How to get a cough in 15 minutes

I put on my running clothes over a pair of leggings and a sweatshirt and give myself a pep talk to stir up my faded enthusiasm before shooting out into the cold evening. I am so angry, frustrated and puffed up that I can’t postpone this any longer without running the increasing risk of killing someone. I’ve never felt so much aggressiveness built up inside. And I need to sweat out the demons.  Fifteen minutes later, I am back at the house. Frozen fingers and an icicle stuck in my throat. I’m determined to find a gym. It’s more a matter of mental than of physical health. And it’s urgent.

The dating nightmare

i am the designer of my own catastrophy dating nightmare

It’s the second day after my return from my birthday trip in Turkey and all the adventures I’ve gone through (some of which I still have not written about). I’ve got two theater tickets as a birthday present from a friend. Before leaving, this guy I met at an outdoor party earlier this autumn, the friend of a friend, wants to set up a date, so I tell him about the tickets and invite him to the theater in a week’s time. It’s Sunday night and I put on a black dress, a shiny cardigan and my oriental perfume, I pick up my oriental purse and I go down the stairs, my right eye still purple and yellow, my mind still wandering among fairy chimneys in Cappadocia and my heart still with Shams in Konya. I don’t want to be here. And I don’t want to be there. I just want to disappear.

He’s waiting in front of his car and when I come close, he kisses my cheeks and I hug him. We get into the car and start talking. I’m making efforts to be here. He’s a truly nice guy. The kind you want to settle down with. He’s determined to be serious and detached, a bit too detached perhaps. I tell myself the lack of chemistry is just a byproduct of my aloofness. We can get over it. If we are planning to take a nap together maybe. Or just have endless, serious and intelligent conversations about important life issues.

It’s still early, so we leave the car close to a park and take a short walk together before going into the theater. It’s a fine night and I’m feeling beautiful, independent and smart. It’s not one of those dates when you try hard to impress the other one or are feeling in any way inadequate or there’s a teasing war going on, making all your muscles tense. I’m feeling perfectly fine. And not at all attracted to my date. Unfortunately.

We get to the theater, leave our coats on the same hanger at the cloakroom, I wait for him as he goes to the rest room and abandon the thought of visiting the place myself when I see the long queue of women moving slowly, all shiny and perfect and bored. We then get in and find our seats. They’re very well placed and I enjoy lifting my feet as the seat balances under me, lowering my ass and bringing my knees close to my chest. The room is full and I can’t say I like the vibe of the audience.

The play begins. This old couple at night, in their beds. He wants to leave her. She’s snoring. He brutally wakes her up. They start a fight. “You’re an ass. You’ve never been more than an ass! That’s what you are!” he screams and the word “ass” reverberates in all the chair seats, making us all feel a bit guilty for hearing it. They’ve been together for thirty something years and know exactly what to expect from the each other. After fighting all night, they decide to stay together. Because they conclude being alone is worse than being unhappy in their crappy marriage.

I keep startling when this horrible song starts, although the moment is predictable, announced by a short silence on the part of the actors and the lights going down. I hate it so much that I have to cover up my ears and crouch in my seat, trying to make myself smaller as if by occupying less space my body could feel less present. My date, sitting on my left, looks at me from time to time and giggles from a safe distance. People are laughing at the stupid, vulgar fight and I am truly horrified. The only thing that could be remotely funny (if it weren’t painfully ironic) is the fact that I’m actually here on a date.

“Oh, God! I shout when we finally get out. We need a drink now. A shot! A couple of shots! Although I never drink shots. I really need that now! Jesus Christ! What was that?” I continue and I can’t help thinking it’s like a terrible, cruel, ironical, brutally honest preview of what our potential life together might come to. “Ok, God, got it. Thanks for not wasting my time by being too diplomatic.” I secretly tell Him as we’re heading for the old town in search of a pub.

We sit down in this place and I’m having my first mulled wine cup this autumn. He makes an indirect apology about not having ironed his shirt properly and we continue discussing about our lives prior to our first encounter. We make confessions and ask questions and it is interesting but not at all attractive. There’s this distance. As if we were interviewing each other. I, for my book writing. He, for his film making. So when he drops me off in front of my house and says we should do this again, I hesitate…

“Come on, you are there, I am here… You are my friend. My miracle friend”, the Konyan brother Shams brought on my very last day in Konya texts me the next day and I am crying my heart out as I call a friend to complain about my terrible loneliness. “What is wrong with me?” I ask. “Why can’t I be loved?!”

“I think you are a bit crazy…” the Turkish physicist tells me three weeks later, while petting my knee over a glass of red wine in an English pub close to my home.

“Really? Me? Why?” I ask feeling very curious about the way he perceives me. Two years and a half younger, drop dead gorgeous and very smart, he makes me enjoy his public displays of affection.

