The seedy side of Istanbul

Turkey isn’t all mosques and markets or comfy long-distance buses. It may come as a surprise that prostitution is legal in this predominantly Muslim country and drugs, while illegal, are a brisk business. Like any big city, there are nice neighborhoods and sketchy ones in Istanbul, and most tourists will rarely stumble into the areas with bad reputations, but some are within stumbling distance of Istanbul’s hot spots. I stumbled into several of the most notorious areas recently and was surprised at what I saw.

Tarlabaşı Bulvarı stretches southwest of Taksim Square (Istanbul’s answer to Times Square), just above the busy pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, and forms the border of the largely immigrant neighborhood of Tarlabaşı. Look in any guidebook or ask a local and they’ll warn you about petty crime, transsexual prostitutes, and drug dealing, particularly at night. By day, the neighborhood is full of crumbling buildings, hanging laundry, and children playing in the street. At best, you could call it atmospheric “real Istanbul” and at worst, a rundown and poor area. One Friday night I found myself in a lively bar with a few friends just behind Tarlabaşı’s main drag, where the beer was cheap, atmosphere friendly, and the women were actually men. A street vendor outside was so amused to see an actual woman that he gave me a free sample of çiğ köfte, a sort of Turkish street version of steak tartare. It felt oddly appropriate to snack on raw meat while chatting with Moldovian pre-op lady boys.

On the other side of the Golden Horn, Aksaray isn’t a popular area for sightseeing, but the tram line runs right through it, connecting with the Metro line to the airport. For expats, it’s a necessary pilgramage to make each year to apply for or renew your residence permit. One Sunday afternoon after a failed visit to the nearby Horhor Bit Pazari antique market (closed Sunday), I sat drinking tea at a cafe when I became aware of the fact that every man was staring at me. It turns out this is because nearly all of the non-Turkish women in Aksaray are prostitutes, mostly from Eastern Europe, and many of the area “night clubs” are fronts for brothels or bars that may charge you several hundred dollars for the privilege of drinking with a lady. I wandered up a side street in broad daylight full of night clubs and hotels and noticed every table lined with over made-up women sipping cocktails and looking damaged. The experience was so uncomfortable that I considered breaking into a sprint so I could get off the street faster, but I was not approached or solicited.

While these neighborhoods might not be added to the tourist trail anytime soon, they show another side of a very complicated and ever-changing city. Gentrification is moving in and soon Tarlabaşı could be the next trendy “Soho of Istanbul.” As in any major metropolitan city when you find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks, caution and common sense should prevail. Stay calm, stay in well lit areas, and try to get the hell out of Dodge as fast you can. Though you may find that the places with the worst reputations are over-exaggerated and that sometimes a busy street in the day can be scarier than a dangerous nightspot.

Erotic bathhouse art in Pompeii

Visitors to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii are already familiar with the eye-popping art in the brothel, but most miss another naughty site–Pompeii’s suburban baths.

The changing room in these baths had cubbyholes for storing clothing. Each one was decorated with lively scenes of straight sex, group sex, oral sex, and just plain acrobatic sex. The example to the right, with two men and one woman enjoying each other’s company, is a typical example.

While many Roman baths segregated men and women, this suburban bath was a mixed one, so perhaps it served as a place for amorous trysts. Another theory is that the pictures were advertisements for prostitutes. Both men and women in ancient Rome uses prostitutes, although of course the majority of customers were men. A third theory holds that the pictures were a way to make the customers remember where they left their clothes.

“Where’s my toga? Ah yes, in the cubbyhole with the bisexual orgy.”

A large amount of erotic art has been found in Pompeii, from explicit graffiti to phallic dinnerware, and the city had a reputation for looseness before Mt. Vesuvius erupted and covered it with ash in 79 AD. The ash preserved many artifacts and buildings, making Pompeii and her sister city Herculaneum two of the archaeological treasures of the world.

The baths were closed for decades after their discovery, first out of prudishness and then for conservation work. Only small groups with special permission may enter, so you’ll need to book through a tour. You can check out all the images here, and if you want to wander through the city check out Pompeii on Google Street View.

