First Adventures

by Charlotte Parker

Since we touched down a mere 15 hours ago, we have already eaten our weights in kofte and kebaps, tried apple tea and Turkish coffee, ridden the city’s spotless and beautiful public tramway, and … been on the set of one of the most popular Turkish TV dramas.

On the set of “Magnificent Century”/credit: Charlotte Parker

“Muhteşem Yüzyıl” (“Magnificent Century”), an historical drama about the life of the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, has been criticized for its “immoral” depictions of life in the harem, and fellow Glo-tripper Diego Salvatierra is hoping to write about conservative political reactions. On a visit to the set at Tims Production Studios on the edge of Istanbul, we talked with Series Director Durul Taylan and Executive Producer Nermin Eroglu over the sounds of parakeets chirping and constant telephone calls. We discussed the show’s re-evaluation of Turkey’s Ottoman history, the technical difficulties involved in re-creating a 16th century palace, and the growing international market for Turkish television programs. At the end, Nermin treated us to a tour of the set—while the show was taping! We’re proud to say we got to shake hands with Suleyman himself (actor Halit Ergenç).

Upon departure, we realized that we were already 40 minutes late to dinner in the city center, so our driver vowed to transform the 45-minute rush-hour drive to 20 minutes…and did, driving surprisingly smoothly for a stick-shift at 70 MPH (approx) in city traffic. Response to a query of whether there were traffic cops? “Oh, yes, but it doesn’t look like there are any right now…”

We capped off that adrenaline rush with a group dinner at a traditional Turkish meyhane (tavern, though this was fairly sophisticated), organized by Yale alumnus and long-time Istanbul resident Jim Geary PhD ’74. Over meze and raka (an ouzo-like beverage), we had the chance to talk about life in Turkey and sourcing for our articles with a number of freelance journalists (like Alexander Christie-Miller, whose blog is here) and young Yale alumni living in the city. Although jet lag kept us from the after parties, we left the tavern electrified by this view into the expatriate and journalist life. We sleep with visions of Turkish soccer matches, Arabesk recording studios, and Syrian borders dancing in our heads…