard box. I put the box on the table and lifted a hand.
Mehmet showed up at our table, placed himself between The Philosopher’s chair and mine. He took out a golden Police badge, put his hand on a pistol holstered on his hip, under the black waiter jacket and said, in English:
“Jean-Louis Haddad, you are under arrest for grand larceny of Turkish national treasures. Please stand up slowly and put your hands behind your back.”
The Philosopher said nothing. He rose slowly, his eyes never leaving mine. I stood his gaze. He put his hands behind his back and Mehmet handcuffed him. As Mehmet was taking him by the arm, Jean-Louis spoke to him in Turkish. Mehmet turned to me.
“He says he wants to tell you a few words in private. Is it all right Hanimefendi Stéphanie?”
“Yes, Mehmet. It’s all right.”
Mehmet stepped back a few steps. Jean-Louis bent to whisper in my ear:
“Toutes mes félicitations Stéphanie. Is that your real name?” (I could hear the smile in his voice) I lost but I certainly lost to the Best.”
He kissed me lightly on the cheek. Straightened up and left with Inspector Mehmet. Trust the French to always have the last word. And the last kiss. I had said nothing. I looked back at the water. Lifted my now lukewarm mimosa flute in the air. A new ice-cold flute materialized on a tray in the next minute. Mersi. The seagulls glided and glided over the waters. Stewart the seagull was perched on the table next to me. Looking at me. Quizzically?
What? What? Okay! I’m not an Art trader. And Stéphanie is not even my name. Maybe Tiffany is, maybe not. Jean-Louis was right. I am the best. I’m the deputy Director of Interpol for all of South-East Asia, from Thailand all the way east to Irian Jaya. I do have a B.A in Arts though. And a degree in Criminal Law from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. I went to the Police Academy in Singapore, on Onraet Road. I handle all the Art counter theft and counter smuggling in the South East. Based in KL. Which reminds me: I have to turn in the Van Cleef & Arpels earrings in Singapore before I forget. Those were confiscated on an indelicate lady traveller’s ears at Changi airport in Singapore.
Turkish Interpol had suspected for years the existence of a vast antique theft and smuggling ring based in Istanbul. They had suspicions on Ali Pasha, the DJ and Süleyman “Bey” the flea market vendor. The Philosopher was not even remotely on the list.
Ha-ha! What “Intel”! I wanted to bang my fist – or my head – on the table. The Hipster Inspector Mehmet, of course was my contact with Interpol in Istanbul. I set up traps, with quite a number of people in my few weeks here. Just to see who would catch the bait. Oh, surprise.
It took longer to prepare the mission than the actual mission here. About three months. Forging a new identity, building up a fake Facebook, blog, contacts. Photos, pictures. Mr Li is a well-known smuggler in the South-East, but I turned him a while ago. His life outside bars – prison bars, not drinking bars – holds on the tip of my finger.
And the museums? That is partly true. Best cover is based on truth. We supply all museums in the region, Bangkok, Kuala, Singapore, Jakarta, etc. with the best pieces we confiscate. When we can trace back the national origin, either by evidence or style. An Angkor Buddha does not look like a Thai Buddha. Style is all. The Penang Museum? True too. It is a pet side project of mine. I am from Georgetown. And though I don’t spend as much time there as I would like, I am setting up a Museum in Penang with a very good friend of mine. Name withheld. We are gathering everyday objects, 19th-20th century from Penang, first, especially the Penang countryside, then from Asia, then everywhere. Turkey included. It is a lovely project.
My mimosa flute is lukewarm again. I don’t drink much, but that’s at least 50% orange juice and only 50% champagne. I lift my hand for another.
Stewart the seagull is still perched on the next table. I think I know what he wants. I pick a lone Lokum on a plate. Hand it to Stewart. He flips a wing, jumps from his table to mine, picks the Lokum delicately from my hand and flies away. Across the water. Towards Asia. Home. Penang.
