Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 8 (Monday)

When I awake, my spirits are languishing at the bottom of a deep, dark well. The somber thoughts that followed me into sleep the night before have festered into something dark and ugly overnight. This morning I am stupified by an overwhelming sense of futility and purposelessness in my life, by the sense that this earthly path is far too long, tedious and sorrowful. The feeling is debilitating and terrifying. What the hell am I doing here in this hotel room? In Turkey? In my life, for that matter? How many years have dripped away while I obsessed about the things that really didn't matter; what do I have to show for any of it, except for a growing list of ex-boyfriends and some really nice photographs? I can feel Depression take my arm and gently but firmly begin to pull me down, down, down the old path, whispering to me in its familiar seductive tones. Gritting my teeth, I practice the drill I have grown so familiar with over the years, the emergency-brake self-talk in a desperate attempt to stop the further downward descent...but I feel so precarious, my grip on the sunlit world so very tenuous. Long minutes go by where I bury my face in the pillow and breathe deeply and try to stop the crash...I don't want to even move...and it is finally only the conscious calling on memories of triumph over adversity in my life -- marathons, mountain climbs, honors classes, public speaking -- that I can finally feel the strength and perseverence that lies buried somewhere in my soul. Holding tight to that, I get up.

The courage doesn't last long. When I emerge into the breakfast room, E., the manager of the pension, whom I'd met before and didn't like much, takes a long look at me and says, "You look old."

(....!) A long pause while I try to control the sudden white-hot rage that boils up from my spleen and makes we want to scratch this man's eyes out.

"Excuse me?"

"You look old," he repeats. Oh my god. Suddenly in my head it's a cacophany of racing ER doctors and defibrillators and shouts of "She's crashing!!" Forget the marathons and the mountain climbs and the honors classes! I mean, that was all about accomplishing a specific goal.... The analogy doesn't fit! I cheered myself up under false pretenses!! We're talking about life here, babe, which you can't 'accomplish;' it's a different sort of game altogether, you can do it well or badly...and oh my god mine is slip-sliding away, and I suspect I may be doing it very badly indeed...and what's more, I look OLD. Might as well go hurl myself off a cliff now.

"Ah. Thank you so kindly. You are indeed a gentleman."

"I just mean, like, you like you haven't been taking care of yourself."

"Once again, thank you so much."

"Hey, come on, I'm your friend, you want me to lie to you?"

To my surprise, tears have sprung to my eyes. "Didn't your mother ever tell you 'if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all'? And for the record, you are not my friend," I add, with more vehemence than I had expected.

And then, not knowing what to do with this sudden impotent rage born from grief (when I lived in San Francisco, a co-worker told me once, "baby, you got the existential blues") that has surfaced out of nowhere, I march up to the counter, wiping the corners of my eyes, and ask for the bill. I want to check out. I want to get out of this hotel, out of this town, out of my own life if possible.

The man is shocked by my reaction -- I had told him that I planned to stay a while. His friend, B., tries to console me, look, he didn't mean anything's just a language problem. Really, he's a good guy. And you look great, by the way.

The words fall on deaf ears. I want out. I don't need to put up with this f*cker, not today, not ever. Nor anyone else who makes me look at my life and hate it, for that matter. I pay and leave, having not even breakfasted.

It is time to get out of Dodge. My one thought as I trudge down the street with my duffle slung over one shoulder is to get to the bus station, get to Izmir, get to bed and sleep for about a week, to sleep until I can wake up and manage to find something to smile at.

On the way to the bus station, I pass a hotel that I've passed a zillion times before, and it occurs to me to wonder why I've always chosen to stay at the crappy pension on the hill with its overinflated prices and managers who like to insult their customers. I wonder what prices elsewhere are like...and so just out of sheer, idle curiosity, I pop into this hotel, where the staff is gracious and smiling, and, it turns out, the rooms are 10 YTL cheaper, and have sea views, balconies and air can I resist? Before I have a chance to overanalyze it, I say I'll take it, and once again, my homeward-bound intentions are derailed. Miraculously, too, the combination of the smiles, great prices and views act like a vaporizer on my black mood until all that's left are a few scattered little puffy gray clouds.

It is sometimes a beautiful thing to be a grown-up, with a steady job and paycheck. This big white bed, the lovely harbor view, the heavenly A/C...I realize suddenly that if I want, I can have this until the end of the holiday, when I REALLY have to get back to earn more money. I stretch out on the crisp, blindingly white sheet, the sea-light pouring in through the balcony doors and the A/C whispering sweet, cool nothings into my ear...I will sleep today, I will thoroughly justify the rent of this room, I will spread on lotions and mud masks and paint my toes and read books and wear lingerie and I will, goddammit, I WILL feel good.

Amazingly, I succeed. The day is a delicious cycle of intermittant dozing, book-reading, lotion-applying, sauntering out onto the balcony in my lingerie, feeling totally happy. Totally. Happy. Unusual for me. But not altogether unpleasant. Welcome to my bi-polar life.

