Tales from the Road - Lycia, End of the Road
Morning finds me still blissful from the evening's surprising turn of events. Wrapping my starchy, snow-white sheet about myself under the heaven of the A/C, I ask myself the usual question: stay or go? This time the answer is easy: stay, of course! Such possibilities for change and directions unexpected I see here...
Over the course of my nightly visits to the Deep Blue Bar, I have made the acquaintance of a colorful cast of bartenders, waitresses and regulars. Richard is one of the temporary regulars (in that he's only here for a spell, but while he's here, he's at the bar every night), a man with a Santa Claus-like white beard, a disarming smile, and a sailboat. Originating from Portland, Oregon, he has been gradually making his way around the world in his boat, with a prolonged stop in Turkey, emphasis on Fethiye. When I meet him he is in the company of a sprightly, tanned blonde girl who has come to Turkey to learn sailing and has been accompanying Richard on his boat for a few days. She is leaving for the U.S. the following day, and Richard is at the Deep Blue for her farewell round of drinks. When we meet, he is actively seeking a new crew member, and I waste no time in volunteering. Fantastic! Two days in almost sole control of a beauty of a boat! I'm definitely in. I choose to not think too much about the fact that Richard seems to have a predilection for younger, female crew members ("I just don't like men very much," I remember him saying).
The plan is to sail from Fethiye to Göcek, with copious detours and stops on the way. Göcek is a yachtsman's haven, thickly forested hills flanking quiet coves with crystal clear turquoise waters. I couldn't wait to be there. The denizens of the Deep Blue seem to feel that Richard is a solid citizen, no pervert or axe-murderer, and I trust them enough that their opinion on this matter is sufficient. I'm thrilled -- sailing again, at long last!
The following evening M. is on one of his rare shore leaves (one night only). We dine together and top it off with a stop at the Deep Blue. I've told him about my plan for the coming two days, assuming he would be delighted for me. But something is wrong...he is quieter than usual, withdrawn, unresponsive to my questions and attempts to make conversation. Eventually it evolves into a a kind of passive-aggressive fight, where I am prodding -- and eventually jabbing -- verbally, just to get some kind of response, and he retreats deeper into his cigarettes, long looks, and the silent reserves of his soul. After this has continued long enough for me to finally produce sharp remarks from him and tears from me, it comes out, slowly, that this spontaneous decision to spend two days and one night on board the boat of a man whom I barely know is not sitting well with him. I try to make him understand that this is a harmless, loveable, elderly American guy who looks like Santa Claus, everybody loves him, and there is nothing whatsoever to be concerned about, but on this one we are at an impasse...and I am wondering if it has more to do with my safety or with the appropriateness of me going off with some man, alone on his boat...I suspect it is a little of each, highlighting once again the cultural divide between us...
But M. is an interesting soul in that he recognizes the ways in which he is bound by his own culture, but also tries hard to open his mind to different ways of seeing or doing things. It is probably one of the reason he values me: he recognizes the limitations of his own cultural boundaries and appreciates a chance to view things differently. It isn't easy for him -- usually it takes a day or two after his initial resistance to an idea to come around and say, 'ok, let's try that on for size,' but most important is that he does it, and I admire him for this. And once again it occurs to me how radically different we are -- far beyond American vs. Turkish, this is American-cosmopolitan-well-travelled-well-read meets Turkish-small-town-haven't-really-been-anywhere. It would be easier for me to be with an urbanite Istanbulian, or him with an Iowa farm girl, I reflect. But on the other hand, opposition can create interesting ways of looking at life. It is almost a danger to have a partner who comes from the same background, sees things the same way. Unless you make a habit of challenging each other, there is a tendency to simply reinforce the things you already believe.
At any rate, M. knows me well enough to know that he can not 'forbid' me to do something, and indeed, that my independence is one of the things he admires about me. I have seen him watch me climb down steep boulders or swim against a vicious current (when I really could have used a little help), responding to my spluttered outbursts, "I knew you could do it." To make peace, I offer to have him meet Richard, but now he is nonchalant; maybe, if time allows...
When I meet Richard the following day, I share M.'s concerns and the quarrel we had, explaining that it would really be better if the two met and established a little mutual trust. Richard doesn't seem particularly pleased with this turn of events, which I guess should have been a clue to my Pollyanna soul that all was not as innocent as it appeared.
At any rate, Santa Claus and I set sail, and I am so transfixed by the fact of (a) finally being on a sailboat again, (b) being on a GORGEOUS sailboat (c) sailing in a place as beautiful as Fethiye, instead of the Izmir bay, (d) being almost totally in charge, that I am not particularly concerned about what devious motives Richard might be harbouring in the dark recesses of his heart. Focus on opportunism! To hell with the subtext. Gliding out of the Fethiye bay, we spot a giant Caretta Caretta -- a sea tortoise gliding near the surface of the water, and I take this as a positive omen that all will be well.
