Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 4 - Olympos

P., ever unpredictable, decides to leave without a word. I am not sure if I would have known she was gone until long after, had I not happened upon her waiting for the shuttle bus to the top of the valley. We decide that we each need some personal time, I see her off, and wander off happily on my own, savoring the lack of time constraints or itineraries.

My original intention was not to stay at Kadir’s for more than one night, but I have very much enjoyed the conversation of my new companions, and my glimpse of the beach yesterday is enticing me to swim…and so I linger through the morning over maps and a leisurely breakfast, watching people of all ages and walks of life come and go through the breakfast room. Later in the morning, I make the trek back to the beach with Selcen -- back through Olympos, over the rickety planks across the streams, past the mysterious rushes along the river, past the ancient tombs touched by beams of sunlight that penetrate through the trees. On the beach finally, I take a deep breath and dive headfirst into the crystaline water. After the initial shock of the cold, it is lovely, and I swim far longer than originally intended, mermaid-like, floating on my back under a vast sky, diving and pressing myself to the pebbly floor, observing the tiny fish that come to look at me and then skitter away, feeling very much in tune with the planet and my own soul.

Back on land, I don layers of warm things, and Selcen and I sit and talk until our stomaches simultaneously growl. We laugh and she phones John, who bounds out from behind some ruins he's been eagerly exploring, looking incredibly like a puppy who's been thrown a large, meaty bone. It turns out that the weight of John's backpack is not in fact due to the lunch that he had been instructed to pack and we had been eagerly anticipting, but to several books on archeology. Selcen growls her displeasure, our stomaches echoing the sentiment. As penalty for the egregious oversight, she demands that he treat us to lunch/dinner somewhere nearby.

Thankfully one of the three beach restaurants is open in the off season, and we end up whiling our afternoon away in a most delightful fashion: seated literally at the edge of the sea, nothing but a short expanse of beach pebbles between us and the lapping waves, not a soul in sight, lapping up meze soaked in olive oil, picking at delicate fresh fish just off the grill. Selcen is delightful, intelligent and witty; her English nearly flawless, her insight wise beyond her 25 years. John is equally interesting, with that earnest and boundlessly energetic characteristic I have often observed in young Americans abroad. He is deeply in love with S., and I can read his happiness and optimism in his eyes. I wonder, was I ever like that? Was I that lovestruck 20-something-year-old, full of possibilities, the world wide open to me? I think I must have been, and yet when I look back, my impression is of always having been caught in some net or another, whether forced upon me or one of my own making. I look at this community of backpackers, with their dreadlocks and their time off from whatever it was they have been doing back home and their lack of itineraries and their search for ‘good vibes,’ and they seem so free…but I do not recall in my youth having ever felt such freedom. What was I so bound up in all those years? I feel a pang of envy, a momentary panic at the inevitable passing of time, but then it, too, passes. I remember that the only place to live is now, and here I am in a beautiful place, with good people, good food, and feeling some contentment in my heart…let me not linger in regret.

The waiter at the restaurant proposes building us a fire on the beach later that night. He works there year round, and things get a little dull in winter. It sounds like a good idea, so after planning to meet later, John and Selcen head off to the Chimaera, while I return to Kadir’s to reserve a room for the night and wait until evening. Back at the lodge, the prospect of a walk through the ancient ruins in the dead of night (who said 'dead'?!) causes some trepidation in my heart, so I attempt to round up at least one other person to make the walk with me. On hearing ‘beach bonfire,’ the ears of everyone sitting in the lodge perk up, and before I know it I am off into the dark with a possee of twelve – them with great expectations of a good ol' beach party, me having only the vaguest idea where -- and if -- this fire would be and who would be providing food and drinks. We get to a pitch-black beach, no fire in sight, and predictably the complaining begins. I am for a moment struck by the fact that as a teacher I work in a position of leadership, but in life it is a position I cannot stand to be in. I do not wish to tell people what to do. Nor do I wish to be responsible for the pleasure – or lack thereof – of other people; it makes me profoundly cranky and sorely tempted to tell them where to go if they don’t like it. A moment of panic: am I in the wrong profession???! I suggest that if people are interested in a fire, we could start taking steps toward that goal by collecting firewood. At the very least, it is something to do other than sitting on the beach in the dark and shivering. Most refuse this suggestion, choosing instead to remain where we are and warm themselves with whingeing. Sarcastically, I offer to refund their admission fee and generously propose a free trip back to the lodge. Note to self: I should work on that sarcasm thing. It's really not so nice.

The fact is, I have absolutely no information about where and when the fire will take place, who will be gathering the firewood, where the consumables are coming from and who’s fronting the money…nothing but a vague promise that ‘there will be fire.’ Some two hours later than initially agreed, I get the phone call from Selcen: she, John and the restaurant guy are on the way. There is an added factor of difficulty to this equation: between the part of the beach that Olympos opens out onto and the part of the beach where the restaurant is, a briskly flowing river flows. It cuts the beach in half, and there is no bridge. Any transportation of provisions involves schlepping them over shifting pebbles, which is exhausting, kicking off the shoes and rolling up the pants above the knees, wading through frigid waters, drying off the feet, putting the socks and shoes back on, and continuing over more shifting pebbles, all the while schlepping the goods. Great is my admiration for these three who have proposed to undertake the task. Profound is my annoyance at the present company. When I explain to them the logistical difficulty of our current situation and how we should appreciate the efforts of our three friends, and maybe, just maybe, go and assist them, they decline. Bahhhh…

Eventually everything works out. The restaurant guy more than comes through. There are snacks galore, multiple bottles of wine and beer, and we drink and talk and are mellow late into the evening. I listen with interest to the stories of the people around me: the French Canadian climatologist and her Argentinian husband who both got so depressed with this global warming business that they quit their jobs and are now simply wandering the world; the young New Zeleander who is delaying college for a trip around the globe. The serious grad-school dropout Mike, who has ambitions of traveling to Iran, Iraq and Syria and is frustrated at his inability to get a visa. The quiet young man from Kyrgystan, whose story I never got, but who seems to be a student of some kind in Turkey. Mellowed out by the fire and drink and conversation, we walk back in the dark, the floating islands of light from our headlamps the only thing to cut the total blackness. It is tricky crossing the streams with only a few flashlights and a lot of people, but in the end we make it.