I also take the opportunity to do a little thinking, which is pretty much impossible to do fruitfully when in the grips of depression. M. is a yacht captain. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I'm drawn to him. There's something incredibly appealing in the idea of man as captain -- the man who is in charge, who knows where he's going and makes decisions with cool expertise and authority. Captaining, obviously, is a skill that I admire, and yet it occurs to me, sprawled out on my cool white bed, that perhaps I have never quite donned the captain's cap in my own life. Certainly I have traveled and taken certain career risks, but at the same time, it seems that I have always depended upon the idea of the MAN who would rescue me, make it all so that even if it all went KABLOOEY in my face, I'd still have the safety net: the MAN, the man who loved me, the man who would take care of me. And it was always, which man? This one, or the other one, or the one I haven't met yet? Where will they take me? Did I ever stop to think about where I wanted to take myself? Or did I unwittingly buy into the fairy tale every little girl knows by heart from the age of four, where the prince on the white horse comes and saves her from a life of hardship? What we (or I, anyway) failed to ask was, where did he take her? What did her life look like then? The story tells us she was happy -- but what made her so? Her rich and varied life? We are given no such details, and therefore it is dangerously easy to make the unconscious assumption that handome man + money (he was a prince, after all) + white horse (or yacht) = happiness. Oh my god, was I that much of a sucker?

Lying under the heaven of the A/C, thinking these thoughts, an entirely new feeling begins to come over me: here I am, in a hotel room paid for with my own money, thinking of two men but belonging to none, and suddenly, strangely, I am okay with that. Happy in my own skin and glad that I am alive, that I am here, and that I have a good job that enables me to finance all of this. Good stuff. I could go outside now and talk to anybody; I could go out and salsa dance, dive from great heights into aquamarine sea, sit and drink a beer, alone, and watch the sun in its marvelous trajectory across the sky, and be quite content throughout it all. Wow... is this what it means to be a grown-up, I suddenly wonder? Being comfortable in your own skin? Acknowledging that you alone are in the driver's seat?

That evening, as I wander about the restaurants, bars and beaches, I enjoy this new sensation that is the gentle weight of the captain's cap on my head. I'm in charge of this life, more than anyone else on this planet. And hey, I'm kind of starting to like that idea.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 7 (Sunday)

He is gone in the wee hours, as I am only half-awake. There are hazy goodbyes, but fortunately I am too groggy to feel the pang of separation...I awake mid-morning, alone in my hotel room. Slowly sitting up, I say good morning to Loneliness for the umpteenth time. And then I begin to ponder what to do with myself today.

It's been a week. I could, and probably should, go back to Izmir. Then again, why should I, really? Because simply hanging out in various towns and hotels with no particular agenda reeks of irresponsibility? Because my American soul that finds virtue in work and sin in idleness (yes, I've tried to escape this particular paradigm but the vestiges linger) won't allow for plain ol' hanging out with no particular objective? I decide to banish these voices to a basement in my mind. Life is short. I am here, in good health, with about as few commitments to anything or anyone as I am ever likely to have...why not stay until I'm good and ready to return?

To be honest, it takes a little psyching up to get myself to this point. I've been hanging around in Fethiye waiting for The Man, and he finally shows, only to disappear again...what now? Another week of waiting? The town, full of tourists and the people who cater to them, feels empty now without him. It is very tempting to stay in bed, to wrap myself up in the blanket of melchancholy that has become so worn and so familiar to me, and doze in its folds for a while...but this time I elect not to. I will get dressed. I will go out, make some new friends and have new adventures; break the cycle.


The lagoon at Ölüdeniz, on the far side of the peninsula on which Fethiye is located, is probably the most photographed stretch of coastline in all of Turkey. A long, white pebble beach borders clear turquoise waters, and the backdrop is of majestic pine-covered mountains that rise abruptly and dramatically from the coastline. This is also the paragliding center of Turkey, and at any given time, you can look up and see dozens of floating black specks in the air, curving, twirling, gradually descending until they take on the contours of a parachute and human form. It looks both exhilarating and terrifying. Perhaps someday I will do it...looking up at those marvelous soaring figures, I can't help but see a metaphor for my own life, thinking how just as I am too afraid to paraglide, so am I shying from the really big, and (if they don't kill you, in which case you won't know any better) exhilharating risks in life...but enough, already.

Despite having been warned that it will be horrendously crowded, I decide to spend the day in Ölüdeniz. It is simply the most spectacular setting for a swim and a nap that you could possibly envision. Upon arriving and paying the 3 lira to get into the National Park where the beach is located, I discover that the people I talked to were right: nearly every inch of beach is covered with lounge chairs and umbrellas...this is not the place to go for peaceful meditation. All the better. I am in a high-risk mood right now, and could easily fall off some crumbling emotional precipice. It's best not to leave too much room for sitting and thinking all alone. I need people.

The day is spent pleasurably sunbathing, swimming, reading, sleeping. The beach boy who rents me my lounge chair and umbrella is curious about me, and because I am alone, and because I can speak Turkish, he comes over frequently to chat. I don't mind, so I am feeling open and mellow, and I know that it will do me good to meet new people, however temporary the connection.

His name is Hasan, and he comes from a little village near Antalya. He perches on the edge of the neighboring lounge chair, looking down at me with a handsome, suntanned, impossibly youthful face. The conversation is pleasurable: he is curious about my culture, I am interested his origins, what it means for him to have grown up in this country. When I leave in the late afternoon, he suggests that we meet that evening in Fethiye and go out on the town. It's a deal, I say.