Galley Gossip: “Flight attendant” prostitution ring busted (in more ways than one)

Sex sells. That’s a fact.

But did you know that sex stories involving flight attendants will sell even more? It’s true. Take for instance the flight attendant prostitution ring bust story that’s been making the rounds. The travel site Jaunted even asked me to comment on it. Honestly, I really didn’t want my name to be associated with a prostituting group of flight attendants, but then, knowing how the media loves a good flight attendant story, I decided to check it out and find out what was really going on. Ya know, in order to set the record straight, because whenever there’s a flight attendant story there always seems to be a record that needs a little straightening.

According to Jaunted, 200 of the women involved in the prostitution ring were students and flight attendants. As soon as I read that bit of information I thought, Okay, but just how many of the women, exactly, were flight attendants? I read on. Only two flight attendants are mentioned in the article, one who works for British Airways and another who works for Jagson, an Indian airline I’ve never heard of before. This made me think, But that’s just two flight attendants we know of for sure – Two!

Two flight attendants and it becomes a “flight attendant” story? Give me a break!

Google “flight attendant prostitution ring” and several links will pop up to a story entitled, Busted: massive flight attendant prostitution ring. Note the word massive. Just how massive you may be wondering? I wondered the same thing. Turns out it was so massive that the entire story is only two sentences long. In the article only a swami and a nameless flight attendant from British Airways are mentioned. That’s it. Which does not sound so massive to me! Would you believe Times Online and Fox News did the exact same thing by running their own version of the “flight attendant story” even though both news groups only mentioned two flight attendants in their reports.Now let’s back up for a moment. There are approximately 15,000 flight attendants working for British Airways. Big deal if a flight attendant is involved in a prostitution scandal. That’s a blip on the screen. Just fire the flight attendant and be done with her. Don’t bring the rest of us down!

When I asked Jaunted how one British Airways flight attendant could make “a flight attendant story,” I was told that there were many flight attendants involved in the bust. (Many? But how many is many? Does anyone know?) Then I was informed that most of the women worked for India airlines. What I found to be shocking was that they, the flight attendants from India, were not considered to be as newsworthy as the British Airways flight attendant.

Not as newsworthy, but why? I find that, in itself, to be very newsworthy.

A bigger story, in my opinion, is why so many women (how many, I still don’t know) at one airline who have what many consider a professional job would feel the need to prostitute themselves? Now that, I think, is what we should all be talking about. Am I wrong?

Which brings me to a little flight attendant pet peeve of mine, comparing US flight attendants to their foreign counterparts. Is it really so terrible that flight attendants in the United States are allowed to grow old, gain weight, get married, and have children? I know this screws up the whole hotness factor of the flight attendant fantasy that so many passengers can’t seem to let go of, but this is a country where women, even flight attendants, have rights, right? Honestly, I can’t get over how harshly some people judge flight attendants based on their looks alone – and this is 2010! Don’t believe me? Read this letter from Big Daddy.

Did you know that flight attendants who work for foreign carriers, the very same airlines that passengers have a tendency to rave about, don’t have the same rights as I do? In fact, if I worked for say Emirates or Cathay, I wouldn’t even have a job. In my thirties, I’m too old! Most foreign carriers won’t even hire a flight attendant over the age of 27, let alone allow the ones who are already employed to actually (gasp) age. Did you know that in the US, back in the 70’s when flying was considered glamorous and the majority of people couldn’t afford to travel, stewardesses averaged only 18 months on the job? This is because they were not allowed to get married or have children, as if only young, unmarried, and childless flight attendants could actually serve passengers the way they needed to be served. (Wink Wink)

Remember the “stewardesses” who seductively asked you to fly them, the ones who wore hot pants? Well they’re still around. In fact, that flight attendant wearing the coke bottle glasses who served you a drink on your last flight may have been the same woman wearing the go-go boots so many years ago. That’s right. Here in the US flight attendants actually had the nerve to stand up for their rights and put a stop to airlines using them as marketing tools that promoted their sexuality and little else. Yeah, I know, it’s such a bummer that US airlines were forced to stop exploiting women.

