Tuesday, April 08, 2003

I haven't posted much Raki Joy here recently, so it's high time I did. Let me begin by reiterating what a wonderful drink raki is. The scent of anise, the liquid silken feeling of it as you drink, the heightened flavours of food, the happy alcoholic haze you gently succumb to......and the really interesting hallucinations you get if you drink too much.
My first happy experience of drinking this stuff came in December, 1993, in the heart of Izmir. My colleagues, Guy and Luciano, and I were just packing in the lessons for the evening at our dodgy English school. A couple of Luciano's students asked us if we wanted to grab something to eat, so we went with them along the Kordon and down one of Alsancak's back streets until we came to an Ocakbasi. An ocakbasi is, essentially, a restaurant thrown around a large indoor barbecue. You can sit around the grill, watching your food being cooked, and keeping wonderfully warm on cold winter nights. The place was packed, because a Galatasaray-Fenerbache football match was on. We managed to grab a table in a corner, and were joined by the students' friends. They insisted on paying for everything, and insisted on us drinking raki. The food was basic, but excellent: Piyaz (bean salad), Kuzu sis and kofte, Coban salatasi, Haydari, and small bowls of leblebi. The place was hot and noisy and full of fag smoke and the cheers and groans of the men watching the football on the greasy tv perched high in the corner. But what a meal! Luciano was talking in English and Italian: Guy was rapping away in Turkish: I was practising my then limited Turkish with a couple of students, and using my limited French. Still others (there were twelve of us by now) were conversing in German, in Kurdish, in Farsi, in Arabic: A mad babel of languages swirled and dived around our table, fuelled by the food and the raki, a crazy communication that somehow made itself understood to all. Several of the students had been in prison for political reasons, and were cheerfully recounting being tortured: Two guys were merrily arguing about Marco Polo's Voyages, Ibn Batutta and the Seyahatnamesi: Others were talking comparative philosophy. For a few magical hours, I felt entirely entranced by this dinner table, which had all that you need for a good time: Good food, good tobacco, excellent conversation and raki.

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