When we meet in Fethiye that evening, I am surprised by his height, or rather lack thereof. I tend to be taller than the majority of Turks, but this case is ridiculous: I am probably close to a foot taller, and although this is not a 'date', I still feel supremely self-conscious with him, experiencing an odd sense of guilt, as if I am taking my young son out bar-hopping. Probably I am more self-conscious because I'm pretty sure that he isn't looking at me as a mother figure.


Ahh, the burden of youth. Much though I sometimes curse the aging process, I would not for one minute voluntarily turn back the clock and relive that particular uncertainty, insecurity and inability to express -- or even know -- what I really want that characterizes so much of the younger years. We spend part of the evening at a bar I don't really like, too loud for real conversation, the look on his face making it clear that although he doesn't really like it, either, he thinks I do. Not an alcohol drinker, he drinks because I do, just to go along...and keeps asking me if I am having a good time, what I want to do next...everything hangs upon my whim, he has no wishes or opinions of his own, but is entirely pliable to ME...a fact that I find entirely disconcerting.

There is a critical moment where he needs to get the last bus back to Ölüdeniz, where he lives, or be stuck in Fethiye for the night. He tentatively posits that if, by chance, I were to want to keep our conversation going, he would be willing to spend the night in Fethiye, even if it meant having to sleep on a bench somewhere. I put my hand on his shoulder, look him dead in the eye, and lay it all out. Our conversation is great. I am happy to continue it, but absolutely nothing is going to happen between us. Furthermore, if he elects to stay in Fethiye, he must know that he may NOT stay in my room at the hotel. No problem, he says...for the chance to talk longer, I will sleep outside if need be...

At the hotel it is somewhat of a different story (anybody surprised??). He balks at the cushioned kiosks outside the hotel that I point out as possible places to lay a weary head. Wheedles that if I let him come in, nothing will happen, I swear, I won't even touch you, we'll just share a bed...I lose my temper rapidly and say look, you knew the terms of the deal when you accepted it, please don't piss me off. You are NOT sharing my bed. This, I must admit, is hard for me. Being a hard-ass, insisting that some poor soul sleep outside without so much as a blanket (there isn't even one in my room to give him); I have always verged towards being overly tender-hearted; always had trouble toeing the hard line, generally wind up giving in when I shouldn't. But this is the new Me. This time, much as it pains me, I will not budge. I will NOT be manipulated by someone who knew the score going in. Wishing him a good night, I go to my hotel room. I lock the door behind me and sink onto the bed, relief coursing through every synapse that I am alone...or at least, alone, as in not-with-him. Memory of my recent reconnection with M. suddenly comes rushing back, and I curl up clutching a pillow, reliving that almost dream-like memory, so fleeting and surreal, dreamy, romantic, intense, that I wonder briefly whether it really happened at all...just as I am drifting off to sleep with that in my head, my phone beeps with text message from Hasan:

I never got the chance to share your bed, or kiss your flower-scented skin, but nevertheless I am happy to have spent the evening with you. Sweet dreams...

Suddenly the whole cycle of love/lust/infatuation/longing whirls before my mind's eye, and I feel supremely tired, like Sysyphus pushing the same damn rock uphill for the gazillionth time. When it comes to relationships, isn't one always wanting more than the other? It is a constant Push-Me-Pull-You of wanting and retreating, desiring and escaping. Do we ever really arrive at a point where we both want each other equally? If so, how long can we expect it to last?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 6 (Saturday)

Most of Saturday is sleep. I rise late, leave my hotel, meander past the marina on a quest for coffee. Then my heart skips a beat: above the trees that separate the road from the marina, the wind ruffles an Austrian flag off the stern of a gulet. His is the only boat in the marina that does not fly the Turkish flag. He's back! The urge to run straight there is nearly irresistable; I know somehow that if I can just stand there, facing him, look him in the eye, everything will be fine. But from somewhere in my pathetic, groveling soul, I manage to dig up a shred of self-esteem...and I walk on by. There have been no phone calls, no hey, I'm here, come by..., and so I will not go. I will not go.

I don't go too far, though. Plopping down on a bench in a nearby shady park, I begin to write furiously, hoping to review and process all that's happened on this trip. Maybe half an hour goes by. A child's cry causes me to look up, and by sheer, stupid happenstance, at that moment I see Hasan, M.'s nephew (who also works on the boat) walking directly past me. He does not see me, but I feel obliged to greet him. The customary how are you's and how's it goings, then a Why aren't you at the boat with M.? and a muttered Well if he wants to, he can call me...

Hassan leaves, and I suppose must tell M. that he's met me, for fifteen minutes later my phone rings -- it's M., and he sounds genuinely glad that I'm there in Fethiye. Don't go anywhere, he says, I'm coming...wait. And so I wait. And wait. And wait. An hour goes by. I get tired of the flies that bite and the splintery bench that scratches my legs, and decide to move to a nearby restaurant to sit and drink beer, and write...and wait. Finally, close to two hours later, I see him. And it's just like the beginning all over again...the sight of him, the silly flip-flop of my heart, the jello feeling in the knees that makes me glad I'm sitting down, the stupid, instant forgiveness for everything that against my better judgment I seem to keep giving....