“Well, with all these adventures, travelling alone, living alone with your cat… You know… Usually people want a family now. Get married, have kids, that sort of thing…”

“Well, the cat is 13, so I’ve had her since before I was single. And I want a family, too”, I quickly reply. “And kids. Three. And I have been married, so it’s not like I haven’t tried that, too.”

“Really? I never knew.”

“You never asked.”

“I know… I am sorry. How long were you married? When did you get a divorce? Why didn’t you have kids?” he follows and I see it in his eyes how I’m becoming more and more interesting and less crazy as I’m answering his questions.

“You really have tried… For almost half of your life…” he concludes feeling impressed.

We like each other’s company and we respect each other for being awesome, smart, funny and hot. And proud. Still, it seems too difficult to find the time to meet. Too often things just seem to come up – the gym, a friend’s birthday, cinema with friends, time mismanagement. (“What is this? Is he in kindergarten or what?!” a friend asks as I confess about the troubles. Or “I can’t believe you haven’t figured it out yet. He’s lying, of course. You’re just an option for him. Do the same.” another friend advises.) And I do get the feeling complete honesty has not (yet?) settled in. Moreover, I feel like being bitchy and I hate that. I hate having to play games and beating about the bush. I can do it only too well. But it bores me to death and I am too impatient for it.

“Come for wine”, the creepy Canadian guy texts me at 2 am, before I finally decide to block him, after too much harassment. The first person I’ve ever had to block. And although our encounter was so brief and shallow, I still feel he’s come too close and I want to do some sort of cleaning to get rid of all his slimy traces in my life.

“What’s your work schedule?” is another kind of text I get from this other guy who finds me on Facebook “by magic”, as he says. Exactly my age. Seems nice and would like to meet up with him, only he never asks. The sign of cancer. I can actually feel he’s writing to me before the message beeps and my phone vibrates in my pocket. Our conversations are official and polite, sounding more like a job interview. And then, after a week of texting, he just disappears. “Do you think he’s read my blog and freaked out?” I ask another former lover turned into a dear friend. “No, my dear, your blog is fabulous. If he’s read it, he must really want to meet you.” she tries to encourage me, but I know brutal honesty, a sharp mind and balls are a total turn off for most men out there. (Sorry, guys!)

So yesterday, as I’m watching my fifth episode from “Divorce”, still in my pyjamas, there’s a loud knock on the door. And another one before I get up and hesitantly make it to the door. I sense danger. I know there can only be my neighbours and friends downstairs, who also own the house. Or the police. (I don’t know why I think of that, though.) I open the door and my neighbour is looking at my messy hair, feeling slightly amused by my apparition.

“Hi. There’s this guy downstairs who insists to see you. Says you’re not answering him. Or your phone is shut down.”

And by the time he finishes talking I know exactly who the guy is and I am so angry and shocked (although I did get the feeling he might do something like this), that I don’t know the exact words I use when I reply and apologise for the mess, assuring him I’ll call and talk to the guy.

I close the door, pick up my phone and being so damn furious makes it so difficult to use it, so I feel it takes forever before I hear the guy’s voice and want to smash his face with his phone. So I congratulate myself for not going downstairs to meet him. It all started a week ago, in a pub where I’m with other dancers from the contact improvisation Saturday evening class.

“I’m going home. Do you wanna come with me?” I ask the 29 year old German guy travelling and working with Syrian refugees.  The Turkish physicist is forty minutes late, so I’ve just canceled our date and I’m angry.

“Oh, my God. I am overwhelmed. Yes… You are so beautiful, really.” and a few minutes later he apologises and says he’s actually felt a connection with another girl. I laugh and back off.

This other guy, who’s come to the pub for me, decides we are going to take a walk together. I hesitate. I know he’s a bit crazy. I suspect schizophrenia. I reluctantly agree, so we end up spending a few hours together, since I’ve got no better plan. I figure it’s a learning experience – taking a peek into another kind of reality.

“Hey, how are you? I want to talk. Let’s have a coffee.” he says and I just want to kill him now, after a week of turning down his invitations and avoiding all contact.

I am screaming in the phone and I don’t know when or even if I was so angry before. I am sure my neighbors can hear me and I find that embarrassing. But I still can’t help shouting at him. This feels so close to being raped. Having my space invaded like this. And being asked to give explanations and account for things that have nothing to do with other people except me. So I state my freedom and defend it loudly and bravely. He still accuses me of not being brave enough to face him. I remind myself the guy is not all there, but don’t ease up on the firmness. By the time I hang up, half an hour later, I am calmer, but still shocked. He promises never to bother me again.

The force with which I repeat to him again and again that I have no reason to give any sort of explanation or answer any questions or see anyone I don’t want to see is something I’ll be forever grateful for. Still, my whole body seems to have gone through a storm and now I’m trying to recover, outrage still pouring out of my fingertips as I’m typing all this. He accuses me of being cynical. A couple of hours later, I’m wondering if I have become a heartless monster.