This is a story with a twist: the evening was a tale of adventure and, finally, friendship, but at the last moment the genre shifts. As we pack up on the beach and head for the lodge, Restaurant Guy announces that he's coming with us...spend the night at Kadir's, get a little change of scene. On the way back he starts paying a vaguely creepy amount of attention to me, stopping when I stop, speeding up when I do, dropping the occasional light touch on my back. There is no way I am putting out 'come hither' vibes, but there are those predatory types who require no such provocation. We get to Kadir's and stand in a group briefly, saying our good nights before everyone disperses to their individual cabins. I am feeling increasingly uneasy; I do not want this man to see where my cabin is. What's more, I had requested a change of cabin that morning (the tree house was too cold!) and now can not for the life of me remember where the new cabin is. The last thing I want was to be wandering around in the darkness by myself looking for my cabin while Restaurant Guy is about. I look at Selcen and John in desperation as they are about to walk away...can I go with them to their cabin, just for a bit? We stand in the yellow circle of their porch light for a few minutes, as I explain to them in a low voice what's going on.

Ten minutes later, John finally picks up on my subtle hints (he's young; I guess I have to cut him some slack) and gallantly volunteers to go with me to help me find my cabin. A few perplexing circuits around the campground do not turn up my lodgings, and this is starting to get embarrassing. Just when I'm about to swallow my pride and go and ask the front desk, voila! A half-second of jubilation at finding my bed is immediately replaced by a rush of consternation at the sight of Restaurant Guy fumbling with the keys to his cabin, which just happens to be adjoined to mine. The doors are inches apart. Unbelievable! Was this done deliberately, I wonder? What kind of film is this becoming...horror? comedy? romance?

He sees us, and there's nothing to it but to walk nonchalantly to my door and open it. John is about to say goodnight, his naivete (or apathy?) apparent in the way he is ready to bound off back to his girlfriend despite the evident awkwardness of the current situation. The camp manager Koray, who had also been at the fire with us, is there as well, and there is an uncomfortable moment where Restaurant Guy stands at his open door, I stand at mine, and John and Koray stand facing us two meters away. We all say our goodnights, and I start stalling, spluttering at Koray: "say, umm, do you...ah, well, this was great...say, could I just...?" I am not getting very far, because Restaurant Guy is standing right there, listening and looking intently, and I cannot bring myself to say "this guy is creeping me out!" right in front of him. (I am nothing if not polite.) I finally walk up to Koray and tell him in a low voice that I'm not feeling comfortable with the situation. Turks are generally so intuitive, but Murphy's law strikes again...he doesn't understand what I mean. I make a few desperate eyebrow and chin gestures at Restaurant Guy, and finally the light goes on. We can move you to another room, he says. Suddenly, I feel just very, very tired, and I say no, it's all right, I just wanted you to know that there's something weird afoot.

I assure him that I'll be okay, and then I go in and lock the door of my rickety wooden cabin behind me. A bit afraid (why, I ask myself? what could he, or would he, possibly do to me?), I leave the light on for a while. Nothing happens. You are ridiculous, I tell myself. You have lived too long in cities and experienced too many Creepy Man episodes and this is tainting your perception of perfectly okay people. Gotta work on being more open, I sigh to myself as I switch off the light. The moon shines whitely down on me through the window, and I think I hear an owl. I begin to sink into that kind of peaceful sleep you only get in nature. Just as I am riding that delicious crest between waking and sleeping, there is a knock on my door. And then another. And then a series of knocks, louder, more insistent. A pause. I am wide awake, my heart pounding. There is a rap on the window, then a heavy staccato of beats on the glass. I make no sound, and there is another pause. I contemplate what to use for a weapon if the intruder should manage to break down the door or window (not difficult in these cabins). The knocks on the door resume. And then the handle of the door is jiggled, the door creaks and I can tell there is someone pushing against it. Thankfully, I have locked it. The jiggling of the doorknob stops, and I hear the slow pacing of hard-soled shoes outside. Probably smoking a cigarette, I think. I am braced for the next assault, having fished my Swiss army knife out of my bag and opened the large blade. But it does not come. There is a sort of resignation in the air; the door next to mine is opened, then shut and locked, and all is quiet.

Much later, the pounding of my heart slows, and I am once again able to take pleasure in the moonlight and the owls. Life is so full of unexpected twists and turns, I think, drifting off...we are in the midst of a film that is constantly changing genres. This is both the upside and the frustration of it all. We crave both consistency and variety; but aren't they incompatible?

Tomorow begins a new film, or a new segment of the old one, and I wonder what kind it will be...a last thought drifts through my head before the heavy blanket of sleep falls...wait a minute... aren't I the director and the producer and scriptwriter of my life? I am the one who, more often than not, gets to choose the genre, barring of course occasional unavoidable pressures from financiers and lobbyists. I can make my life whatever I like, changing it as I go....and what fun that can be! Astride this marvelous sense of liberation, I cross into dreamland...


At 8:20 PM, Blogger 日月神教-向左使 said...

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