Jonathan Fryer

Istanbul: The Arabs Have Come!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th July, 2009

Istiklal CaddesiGulf Arabs who can afford it tend to flee their region during summer. Given their climate, who can blame them? Since the 1960s, London has been a favourite summer destination — many Gulf families own houses or appartments along or off the Edgware Road and in Mayfair — but Beirut and Cairo date back even further. There are Lebanese villages like the ‘cherry capital’ Hammana up in the mountains behind Beirut that become Little Kuwait in July and August. However, this year’s vacation location of choice for Gulf Arabs appears to be Turkey. There were loads of them on the ferry that took me across the Sea of Marmara on my way from Izmir to Istanbul last night and Istanbul’s top hotels are awash with Gulf families: the fathers and the (often depressingly fat) children kitted out in standard US leisure gear, the mothers swathed head to foot in black abbayas. What on earth these ladies make of the scenes around them, God only knows. One couldn’t possibly ask. Last night was more boisterous than ever along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main pedestrianised drag, with its side streets housing innumerable bars, restaurants, nightclubs and saunas catering to every possible taste. Or even on the more sedate avenue, Halaskargazi Caddesi, north of Taksim Square, where I have been staying on this visit to Turkey’s main city. Outside a car hire firm, whose widow posters of special offers are all in Arabic, a spectacular blonde transvestite prostitute was standing late last night in a gold lamé dress cut low to show off her sumptuous breast implants. The male punters walking past, both Arab and Turk, had no doubt at what they were looking at — and in several cases, clearly panting after; but what about the Arab ladies in their black shrouds?

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