Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 2 (Tuesday)

10:30 a.m. I am drifting in and out of a lovely, lazy sleep, enjoying the utter stillness outside and the faint rocking of the boat. Suddenly, there is a loud, urgent rap on the door. It comes again. We both sit bolt upright. Turgut’s head and arm appear through the partially opened door, proffering M.’s telephone, an uncharacteristically grim look on his face. You need to take this. M. pauses for a moment to rub the sleep from his eyes, takes the phone, and after the first ‘Efendim…’ there is a long silence. Then he attempts to speak, ‘tamam, Huseyn Abi...’ ‘Ama, evet, ama Huseyn Abi…’ This happens a few times; apart from the man’s name, he is incapable of getting a word in edgewise. Finally a long silence, and I think that he is listening, but when I look I discover him sitting with his head in his hands, telephone on his lap. I don't know when the conversation ended, but it can’t be good…and somehow I have a feeling I know what this is about.

For a long time he will not answer my pleas to fill me in, just sits with pale face staring blankly at a spot on the cabin wall. It finally falls to me to speculate out loud. The boss? A nod. Problems? A nod. He wants me off the boat? A long pause, a heavy sigh, a slow nod.

Have you ever been asked to leave a party, an apartment, any sort of place or function? If so, you know what a wretched, humiliating thing it is. The ego gets wrapped up in it – what, they don’t want ME??! – and it takes some processing before you can ascribe it to something other than a defect in your generally sparkling personality (unless of course there really IS a defect in your sparkling personality). My eyes begin to well up as I reach for my bag, contents untouched. There is anger -- I had the best conversations with those traitorous bastards last night…they were smiling and friendly, totally engaged…and now this???! I later learn that someone from the group had phoned their father, who was the mayor of the city (i.e., pompous bigwig), who found this totally unacceptable, phoned the agency, which of course jumped as soon and as high as he wished, and it in turn phoned M. with orders to remove me from the boat post haste. It was sadly a question of the passengers acting too hastily -- by the time the agency phoned, outraged, everybody except the agency was perfectly happy.

My forced disembarkation wasn’t the worst of it: he was told to leave the boat at Kaş the following day, and they were sending a new captain. This latter news completely floored me, making me forget all about my self-pity at being evicted. What?? The man has lost his job over this? This thankless job where he slaves for six months without a single break just to earn a fraction of what I do, this job that sometimes goes unpaid when unscrupulous owners or agencies decide to keep the profits for themselves, this job to which people keep returning because they desperately need the work…this job where he has to be ‘on’ 24/7, where he works in sickness or in health, has no private place to talk or sleep, this crappy job…he’s lost it because of not asking special permission to have me - a person who is important to him and hasn't seen for two nonths - on board?? I am devastated at having been somehow involved in this horrible turn of events, sick at how the whim of holiday-makers can determine the fate of the underdogs who serve them, sick at a system that allows this. It is not that I think the passengers were entirely wrong, but I am sick at the results. And, I think, they could have handled it differently. Not a word was said to him or to me before this telephone call was made -- a call that cost him his job.

M. himself admitted to having made a mistake. Back in the winter months, back when he was sanding and painting the boat and in frequent chummy conversations with the owner, he had discussed in broad terms the possibility of having a visitor on board from time to time over the summer. Not a problem, he was assured...but this time, it was a private group; protocol dictated that he ask special permission from the agency and from the group. But he was ill, exhausted, fed up…I can well understand why he said to hell with it, just come.

