Perspective on a Scene – Everyday or Exotic?

Ebru dragged the shopping trolley over the paving stones and through the entrance into the market. Spring was just around the corner judging by the fruit tree saplings. She walked through the crowds, looking left and right at the piles of fruit and vegetables on low trestles on either side of the passage. Spring had not arrived to the stalls yet judging by the predominance of spinach and cabbage. Winding a path through the market she stopped in front of a wall of tomatoes; some were large but slightly orange looking, they radiated hardness while the smaller ones were too soft but at least a good red colour. Considering her homemade jars of tomato paste, she dismissed the tomatoes and looked down at the aubergines and green peppers. There were better and cheaper peppers in the supermarket but gesturing for a bag, she carefully selected one kilogram of aubergines, weighing it in her hand. She grinned slightly when her weighing skills were confirmed by the scale and laughed as Mehmet abi, the seller, threw another aubergine in her bag. Turning back she bought some lemons, pointing out her selection from the little piles. The wheels of the trolley got stuck in the grating of a drain, though it was partly blocked by cauliflower leaves and rotten apples. She stopped to talk to a neighbour and was jostled by a tall blonde woman, clearly not looking where she was going. She bought cauliflower and broccoli and was nearly about to buy a large head of white cabbage to when she considered the children’s groans. Buying carrots and leeks, oranges and apples instead she made her way back to the entrance thinking of how nice the market used to be when it was held in the neighbourhood and not in this purpose-built covered market in the centre of town. She used to wander through the stalls at the end of the day and catch the best bargains as the sellers lowered their prices and walk home to cook them immediately.

Ingrid followed the riverside walk past a playground and a wide park full of old trees. Beyond the park the ground sloped up to an ancient wall while across the river the apartment buttressed the top of the opposite ridge. If she walked far enough she should reach the sea. As she walked hearing the cries of the gulls gathered on the lampposts she noticed a full carpark and a hive of activity around a covered area near the ancient wall. Curious she walked up to the entrance and stood in amazement. Ahead was a vast array of tables stacked with every conceivable vegetable and fruit. The din of the crowd was loud, broken by the exotic cries of the sellers as they attempted to attract attention to their wares. Just inside the entrance there were piles of sticks, with muddy roots still attached; it took her a minute to recognize them as saplings for sale. She walked slowly through the passages, unhurried in spite of the impatience she caused. There were piles of radishes, some as big as a tennis ball, bundles of leeks that nearly reached her waist. Some of the stalls seemed to consist of piles of weeds, well nettles anyway along with parsley, rocket, dill, lettuce heads the size of large cabbages and large cabbages the size of basketballs. Grey coloured pumpkins were as wide as her arms were long and were bright orange on the inside. Walls of potatoes, onions, oranges, tomatoes. Stalls of five different types of apples, some with a range of vegetables, some with only one small pile of produce. Ingrid liked these stalls the best as the sellers were obviously from the villages, with headscarves wrapped like crowns around another headscarf framing the sides of their tanned and leathery faces, skirts that were gathered around both ankles allowing modesty and free movement. They smiled at Ingrid and some even wanted to touch her blonde hair. Some pressed her to take a slice of apple or orange, holding it between a thumb and the knife blade. She wandered with a dazed grin, marvelling at the industry involved in bringing the fruits of the land almost straight to the table. This was the place she had heard stories about, had imagined but never dreamed could be so vibrant and so colourful; the bazaar.

The same scene but very different perspectives. When writing ‘Afternoon Tea’ for Expat Sofra I wrote from Ingrid’s perspective. Initially I found it difficult, after so many years in Turkey the sense of wonder and newness has faded. But the events in the story were a surprise for me, so it worked out in the end. But I did take care to explain certain things for a non-Turkish audience such as when I used certain Turkish phrases or mentioned certain Turkish celebrities.
That was all very well and explanatory but it didn’t come across the same way when the Turkish version arrived for checking. Then these explanations were completely redundant for Turkish words and somewhat insulting in relation to the celebrities. Are there any Turks who don’t know Bülent Ersoy? I did some editing needless to say though I left some explanations in place.
It’s a question that needs to be asked in a general sense when writing – who is my audience? But for those of us writing about cultures we are not native to, the question becomes more complicated because our audience may not share the same cultural signifiers as those we are writing about. Inevitably some explanation may be needed, but here again there are decisions to be made. Are we writing from Ebru’s perspective, from within the culture and aware of the history and problems? Or are we writing from Ingrid’s perspective, wide-eyed and amazed by all we see? Obviously these perspectives are endpoints of a spectrum. But if we mix up these perspectives, it will be glaringly obvious and pull us out of the story as we wonder why someone native to the culture is so amazed at the size of the cabbages in the market.

A typical pazar in Turkey with stalls of vegetables on either side of a corridor, though quieter than normal