Earlier in the day, my former lover in Istanbul, now a very dear friend, sent me a message telling me that a mutual friend’s mother had just died in a hospital in Syria. And he is worried about our friend, who hasn’t seen his mother in years, but is in so much pain himself that he cannot get out of the house to see him. I send our friend a message and all the love I am capable of. And again I wonder about the way our lives are intersecting and the part Syria and Turkey are playing in my own story.

And although I was planning to go out to a concert, I change my mind and stay in, so I later light candles, make myself dinner and eat it alone in my bed, after spending the day in my pyjamas, having watched quite a few episodes from “Divorce” on HBO online. And then the very first episode from “Sex and the City”. Worst choices. And I think life can be worse than deciding to eat dinner alone in your bed on a Sunday evening, in your cosy house, next to your purring cat.

Many of my friends who are married and have kids, after initially pitying me for the divorce, are now envious of my freedom.

“But you have kids and that is so beautiful. And someone to share your life with.” I usually tell them. Or “You are pregnant, wow, congratulations…” and my eyes become wet.

“Yes, but look at you. You are young and beautiful and smart. You can do whatever you want. You can travel. You can date. You are free. Your time belongs only to yourself.” they explain trying to convince me my life is better than theirs.

And then I say hey, Joe, take a walk on the wild side…

 

PS Took the photo on the theater date night, in a window in the old city.

What are trust and distrust?

If there’s an important question on your mind, try asking a child about it.

On Thursdays I teach a creative writing workshop in the afterschool for third and fourth graders. Yesterday I felt like discussing and working on trust and distrust. 

I started with a physical exercise that I learnt in a contemporary dance workshop four years ago. We formed a circle and took turns being inside the circle, eyes closed, the others placing their hands softly on the arms, back, shoulders, head, chest and stomach of the person in the middle. Then the hands moved away and the person in the middle had to lean backwards, forwards, left and right, eyes still closed, offering their weight to the others and being supported by unknown hands, practicing trust and noticing how that feels. 

I then collected words on the board, describing our experiences. And each of us took time to write their own, personal, definitions of trust and distrust. 

I was impressed by two definitions and took them in my heart overnight. They helped me reach an important conclusion that brings me to the end of a major stage in my life. 

Here they are, translated from Romanian:

“Trust is a state of the human body on which friendship relies.”

“Distrust is a state of the body on which nothing relies.”

Copacul singuratic. Poveste de lampioane

 

st martin gnomes  painted jars lanterns

felt and wool gnomes         board drawing chalk

A fost odată ca niciodată o pădure deasă și tare bătrână. Atât de bătrână încât niciunul dintre copaci nu-și mai aducea aminte când se născuse și ce fusese pe locul acela înainte să răsară, prin cine știe ce miracol, din cine știe ce semințe, pădurea. Cu rădăcinile lor întortocheate făcându-și drum prin pământul tare, printre bolovani, căutând cu hotărâre un loc tot mai adânc, de parcă s-ar fi străduit să ajungă tocmai în centrul pământului și abia acolo să-și lase brațele moi să atârne și să se odihnească după atâta caznă, copacii nu tăceau niciodată.

În tinerețe, când tulpinile lor subțiri încă se-ndoiau până la pământ în bătaia vântului care le făcea coroanele fragile să se-ncurce unele-ntr-altele ca părul copiilor la joacă, încă țineau minte și-și povesteau unii altora necontenit despre cum a fost demult, înainte să vină ei pe pământ, despre lumina pe care îngerul a suflat-o asupra semințelor pe care le ținea în palmă înainte de a le da drumul pe solul pustiu, ca unor zaruri pe care le arunci la-ntâmplare, neștiind ce-o ieși. Dar el știa.

Semințele, în înțelepciunea lor ascunsă sub coajă, știau și ele. Și nu se temeau că vreuna avea vreodată să dea greș. Aveau încredere în căldura pe care o simțiseră în palma îngerului, iar suflul lui le-a dat curajul de a se lăsa aruncate cât colo, tocmai din cer, pe pământul pustiu. Și-acolo, acoperite de praf, bătute de vânt, udate de ploi, s-au afundat tot mai mult și mai mult în pământul nou. Și, din când în când, îngerul zbura pe deasupra lor suflând căldură spre ele. Și-atunci prindeau și mai mult curaj și se deschideau tot mai mult și mai mult, până când coaja li se-nmuie și se umflă atât de tare încât pocni cu un zgomot ca de aterizare, care fu preluat ca un ritm de mai multe semințe deodată și apoi de altele, buimăcite la trezirea din somn, până când toate se deschiseră și pocniră ca floricelele de porumb.