Fifteen minutes after the phone call, I was walking the plank at Demre. Okay, a ladder, not a plank, but at the time it felt pretty plankish. A wizened old man in a motorboat ferried me to shore, where another loaded my things in a mini-van and shuttled me to the bus station. Where to? Two mini-busses idle: one to Fethiye, one to Alanya. Fethiye, I sigh, beaten, figuring from there I will catch the bus back to Izmir. On the bench-seat in the bus, through tear-stained eyes I glimpse the signs pointing tourists to the church of St. Nicholas, and some far-away part of me wishes that I were in any kind of condition to see it. It is, after all, the birthplace of Santa Claus. Still, this awakens an idea in me…I can’t return to Izmir sad, teary-eyed, defeated, in no better condition than when I left. And as I am already here, many hours from Izmir, why not stay a while? I grab my bag, jump out and clamber into the bus going east, to Alanya. Who knows? A change of scene might do some good…


The ride in the mini-bus, whizzing around teeth-clenching, white-knuckling hairpin turns on the edge of precipitous cliff, passing slower vehicles on the curves, is far longer than I expected, or at least seems longer than I expected. We pass Finike, the orange-growing capital of Turkey, then climb, climb, climb, through lush pine forests and sweeping sea views. We pass the intersection down to Olympos and the great fire-breathing Chimaera, continue past the holiday resorts of Tekirova and Kemer. What seems an eternity later, we arrive in Antalya, where I have to change busses to get to Alanya.

My mind is wiped. I have gone from distraught to empty, devoid of feeling or ability to think, operating on pure auto-pilot. I had arrived with emotions bursting out of me, ready to offload some; now it's as if a circuit has shorted. Not only did we not have the conversations I had hoped for, but things have now taken this unpleasant wretched can life get? I am standing there in the bus terminal parking lot, lost in these thoughts. Fortunately a helpful man helps get me to the correct bus and ensures that my bag gets put on it, otherwise I might well still be standing there.

Then we are off again, along the Antalya Gulf to the smaller city of Alanya. The scenery begins to change. Aromatic pine forests give way to lusher, more tropical vegetation. The wind dies; humidity rises. Palm trees and flourishing plants of all sorts are everywhere. You sweat prodigiously, day or night.

I am surprised, again, by the length of the trip. Probably over two hours, although I do not count. When we arrive, it is evening. I unwedge my cramped body from the tiny space into which I had managed to shoehorn it (tall people should not travel in Turkey), stumbling out into the moist and windless evening air. I stand blinking, rubbing my eyes, not sure what to do, not caring to do much except sit on a beach somewhere, and sit, and sit, and sit...

It dimly occurs to me that I should get on the service bus to the city center. As we are driving off I realize I've left my bag in the bus. A man on a scooter brings it to me. Duh.

Driving through the city, dim clips of memories past flicker in my head. L. and I came here years ago, when I was new to Turkey. It was L.'s youthful stomping ground, home to many short-lived romances and long, boozy nights. He had showed me some of his favorite places, some of which still existed, some of which only lived in memory. I met G., 'his captain,' a man he knew many years ago and deeply respected for his seamanship as well as his quiet wisdom. Must go with the job description, I think...damn those captains.

The service bus winds its way through the streets and I crane my neck to peer down the side streets, hoping to recognize a neighborhood from that one trip here years ago. Not that it really makes any difference: any hotel, anywhere, will do. Hell, at this point any flat surface will do. Still, when in a place I have been once before, I find I am drawn to the familiar, and I want to find the area where we had stayed, not because the hotel was wonderful or out of nostalgia, but just because it is known and conveys a sense of comfort.

The Hotel Baverya, quirkily enough, caters to Scandinavian tourists. There are signs everywhere offering myriad forms of entertainment, from excursions to beach parties to belly dancing, written in a language that I cannot quite recognize beyond being vaguely 'Scandinavian.' At 50 YTL a night, they are affordable, too. They have no room for me, however, and send me off down the block, to a shabby sister hotel that under other circumstances I might have objected to. This time, I settle in without a peep and sleep until 9:00 p.m.


Trying to find a restaurant in Alanya that does not print its menu in six languages and serve spaghetti in addition to Indian, Mexican and, oh yeah, Turkish food, too, is difficult. I wander the streets for an hour or more, trying to find a 'normal' restaurant. I try explain to somebody that I don't quite have faith in restaurants that attempt to 'specialize' in four different countries' cuisine. But what's your speciality? I insist. All, he says. My hackles are suddenly up. How can you possibly specialize in 'all'? I half-sneer, finding suddenly that I have become a totally unpleasant person. Trust me, everything very good. I elect not to trust him. Finally find a typical kebab place in the back streets and it becomes my local for the next couple of days.