Spotting me, he walks straight up and enfolds me in a bear hug that seems to last for hours. I'm sorry, he breathes into my hair. And with those words, the last of my peevishness dissolves, and I am simply happy that he's there, sitting next to me.

We talk for a long, long time. Mostly about what's happened to him since I saw him, all the craziness that constitutes his job, especially so with this week's events, and the state of his health (not good). After I left, he had orders from the agency to dock at Kaş and disembark; a new captain was being sent, and he was being relieved of his duties. However, the night before, the passengers caught him packing his bags, and when they got wind of what was happening, were irate. They phoned the agency, declaring If he goes, so do we. And so the agency was left with no choice but to have him stay. In the end, the passengers were all happy with the trip, so what could the company really say? He continues to be employed...a fact that I am delighted by, but still, I cannot help but remind him, he SHOULD have told me.

We walk together a long way down the wharf. It is pleasant, walking together, and easy to forget the reason that I came here six days ago -- to separate from him. It feels so good and so easy in his presence, in spite of the fact that all my logic cells are buzzing irately that this is an impractical, impossible, untenable relationship, based on pure, chemical, pheremonal infatuation, and destined to end badly.

We stop to enjoy a laugh over some domesticated pelicans that squat on the wharf before a restaurant whose benevolent manager keeps them sedated with fish. Then we sit down to a magnificent supper, and probably some of the best fish I've ever had. There is a gypsy woman with roses; he buys the whole bunch for me. This is NOT the time to say look, you and I, we just aren't going to work..., nor do I have the inclination to...the closest I get is to say, hey, if you want to break up, just say so. DO you want to break up? (Equal parts hoping and fearing that he'll say yes.) He looks at me long and steadily, with that bottomless stillness I have always loved, big brown eyes looking deep into my own. He lights a cigarette and smokes it in that way I love to watch; in through the mouth, out through the nostrils in two graceful tendrils, gazing steadily at me all the while. There is an eternity, an abyss of silence. My hands are shaking, I can't bear it. And finally, just when I am about to speak again...Let's drop this 'breakup' topic, all right? This is an inaccurate Turkish, the meaning was more 'let's put an end to this topic,' a delightfully, maddeningly enigmatic way to say 'let's not break up,' but not in so many words, exactly. An expression more of a desire not to break up than to stay together...tell me, someone, why, oh why, do I so enjoy difficult people?? :-(

We return to the hotel, sated, happy. There is wonderful reconnection, and I realize again that I have been thrown off the track of my initial intentions; namely, to simplify my life. But for the moment, I really don't care.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 5 (Friday)

It is definitely time to go, I decide upon awakening. I cannot bear, even one more time, to run the gauntlet of yes, please, hello, I love you, where are you from? that is de rigeur when I leave my hotel. I still have no idea where or how M. is, and the waiting to hear from him is making me cranky. I want out.


The bus to Fethiye is insanely, ridiculously small. It is not so much the bus itself that is small, although there's that, too, but the seats seem to have been made for children. I am sure that I am narrower than your average Turkish village woman, but even so, my hips spill over the edge of my seat and it is impossible to fit my knees into the space provided unless I hoist them up and shoehorn them in against the seat in front of me. There is a ridiculous little pillow that appears to be covered with a home-knitted tea cozy that serves to take up what little space remains, and the faux-silk draperies that line the window flap in my face, the tie that should hold them having come loose. My seatmeat, as bad luck would have it, is a hefty middle-aged woman who definitely takes up more than one seat. Our hips meld together in this tiny space, and I know these next few hours must be an exercise in disassociation of mind from body if I hope to survive. I take a deep breath.


Although I had expected the trip to Fethiye to follow the coast road, just as I had come, it seems that this time I have wound up on the yayla route through the mountains. Yaylas are the high mountain pastures to which villagers who dwell on the coast in the winter months move in the summer to escape the heat. After the lights and hustle and myriad foreign languages and topless sunbathers of Alanya, seeing these high, lonely places is a shock. Suddenly, a short distance outside of Alanya, I am plunged into the heart of Anatolia. The mini-bus fills with local villagers, suncreased, gap-toothed, dressed traditionally in layers of clothing that the foreign tourists would find incomprehensible in the summer heat. There is much chatter and eating on the bus as we chug ever so slowly up the mountains. I wonder what life is like for people it hard to make enough money to sustain themselves? How many of them have seen the flashiness of the city below? What do they make of it? Are they able to make anything at all of it, or is it altogether incomprehensible to these people who live more or less the same lives of villagers since time immemorial?


My seatmate is a chatty sort who fills my ear with her son's tale-of-woe-turned-happy-ending: the son worked in a jewlery shop, where a beautiful young Polish woman later came to be employed. They fell in love, got married, but then she fell in love with their boss and left him. The son is now, however, happily married to a 'decent,' very beautiful, Ukrainian woman who speaks excellent Turkish. I detect the pride in the woman's voice at her son's having successfully (this time) snagged a foreigner. It is an interesting phenomenon that I have observed a number times in Turkey: although there is a certain mistrust of foreigners and sense that 'they'll never be one of us,' it seems to be a point of pride among many families if someone manages to acquire a foreign (by which I mean European or North American) bride. I wonder, is this because a foreign bride connotes 'Westernness', a value that many Turks are keen to embrace? Or is an economic status symbol, like buying a Mercedes? Foreign women tend to be viewed as possessors, or at least representatives of wealth; therefore a Turk who gets a foreign woman may be presumed to have a high level of education and/or income, or possess other fine qualities marketable enough to net them a foreigner. Hmm.