Din miezul umed, strălucitor, porni câte un firicel atât de gingaș încât lumina, puțină câtă străbătea pământul până la el, îl traversa inundându-l și făcându-l transparent. El nu se lăsă și crescu tot mai puternic, lungindu-și apoi mustăți pe care și le trimise să scurme tot mai adânc pâmântul în căutarea unui loc și mai sigur și mai stabil unde să se adăpostească și de unde să apuce strâns mai întâi un grăunte de pământ, apoi un pumn întreg și să țină tupina ce începuse deja să crească din miez în sus, căutând căldura bunului soare, înălțându-se cu curaj tot mai sus și mai sus, acoperindu-se de o coajă tare și puternică și lăsând să-i crească apoi crenguțe cu frunze plutitoare, care tainic șușoteau mângâiate de vânt, spunându-și secrete pe care crengilor și tulpinii nu le-mpărtășeau.

Și așa copăceii și-au tot spus această poveste de început până când ea a fost înlocuită treptat de alte și alte povești – despre păsări care-au venit cu zborurile, cântecele și cuiburile lor, despre puii lor învățând să zboare și lovindu-se de crengi, despre furtuni care pe unii dintre ei i-au smuls din rădăcini, despre certuri legate de cât de multă libertate ar trebui să-și îngăduie unii altora să-și întindă sau să-și înalțe crengile în zonele aglomerate, despre veverițe, jderi, șoricei și căprioare, despre nuanțele schimbătoare ale frunzelor, despre încremenirea iernii, despre auriul prăfuit al toamnei, despre focul verii, despre veselia primăverii.

Acum erau deja atât de bătrâni, încât niciunul dintre ei nu mai putuse să țină socoteala anilor de când pădurea-și spunea poveștile acolo. Într-o noapte, frământat de rafale de vânt și neputând să doarmă, unul dintre ei care era mai înalt, întinzându-și o ramură mai sus, deasupra tuturor celorlalte ramuri, privi curios în depărtare, căci tare demult nu mai făcuse asta. Și nu mică îi fu mirarea să vadă pe un deal, hăt departe, un copac tânăr, singuratic, în bătaia vândului. Nu-l mai văzuse niciodată până atunci. „N-are cum să reziste”, își spuse. „O să-l doboare vântul înainte de răsăritul soarelui.” Tânărul singuratic îi trezi curiozitatea și bătrânul copac încerca acum să prindă câte o rafală de vânt care să-i salte cea mai înaltă ramură, să poată privi din nou. Luna plină, rotundă ca un gând bun, era aprinsă deasupra copacului singuratic și bătrânul putu să vadă că mai avea abia o mână de frunze roșiatice, care cu greu se mai țineau de crengile subțiri.

Tot întinzându-se el așa, văzu că la rădăcinile copacului singuratic era parcă o pătură de stele, întinsă pe sub covorul de frunze căzute. Când se uită mai atent, văzu piticul copacului aprinzând felinare printre rădăcini și muncind de zor să țină semințele la căldură. Iar vântul începu să aducă frânturi din cântecul piticului neobosit. Toți copacii știu că piticii se îngrijesc de rădăcinile și semințele lor, dar copacul cel înalt, înconjurat de frații lui, nu mai fusese niciodată atent la asta. Așa cum nu ești atent la aerul pe care îl respiri și nu-i mulțumești în fiecare zi că te ține în viață. Și nici corpului nu stai să-i mulțumești că te poartă prin lume, că doar e corpul tău și asta e treaba lui. În noaptea aceasta însă copacului înalt, vorba dinozaurilor pe care și-i aducea încă aminte cu groază câlcând apăsat, parcă-ncepură să-i cadă solzii de pe ochi. Și, privindu-l în tăcere pe copacul singuratic din depărtare, vederea începu să i se limpezească tot mai mult, ca un lac rece de munte.

Își coborî privirea către rădăcini și-și trimise o creangă mai joasă spre pământ, căutându-și piticul. Îl găsi muncind și-l atinse ușor pe umăr. Piticul nici nu băgă de seamă, avea mult prea multă treabă. Atunci copacul cel înalt strânse laolaltă niște frunze și-i pregăti un culcuș într-o scorbură ferită de vânt pentru când avea să se oprească și să se odihnească. Piticul, după ce adună lumină în jurul fiecărei rădăcini și se-ngriji ca fiecărei semințe adormite să-i fie cald, căscă, făcu doi pași în spate scărpinându-se pe sub căciula care-i tot pica peste ochi și mai-mai că se-mpiedică-n culcușul surpriză. Când se-ntoarse și-l văzu, își împinse căciula pe spate făcând ochii mari, dar n-avu putere să-și mai pună prea multe întrebări. Se lungi în culcuș, trase deasupra lui un strat gros de frunze și se cuibări ca-ntr-un sac de dormit. Închise ochii și se făcu dintr-o dată liniște, vântul se potoli, iar deasupra lui copacul, privindu-l cu multă iubire și recunoștință, legănându-și crengile, începu să-ngâne-ncetișor un cântec de leagăn în care se prinseră și frații lui ca-ntr-o vrajă curgând precum un ulei cald, umplând toată pădurea cu o ceață albăstruie.

 

PS I wrote the story for the kids in my class (third grade) last week, for the Waldorf lantern festival. The pictures are of work from our class.