Wandering back to the hotel, I am wearied by the humidity, quickly annoyed by the hustlers and the dazzling visual display. Bright lights, cheap toys, merchandise everywhere; it's buy, buy, buy, it's the hawk-eyed young men who lurk at the entrances of shops and restaurants with the yes, please, hello, where you from? Can I ask you just one question? Please, wait! I love you...

I am in no mood for this. Cranky, suddenly ready to turn on someone, any hapless soul that inadvertantly crosses my path. Another Yes, please! and I've had it. I stop, clench and unclench my teeth, take a deep breath. Look, buddy, I got a little tip for you. Give you an edge up on the competition, like. See, in English, 'yes, please' is an answer to a question. I didn't ask you anything, so don't say yes, please. 'Buyurun' doesn't exist in English, got it? So if you must say something, just say 'hello.' Capish? Better yet (this said to myself), just leave me bleedin' alone.

Feeling worse rather than better for having gotten some sort of an outlet, I march off to my shabby palace, where I take a long, cold shower, then flop into bed and sleep depression's sleep...twelve hours and still no sense of being rested.


Tales from the Road -- Lycia, Day 1 (Monday)

It all began as a one-week thing. The plan: go see M. on the boat, spend most of a week swimming, relaxing and thinking, then have some light talks building up to a Serious Talk, close things up nice and neatly, leave and finally reunite with the man I have been grieving over ever since I insisted that our separation was the best idea back in July of 2008. To finally begin to live again was an idea I hungered after ever more intensely. I was seeking peace and clarity of one sort or another, and so I went south, on the night bus, to see M. He had been the catalyst – not the reason, but the needed excuse for something that had occurred to me too frequently in the latter years – for my breakup with L., but he had quite unexpectedly found a place in my heart, despite my being utterly incapable of dealing with such a possibility at the time.

A year later, I am stranded with divided feelings…there is this person who found a foothold in the heartland, but as a newcomer didn’t stand much of a chance against the six-year settlement that had been established by L. What to do? It might seem the obvious solution to evict the newcomer and stick with the long-time resident, but then, there must have been a reason the long-timer and I split in the first place (M. was, after all, but a catalyst); anyway, eviction has never been my specialty.

All these things whirl through my head on the night bus, on which I am totally unable to sleep. The sadness these days…it hits me from every angle; the pain of losing L., the incredible missing and sorrow over his pain, and the anguish of feeling I have to part from this other person, for whom I have great affection, dare I say love, and who has the same for me. In all situations, someone will cry, someone will hurt. Mostly it will be me, I guess…

Jesus, why am I thinking these things? There hasn’t been a day in the last 365+ days that I haven’t cried. That must be some kind of a record, right?? Tears, misery, the hermetic lifestyle (it’s not cool to cry in front of friends, so I basically avoid them), and anyway, nobody quite gets it, no matter how eloquently I try to express it…watching days that mean absolutely nothing slip by, fighting a sense of panic that I only get one life, that I need to get on with it and live, dammit, but somehow…can’t. Which is why I’m on the bus, why I find myself sliding out into the tiny, quiet station in Kas at 5:30 in the morning, exhausted and neck-cramped and hoping for a guiding vision of some sort or another.

Kaş at 5:30 a.m. A magical time to arrive in a magical place. I love the stillness of this tiny town at this time of the day, the only signs of human habitation as one walks from the otogar to the harbor a few taxi drivers chatting quietly, a restaurant worker hosing down the pavement, a few fishermen slumbering on benches facing a silk-smooth sea not yet touched by dawn's rosy fingers. I wait on a bench, facing the sea wall made of piled boulders, the lighthouse, the sea and mountains beyond. I have such a profound sense of peace from merely being here. It is already enough....leave me on this bench another hundred years and I will be fine, just fine. Ten minutes later, the distant sound of a motor; a few minutes later, a tiny launch comes into view. It is M., bundled in a windbreaker against the morning chill. I watch, for now with an undiluted happy heart as he pulls into the marina, ties up and comes out to greet me.