I lift my refreshed champagne (skip the orange juice) flute in Stewart’s direction. Have a good flight home Stewart. I’ll see you in Penang in a few weeks.
All characters, situations and events are entirely fictitious and but the product of the authors’ bonkers imagination.
All illustrations © Tiffany Choong.
Text © Brian Martin-Onraet spiced with quotes of Tiffany Choong.
Do visit Tiffany’s lovely site at:
This post is dedicated to the people of Istanbul and Turkey. May they find peace soon.
38 thoughts on “Breakfast in Istanbul. The end.”
Onraet Road? Sneaky! 😀
Excellent ending for this lovely story. It’s worth a flute of Champagne. 😉 Cheers! 🍸
Thank you my friend. Now sneaky? Yes. I plugged that detail in at the las minute before publishing. But true. There is indeed an Onraet road in Singapore, named after my great-uncle René Onraet, born in India, a pure product of the British Raj. He was a police officer in Penang, Malaysia, Malacca and eventually was appointed Chief of Police in Singapore in the 30’s. I used to think it was a family legend but it is a fact: the Police Academy in Singapore is on or near Onraet rd. See that link:
Have a great week-end my friend.
(Winter is coming so enjoy the last rays of sunshine)
Shush, don’t say that W word! 🙄 Let it be sunshine from January ’til December! 🙂
A great weekend for you too!
SAme to you Dragos.
Beautiful story ❤
Gracias! Glad you liked it. It was great fun writing it. 🙂
Brian, I almost shock at the beginning of your post….Tiffany? what? how? oh.. 😀
She is awesome, I have been following her blog and enjoying her drawing – a talented lady! And your post is a great read, Brian, I enjoyed it very much! Wishing you a wonderful weekend 🙂
Dankje wel Indah. On all counts.
Yes Tiffany is a great lady. And this story was a very nice writing experience based on her posts from Istanbul.
A long-distance cooperation that I am glad you enjoyed.
(And yes I’ve “seen” you on her blog) 🙂
Are you in Indonesia already?
Ready to dive?
Ce qui est bien, c’est que grâce à ton histoire, j’ai pu retourner à Istanbul, une ville que j’adore – et dont j’ai des photos mais seulement en argentique (voilà pourquoi je n’en ai pas sur mon blog – trop de travail pour les scanner et les retravailler proprement…). 🙂
Ravi chere amie de te rappeler de bons souvenirs. Ce qui est drole c que je n’ai jamais mis les pieds a Istanbul. 😳
Parfois, on n’a pas besoin d’aller sur place pour ressentir l’ambiance d’une ville ou d’un lieu. C’est ce qui nous fait écrire….l’imagination au travers de ce qu’on lit/voit, de ce dont on s’inspire….
Effectivement. En général, j’écris sur les lieux que je connais. Où j’ai vécu. Que j’ai visités. (Complément d’objet placé avant le verbe, s’accorde, spas?)
Cas d’Istanbul, j’avais presque l’impression de connaître en écrivant.
Pour l’argentique, un de mes frères aînés est venu il ya qqs années à Mexico. On a passé une semaine à scanner tous les albums de famille. De 1949 à 1970 environ. Du Pakistan à l’afrique de l’ouest et de l’est, en passant par l’indochine. 500 pages? à peu prés? Puis j’ai mis trois ans à séparer, nettoyer, editer les photos individuelles. J’ai même scanné les négatifs jamais développés. 🙂 Un boulot d’enfer, mais j’ai presque fini. Il ne manque que le Kenya. Mais je ne suis pas prêt de recommencer. Donc je te comprends. Bonne semaine Agnès.
Tu comprends le travail….
J’aurais à peu près la même somme de boulot à faire si je devais tout reprendre (archives de mon père à Madagascar quand il était jeune+photos de famille anciennes + photos moins anciennes + mes propres photos de voyage…..pffff!)
Bonne semaine aussi!
Madagascar? Tiens. Moi j’ai été élevé en Afrique de l’ouest et de l’est.