A Canadian date. A story of pride and failure

 

It takes me a while to find the restaurant, after a short stop to do my shopping: dish detergent, makeup remover and nail polish, urgently needed, now hiding in my bag. That’s how serious I’m taking this night – it’s on the ‘to do’ list: plan lessons, deliver lessons, do shopping, go on a date. When I get in, I notice the size of the place and how full it is. I can’t help thinking I might bump into someone I know. I immediately spot him, although he’s sitting with his back turned to the entrance. I think it’s odd to sit with your back at the entrance when you’re waiting to meet someone for the first time, but I don’t bother with that now. He’s sitting at a small table with tall chairs. I go directly to his table and my hand reaches out to him.

“It’s cold” he says shaking my hand. “You’re so wrapped up” he continues without getting up.

“Yeah”, I reply unbuttoning my coat, putting my bag on the chair in front of him and searching for a place to hang my coat.

“Try over there” he says pointing to a wall nearby, still not getting up.

He looks the way I thought he would – short and cold and struggling to be proud. After meeting Turkish men though, watching other men attempting to be proud is so hilarious. It’s like stuffing your bra with socks and walking around as if those were your real boobs.

I sit down next to him and he passes the menu. Small, white, cold hands, unattractive. They look old, although he says he’s thirty. Blue eyes. A two day beard look. Tight blouse and slim jeans, revealing the perfect results of regular gym workout. And I have a hunch there’s some relevant drawback he’s trying so hard to make up for.

“I was thinking of wine. What do you normally drink?” he asks.

“Well, I don’t normally drink, but wine sounds good.”

“You don’t drink at all? No alcohol?”

“I don’t drink so often, but it’s ok, I’ll have wine tonight.”

“Ok, I’m looking at this Merlot, but I don’t understand, it seems so complicated with all these flavors – chocolate, cinnamon, fruits, it’s crazy, too many things. What kind would you like? I know women usually prefer white.”

“I prefer red. Dry.” I reply and check the menu and find this simple red wine, with a nice description of flavor – dry plums, raisins and cinnamon. Sounds perfect for this time of year. “This one, it’s more simple and straightforward, I think. And autumn- winterish.”

“Ok, I’ll go for that one as well”, he says.

For someone who claims to be writing, he’s so severed from life. Like he’s put himself behind a thick wall. I look at him and I sense fear and that he’s hiding something. I don’t buy his story with the sabbatical year and his private blogging. I’m not sure if I should believe his story about having worked for an oil company in Texas, either. Or that he lives in Calgary, Canada.

“I’m sorry I’m asking so many questions, but, you know, I write… I feel I cannot trust you”, I tell him with my brutal honesty.

“Really?” He says sounding so surprised.

“Yeah, it feels like you’re not telling me something. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you everything about my life, either. It’s just that I feel you’re not open and seem so separate from what’s going on.”

“I don’t really understand what you mean”, he says feeling more and more uncomfortable. “You’re looking at me so inquisitively”, he adds, grabbing and squeezing my hand gawkily. I escape the touch and recuperate my hand, placing it under my left armpit for a while, to warm it up after the cold encounter.

He changes position and his knees are now touching my legs more and more insistently, but I almost don’t notice it and cannot be bothered.

“It’s easier for you to travel alone. You’re a man.” I tell him without feeling any traces of envy.

“Yes, for women it’s more complicated. You have your makeup, your shoes, clothes, everything.” he replies and for a moment there I hope it’s a joke. When I realize it’s not, I try to explain what I mean in an effort to build a bridge, but the construction stops halfway in midair.

“Couch surfing has become an unofficial dating site”, he informs me.

“I still think maybe you should try to find people on couch surfing to travel or meet up with if you want to explore Romania.” I advise him enthusiastically.

“Maybe I can go with you”, he offers trying to tempt me without the slightest chance of success. “Muslim countries are not interesting for me”, he continues.

“Why not?”

“Because I cannot find women there. Dating women is an important part of my travels. In the Philippines I was an attraction. They all want mixed babies. I’ve never made a woman pregnant. It was hard. I could never go unnoticed.” he says sounding almost upset in his attempt to cover his synthetic pride like silicone plumped lips under a nude lipstick.

I talk a lot, giving more information than I would and should normally give, attempting to make him feel more comfortable and open up and give both of us a chance. Nothing works. He’s so much in his head and nothing, absolutely nothing seems to surprise him or move him in a visible or even slightly perceivable way –bike fall, journey, threats, sexual orientation, risks, relationships. You name it. Nothing opens the door.

“Your center seems to be in Turkey. Everything is around Turkey for you. Any marriage proposals you got in Turkey?”

“Not really. Or maybe just one, indirectly. Anyway, I was almost like a star. All I needed to do was to be out of the house, that’s all.” I reply.

“So here I guess you have to put on a short skirt or something to get that kind of attention” he continues.