He is his usual reserved self: out of respect, there are no public displays of affection. There is a brief hug, the usual kiss on both cheeks that perhaps lingers a fraction of a second longer than usual; no more. But then there is an unmistakable glint of happiness in the eye that is nearly palpable, a gentle chuck on the chin, a wink, the barely audible ‘fıstık’ and I feel happy; it is enough. It occurs to me that the idea of 'spaces in our togetherness,' mentioned by the poet Rumi, is not such bad idea after all.


I may have been his invited guest, but upon waking after a few hours’ snooze and surveying the crowd on board with a wary eye, I concluded that I was certainly not theirs. A mixed group of hyphenated Frenchmen (Turkish-French, Moroccan-French, Tunisian-French), as well as a few non-hyphenated ones, they had rented the entire boat for the week and had not been alerted to my spontaneous, apparition-from-the-mist arrival. This was pointed out to me rather belatedly. Generally, boats are rented by the cabin, not as an entire boat; therefore one does not know the people one is sailing with, and one additional passenger makes pretty much no difference to anybody. But this was different: a group of old friends from university, they had chartered the boat, and the sudden appearance of an unexplained person was strange and unsettling to them, to say the least. Thus was the day spent in awkward silence, me trying to make myself as small as possible and simultaneously attempting to ingratiate myself through friendly eye contact. In quiet-but-nice Kate fashion, I attempted interaction: I laughed at their jokes (thank God for the degree in French!), nodded sympathetically where required, but still, the lingering feeling persisted that I was unexplained to them, and that behind those cautiously welcoming eyes was the burning question, “who in the hell is this woman??!”


The ice was broken over dinner, or rather dinner preparations. M. was grilling pirzola, köfte and chicken wings (yum! yum! yum!) for dinner, and I was sitting with him, offering encouragement to the meat. A few meters off, the passengers swilled rakı and chatted, yet still the eyes strayed our way, boring holes, asking questions I would have been happy to answer…had they been asked.

Several glasses of rakı later, two of the French girls wandered over to our spot under the bare lightbulb and wafting grillsmoke. Not too surprisingly (I reflected later in light of what happened next) these were two of the French-French girls, not the hybrids. Anaeis and Marion. Marion did the talking; Anaeis stood by to lend moral support. It all started off quite charmingly, a bit of small talk, some introductions, a few polite questions about my country of origin, etc. Then we got down to brass tacks: But he never told us you were coming…yes, but, well, it was spontaneous….yes, but he should have told us, he HAD to tell us!…well, I’m sorry, really, but it didn’t seem like such a bit deal…but he said NOTHING!! He has an obligation to the passengers, this is not okay, ce n’est pas correct!! (the French are very big on correctness). Just a moment, I say, allow me to translate…

I put it to M. in Turkish: the discomfort of the passengers, the overlooked (but obligatory) nicety of alerting them of my arrival, or, even better, asking if they minded. Of course, in typical Turkish Man fashion, he was unperturbed. I’m not asking for anyone’s permission, he says, nonchalantly flipping a lamb chop. What do they think, they own the boat? Well, actually, I say, they kind of do…for a week…that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Agency said it’s fine, he grumbles, nearly hurling a chicken wing off the boat…they think I’m going to ask permission? From them?? I’ll put then off the boat first, no questions, no arguments. So this conversation goes in circles for a while, me attempting in vain to convince him that while no, he shouldn’t have to ask permission, pretending to do so would be a much, much savvier business move. There is no give, however, and it ends in this way: Marion straightens up, looks me directly in the eye, says stiffly, we shall be on the other side of the yacht, awaiting his apology. After which, I sincerely hope that we can all enjoy ourselves together. A turn on the heel and she’s gone. M. says nothing and chucks a meatball into the embers.


