I was rifling through a box of vintage photos and postcards at a used bookstore off Istiklal, and had a nice little conversation with the shop owner— entirely in Turkish. Granted it was a simple discussion about why I am here and what I do, but she was patient and grinning from ear to ear, and I was encouraged. When I left the shop I felt so confident, I went to the post office. After mailing a fistful of the vintage postcards I had just purchased, I headed home with a hop in my step. I had survived the post office.
As my minibus approached the balıkçı at the bottom of my hill, I felt a tiny flutter in the bottom of my stomach. Today is the day.
Işıkta inecek var! I belted out.
Eyes focused on the round red crates of fish, I crossed the street and began to choose which fishmonger was going to sell me my first fish. Hands in my pockets, I strode up to a kind-faced man in a dark apron with some good looking sea bass.
Buyrun, he smiles.
Levrek ne kadar?
He selects a good-sized shiny fish and weighs it.
Suddenly, I realise I'm not sure how to ask to have the fish cleaned and filleted. I throw out words like temizleme and fillet (which I hope is the same in Turkish), and turn one hand into a fish and the other into the knife that's gutting it. Now we're laughing at my silly signing and spouting of random words, and before I know it, we're having a conversation about how the Black Sea has better tasting fish than the Aegean, and that Turkish fish are more delicious than American. He disappears for a few minutes behind the stand, leaving me to bounce up and down in the cold, watching my breath cloud out of my mouth. He returns with a neatly packaged parcel in a plastic bag.
Çok teşekkürler, iyi akşamlar! I sing out, and practically skip off to my next minibus, the weight of the fish so pleasing in my hands. I want to tell my fellow passengers that I just bought my first fish, and that I'm going to cook it up and eat it with triumph— but I smile in the dark instead.
Once home, I thrown down my bag and coat, and carefully place my treasure on the kitchen counter. I rummage through fridge and cupboard, pulling out a bottle of olive oil, some garlic, lemons, sea salt and pepper, and a bottle of white wine. I start to unwrap the plastic layers, careful not to drip any of the pinkish liquid on the counter. Suddenly, I find myself before a sight that takes me back to high school biology.
Decapitation was nowhere in this fantasy.
Luckilly I'm not a squeamish girl.