It's only 19:00 and, to my pleasant surprise, this place is packed. The street is filled with people tangled in heated debates, cigarettes swinging in the air and joyful crystal clinking; not to mention the ascent of volatile oxidized lipids from the shiny fish on the stands behind me. I try to play incognito despite my frizzy hair and gurgling stomach but wouldn't vouch on even limited success. Where am I exactly? As I attempt to get my bearings I see by chance, a digital 21 showing how warm it is and wonder, is it really Christmas day today? It is difficult to believe that just last night I was briskly cycling over a few centimeters of snow in Oslo - ok, I did fall but with handsome dignity and moderate style - and now, I'm a thousand miles away searching for dinner in one of the many amiable cities of the Levant.
"Table for one?" someone greets me at the entrance and leads me to a table next to the food counter where two thick eyebrow-ed chefs are busily dispatching dishes left and right. I'm still absorbing the scene when a waiter comes by, hands me a piece of paper with the day's menu and I can't help but noticing the name tag on his spotless Grey-Poupon colored shirt. As he takes note of my choices of wheat berry soup and Sikma Kofte - deliberately ordered in extra slow gear to give an almost imprudent look at his deep brown eyes, prominent vomer bone and wide forehead - I tell myself that he shares more than a name with The one honored in Letter to Elia
While I wait, I feel like reading a bit, fully diving into holiday-mood and thus take out two books from my back pack. The first one is Runaway by Alice Munro, which I already started on the plane and found marvelous; yet I decide to pick the second, a collection of twelve historical recounts by Stefan Zweig, including a tailored tour to welcome anyone to this splendid city: The fall of Constantinople.
The meal is spartan but exceedingly exquisite - wouldn't be here without Elif Batuman and her letters from Istanbul, many thanks.
I catch the 22:00 ferry back to Karaköy while I admire the skyline, plug in my earphones and open the last letter of the evening, one that has always made me long for home.