My experience in my three years of living here is that generally, pigs will fly before a Turkish person will say ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake,’ at least in so many words. The culture is very Asian in this respect; loss of face is a big deal. Apologizing implies weakness, which is unwise to own up to in a Machiavellian world. This is not to say that apologies are not made: you simply need to be aware of when you are receiving one, for they can be subtle.

I felt a twinge of pity for Marion and the group, who seemed actually nice enough if a bit rigid, waiting there in the back of the boat for M. to appear and make a public admission of his gaffe. Never in a million years, I thought. But of course they don’t know that.

What followed was indeed an apology, although I wonder how many in the group recognized it as such. I suspect that the hyphenated Frenchmen, the ones with Eastern backgrounds, probably got it. Because at the end of it all, it seemed to me that the ones without the hyphens were still looking at me/us with traces of reserve and hurt in their eyes, whereas the others seemed to have accepted us.

M. served dinner, sans issuance of a mea culpa. While they ate, we had a beer and discussed the situation again. After dinner, to my surprise, he pulls out a large bottle of single malt scotch and offers it to all of the guests. (This is also a rather big deal because any imported liquor in Turkey is astronomically expensive.) One woman prefers coffee instead, and although generally drinks consumed outside of meal hours come with a charge, he quite enthusiastically insists that it is no trouble, no charge, and voila – it is ready in the blink of an eye. He fishes around in a trunk somewhere, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but tea lights…

He lights twenty or so and places them around the boat. The effect is lovely, out there on the water under the stars, tiny flames dancing in a hint of a breeze. Soft music plays, whisky flows. People begin to relax and smile and joke. For my part, never one to interact with whole groups, I start initiating conversations with people on an individual basis. One by one, I offer small apologies for not introducing myself sooner, and then we move on to other, more interesting topics. It is fun to alternate between English, French and Turkish. The conversations are fascinating, the people engaging. Later I confer with M. briefly on the status of things. We agree that everyone seems happy. Look at me, he mutters with a chuckle, am I one to light tea lights? Tea lights, for God’s sake… he shakes his head. M., classic lifelong sailor, not hotelier, poet or entertainer; for him, tea lights on a boat is like a sweater on a dog, silly and unnecessary. It is true – for him, he has gone above and beyond. I smile, too, thinking about it. All is good…we have been accepted, good faith has been restored. Finally, yawning, we bid them a happy good night.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday is Pazar Day

People occasionally ask me when, or if, I intend to return to the U.S. I have never been able to successfully answer that question, not being a great planner, but the pros and cons of staying do have a way of sloshing around in my psyche, and depending on the angle at which I am currently tilted, there are times when the beaches of my soul catch a lot more of one than another. Today there is a current of 'pros;' I find myself walking with a spring in my step and a happy upward tilt of the chin. There are things to love here, I am reminded again...

One of the many reasons to stay that is as small as it is wonderful is the local pazar. Although the word resembles the English bazaar, the meaning is quite different: whereas the English word bazaar conjures images of trinkets, antiques and handicrafts, a Turkish pazar is typically an open-air market where what is sold is approximately half fruit and vegetables, the other half clothes, shoes, belts, handbags, bedsheets and such.

My neighborhood, Bostanli, is famous for the pazar that sprouts up every Wednesday a block behind my house. People make the trip in from all parts of the city to enjoy an assault to the senses. For the eyes, the riotous colors of the produce, the headscarves of the local ladies, the wildly-patterned textiles on offer; for the ears, the shouts and cries of the vendors, exhorting, extolling, cajoling, a veritable opera of veggie salesmanship; for the nerve endings in the skin, the pushing and bumping of the wheeled carts and amply upholstered, sweaty bodies, and the tickle from overhead of dangling textiles; for the nose, the aromas that waft from the mountains of tomatoes and peppers, the pungent cheese counters, the aromatic meat being prepared on small grills just outside the pazar perimeters; all form part of a curiously adrenaline-inducing experience.