J’ai eu plusieurs amis qui avaient vécu à Tana. A la limite ils ont pu
croiser ton père.
D’un autre côté, ce sont des moments qui se perdent. Après on ne sait même plus qui était sur telle ou telle photo…
It’s sad that this is the end of the story….
Yes and no. Yes, because I suffer for PPD. Post posting depression. I used to have PPS (Post Presentation Syndrome, similar to Post partum depression) when I finished and presented a market research study to clients, all felt very well but then BAM! depression sank in. The end of that story.
And no, because Stéphanie (whom I will miss) did her job and did it well. She got banged on the heart a bit, but she is strong. And as Stewart says: “sometimes she still dreams”. I have no doubt that we will see Stéphanie again in the near future. 😉
(And thanks for the reblog. This story was a wonderful exercise. Send me more material for a new Stéphanie Lung adventure)
Yes indeed. I think it makes a great movie too
Thank you. Send the script to all the movie producers you know. 🙂
Imagine. we could do part of the shooting in Simla/Penang. 🙂
That’s right! We could indeed 👏🌴🙌
Sometimes I still dream. 🙂
Reblogged this on The Crazy Bag Lady @BulanLifestyle.com and commented:
The final chapter to Breakfast in Istanbul by Brian Martin-Onraet.
BUONA DOMENICA 🙂
I tried to leave a comment on Part 2 but it simply disappeared… I was saying that I really loved this story. You’ve found the perfect voice for the narrator and all the details -deliciously exotic to me- including the wonderful sketches, add to its appeal in more ways than I can say. It reminds of the atmosphere in Lawrence Durrell’s Justine or Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. Very well done.
My dear Cora. I am overwhelmed. When I first read your comment about “voice” I knew you had to be a writer. (Bingo). The voice is actually not mine. It is Stéphanie’s so to speak. As you know, writers hear voices in their heads all the time. 😉 Tiffany’s sketches were the inspiration for the story. She is a very talented artist, and as she posted her drawings I knew there was a story floating in the air. With all relevant details. (Never been to Istanbul, haha!) Now… Durrell? Larry? I’m blushing. He was a grand writer. (Though his little brother Gerald was fun). I have read Justine. I have to flip through it again.
Send me your agent’s name! 😉
Dear Brian, you caught me… 🙂 Don’t be overwhelmed; the praise is sincere and, if anything, not enough. Text and sketches complement each other perfectly and, yes, Tiffany is a great artist. I’ve never been to Istanbul, but it certainly comes alive for me under your combined pens… I wish I had some useful relations to which to recommend your work, but, unfortunately, I don’t. I’m recommending it to my friends though. 🙂
Your new fan,
Thank you Cora. I’m really glad the story got to you.
And I enjoyed the experience of “cooperation” with someone else.
(Actually I am “thinking” about another totally different story in Penang this time)
But Hush… Time will tell.
fantastic story Brian and amazing sketches, you did them?
Thank you. The drawings are by Tiffany Choong. She is a very talented artist. Her drawings from Istanbul inspired the whole story. Check her site:
I *LOOOOOVVEE* this highlight of one of my fave bloggers at BulanLifestyle!! I had no idea it was coming. I was just reading along, then… omigosh, that tulip, I totally recognize. And so many of those illustrations I have already seen and loved. This was a blast. Thank you for the story and yet another brilliant connection between bloggers. The blogosphere is magical.
It is magical. This is the second time I’ve written a story based on a another blogger. And Tiffany is both a great artisti an d so sweet. The idea of writing a story on her Istanbul drawings came out in a chit-chat with her. Then the story wrote itself in my head as it always does. Then write it down, and voilà. Glad you liked the combination. 🙂
What a surprising end! This was a great adventure. I would love to see the Grand Bazaar and have Lokum with çay. 😊 I loved the illustrations too!
It was fun to write. Especially the end.
The illustrations were really the backbone of the story. I downloaded them from her blog, organized them, until I had the story…
Glad you liked it.