Many bum-aching, neck-cramping hours later, we reach Fethiye. From the otogar, I head to my usual pansiyon with its fabulous view of the bay. It's seriously run down at the heels, and the prices are far too high for what you get; still, I know the place, I know the people, so there I go.


B. is a tall, lanky young man with long, greasy black hair pulled back in a ponytail. He is perpetually wearing sunglasses because of his fondness for a good smoke (of the non-legal variety). I regale him with tales of the boat adventure and all the annoyances of Alanya, topped off with the lingering worry/sadness/irritation that three days following my ejection from the boat, there is still no word of any kind from M. How can the man not realize that I am worrying?? I am trying to leave him his space, of which he seems to need vast quantities, but three days? Why has it not occurred to him to let me know?? B. offers me a joint, on the grounds that I need it after what I've been through, but I pass, knowing it won't help.


Now and then I get a phone call from someone whom I've saved in my mobile phone's address book as 'Mehmet bağlama' (bağlama is a Turkish musical instrument). I never answer, just let it ring while staring at the name and trying hard to remember who this person is. So far, the penny hasn't dropped.

I'm sitting there in my divey pension, pondering the view and what to do next, when the phone rings and I see 'Mehmet bağlama' on the display. What the hell, I think. It's not like I have anything better to do than talk to someone I don't know.

Surprise, surprise, he turns out to be a musician I met once in Fethiye at a folk music place while out with M. I still can't for the life of me remember him, picture his face, or figure out why I would have given him my number, particularly if I was out with a boyfriend at the time. It must have had something to do with music lessons, probably...

So the man is living in Fethiye, playing at a place on the beach, and wants me to come listen. Why not? My week of sailing by M.'s side having been cut extremely short, and not having any further word from him, I am utterly free to do as I wish. Still, I am beginning to seriously agitate inside. Why hasn't he called??? Why????!!!! I feel like throwing something. Instead, I break down and send a text message, oh so casual: Hi dear, how are you doing? Haven't heard from you and hope everything is okay. Some time later, the response comes: Hi dear, I'm fine; how are you doing? Hope you're well, kisses...

As if a dangerous chemical reaction has been set in motion, something starts writhing and boiling inside me; anger mounts, rage and frustration at how this goes, how it has always gone since the beginning, how there is never enough, never anything for me, no apologies or explanations, how I am left to wonder and worry, how I seem to want and need more, how he is so warm yet so aloof, how this intrigues me and I wish it didn't because it makes me sick with wanting and anger and frustration inside. All this anger and sorrow and no outlet for it...I swallow it and get ready to go out.


A long taxi ride -- the tourist loop. I am overcharged. About to pay, the phone rings. It is M. Although I had been having calm and relatively cheerful conversation with the driver up to that point, when I see the caller ID, I crack. Answering the phone, I ask a few tentative questions --- are you all right? (yes) Where are you? (on the boat) Oh, so you're still working? (yes) And then the dam breaks, and I begin shouting in Turkish, a flash flood of words that cannot be held back: What the hell kind of person are you? Where have you been? Do you have any idea how I've been worrying about you? How I hung out in Alanya putting up with all kinds of shit just because I thought you might be coming to join me, just because I was waiting to hear what would happen? Did it EVER occur to you to think that I might be wondering about you? That I was upset for you because you'd lost your job? And you tell me now that you're FINE????!!! I don't think you have the faintest idea what it means to care about someone; you are the most incredibly selfish person I have ever met in my life...did it ever cross your mind to wonder how I was doing? Did it????!!!

I think he is taken aback by my rant. There are a few feeble apologies, then he is back on an even keel, remonstrating me to hang up and talk later when I've gotten a grip. Fine, I steam, anyway I'm going out now with a man I met in Fethiye. Yes, a man. How do you like them apples?


Hours pass at the restaurant. I am sitting in front, the waiters are treating me like a princess: cushions are proffered, fruit plates, raki, roses. I still do not recognize the man playing. I am still upset from my telephone conversation earlier, and every ten minutes or so I break into quiet tears, upon which Mehmet (the musician) smiles at me and starts singing love songs, inserting my name into them, which only makes me cry harder and wish I were somewhere else.

On a break, he comes and sits with me. He is a short, portly, balding man whose breath smells like cabbage. I feel suddenly ill when I realize he has more than a platonic interest in me. Arm around my shoulders, he expresses his great joy at our long-awaited reunuion. I cannot bear to see the happiness in his face, as if he were truly reuniting with his beloved. I shrink away from the hand on my shoulder. The tears come again, predictably, and it makes him crazy -- let me hold you! My dear, don't cry! Please! He pulls me close and I pull away, wanting to run, not knowing where to go, not sure even where the taxi has brought me.