Summer is especially wonderful. The produce I've come to know and love in Izmir is second to none that I've ever encountered. The quality is impeccable, the quantity stunning, the prices jaw-droppingly low. There is so very, very much, but what I remember first and most is the mountains of tomatoes, how they glow dully in the shade, giving off their soft, musky scent. Though not billed as 'organic', they are clearly produced in a way that is somehow more natural than the perfectly uniform tomatoes-with-vine that one finds in German, and sometimes Californian supermarkets. They are varying shades of red, often comically shaped. Sometimes they do not even look tasty...but slice one open, and you get blood red tomato meat, juices that gush out, pure essence of straight-from-garden tomato. And a kilo is to be had for just one paltry Turkish U.S. terms, that's 75 cents! The same can be said of the peppers (there must be at least 10 varieties), the melons, the peaches, the grapes, the apricots, the cucumbers, the green beans. Their taste is to die for, the price so ridiculous that I, single person, wind up buying enough to feed a family for a week. Inevitably, the poor things wither and wilt in the kitchen, try as I might to eat my way through them as fast as possible...

Would I want to return to dollar-a-pound tomatoes? Tomatoes that are hard and tasteless, even in peak summer when no self-respecting tomato has a right to be? While in California this summer, I was impressed with the variety on offer, but horrified by the prices. There, adding produce to the shopping list is guaranteed to double the bill...and too often, the luscious look of the stuff belies inferior taste: perfectly purple plums are dry and woody within. Yalancı sebze, I mutter to myself, liar vegetables. So could I, would I abandon my luscious produce paradise? Ask me after summer, when I've finished wiping this year's bounty from my chin.

Monday, August 03, 2009

With Friends Like That...

"Mieux seul que mal accompagne," goes one of my favorite French sayings. Better alone than in bad company.

An interesting aspect of being a part of a country's expatriate community is the friend dynamic. Very often, one's 'best friends' turn out, with a little reflection, to be people whom one would never dream of even meeting for coffee, let alone choosing for a bridesmaid, if one were ever to escape the expat island. These unlikely pairings arise out of necessity. Our selection pools are smaller, our need to speak our mother tongue a major driving force.

I've often wondered whether this is blessing or curse. Just as spending time with the greater familia, whose varied lifestyle preferences we have no choice but to live with (they are family, after all), broadens horizons and hopefully exercises the empathy gene, so do these unlikely birds of a different feather. Instead of reading about it in a self-help book, 'working with difficult people' becomes a reality. Our patience and compassion is put to the test. We of necessity do things we would never normally do, in ways we would probably never do them. We grow...or do we?

The other possible conclusion to this associating with-people-you-don't-actually-like-that-much phenomenon is the that one becomes embittered, spiritually compromised through a gradual lowering of personal standards, and the ropes that bind us to our principles and character are hacked through with social machetes; there is a danger of becoming spiritually amorophous blobs who are willing to be anybody -- ANYBODY -- just to have a friend who understands the syllables coming out of our mouths. We are deprived the luxury of being choosy. Of course, we could heed the French saying, and choose solitude. I used to place great stock in that saying, but these days I wonder. What was the author's context? Might he have been referring to nothing more than a couple of humdrum Saturday nights in Paris? Was he ever an expatriate? Could he possibly have dreamed of a lifetime of that dichotomy? As one who loves and craves an unusual quantity of 'aloneness,' take it from me: there is a breaking point. Sometimes we've got to go for the bad company.

