Earlier this year in Istanbul, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a man who spins gold thread at the Grand Bazaar. His noisy workshop is tucked into a courtyard off one of the bazaar’s main “streets,” past a few jewelry kiosks and before a reasonably clean but squat-style toilet. Huge fan belts crisscross the room and antique machines creak and spin spools of thread in metallic and bright colors; the spinner (a former footballer, I later learned) works the room like a conductor. Seeing me and my baby peeking in, he ushered us in to have a closer look and took our photo looking around in awe. I had no need for thread (gold or otherwise) and had a slight fear one of us could lose an eye if we hung around the Ottoman-esque machines too long, but it was a treat to find. Dim light made for poor photos, so I was thrilled to find this video of the machine in action on guidebook extraordinaire Rick Steves’ Facebook page.
After living in Istanbul for more than two years as an expat, it took me a while to appreciate the Grand Bazaar as more than a horrible tourist trap. The key to finding the magic in the Grand Bazaar is discovering the nooks and crannies most visitors miss in their hunt for “authentic” souvenirs (likely made in China) and inexpensive fez hats (forget about the irony that the fez was banned here as a means of modernizing and secularizing the country when it became a republic). If you look hard, you’ll still find real artisans, centuries-old family businesses and relics from former empires. If you want to find this guy, leave me a comment and I’ll try to leave a bread trail to him.