After work I drove to Watertown today to do some food shopping in one of the Armenian shops. There are actually three shops next to each other. Now that I have my car they are easy to reach. Before, I would walk there maybe once every six months and then haul far too heavy bags home. In any case, I am happy that there are so many Middle Eastern shops in and around Boston, even though the historic reason why so many Armenians now live here is very sad. Strolling through those shops always reminds me of Istanbul. They sell many Turkish, but also homemade products like simits, börek, dolma, and içli köfte. Recently, I even discovered fresh mantı there.
Today, the store clerk and I talked for the first time. I first asked for fresh köfte and a pound of dolma, then if they had pişmaniye (Turkish cotton candy). They did. I then explained that I had lived in Istanbul, but was German. Oh, and I was buying this huge amount of food because I wanted my students to try it (although I won’t share all of it, the dolma for instance was just for myself). We then talked a little about schools and summer vacation. It’s these little things that I probably miss most. The small corner shops in every neighborhood where everybody knows everyone; where shop assistants and customers still talk to each other, get to know each other, recognize each other.
I miss this feeling of being anonymous in a giant city, but very much at home in one neighborhood. I miss the smell of fresh baked white bread and simits in the morning. Street vendors avertising their foods. Bakeries that specialize in only one good, like börek or baklava. I miss my Armenian baba, who was my last landlord in Istanbul and the kindest man. The mix of Armenians, Turkish muslims, and migrants in my neighborhood. The colorful bustle that was always disrupted by long çay breaks. The many street cats walking by, asking for food and caress. I miss the energetic street life. I don’t want to close the apartment door behind me as fast as possible; to not talk to my neighbors; to buy all my food packaged in a giant supermarket; to use self-checkout registers in order to not talk to any shop assistant; to have to go to New York City to find street vendors selling simits. But that is America, and I can’t and don’t want to return to Turkey these days. So I drive to those Armenian shops, a tiny paradise for when my homesickness becomes overwhelming. Homesick for Istanbul, although I am German. But, as I told the nice shop assistant today, I even prefer Turkish foods – and that makes all the difference.