Istanbul's Spice Bazaar doesn't offer nearly as many olfactory temptations as the markets in Marrakesh and Tangiers, but I can't deny I've spent a good deal of time sniffing the contents of several oversized glass bottles. As expected, most of them hold oil-based knock-offs of designer scents, with J'Adore and L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme appearing to be the favourites. At the outset, they're certainly accurate enough to bring a sly smile to my lips, but when they shift to their heart and base notes, they lose my interest.
I've been more intrigued by the supposedly pure essential oils, specifically the Turkish rose otto and a couple of varieties of oud (aka agarwood). I'm told they're all genuine and authentic and "approved by the government" etc, all of which may, of course, be true, but the niggling doubts in my mind have so far stopped me from parting with my money.
The oud is a slightly different story. There's one shop in the Bazaar which sells a thick, dark liquid that, to my nose, has the distinctive woody/petroleum-like, attractive/repellant quality of real Cambodian oud... but it costs 50 UK pounds a gram, a price light years beyond my humble holiday budget. Other shops sell stuff which is suspiciously cheaper and smells pretty convincing when you first sniff it... but apply some to your skin and after a few minutes you detect the unmistakable stink of synthetic civet. Real oud certainly has some qualities that one might call animalic, but I'm fairly sure it shouldn't smell fecal.
Of course, the real irony about all this is that I spent many years living in the Middle East and never really questioned the authenticity of all the different things I happily purchased from the souqs. But maybe when it comes to certain situations, the confidence of the resident is stronger than the curiosity of the visitor. Back then, I could call on the pooled knowledge of the expat community to point me in the direction of a worthwhile buy. Here, I'm a bundle of ignorance.
So there we are: I shall probably return home without any smellies. If I weren't so obviously a tourist, or if I had a stupendously trained rose, or, better yet, if I had an Istanbul-based friend, I might have landed some kind of bargain. But I think I'll save my cash for an extra portion of grilled halva and some more Turkish coffee.