I like to think that if one holds on to one's roots and one's principles, repeating them like a daily mantra, these 'friends of necessity' will not do much damage to them. At most, we will live with a lingering dissatisfaction that the kind of people we'd like to be with do not exist in our current milieu. But really, even in our own worlds, aren't we always choosing from what's on offer? The ideal friend or partner has yet to be created; when life hands us lemons, might we not just as well hone our ability to politely make lemonade?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Into the Fold...and Back Out Again

Last night I sat outside until the wee hours, not in the mood to sleep and dazzled by the vision of a perfect half moon that caused the water below to sparkle and dance. As I watched, I pondered a version of the age-old question of trees and forests: if a lovely moon shines on a summer night, and there's no one of importance to share it with, does its loveliness really matter?

I have spent the past month amongst my People -- my family and countrymen. The homecoming was initially awkward. Time and distance had removed me from the culture as well as the webs of relationships and individual personalities. I had forgotten old rhythms of speech, rituals of interaction. My movement within these groups was stiff, even wary, some part of me fearing that I would be called to account for my absence and what I had made of myself; what would happen if my account were not fabulous enough to compensate for years of relationships left behind to shrivel on the vine? What if I accidentally let on about this sadness that's been eating at my soul for some time now? It would confirm the feelings of those people who feel that I am wasting my time over here, give leverage to the ones who wish me back, subtract from my fight for this adopted homeland that I cannot help but have a fierce love for and loyalty to...

Our family has never been close. We are an intellectual, serious, introverted, and generally interpersonally clumsy bunch, and when I first moved away I did not see the physical distance from the clan as anything of much import. The ethic of rugged individualism, of go-your-own-way and do-your-own-thing, has always been alive and well; from the outset the space between all of us was cavernous, whether we lived next door or on the next continent. Over the years, though, there has been a shifting of the tides. It began with the death of my grandmother, my father's mother, which I think produced such a sense of loss in my father that the importance of family ties began to take on a fresh significance. He started to organize annual family get-togethers, only one of which -- the first -- I was able to attend. At that point I was still fairly cynical and not quite sold on this idea of 'family togetherness'; I saw it as a reaction to grief on my father's part, and I seriously doubted that I would ever develop a close relationship with him or the other members of my family, we being what we were.

As I have aged, and perhaps in part also as I have lived in a country whose culture is so vastly different from my own that it is easy to feel a sense of disconnectedness, these family meetings have begun to take on new significance for me. My brother Carl, who keeps a wonderful blog, wrote that "whenever I revisit my family, I am amazed at just how narrow my circle [of acquaintance] really is." He speaks of the great diversity that is present even within our family alone, and the limits of one's professional world and the types of people one comes into contact with. I come at this issue from the other side. I left the U.S. because I was thirsting for the world, fascinated by different cultures and walks of life. In one day of my current life, I might have conversations with academics, fishmongers, housewives hailing from the old aristocracy, bus drivers and gypsies. My world is very, very broad; what family gives me is a sense of core, puts me back in touch with my DNA, stiffens my spine and reinforces the knowledge of who I am and where I come from. I discover, perhaps really for the first time, that I am proud of my family and the legacy of which I am part. I realize anew that I am not 'nobody', that I have reason to hold my head up, to walk with a calm self-assuredness that stems from the collective depth and integrity of my clan. For my brother, encounters with family are a study in expansion. For me, they are an exercise in returning to the center.

And now I return to the problem of this moon, this perfect half-circle, the filigreed light on water, the breeze that I try in vain to sketch with words but will never be able to whisper over anyone's skin without their actually being here. I love this land, deeply. It is as much my home as California, possibly even more. I miss it when I leave, and feel a sense of homecoming when I return. Still, my friendships here are few, family members nil, love life in shambles. These treasures of the senses ring hollow to me, and my days are shadowed with silence and loss. What use is this moon, the Aegean summer's particularly yellow shade of sunshine, the splendid aquamarine waters you could while your life away in, if there is no one of significance to share it with? I am a dog in possession of a Van Gogh. Caught between two worlds -- this bright and exotic one that fascinates me every time I set foot out the door, and the world that grounds me. How to reconcile the two? My friend Mitch always used to say 'you can have it all -- just not all at the same time.' Perhaps he's right. Something's got to give, but what, and when?