It coincidentally happens that M. is currently on a tour in the same area. I'm excited that we might actually meet, and maybe I will even have a chance to show off my sailing skills! Richard's boat, built in the 1970's, is a combination of fiberglass and wood, a magnificent specimen of a boat and exactly the one I'd buy if I had the money -- unfortunately, these days it would be impsossible for me to get the dream price that Richard paid for the thing ten years ago. It is called a double-ender, meaning that both ends of the boat are pointed; not something one sees every day. I have to content myself with admiring it -- the gorgeous lines, the three perfect masts, the highly polished tiller made out of polished, exotic wood, the interior that is almost entirely wooden and perfectly designed...ah, envy.
We sail all day, pausing for plunges into the sea to refresh. Pure blue..silver fish...sun...what more perfect world is there? If only M. were present, enjoying this instead of slaving away for his company and customers.
He is anchored at a small island called Domuz Adası. I am enthusiastic in my efforts to convince Richard that we should go there to see him -- after all, it is practically spitting distance from the small cove where Richard has decided that we'll spend the night, preferred by him for its quiet, pristine water and abundant yakamoz, the day-glo green phosphorescence that makes an acid-trip silhouette of your body when you dive in at night. Richard, to my partial surprise (partial, because despite my wishful thinking, I'm not actually totally clueless), is grudging. Despite having taught me how to read the charts that list depths and obstructions to seagoing vessels, Richard is suddenly convinced that these are dangerous waters, perilous in that they are unknown...but Richard, I protest, we are competent sailors! We know what we're doing! What's more, we have the charts! My real wish is to drop anchor next to M.'s boat and have a nice evening of socializing and spending time with the guy, but it is rapidly made clear that Richard wishes to be alone (alone with me??) in the cove of his choice. I really have no alternative but to respect his wishes, and the most I can get is a sail-by, flinging around one of the two islands between which M. is anchored, with a big wave as I pass. This much I do manage, and it is excellent. One hand on the tiller, the other raised in greeting, sails puffed out, we glide past his anchored ship at an impressive 7.5 knots, and I see his hand raise to return the gesture. It kills me that I can't stop...but at least he has seen me at the helm, he knows that I, too, know the sea, and that we share this between us.
Throughout the day Richard has been returning to a particular theme, namely the freedom that a lone, around-the-world sailing expedition offers. He has a wife at home, but as far as I can tell is quite content to have her there, at home, and not here in his magnificent kingdom over which he is sole lord and master...Freedom. What is it? For Richard, it may well be many things, but one physical embodiment of the concept for him happens to be 'naked swimming'. From the outset I have heard his glowing references to the subject, and, okay, I'm down for it, too, but everything has its necessary context. From the way he has waxed lyrical over the openness, free spirit, and bond he shared with his previous lithe, blonde shipmate, I am beginning to get just a tad uncomfortable...and night is falling.
We pop a couple of brews, exchange views of the homeland, of Turkey; he reminisces about the route that brought him from Oregon to here. It's astonishing the number of places he's seen. The courage to go there alone, facing possible shipwreck, abduction by pirates, or just grappling with simple agonizing loneliness on the open seas, impresses me.
In the darkness, a mile or so away, the lights of M.'s ship glimmer, and seeing them makes me miss him. I speak to him on the phone, invite him to visit (my bad -- I realize later that I never asked Richard if it was okay); he says he'll try to make it later. Hanging up, I let Richard know about his impending guest, and he seems put out, jabbering nervously about how he doesn't want to be beaten up or killed by some jealous Turkish boyfriend. But why on earth would he beat you up, Richard? You are, after all, old enough to be my father, and we are only traveling companions. What is there to object to? My arguments fall on deaf ears, and Richard is clearly agitated, rushing about the boat and making sure everything is absolutely ship-shape. There follows an uncomfortable hour or so, during which the naked swimming topic resurfaces, this time in the 'your friend is coming so now I can't do it,' pouty context.
The meeting with M. excites me in its clandestine character. Traveling by tiny motorboat, using only a flashlight to see in the dark, he makes his way across the channel and an expanse of open water. There is almost no moon, and our boat is lit only by one tiny light at the top of the mast. I can hear the sound of the outboard motor for a long time before I can make out any shape in the darkness. Standing at the aft of the boat, waving a flashlight rhythmically to reveal our location, I get the sudden feeling of participating in the underground of some country's revolution.
