This week’s words take us to Persia, Istanbul and Italy. I hope you have your passports and visas in order.
A recent column in “The Irish Times” newspaper mused on a charity jumble sale of the author’s youth which was always billed as a bazaar. It set me on the trail of bazaar and bizarre, the later being one of my favourite words. It’s a great adjective – helpful to describe outlandish outfits, unusual behaviour, and characters who defy conventions.
While I’ve visited many jumble sales in my time, selling old teapots, homemade jam, and raffle tickets, I’ve only encountered one bazaar, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We visited it on a sorching hot day in 2002 and entering its cool vaulted maze was a relief, for a moment. Then the sheer variety of goods on display assaulted my eyes and the scents of spices, perfume oils, and leathers assailed my nose. We joked that you could buy anything there – from gherkins to giraffes. Your most bizaare request would merely require a moment for the stall holder to rummage in the back. Who needs Aladdin’s lamp if you can browse the bazaar?
I don’t come from a nation of hagglers. If you tell me the price, that’s what I’ll pay. But bazaars demand a different approach. DH took the first shot, taking about a third off the original quote and going from there. He secured a leather weekend bag that has served him well since. The vendors of Istanbul, and trust me everybody is a seller in Istanbul (or has a cousin with a carpet shop), all have a story to tell. In that respect they reminded me strongly of the Irish. Don’t expect to buy in a rush. Leave them with a fair profit. Don’t bargain without any intention of purchase. I can’t tell you if we got the bargaining right but I still love the perfume oils I selected from the tiniest, most fragrant stall I found. My fez, although never worn, is the jewel of my hat collection.
Bazaar isn’t a Turkish word, but it’s in the right neck of the woods. It comes from the Persian (modern day Iran) word bāzār which means marketplace.
Bizarre, meaning odd or fantastic, certainly describes the goods in the bazaar but it has a completely different root. It entered English in the 1600s from French where it had the same meaning. Earlier in French it had the additional meaning of brave or like a soldier, which makes sense to me as it take bravery to make bizarre choices. Spanish and Portugese also gained the word at around the same time, again with the secondary meaning of brave or handsome. I have a mental image of an unusual, but brave and handsome, soldier fighting his way across France, Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.
Unfortunately my imaginings are flawed as the original root is most likely to be bizza and bizzarro in Italian which mean irascible or fits of anger.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,