Today a majority of flight attendants who work for foreign carriers only average three years on the job. This is because they are offered short work contracts, zero retirement, and low pay. How else could the airlines overseas keep their flight attendants young, sexy and desirable? Now mix in a poverty stricken country or a country where women aren’t exactly treated with the same respect as men and you will find quite a few women turning to prostitution. Are we surprised by this? I didn’t think so. And that’s not newsworthy!

Photos courtesy of fisserman and Plamen Stoev

Male prostitutes coming to Nevada

A Nevada brothel plans to be the first in the state to offer male prostitutes.

The Shady Lady Ranch, 150 miles north of Las Vegas, is now taking applications for the position of male sex worker. Applicants must be between 21 and 40 years of age, have a good attitude, and be “service oriented”.

While male visitors to Nevada have long enjoyed the state’s legal prosititution, there hasn’t been anything for female tourists until now. I got to speak with Jim Davis, who helps run the ranch with his wife Bobbi, the owner and Madam, and ask him about the new service.

How did you decide to offer male escorts?
I had several people over the last couple of years request this service, both women AND married couples wanting a “threesome”. Economy slow, business a little slow, why not try it?

Was there any problem clearing that legally?

Legally, the State Health code had a requirement of an “endocervical” exam in their rules, otherwise they were gender neutral. We had to have the Health Department and County Licensing board address that issue. We received waivers of that requirement from both entities and they added an additional test for STD’s for the men.

What kind of men are you looking for?
The Madam is looking for sexy looking men, 21 to 40 that can provide an exciting and rewarding experience for our lady customers. Don’t ask how she’ll know, guesswork I guess, but she’ll use trial and error until she finds the right guys. She is presently starting the interviews, and we hope to have someone on staff in a couple of weeks.
Did you do any research into male escorts, such as visiting other countries where they’re legal?
We have done NO research, just going with experience and a hunch.

How will you market this to women? Won’t they be a bit reluctant to come to a place where men generally pay for companionship?
Advanced publicity has helped, Internet exposure on our website and discreet ads in appropriate newspapers is the plan.

Are you going to set up a separate building for male and female clients?

We will operate in the same house, we do have already appropriate separate facilities on site. We don’t anticipate this to be a problem.

What can female clients expect when they go to the Shady Lady?

The female client can expect an exciting and rewarding experience, all about them. We hope each individual lady gets exactly what they want to get from the experience, that’s our goal.

While men have paid for companionship since the beginning of time, women hiring men isn’t nearly as common. Do you think this is changing and why?

We think a PRIVATE, safe, healthy environment with the spotlight on HER wants and desires will work as well with the ladies as it does with the men.

Will you be offering male escorts to male clients?

Our business model is heterosexual but, the same as a gay-orientated bar lets in straight people and straight bars let in gay people, we are required by law to NOT discriminate. A man that requests an all male line-up will get one, that’s the law, however our sex workers are not required by law (or by us) to do anything in the room that they do not want to do. We intend to hire men that we think best suited to serve our female clients.

When will you be starting this service?

We will be starting this service as soon as Bobbi finds the right guys and they get the proper work cards.

South African sex workers call for decriminalization during World Cup

As South Africa gears up for the 2010 World Cup, the country’s sex workers are starting a campaign to have prostitution decriminalized.

The drive is being spearheaded by the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), an organization that strives to protect the health and human rights of sex workers. SWEAT’s website documents numerous cases of harassment by police and the public. SWEAT fears that this harassment will only increase during the World Cup. The organization wants to have sex work permanently decriminalized, or at the very least for the duration of the World Cup.

The globe’s biggest football (soccer) event is expected to draw 450,000 visitors, some of whom will want to pay for sex. This has raised the concern not only of sex workers, but health workers as well. With South Africa being the source of an estimated 17 percent of global HIV infections, the potential for a major spread of HIV is very real. The South Africa National AIDS Council has stated that if prostitution were legal then it would be easier for the sex worker to demand safe sex. It would also make it easier for sex workers to get abusive clients arrested.

At the moment the government is not considering a change of policy. South Africa, despite its large sex trade, is socially conservative and there is resistance to even talking about these issues. And if even free-loving Amsterdam is clamping down on its red light district, sex workers in South Africa have a long fight ahead of them.