We wind up drinking raki until the wee hours, not because I love his company, but because I feel an intense need to not be sober, and I don't feel like drinking alone, and anyway if I go back to the hotel now all I'll do is stay awake and cry into my pillow until daybreak. The alternative is the wearisome night we wind up spending: he spends his time convincing me that we are soulmates, that I should forget the other guy; I may not love him now but I will learn to. For my own part, I spend the night brooding over my own issues as well as chafing at the fact that this man is making me incredibly uncomfortable. A good thing does come out of the evening -- he shows me some technique on the bağlama -- but in the end there are too many pulls at my arm, taps on my shoulder, too much leaning in. I can't bear it, snap, bat his hand away, rise to leave. He insists on walking me back to the hotel, and it is a long and tedious journey as this same dynamic continues. Stopping, going, tugging, pleading, rebuffing. Repeat. It is 4:00 a.m. as we pass the marina, and there is a breathtakingly beautiful sunrise on the make. Blocking out the present company, I look with longing out to the bay beyond, thinking of M. and wishing to God he didn't have this undoing effect on me, wishing I were there, not here, and then, a moment later....feeling done with it all -- just wanting to be away from everything and everyone and have some peace, finally.

To my surprise, my escort is decent enough to say goodnight and leave when we reach the hotel. Once inside, I quickly lock myself in my room, hurl myself onto the bed fully dressed, and crash into a dreamless sleep.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 4 (Thursday)

I'm up early, 6:00 a.m., determined to get out before the heat gets too intense. Strange, the rhythms of my sleep these days....sometimes I fall asleep early and slumber deep and long, ten hours or more; other nights I cannot sleep at all, writhing on my pillow until first light and birdsong.

A morning dip in the sea refreshes. I've brought my goggles, and swim to the rocks where the fishermen try their luck. Sheer delight as a shimmering school of thousands of tiny silver fish encircle me, and a feeling for a moment that I am embraced by the universe.

Back on the beach, sunrise, beach pebbles, stillness and meditation. And then, without warning, it is disturbed by a smirk-wearing young man passing too close to me and wishing me good morning with more emphasis than is called for from a stranger. He passes me several times, good morning-ing me each time, and there is a rising irritation in my spleen. Then an elderly man passes, also wishes me good morning -- at least he's harmless, I think -- but he is back a few minutes later, and has the audacity to sit down inches away from me, as if we are old friends sharing a morning on the beach together. Rattled, hard-pressed to believe that I am being harrassed on a beach by an old man prior to seven o'clock in the morning, I leap to my feet, grab my things and go. I am dismayed and angry at having been robbed of this moment of peace and beauty. Why are people so cheap? I wonder.

Back at the hotel, breakfast, the usual Turkish hotel kind: 3 kinds of olives, 2 kinds of cheese, bread, butter, jam, cucumbers and tomatoes. Whenever I get tired of this breakfast I think back to our trip to Cyprus when I was a kid: the word was tomato salad. No other kind of salad to be had, and it was nothing but tomatoes. It became a kind of running joke on our trip. At least here we've got cucumbers.

Fatih shows up at the hotel mid-morning, offers to take me up to the mountain, where one can sit in the cool shade over a river, splash in the water, and eat trout from those very same waters. I readily agree, having nothing better to do, and we go. He takes me to an out-of-the-way place, not the one frequented by all the tourists to Alanya, and the road, which I suddenly realize is two-way, is terrifyingly narrow along the edge of a gorge. Fatih handles the vehicle well, however, and soon I am lost in conversation, forgetting about the vertical drop to my right. We cover a range of topics. Politics: People hate Americans because you keep meddling in other countries' business. Telling other countries what they can and can't do. The Jewish conspiracy: When the Jews take over the world...Me: oh, come on, you can't be serious! Well, most of the world is run by a relatively small group of people, most of whom are Jewish. Hmmm... Islam - me: is it true that the Kuran mandates the killing of the infidel? Him: Absolutely not! Where on earth did you read this? I refer to the book The Crisis of Islam and he insists that either I misremember or the author doesn't know what he's talking about.

The difficulty of arguing any serious topic in Turkish leads me to say boşver (forget about it) and comment on the loveliness of the scenery.

We have a tranquil lunch under the trees and over the river, pausing to dive into the cold -- but not as cold as expected -- clear water. We doze a while in the shade, then make the trip back. I thank him and head for the hotel room, diving once again into sleep beneath the A/C.


Late afternoon beach, a swim, a doze in the slanting sunlight. A sudden presence so near me that it brushes the hair on my arm. I open my eyes to find a pair of earnest-looking brown ones staring down at me. He is not so much sitting next to me as on top of me, and I recoil slightly.

Guy (in broken English with a strong accent): I saw you sit here I think you alone I come next you.

Me: Oh.

G: What's your name?

Me: Katherine.

G: (rapturously) Ahhh! I am Serkan. (Rolling the words on his tongue...) Serkan...Katherine...Katherine...Serkan...ahh...together so beautiful!

Me: (creeped out, and switching to Turkish because if I have to put up with creepiness I'd rather not ALSO have to put up with bad grammar and a broken accent) What are you doing here?

G: (breathing, rather than speaking the words, in the manner of an all-too-excited patron of a seedy cinema) I saw you looking at me...come on, you were looking at me, weren't you? (He is gently picking pieces of sand off my skin in the manner of an amorado and I swat his arm away.)

