Next to the Spice Market , which is more or less a corridor broken down into stalls the size of dorm rooms, each brimming with mounds of dried fruits, nuts, Turkish delight, teas, copper coffee pots, and aggressive salesmen, there is a smaller building that appears to be a plant bazaar called Çiçek Pazarı. Lo and behold, if you venture past the plastic tubs of leeches, fortress of hanging pots and bushels of bulbs, you will see more caged animals than a slaughterhouse in Texas. Except that these animals are exotic, not like Tigers (sorry to crush your dreams) but creatures such as white peacocks and massive Macaws, which I discovered when I was lured into a shop while inquiring the cost of a caged white labrador puppy I was highly considering rescuing (best backpacking trip ever?) and turned around only to see the three-foot, scarlet parrot staring me straight in the eye about 10 inches from my face. How casual, an endangered species chained to a stoop. It made me feel helpless, and I knew that these birds would end up as the manifestation of somebody’s ego in their backyard, but I also knew that the other birds, aka the chicks above, would probably end up killed for food in a few months unless they were brought to the city outskirts to be raised to lay eggs. Even sadder were the chicks who were so sick. I mean, wet, molting, keeled over in the back of the cage, being stomped on by their siblings, unable to see out of their goopy eyes, sick. Survival of the fittest, I guess?
The same man who owned the Macaw handed me a baby bunny to play with, then a baby duck and said “Give me your camera.” Knowing that he was the owner of the place and had no way to run off since I had him cornered into his own shop, I handed it over and he happily took photos of me looking elated but secretly freaking the f@#$ out because it was all just felt so wrong. I felt the same sensation I do at the zoo, where I am always overcome with a deep desire to release the animals back into the wild (though that tends to end in euthanization), only this time I wanted to buy them all. Yet no matter how many of these animals one could possibly rescue, the markets will just ship in more. There were also doves, kittens, bunnies, guinea pigs, salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes and every kind of bird I’ve ever seen (à la the marché aux oiseaux in Paris), so I guess it’s really just like Petco on steroids, but the living conditions were such a bummer. Between that, puppy mills in New York (and elsewhere), the hunting of birds in Eastern Europe for sport and two bites of meat, Polar bears drowning in the arctic, and the failure of the U.S. Navy to protect marine life during military testing this summer which is likely to result in the death of thousands of whales, seals, dolphins, and fish over the next five years, I’m frankly just irritated at the way our opposable thumbs make us feel entitled to bully the ecosystem. Varying levels aside, couldn’t we stop being so gluttonous?
Anyhoo, like a proper paradox I would still suggest visiting the flower/animal bazaar in Istanbul, even if it is kind of depressing it’s not the worst I’ve seen by any means. But make sure you go to the spice market first though, because you don’t want to hold a bunny and then go eat dried apricots unless you feel like spending your trip up close and personal with a Turkish toilet– FYI, it’s a long way down to the hole.