The Highest Bidder

There exists a church for the junk lover. In Balat, a few antique shops (and possibly more) open their doors for live auctions on certain days of the week. As a person who loves the thrill of the hunt and observation of old objects that accompanies any flea market outing, I was giddy upon entering the gathering of like-minded collectors of random knick-knacks and adopters of discarded things. Chairs had been set out at the antique shop, like church pews with an aisle running down the middle, and its walls were lined with relics, most eye-catching and prominently displayed of which was a lit model ship- a metaphor for life's journey.

Gabby, who had been there before, pointed me to the laminated bidding numbers and we found vacant seats at the very back. The small shop was filled to the brim, with people spilling out into the street like clothes from an overstuffed suitcase, and pushing up behind us from the entrance, letting in a bone-biting chill and whiffs of cigarette smoke. A hazelnut vendor made his rounds, dispensing his salted orbs onto small paper plates with a cay glass, and trays of fresh cays were regularly ushered in, compliments of the house, keeping the bidders warm and alert.

I stayed bundled up as each item was presented like a soul on the Day of Judgement—held up before the amassed crowd to assess its worth. The items came from individual vendors, who had brought their wares to the shop and sat on the sidelines while the auctioneer went through each one, holding it up like a newborn babe and offering a fitting description of its parts and state of wear. Each item, from a car-shaped chocolate tin missing it top, to yellowed Ottoman-era newspapers, typewriters, and a partial wedding dress were given their moment in the spotlight and a chance at a second life. Usually, the bidding started at 3 TL (about 1 USD) or a higher price set by the vendor, but occasionally, the item was not given an initial value, tossed to us junk lovers to define its desirability—a steak thrown to the lions.

For this, the auctioneer would pause, object held up, filling the room with a moment of tension before anyone made a move. And once an initial price cut through the seconds of suspense, the frenzied scurry to acquire the piece began with hands and numbered cards flashing at breakneck speed, like horses unleashed to run their oval track, an object made more desirable by others' interest in it. The auctioneer's tongue struggled to keep up with the pace of the action unfolding around him-a wildly waving conductor's baton- or encouraged further bidding if a hesitant lull settled on the audience. The price seldom rose beyond 40 TL and the highest price (for one of the typewriters) was about 150 TL. At times, an object that was presented struck no one's fancy, and was placed back in the darkness of the vendor's sack.

Since I'd recently started studying Turkish again, the auction was an ideal environment to reinforce numbers and short phrases, and I soaked up the fast moving language all around me. The fact that the auctioneer described each item, pointing out their different parts was a perfect way to solidify and expand on vocabulary. Even though I understood most of what was being said, I was unsuccessful the few times I stuck my toe into the water to try and bid. It felt like I'd stepped on a whirling merry-go-round, dizzied by the quickness of the action. Gabby, on the other hand, did quite well and came home the proud owner of an old wooden spoon and old suitcase to be used in an upcoming art exhibition!

I ended up staying for several hours, captivated by the atmosphere and hooked in by my curiosity to see what objects would be presented next. Although I left empty handed, I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and resolved to return. A few weeks later, as I wandered around Balat with Faisel, I noticed a crowd gathered inside another small antique shop and we popped in to watch a second parade of objects in search of new homes. We could only stay for a short while, but it was hard to walk away- the glue keeping us to our seats being the possibility of finding a small treasure amongst the broken and battered things, one special piece of junk we could polish up and take home. We didn't come away with a treasure that day, but the fun was in the anticipation of one.


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