Me: (testily) Yeah, I was probably counting the psychos on the beach today.

G: (totally unfazed) What are you doing tonight? (try to imagine this being said in a heavy-breathing pervert sort of way)

Me: I have plans.

G: Ohh! But Katherine, you and me, tonight, you know? We could be together...

Me: Like I said, I've got plans.

G: Cancel them! This could be our only chance! Tomorrow I return to Istanbul! You and me...

Me: (pushing the guy off me and gathering my things) The thing is, I don't want to cancel them. But I hope you have a nice night and a pleasant journey home.

G: But Katherine! I can't bear it! You can't leave me like this!

Me: Goodbye.

G: Don't you have a telephone number?

Me: (laughing out loud) You seriously think I would give you my telephone number???

G: Pleeeease....Katherine, tomorrow I return to Istanbul!!!! Don't do this to me!!

Me: Like I said, have a nice trip.

G: (with insanely pleading eyes) Can I at least give you my telephone number?

Me: You can give it...

G: (eyes lighting up) Really! I'll get a pen!!

Me:...if it makes you feel better, but I'm not going to call you.

G: (crestfallen, but nonetheless writing carefully) Please call me...this is my last night here, you know? You, me...

Me: (pocketing the number) Yeah, whatever. Enjoy it.

G: Wait! Can you read my number??

Me: Yup, it's clear.

G: No, read it out loud to me!!

Me: (Just to get rid of him, I read the number out, then begin to walk away.)

G: (scurrying after me) Say, is your hotel on this street??

Just when I am contemplating making use of my runner's legs, a tall, severe-looking elderly man intervenes with harsh words to my harrasser.

Man: You again!!! What the hell are you doing? You've been harrassing the girls on this beach all day!

G: What, me??!

Man: Yes, I've seen you! Get lost, and don't let me see your face around here again!

And thus I am spared from having to make a sprint in flip-flops and sweltering heat. Thank God for guardian angels.


A shower, a spontaneous decision to take another crack at a run to the castle. Out into the lowering dusk...only to discover the legs are hamburger, wasted from the day before. I take the turnoff down to the marina, where I wander pensively, looking at the boats and the captains and crew having tea or dinner on board, their day's tours finished. I am soured on boat tours; it gives me a pain to watch these men, to listen to the hustling, Yes please, would you like to take a boat tour? to remember the days when I was an innocent in this country, excited and beguiled by everything, and now feeling simply tired. I slowly turn away from the wharf and return to the hotel.


Overlooking Damlataş beach is a restaurant where I have been told there is fasıl (a trio of muscians playing classical Turkish music) every night. Wearied of this cheap, fast environment I find myself adrift in, I decide to put on a nice dress and treat myself to a civilized evening out.

The man at the door greets me with an expression that says I'm so sorry; he was mistaken, tonight there will be no Turkish music because of the beach party. Beach party? Yes, you can have a look if you like...

I choose a table on the edge of the terrace, closest to the beach, from whence you can get a good look at the goings-on below. Loud pop music with explicit lyrics blares. Gorgeous young blonds, mostly women, gyrate their sleek, tanned hips alongside dark-haired, olive-skinned men -- probably Turkish, probably employees. The girls are from Norway and Sweden, and most of them can't be more than 18 years old. I watch as they dance, seeing how free they feel and how they revel in their youth and beauty, how they know they are beautiful to the men who watch them with hungry eyes...for a while I am envious, wistful. Aging is cruel, I think, the gradual dissolution of the body...I remember being young and beautiful once, I remember having that sense of wide open horizons. Why do I feel as though I've reached the end, that all those doors have closed? What do I have to replace the vanished youth? Am I wise? Somehow I do not feel so...

I eat and drink in silence, the dance continuing almost as if in a dream, me lost in contemplation of my own place in the scheme of things. Life goes on, we live, we age, we die. Perhaps we contribute an idea, a smile, or a child to this planet. But in the end, what does it really all mean? Stuck on this, I gaze beyond the revelers to the now-black sea, and think how just now I would like to run down there, strip off everything and throw myself in, abandoned to the tides and the winds.

The spiral down into these dark chambers of thought is interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. It is Fatih, he's finished work and wants to know if I'd like to meet. Glad to be rescued, I walk with him along the streets with the shops half-closed. We go for a drive; he offers to take me to the mountain again, but tonight I am somber and I decline. Instead we cruise slowly along the coastline for what seems a great distance. I talk and he listens, and gradually tales of conflict and sadness emerge, this great darkness that fills me dispersing a little as I talk. I am glad to have a listener. I take his hand, squeeze it, thank him. I may never see him again, but it's okay, I feel that I have nonetheless found a friend. He drops me at my hotel and I go to bed, a little lighter than when I left.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 3 (Wednesday)

Long, late sleep. Breakfast and back to bed again, face down under the cool air conditioning, hugging a pillow and mentally running through scenarios of what may be happening with M. as I lie there...imagining him anchoring the boat, gathering his belongings, leaving tall, silent, proud. Wondering how he will return to Fethiye from Kas, whether he will be able to collect his pay or whether that, too, will be forfeit now... imagining his sadness and shame at losing work, work which he prides himself on doing well, and at having had to put me off the boat. Wishing I could do something except lie here uselessly in this hotel room.