I ask questions and I pay more attention to the way he’s answering them than to what he is saying and, before finishing up the last sip of red wine from the bottom of the fat glasses, sex comes and lands on the table, like a big fat slice of meat still bleeding.

“Do you like crazy things, awkward things? What attracts you in men? Do you like women? The fact that we are here is because of biological reasons, not logical. It is nature’s way of telling us we can have valid offspring. For reproduction. That is what motivates us, even if we are not conscious of that. That means that your eggs are good.”

“I like Romanian women because they don’t wear a bra. Do you?”

“I do.”

“Oh, what a pity.”

“Yes, I know. But I have to. I get too much unsolicited attention anyway.”

“Do you keep fit?” he asks, his hand sliding under my cardigan and trying to pinch my abdomen. “You didn’t show me how you look”, he insists leaning backwards and checking me out from head to toe, like you would a horse you’ve just fed and are getting ready to ride.

“Really? Is that how you do it? Do you want me to stand up and make a pirouette for you?” I ask making it all a big fat joke.

“Yeah, so I can see your back, too”, he says eagerly.

I don’t bother to answer this time and I just laugh as if he’s just made a good joke.

And if I was trying to give him a chance, he totally blew it and by now I really want to go home and sleep. No, go home and write. I’m wasting my time on this stupid date and I have so much writing to do.

“Do you wanna come hang out at my place?”

“Sorry?” I ask, really surprised he’s actually still taking the risk of asking.

“Do you wanna go to my place?”

“I don’t think so, no, thanks though. I have to wake up at 6 in the morning and I’m tired. I’d better go home.”

“Come just for ten minutes, it’s just here, around the corner”, he insists.

Now why would I come just for ten minutes, really, I wonder. “No, thanks, I’m really going home.”

And after he pays the bill we get up and he hands me my coat, waits for me to put on my gloves and I take it from his hand and I put it on and as he heads for the door I’m following him at a safe distance. He opens the door and I can’t help thinking he’s not holding it for me and he’s getting out before me, leaving me to follow him behind.

He stops in front of the door outside, takes my hands in his and pulls me next to him, stretching his neck to reach my lips above my thick, fluffy scarf. I think it’s funny and I giggle. He doesn’t.

“I love your lips”, he says, placing small, quick and dry kisses on them, as if tasting some delicious cakes through the polished glass of the shop window. “And your nose. You’re so hot.”

I place my hands on his small shoulders and gently keep him at a distance. I’ve already told him I’m often too polite or shy or stupid to say no and I see he’s already taking advantage of that. So I smile and step back.

“Do you also have a big ass?” he asks, trying to grab it under my coat.

“I do.” I reply proudly and take a step backwards.

“You have big boobs. And you also have a big ass. Big everything?”

“No, just big boobs, big ass and a big mouth. That’s all.”

“And you also kiss with your eyes open.” he insists.

“Yes, when I’m getting ready to leave.”

Why chemistry is a must. A miracle brought about by endorphins

Last night I don’t just get out of the house and go buy water. No. My body is determined. I watch it head for the closet, open the doors, take off the day’s clothes, search on the lower shelf and take out the running clothes, put them on and get out in a hurry.

I stopped my exercise routine three weeks ago. Because it had become too much of a routine and I need variation, because of the bike fall, because of Turkey, because of overindulging. Pretexts. Now, out in the street, I don’t have patience for a warm-up, so I just spring like an arrow finally having escaped the tension of the bow. I shoot through the dark streets, dodging people on the narrow sidewalks and cars when the sidewalk cannot contain me and I know it’s too early for hooker spotting, but I still run by their usual spot just to pay my respects. By the time I finish my run and get to the supermarket, I am so happy every cell is singing in ecstasy.

“Habibi, I am so happy. You know, I am finally, finally, at that point in my life I have always been waiting for. I am totally free. I’ve spent my entire life waiting for this moment. I feel so free and happy. I can do whatever I want.” I tell Hamodi  and we’re both laughing as we start our phone conversation while I’m still panting. “Isn’t it funny? You smoke weed and I’m high… It must be because of the good connection.”

The evening shoppers are all looking at me and I know I am glowing. Thank you, God, you’ve done a good job!

 

Turkey on my birthday. The missing episode – guided tour of Cappadocia

I wake up at 7 and have breakfast on the sunny terrace with the perfect view of Göreme and then head to Angelos Travel, where Samet happily greets me and offers coffee. He’s busier and more official today, as customers are quietly occupying the entire sitting space of the office – a couple, two girls and another girl travelling alone, who sits next to me. I know I’m going to make new friends on this tour, but at this point I still don’t know who and I start thinking maybe it’s her. But she’s so busy with her phone all the time that I don’t find the space to squeeze in an introductory line, so I wait patiently, warming up my hands on the hot latte cup, licking small teaspoonfuls of the white milk foam on top.

