Sunday, May 3, 2009

Warm & Fezzy Thoughts

I must confess that I'm getting a little tired of the rampant Atatürk-a-palooza in this, the Land of Turkish Delight. It's not that I question Atatürk 's bigger-than-god contribution to the development of the modern state of Turkey but, considering that many critics feel that recent "reforms" here have only turned the clock back to pre-Atatürk times, I am surprised by the plethora of Atatürk paraphernalia floating about the country. Indeedy - pretty much everything from fridge magnets (which I want) to t-shirts bearing the likenesses of Atatürk and his passport (which I don't want) can be picked up for a song.

Among his gazillion reforms was to ban the fez: that iconic red felt hat with the jaunty tassel, beloved the world over by Shriners, monkeys and bellhops. Seeing the fez as a sign of backwardness, Atatürk ensured that it be consigned to hat boxes throughout Turkey thanks to the "Hat Law" of 1925. Although the "Hat Law" sounded its death knell, no doubt it was worn clandestinely for a while - a fez does look pretty natty with a pair of silk pyjamas. The "Law Relating to Prohibited Garments" (1934) was no doubt the nail in the - albeit jaunty - tasselled red coffin.

Considered to be of Greek origin - the word itself comes from the Greek Φέσι (fesi), rather than That City in Morocco - the fez was the chapeau du jour among the Ottomans once they quashed the Byzantine Greeks in Anatolia (modern "Asian" Turkey). Besides being decidedly dapper, the fez also had the advantage of not preventing The Devout from touching their heads to the ground during prayers as might, say, a Stetson. Or a sombrero.

Although the fez was deemed "modern" in the 19th century, Atatürk - just to recap - would have none of this and discouraged it, banned it, and insisted that men wear European hats instead (just in case you skimmed the previous paragraphs). It seems that Atatürk himself was partial to the Panama hat. Personally, I like a nice deerstalker cap, but to each his own - unless, of course, it's a fez.

In any case, walk down any street in Istanbul's more touristy areas and you will find fezzes. Towers of fezzes. And who buys them? - tourists of course. I confess that I myself bought one many years go in That City in Morocco but - in my defence - I just wanted to say that I had bought a fez in Fes. It's like having a chianti in Chianti, a rioja in Rioja, a bordeaux in Bordeaux, or champagne in Champagne. (Why are so many of my examples alcohol?) And it was a gift.

So I am relieved that if the fez has indeed staged a comeback, it's at least not on the heads of Turks but rather on gormless tourists. But as Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and myself were walking the streets of Sultanahmet on Thursday in search of a pre-dinner drink (about one block away from the Atatürk fridge magnet gift shop), I was compelled to reject his suggestion of having said drink on the sunbathed terrace of the Best Western St. Sophia Hotel - which not surprisingly enjoys stupendous views of the Hagia Sophia church mosque. Why? you may ask. Because the only available table was next to a pasty dork of a tourist wearing a fez. I mean, really.

I have no doubt that Atatürk would have approved of my righteous indignation decision. If I can briefly indulge in a WWAD (What Would Atatürk Do?) moment, I'd like to think that he would have snatched the fez, ripped off its jaunty little tassel, and stomped it into the dust of that terrace bar. Or perhaps not. Atatürk, who died from cirrhosis of the liver - Turks don't like to talk about that - seems to have been a bit of an elbow bender in his day.

Having said that, maybe, in retrospect, Atatürk would have turned a blind eye a eye to the pasty dork of a tourist wearing a fez and just enjoyed his drink on the sunbathed terrace of the Best Western St. Sophia Hotel - which not surprisingly enjoys stupendous views of the Hagia Sophia church mosque.


1 comment:

Riza said...

that hotel used to be a prison.. Ataturk did drink copious amounts of alcohol. However Ataturk was more likely to have died from an acute case of being poisoned by his successor inonu. Inonu had a nasty habit of killing his political opponents