Expat communities are notorious for their cliquishness. Istanbul is no exception, with a smattering of alcoholic Brits, arty Eurocrats and mysterious Levantine entrepreneurs. The newest arrivals in the expat boiling pot are Russians. Fifty or so arrived aboard a yacht at the island of Prinkipo, just off the Istanbul mainland, last month.
The occasion was a fancy dress party — “Gods and Goddesses” — hosted by a prominent Anglo-Russian writer. The invitation was strictly personal, warning that gatecrashers and non-fancy dressers would be left out in the cold.
This unrepentant exclusivity yielded impressive results. A normally dignified group of academics, diplomats and businessmen morphed into Nordic, Greek and Hittite deities, displaying eye-popping costume paraphernalia and thronging a garden fragrant with jasmine and torch smoke. Odin was a danger to all around him with stuffed crows hanging off each shoulder and an eyepatch hindering his progress through the crowd. Others were inebriated early on in the evening. Poseidon, swathed in nets and a fake bouffant beard, was to be avoided at all costs as he cleared a path to the drinks table with outstretched trident. Oleg, a rent-boy from Moscow who is reputed to earn $50,000 a month, wore a latex suit and goggles. He may not have been “God of the Future”, as he styled himself, but he was certainly flavour of the month in some circles.
Literary guests tended to opt for a “less is more” approach, scorning costly and ridiculous attire for a one-statement piece designed to show off their classical knowledge in minimalist style. One drably dressed man arrived, seemingly ignoring the dress code, only to spin around with a Michael Jackson-esque move, revealing a globe strapped to his back. “Dmitri! Atlas? What genius!” A widely respected feminist writer from London looked demure until one noticed the two small dildos hanging off her necklace as she chatted to puzzled guests. Obscure phallic god? No. “Booker Prize Winner 1997, anyone? Darlings, I’m the Goddess of Small Things.”
Around 6am, the party finally wound down. A band of Turkish gypsies obliged the Russian contingent with “Kalinka” and other rousing crowd-pleasers. Oleg the rent-boy waltzed dozily with a cardinal as the accordion music trailed off. The alarming thing is that some of these people are highly respected, highly rewarded and highly influential in the real world. Istanbul is all the richer (in every sense) for their presence.
What the many gods and goddesses that have been worshipped in this ancient city would have made of their impersonators is another matter.