Two men come in and announce that the mini bus is there and we should go. They make sure we’re on the red tour and then direct us to the white mini bus waiting in the parking lot in front of the agency. I go and sit down in one of those single seats on the right, making sure I have everything I need with me. The solo Asian girl sits down somewhere on the left, closer to the front. The first few stops are at various hotels in the village and so several people get on until almost all the seats are taken. An Asian guy travelling solo sits down next to my potential friend and they quickly hook up.

“Where are you from?” the guide asks.

“Spain”, the two girls answer.

“Turkey”, says one couple and is followed by another and then several other people.

“Korea”, says my former potential friend.

“Korea”, answers her new potential boyfriend.

“India”, another couple’s answer comes from my left.

“Romania”, comes my answer.

Once we’re all aboard, the guide starts giving us information on the tour. I usually hate guided tours, but today I feel it’s the best choice I could’ve made. I can just sit back and relax, I feel taken care of. The first stop is Uçhisar, a natural castle on a hill – the highest point in Cappadocia, but inaccessible to us now. Here we get some information about the area and I like finding out that Cappadocia comes from the word ‘Katpatuka’, which the guide says means “country of beautiful horses”, inhabited for the past 4000 years.

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As I’m climbing the hill taking pictures and enjoying the view and the silence, I hear a woman’s scream piercing the silence and I quickly spot her on a lower hill, her jacket being bitten by a donkey she was feeding. The sky is crystal clear, the sun is shining and it’s so cold that I congratulate myself for my choice of warm clothes today.

“Where from in Romania are you?” the Indian man asks me before getting back to the mini bus.

He’s in his sixties, white haired, mustache, plump and a bit slow, floating on such a peaceful cloud, yet not at all aloof, smiling every time our eyes meet, so good at covering his pellucid sadness, painted about him in shades of light blue and grey – a garment he’s been carrying not from this lifetime – betraying a kindness that has survived quite a few disappointments.

“I live in Bucharest.”

“Really? I have many friends in Bucharest. At the Institute of Nuclear Physics.” he says.

“Really?! I’ve just met someone who works there, actually. Postdoctoral position, he’s from Turkey, just moved to Bucharest. I owe him this trip, actually, he recommended I should come to Cappadocia, I was just planning Konya.”

“Well, it’s a small world. I met my university teacher’s PHD guide on one of my travels. Our son works in Istanbul. That’s close to Bucharest.”

“You should come to Bucharest.” I tell him.

“Maybe we will one day.”

“Are you into physics, too?” I ask hesitantly.

“Yes, I am.” he replies in a low voice and I sense that there’s a little extra information being pushed back down his throat and so I quickly pick up his modesty. He later mentions in passing something about giving a lecture in Edinburgh, which makes me start wondering who he actually is in the world of physics, a science that wanted nothing to do with me all through my school years.

His wife is so beautiful. She seems a bit younger than him and so full of life, strong, talkative and outgoing. I secretly admire her hair and that air of confidence and adventure around her, which Romanian women her age are totally lacking. She seems to do so much without letting any effort show. Her strength transpires through all her pores and she can still manage to be so feminine. I’m so curious and try to pick it up – the secret of living with your strength.

The driver is standing close by and looking at us as we’re having our cheerful conversation and I feel so grateful we are laughing together – me and my new Indian friends. When the driver’s patience runs out, he tells us to get into the minibus.

“Everyone else is already waiting”, he adds turning and I realize he’s right and I am surprised by the stretch of his patience.

So we go back into the mini bus, resume our seats and, a few minutes later, we are at our next stop: the Göreme Open Air Museum. Our guide leads us to this sunny terrace and attends first to the Turkish part of the group, so the English speaking half is taking pictures and warming up in the sun.

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I perceive the silence as I’m waiting, the kind you get in a holy place. I feel like being quiet, as if words were not necessary here, so I just smile and take notes and photos. I later find out this is a religious complex which used to be inhabited by a Christian society and there are around 400 orthodox cave churches here. It used to be a refuge for the persecuted Christians, where they made churches in the naturally formed caves and underground cities.

“Muslims and Christians lived here together in peace before the 8th century AD”, says the guide. “In 1923 there was a population exchange between Turkey and Greece and all the Christians left Göreme.” These caves, he informs us, “used to be monasteries, hospitals and hotels for pilgrims at the same time” and are now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Once inside the first church – St Basil Church – I feel such deep respect for what used to be here and get this inner shiver and I think I’m going to start crying again, but the short time spent inside prevents that and I am out in the sun again, quiet and pensive. As the guide is telling us the story of the church, a butterfly visits the group.

We head to the next church, the Apple Church, and I cannot help making a note of the presence of a card with number 9 written on it – for the audio guide – right on the altar stone. The painting inside is in natural shades of blue, brown and yellow and I am touched by the elegant simplicity. To think I had no idea where I was coming to…

In the next church, the Snake church, I am impressed by the painting and legend of St Onuphrius. The guide first asks us whether we think the saint in the painting is a woman or a man and everyone concludes it’s hard to tell. He says there are two versions of the saint’s story – either he’s depicted with his chest covered in a lot of hair or, legend has it, the saint was actually a woman (and the two big circles on her chest that are interpreted as hair because of the beard stretching down to his/ her feet are breasts) who was a prostitute and she converted to Christianity and begged God to make her a man so that men would not force themselves on her anymore. God took mercy on her and made her half woman and half man.

