Friday, July 17, 2009

WSJ: "Stealth Shop is Starbucks in Disguise"

"It's about time," says Hamal Ali (r., above, with narghile). "I like the new decor better." Rev. N. Hoja (c.) agrees.

[Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2009] Starbucks Corp. is scrubbing its name from a Seattle location in favor of the store's street address, in a test that could yield more stores that resemble a corner coffee shop, instead of a global coffee giant.

The store, a former Starbucks that was targeted for closing, is called 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea. It will also serve wine and beer and host live music and poetry readings as it seeks to take on more of a community vibe.

The chain plans to start by remodeling at least three Seattle-area stores with names based on their addresses or neighborhood. If successful, Starbucks plans to expand the trial to other markets.

ISTANBUL. 20 June 2010. [Pasha-Gypsy Istanbul Bureau]

The recent decision by Starbucks Corp. to "camouflage" its branches is finding a welcome reception in Turkey, company sources say. "We've had a very positive response so far," says Ali Gazoz, the company's general manager for Turkey. "Men especially find it a welcome change."

Here in Istanbul, where "coffee culture" originated centuries ago, coffee-drinking was always a men's activity, at least in public. Then came Starbucks, with its milky concoctions, its too-friendly barista girls, and its boys who also called themselves baristas. The result was culture shock on a massive scale.

"I remember when they bought out the old coffee shop," said Hamal Ali, a neighborhood porter, at a Starbucks by the Blue Mosque. "It was quite a shock." He paused to puff on his hookah. "Girls!" he ejaculates: "They had girls turning milk into foam--and they tried to tell us it was coffee." Especially disgusting, said Mr. Ali, was the fact that it was cow's milk. "I prefer sheep," he says. "Sheep are best." His friends at the Sultan Ahmet Starbucks, all of them male, chime in with similar tales, all invoking the name of the One True God and expressing their loathing for the initial Starbucks experience. "When I asked for a narghile," says Ali, holding up the mouthpiece of his water pipe, "they told me that smoking wasn't allowed. Allah give them trouble!"

Mr. Gazoz, who learned to love Starbucks coffee when he was an intern at Microsoft, admits that triple grande peppermint mochas were a tough sell in some neighborhoods. For one thing, in American Espresso English, "mocha" means "cheap Hershey's pseudo-chocolate syrup," while in the Middle East, Mocha is the port in Yemen where Turkish coffee comes from. And then there was the decor.

"Where were the stools?" asked Yusuf Biyikli, another porter who always drops by to sip medium-sugared Turkish coffee (with extra mud) during his morning break. "I don't mind sitting on my haunches, but if I can't squat, I need a stool. Those plush chairs were ridiculous."

"Our interior designer was from Italy," Mr. Gazoz admits. "He had worked for Valentino in the past, and he didn't understand our needs." Now, thankfully, that era is gone. The coffee-house still bears the Starbucks logo, though now it is more discreetly displayed. And the regular customers (photo, above) are back.

"This time we got a designer from the Armenian border," Mr. Gazoz told us. "He specializes in subterranean villages." The wood, unfinished yet rich and shiny with age, was recycled from a coffee-house in Urfa that had been bombed by State Security Forces, and the window glass, also recycled, was re-grimed using a patented process. Authentic cobblestones, hand-hewn by political prisoners, were set in a special pattern to make them as treacherous as possible. "No more high heels," says Mr. Biyikli, grinning.

Just one thing bothers the denizens: the identity of the man in the fez, who can always be seen lurking mysteriously in the window next to the logo. "Who is he?" asks Hamal Ali, "I never see him do anything." To which his friend Nasreddin Hoja, a local imam, replied, "I think it must be the Prime Minister!"

"Actually," says Mr. Gazoz, joining in the hearty laughter, "it's a hologram." The slightly sinister illusion, he says, comes in handy in case his regular customers are gone and the neighborhood girls think about coming in. "Anything," he says, "to keep the past from returning."

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ararat: An Addendum

Mount Ararat (Agirî)/ by Sevan Nişanyan

Note: Sevan Nişanyan is a prominent Turkish intellectual, a hotelier, and a writer of several guide books to Turkey. In the following short article, which can be considered an Addendum to my post, The Five-Thousand Meter Fantasy, he fills in some interesting facts about the origin of Ararat's Turkish name, Ağrı Dağı. Above all, he talks about the most irrational thing about Ararat; namely, that its name means "the mountain of pain." Obviously he's correct; it must be a Turkified version of a Kurdish name. For more about Urartu, simply do a Google search.

This article was sent to me by Zerkes, who blogs at He also very kindly provided the translation. The original was in the Kurdistan Post. I have altered some of the syntax, as well as adding notes.

How can there be a mountain named Ağrı (Pain) for God's sake? What pain, whose pain? Agir means "fire" in Kurdish. Agirî is the adjective form [of Agir] making it [Mount Ararat] the "mountain of fire." It's obvious the Turkish name came from this word. The most recent volcanic activity [in Mount Ararat] was recorded in 1840, when it emitted smoke. But I couldn't find out when the name [Agirî] was used first.

The mountain's Armenian name is not Ararat, but Masis. Ararat is a common Hebrew name in the Torah for the mountain-country today called "Eastern Anatolia". In Genesis 8:4 it's written that Noah's Ark, landed on the MOUNTAINS of Ararat: "And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat." Notice that it is plural, not singular [MountainS]. Later on, they reasoned and decided that Agri/Masis would be the one [where Noah's Ark landed] and they named the mountain as Ararat. However, Mount Cudi near Sirnak [Sirnex] is more likely [for the Ark to land]. When one looks north from the Middle East, the first mountain of the mountain-country is Cudi. If Euphrates [Ferat] and Tigris [Dicle] flood high up to the sky and you manage to swim, logically, you will find yourself on top of Cudi.

Ararat's Assyrian name is Urart, and with normative suffix -u, it becomes Urartu. The name Urartu is preferred in the scientific community because Henry Layard who deciphered the Assyrian Language and Archibald Sayce who read the Van [Wan] inscriptions used this name. However, using Ararat instead of Cudi is equally correct. Both of them are exonyms; just like us [Turkish speaking individuals] calling Deutsch Alman and Hungarians calling us Német, all "names given by outsiders". At that time, the peoples who lived in Van [Wan] and governed the whole mountain country named themselves as Khald* or Xald and their country as Nairi** or Bianili [beyanî/biyanî in Kurdish means "foreign" or "foreigner"]. Their neighbors in the south, Sami, called
the country Ararat/Urartu. Why they used that name, nobody knows.

Conclusion: A) A lot peoples passed through that country, B) they were not all Turkish, C) they were not all Kurdish or Armenian either. One feels the need to be a little modest when he puts things into the perspective of three thousand years.

[* Khaldi was the name of their principal deity. **Lake Van, to the Urartians, was called the Sea of Nairi. --G.T.]