Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's a bird...It's cotton candy...It's a Pogo Stick...No, it's a Bird

Just two days after the Great Snow, the air is crisp, clear and blindingly sunny. A strong wind from the west puts on boxing gloves and pummels me in the face as I go for my morning walk. All the usual sights are in place...the mysterious gray-blue line of the mountains on the far side of the bay, the "Mussel Men" who shiver in waist-deep water and scrape hapless shellfish from the rocks, the sprawling sun-drugged street dogs, the gossiping seagulls, the head-scarved, shalwar-wearing women incongruously doing sit-ups.

But today something is different: Izmir has visitors. They are long-legged and sunrise pink, love seafood, and are fond of eating upside down. They are flamingos, blown in from who-knows-what colder clime. They must be passing through, for I have seen them only once before. Odd: first snow, then flamingos -- two objects which make me think of opposite ends of the temperature spectrum. The birds are fascinating to watch, with their short curved beaks like tiny scimitars and their long flexible necks which curl over to allow the birds to eat upside down. I am enthralled, as are the seagulls, who form a protective flotilla around the giant visitors. As on so many other occasions, I wish that I had brought my camera. As I pause on this thought, the birds suddenly move together, as if on cue. They begin an awkward kind of scramble out of the water. Wings extend. Gorgeous, enormous black-edged fuschia wings. Ridiculous walking-stick legs emerge from the water, dangling clumsily, scrabbling at the water. The awkwardness lasts only a moment or two, and then the flamingos are in full flight. Necks stretched out in front, long black legs behind, they resemble nothing less than a pogo stick encircled by a protective wad of cotton candy. Moments later, they have disappeared.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Snow (with a nod to Orhan Pamuk)

On Sunday morning we awake to an unaccustomed silence. Our neighborhood is normally quiet, but this is different. This is that odd, muffled waiting silence that can only mean one thing., on the sunny, olive-strewn shores of the Aegean? Surely there must be some mistake! I half belly-crawl, half stumble to the window, wrapped tightly in a wool blanket to ward off the night's chill. Tat tat tat tat tat the wooden shutter clicks, as my ice block hands yank the rough canvas cord. Brown slats play a game of slow-reveal. The cave darkness of the room gives way to the dull glow of half-daylight. Something is amiss; the picture is not clear. Thwack the window, thwack it like you thwack your aging television set when it gives you black and white confetti -- but this time to no avail. The picture does not clear. Look up, look down, slowly look left, then right. Press your nose to the icy chill of the windowpane, see your breath fog up the glass. Look again and believe it: the air is full of gigantic fluffy sheepdog snowflakes -- thousands of them -- floating to the ground like mini-parachutists.

Puzzlement gradually gives way to awe. Frozen feet propel me to the balcony. I stand outside, bed head and wool and purple toes, gaping at the wonder of the snow. It is a delight that I never fail to feel, no matter how often I see it. It is the wide-eyed wonder of children that we seem to lose as we age, but which in these magical few moments makes a sudden, wonderful return.

Eventually practicality gets the upper hand; my toes are shouting me. I realize suddenly it is cold out here. A leap over the threshold, a scurry across the arctic expanse of marble floor in the kitchen (pausing just long enough to hit the button on the electric kettle), a rapid shuffle over carpet, then wood, then carpet, then a flying leap into bed and a quick, frantic tangle of sheets and blankets as I try to fend off the cold that now seems to be actively attacking me.

A little later, circulation restored, we make a large pot of rich, black coffee. Cream is warmed gently and stirred in, making lovely swirls in the blackness before turning it into a uniform, friendly brown. We lie in bed half the day, snowflake watching, coffee savoring, reading marvelous Ray Bradbury stories aloud to each other. They are tales of colorful flying machines and lamenting sea monsters, fantastic far-away futures, mighty emperors and witches who lurk in raindrops. They are stories as magical as the day itself. Snow days always feel like legitimate excuses to do absolutely nothing, to coddle oneself in the best of ways. Perhaps it is something in the silence, in the way the quiet and the white seem to put the world on hold. I like to think it is Nature's way of telling us, slow down, stop rushing for once, enjoy, put some 'savor' back into your life, if only for this brief window of time. Look at the larger picture. Reflect, meditate. Be with loved ones. And let it not be said that I don't recognize good advice when I hear it.