After collecting my emotional baggage from the carousel, I strolled through customs and then the automatic doors into the hullabaloo of the arrivals lounge with the air of a man at ease in emerging markets.
Spotting my name on a placard, I approached it, pointed at it, thumbed my chest and told the man standing behind it, “That’s me”. In perfectly unaccented English and scarcely bothering to disguise his contempt, he replied “Congratulations but that’s not my sign.”
(A parenthetical vignette here: when I last flew to Moscow, I had made lengthy and detailed arrangements with Sergei, the concierge of my hotel for him to collect me at the airport by car. These discussions had included a phone call of several minutes’ duration, so I was perturbed to see his last message signed off with, “Look forward to meeting you, Mrs Pained Trader”. I intended to type back, “Mr Pained Trader” but predictive text over-rode it with “Me Pained Trader” to which he instantly responded — with a certain logic — “Me Sergei” and my heart sank at the prospect a car journey to the capital with a chauffeur who thought he was Tarzan. When he turned up at arrivals to collect me he brought flowers, tried to kiss me and was camper than a weekend in Liberace’s tent. I checked into another hotel later the same day.)
For the next two days, the Turkish fixer, a man of such ineffable sloth that he operated his greeting notice remotely, drove me and a fund manager round Istanbul, meeting the largest corporates in the stock market.
It was an interesting juncture to be flying into Turkey, given the upcoming elections for the next sultan and the currency crisis into which the lira was spiralling as we arrived. The lira was deteriorating so rapidly, meals and drinks were cheaper when we finished them than they were when we started and I speculated that if only one could rent an exotic dancer and a leather banquette in an Establishment Characterised By Moral Laxity for an hour then a second hour might have paid for itself with a swing in the FX.
Given the volatility and uncertainty faced by management teams, one might have expected my client to have demonstrated some empathy for their predicament but, no, I couldn’t say that he did.
I would describe the approach of my client, a buy-side bruiser if ever there were, as oscillating gently between the forensic and the combative in meetings and betraying the robust scepticism of a roadside copper who’s intercepted a drunk driver as he pulled out of the pub car park.
Thankfully, his belligerence excused me from the obligation of thinking up questions other than those of the most plodding banality and while they discussed margins and opex I was free to doodle and wander around the ruins of my mind and, in several instances, fantasise about the investor relations personnel.
Among private companies in Turkey these departments are often represented by women of debilitating charm and a modesty which allows them to look no further forward than the ground immediately beneath their feet. Or, perhaps this was just a function of the intensity of my gaze. At one bank, I found myself semi-hypnotised like a cobra while IR went through her presentation like a fakir playing his pungi.
The client brought the meeting to a close by placing a finger on the underside of my chin and gently raising my lower jaw to meet the upper for the first time in an hour.
On the final day of my trip, I was interviewed in the studios of Bloomberg Turkey and gave an impassioned performance, speaking truth unto power, while an attractive anchor wearing a skirt several inches too short sat on the opposite side of a glass table.
My commentary was translated simultaneously so on the clip I watched through the gaps in my fingers afterwards, I could only hear the repeated "Erms" which prefaced and appended everything I said before the dubbing kicked in.
I could see out of the corner of my eye someone I presumed to be the studio director, making "Yank him off-set" signals to the producer which, as I continued to upbraid Turkey’s sovereign mis-governance, deteriorated into a macabre gesture where he licked his finger and drew it across his throat. I don't know if it was something I said. I doubt the translator had been brave enough to faithfully reproduce my criticisms. Traduttore, traditore and all that.
I was shepherded off-stage prematurely, it seemed, for a little sit-down and a glass of water before they ordered me a cab.
Every successful business trip, like all my unsuccessful business trips, will, of course, allow some slack in the schedule for cultural pursuits, the exploration of purchasing power parity (TPT passim) and, if I’m travelling con solo, most likely some world-class moping. I don’t think there’s a city in the world more well-appointed to this harmless pleasure than Istanbul.
Filling up my skin with the juice of fermented Italian grapes, I sat on the terrace of the Ciragan Palace for most of the evening, watching oil tankers, wooden gulets and Russian warships plough furrows in the wine-dark Bosphorus, the necklace of lights gradually illuminate the far Asian shore, air traffic criss-crossing the bejewelled sky and older men squiring escorts with bosoms beyond normal protuberance around the hotel’s common parts.
Broker, fixer, client had all sloughed off and I was left to reflect that life is mostly about who shows up on the night and, more poignantly, who doesn’t.
Who had shown up? To my left were two women who from the bandages on their face were clearly cosmetic surgery tourists.
The table to my right was now occupied by a fat Arab who led his painted lady to it like a blacksmith and a shire horse cresting the hill. A muezzin kicked off his calling in a minaret nearby. Of course, it was Ramadan but for once I did not mind.
Who hadn’t shown up? I drank my bottle of Brunello and, like someone sitting in the window-seat waiting for a postman to deliver a letter which will never arrive, looked roundabouts for a statuesque brunette who might have shared another with me, drunk in the night-time cityscape, conceded an unresisting kiss and cradled the moment in her hands like a brandy glass.
These are private words addressed to you in public.