At last I make out his silhouette in the dark. We throw down the bumpers so the boats do not scratch each other, and M. climbs aboard, laden with copious quantities of beer and snacks. What a good guest, I smile to myself. Richard has to appreciate this. I can see that M. is exhausted, how haggard his face looks in the dark. The work he does is only seasonal, but when it is on, it is full-on , and there's never much of a break and even less privacy. The cabins are full of passengers; the crew is left to sleep outside, wherever they can find space. It's a hard job, and poorly paid. I am glad that we are able to offer this period of respite, some peace and quiet amidst the non-stop hustle.
Conversation is a bit awkward, since M.'s English is slow and painful, and Richard has no Turkish. I wind up playing the role of translator half of the time. Eventually we find our rhythm, and talk on topics known to both...sailing and the sea. M. inspects the boat and is duly impressed, daydreaming aloud about how someday he hopes to have a similar boat and sail the world. Then we sink into silence, sipping our beers, each lost in our private thoughts. M., I suddenly realize, has dozed off while sitting upright. The poor man is exhausted. Let him sleep, I think...but when Richard sees that he is sleeping, something odd happens. "You have to wake him up!" he tells me. "Let's just let him rest a bit, can't we?" "No, you have to wake him up; he has to go!" "But why does he have to go....?" I query, really trying to understand this. "He has a job, he has responsibilities...he can't stay here!" Thinking to myself that M.'s responsibilities are nobody's business but his own, and suddenly feeling really pissed off I am being made to evict a visitor who is clearly exhausted and in need of some rest, tears spring to my eyes. "I can't do it," I say, leaning on my time spent in Turkey, explaining how it's just not the culture to send your guests away, especially guests who are sleeping, guests who came in the dark. "Well, it's not my culture, but it is my boat," he responds, and I'm horrified by the coldness of the response. "Come on, wake him up. It's time for him to go."
There is no point in arguing. Richard has clearly made up his mind on the point, and I am only a guest, so what can I say? With tear-streaked face, I shake M. awake and tell him he has to go, emphasizing with an icy stare in Santa Claus' direction that it is not my decision. M. is groggy but understanding, and leaving the uncomsumed beer with us, slips over the side of the boat and is gone before I realize he's going. Richard, who was below deck at the time, does a bad job of feigning disappointment that he didn't get to say goodbye. I'm disgusted, wishing I weren't here, wanting only to get off the damn boat and be with people I like and respect. Moments later, with a cheeriness that belies the fact that anything distressing just happened, Richard suggests a swim, sans clothes, of course, and disgust is added to my anger. Making M. leave had nothing to do with his work or his responsibilities, but only about Richard's selfish desire to go naked swimming without any third parties present.
Eventually I strip down and dive in, but on the opposite side of the boat. At first I refuse to swim at all; I'm too royally pissed off. But then, contemplating the situation a little, my wiser self tells me that there are two different issues here that need to be separated: one, my feelings towards Richard. Two, the fact that I am in a spectacularly beautiful place with glowing phosophorescence that lights up when you touch it. To not swim is to penalize myself. I can still swim and not like Richard...which is exactly what I do, gliding in the darkness, keeping as far from him as possible. Slowly, the beauty of the night and the magnificent color makes me relax, even putting a hint of a smile on my face. There is much that is beautiful in the universe, I remind myself for the umpteenth time...and it is on this that we must focus.
Morning is limpid, windless. We motor slowly to the Göcek harbor, where I am scheduled to disembark and he plans to pick up his daughter, visiting Turkey for the first time. I have gathered from our various conversations that their relationship is not good, and that he takes a rather judgmental stance towards her chosen life path. Maybe the guy's just an asshole, I think, causing me to wonder again, is it always those people who win? Who wind up with the money and the toys? Do nice guys, in fact, finish last? From where I stand, it sure looks that way.
Göcek is hot. The town is full of the beautıful, over-confident, white-wearing yachting set. As gorgeous as their lives look, I am glad that I am not among their numbers. Maybe it's that you have to have some kind of character deficiency to wind up in this ultra-material life. Certainly I can't help but think that if you didn't have that deficiency in the first place, it would be difficult not to acquire it when surrounded with constant luxury and ease...am I trying to justify, to make myself okay with the lifestyle I've got? Maybe. But I feel interestingly okay as I shoulder my backpack and head towards the main road. Enough leisure, already. Time to do something important, even if all that amounts to is cleaning my house or writing to a dear friend. As I wait by the side of the road for busses that will ultimately take me back to Izmir, my phone beeps with a text message. It is M. "My dear, don't worry about me, everything is okay. It was good to see you." And then, quoting a lyric from a Turkish art music song: "One day we'll meet again for sure...this cannot remain half finished." I have to concede that I haven't resolved the issue that I set out to two weeks ago. But I've had some interesting, thought-provoking experiences. I have a relationship with this lovely person, whatever may come of it. And, finally cutting myself some slack for a moment, I remember what somebody or other said recently: "Relax. If a decision is that hard to make, it means you're not ready to make it." Enough. It's time to go home.