When I emerge finally in late afternoon, it is sweltering. The humidity is inescapable, the moment you step outside drops of sweat gather on the skin. I head to Damlatas beach, a place I remember liking for its tiny little stones that massage your feet and back, and go for a swim. Even the sea, despite its inviting turquoise color, is tepid and does not refresh. I emerge uncooled, thinking longingly of my hotel room and the air conditioner. Still, I am here in Alanya, there is a wonderful castle on the hill, and there is nostalgia to be indulged...

The run up to the castle is brutal, even if you happen to be in good shape and it doesn't happen to be high summer. Once upon a time L. and I made the run, and by now time has blurred that memory so that I don't recall if we actually ran the whole thing or not. Nonetheless, I remember summiting triumphantly, drenched in sweat and surveying the town and the beaches below like our own personal fiefdom.

I barely make it 400 meters up the initial dauntingly steep slope before slowing to a walk. Clearly my physical condition has deteriorated since my last attempt...

Through a combination of walking, jogging, shuffling, and stopping and puffing, I make the gates of the castle just five minutes after closing time. The guard is impervious to my pleas; no, I may not go in for five minutes just to see the view. The sun is about to set behind the castle; I can't see it from where I am, but know that just now the view would be magnificent. Turning away from the guard, I grumble inwardly, Turkey isn't what it used to be. But disappointment turns to delight -- I discover a rambling path down through olive groves and small meadows, winding down and around the old castle wall, eventually far enough around that I can watch the sun in its magnificent trajectory into the Mediterranean. I have not come this way before...there are tranquil walking paths, an unexpected mosque hidden in a copse of trees, some small village houses with people lounging in the shade of their terraces. The path takes me down, down, down, finally back to asphalt and the final descent to the town and the beach.

Stripping off t-shirt, running shoes and watch, I dive into the sea in my shorts and running top. It is beautiful to float there in the gentle surf as the last brilliant orange rays of setting sun dance on the water and the sky beyond turns to gold and rose. I wish I could stay here, bobbing on the sea like driftwood...wish for the umpteenth time that I could escape the conflict and hard choices in my life, wanting out from under this burden of sorrow that has been weighing me down for the last year, no, longer than that...

Was I asleep, living in denial, lying to myself all those years L. and I were together? It was great, nonstop fun, except for the wildly dramatic and sorrowful parts, which I suppose carried their own sort of excitement. It continued to be fun for so long, it amazed me that we were able to continue it that way. It was only when the topic of marriage was broached that things went awry...I suddenly realized that for whatever reason, I could not see him as my husband. I analyzed this feeling from every angle, alternating between blaming our past, blaming his character, blaming myself and my own neuroses. Finally, exhausted with analysis and no closer to a conclusion, I brought it down to this: the fact that that feeling, that gut reaction, is there, is enough. Perhaps I will never be able to pinpoint its origin. And so, hoping beyond hope that I wasn't doing something I would regret for a lifetime, I separated from him. It was agonizing, brutalizing. To my discredit, I clung to M., the captain I had met that summer, as a lifeline of tranquility and stability. I just needed someone to talk to, I said; didn't see myself falling in love or doing anything more than talking and sharing. Somehow through our shared conversations, the revelation of his own struggles with depression and search for God and meaning in life, my soul found someone it recognized. We continued our relationship, deeper feelings developed, but running parallel to those were dangerous currents of guilt and loss. I was drowning in them when I stayed at home, escaping them only when with M. But it was putting a Band-Aid on an unsterilized wound, and that had begun to fester...relations with M. got terse, especially when he came to visit me in Izmir. Poor soul, not knowing what he had landed in, found himself being lashed out at, all because he was not someone else. I wanted him to stay and I wanted him to go...depression deepened; I was no closer to clarity. Which is why I had made the trip down this way this time: to close things up, to simplify my life, to let some of that guilt and sorrow float away on the tide. But Fate has an interesting sense of humor -- the conversations I planned to have with M. never happened, the emotional distance from him I had cultivated before coming to see him, the distance that was going to help me with that difficult conversation, vanished in the course of the dramatic events on the boat. And I found myself caring all over again, and back in that river of opposing currents, flailing.

I return to the hotel, dripping. Fatih, a handsome man my age in faded jeans and salmon-colored t-shirt, greets me. I like him immediately for his calm demeanor, the depth and intelligence in his eyes. We end up having dinner together, or rather I have dinner while he makes marks on the map I've brought to show places I should go. He offers to take me on a night tour of Alanya. I agree, and we get in his car and go, stopping at a bakkal along the way for beers. There is talk of place of origins and what life is like there, his early marriage in his hometown, and subsequent move to Alanya, glimpse of the 'wider world' and conclusion that he married too young. I talk of my own struggles; there is a point of common ground there, where we both feel stranded in the lives we've made for ourselves. We park at the top of a hill with a spectacular view of all of Alanya, sip beers and listen to the radio. It is nice being here with someone different, and I maybe even briefly manage to forget about M. and L. and all of that...

He drops me at the hotel. It is late; I can't stop yawning. Turning on the air conditioner, I strip off everything and sprawl under it on the large, white, and reassuringly foreign -- disassociated from all memory or emotion -- king-sized bed.