On what must have been one of the coldest evenings of the year I took to the streets of Kurtuluş to see what was happening with the attempt to revive the Tatavla Baklahorani Carnival. Once a feature of “Clean Tuesday”, the Monday before the start of Lent in Greek Orthodox tradition, this carnival used to be notorious not just for the bean-eating that used to go on but also for the amount of alcohol that used to be consumed. Given the link to the fast it’s perhaps rather strange that it also used to be associated with something called “the parade of the Amazons” when the city’s prostitutes used to ride by on horseback dressed up to the nines in velvety finery. The carnival lingered on into the 1940s and then died out.

Tonight’s events kicked off from the Şişli Belediyesi Emekliler Evi in Baruthane Caddesi, and at first it didn’t look particularly promising with a gaggle of police loitering by the entrance and just a handful of would-be revellers assembled in the courtyard. Inside a quartet of elderly Greeks (and how is it that we can tell their ethnicity just by looking at them?) watched in some bewilderment as Turks gathered along with young Americans and French people. We set off fifteen minutes late, the delay occupied by everybody taking snaps of everybody else.

The party leaders were a young saxophonist with a neat little bun like a Greek Orthodox priest and a more prosaic-looking accordion player. All around me women were putting on what looked like Venetian carnival masks while men donned versions that covered half their faces rather like offcuts from The Phantom of the Opera. Two men wore colourful clown wigs and outsize glasses. A couple in aprons brandished ladles, perhaps in memory of the beans. There was a “ghost” draped in a sheet, and a duck in yellow fancy dress. There was a young man in a fez, another in full Arab robes and keffiliyeh. A couple of young women had turned out in mini skirts of the type usually sported on equally icy nights in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Another couple looked as if they were dressed for their school nativity play. Most people, though, just showed up in  what they had been wearing to work. There was clapping and singing, and people threw open apartment windows to beam down on us. The police plodded unsmilingly ahead and, given the cold, it was hard to blame them. Then the parade ground to a halt in front of the local refuse collection truck and all illusions that we might have been nurturing about reproducing the more glamorous past were shattered.

The route took us along Bozkurt Caddesi, down Açıkyol and then along Kurtuluş Caddesi and past Hagios Demetrios to the Kurtuluş Sports club where everything slowed to another halt as we were funnelled through a courtyard and down some steps. The bottleneck turned out to be so that people could pay TL25 for a ticket to continue partying which turned out to be my cue to backtrack to Taksim.

For what had started out as a Greek carnival this had turned into a very Turkish event, with Turkish music to the fore, and in that sense it was rather disappointing. But then any street party is better than no street party, and presumably things can only get better with the passing of the years.

Written: 28 March 2011



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