As I’m walking in and out of these cave churches, taking in the atmosphere and trying to feel more than just see, I start wondering about the Turkish physicist’s role in my life. Since he came into the picture, I’ve had a really bad fall with my bike and I came to Cappadocia. And I’ve just met someone who’s into physics, too. And what about Turkey’s role in my life? For the third time this year I’m in Turkey. And one of my students comes to Turkey at least twice a month. All my life so far I’ve never been attracted to this part of the world. And here I am now, in love with the place, the language and the people.

“You should come to Mumbai and visit the Elephanta caves.” the Indian couple tell me. And we take pictures of each other and have pleasant and quiet, affectionate exchanges as we’re walking up the hill. “I guess we are all so similar” the Indian woman tells me, “we have gone through such similar things in our history, we have similar experiences”. And I just love that.

Our next stop is Çavuşin, an old Greek village up on a hill which we climb on one side and descend on another. Deserted houses, some for sale, to be turned into hotels. Reminds me of Crete and Spinalonga. As we’re going down the hill and into the minibus, adhan starts and there’s this Turkish woman standing outside her yard, leaning against the wall outside her house. She makes me dream up stories about her life behind those walls.

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Then it’s lunch at the Han Restaurant somewhere in Avanos. This big place that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, up on these high stairs, open buffet, long tables, many groups of tourists. We sit down and I stick close to my new friends, the Indian couple. Across the table this Turkish girl keeps staring at my bruised face when she thinks I don’t notice, but I notice every time and look at her smiling when I feel her eyes on my blue skin. I try food I don’t know, as I always do. And I eat too much. As I always do.

“If a man wanted to marry a girl, he had to make a pot with a lid, no measuring. If the lid matched the pot, he could marry her.”, the guide at the pottery factory later explains as a big, mustached Turk performs the demo on the wooden pottery wheel. “You can notice his skill”, he continues as the Turk is now holding a round pot with a lid, freshly come out of his big hands.

“So it means he must already be married since he’s so good, isn’t he?” I ask.

“He is and he is now looking for the third”, the guide explains and we all laugh.

As we’re watching the demo and listening to the explanations, we’re all sitting around the room, drinking cay from the traditional small tulip shaped glasses before we are led into the shop and informed everything has a 50% discount because it’s off season.

pottery shop in avanos goreme

“Where do you come from?” the guide asks me.

“Romania.”

“You look Turkish.”

“Everybody tells me that here. Thank you.”

As we’re walking around the shop, dipping our fingertips in bowls of various sizes, colors and designs, I am close to the Indian couple and when we come next to a shelf with sleeping cats, one leg hanging on the side of the shelf, the woman tells me their son used to live in London and sold his house there and moved to Istanbul. Went to cover a political story as a journalist and just didn’t want to go back afterwards.

“He earns half of what he was earning in London, but he loves the city. It is so vibrant, he says.”, the woman explains.

“Wow, what a story! To leave London for Istanbul!” I reply, secretly thinking I am crazy enough to go and try to live anywhere.

“I’m gonna pay by card.” I tell the cashier after the shop keeper packs my bowls.

“Money is money.” he replies shrugging his shoulders.

We cross the Red River and the center of Avanos and get to the carpet factory. Women are weaving and, as the guide is telling us that a carpet takes between six months to one year to make, I’m paying attention to the weavers. I’m thinking they’re probably happy to have a job and know a skill. But looking at their bent backs as they’re sitting on those benches, at their hips and fingers, I know the job takes its toll on their health. They must have so much time to think about things, I conclude as I’m moving into the silk making room. Here the warm, moist smell of death lends the room a rather sadistic touch. The worker on duty here shows me a dead worm and it’s the first time I’ve seen a silk worm. I then steal a silk cocoon from a pile on a table. I remember how much I wanted one when I was visiting this shop overlooking the sea somewhere in Crete a few years ago. I’m still thinking about the karmic implications and wonder if I’ve just secured one more trip to Turkey. A longer stay perhaps, next time?

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“First, what would you like to drink? It is part of Turkish hospitality. If you drink something, it doesn’t mean you have to buy a carpet. I hope I am clear.” Bayram, the white haired, blue eyed salesman in his mid fifties explains.

I’ve already had cay at the pottery shop, so I ask for apple tea and the Indian lady quickly reminds me I was curious about the local wines when we were having lunch.

“You should try it”, she insists.

“You can have two drinks”, the salesman says and orders wine and apple tea for me.

“Weaving started with Turkish nomads. They had wool.” the salesman says as he and his colleagues keep unrolling carpets before our feet, stepping on them all the time as if wanting to show us they’re so practical albeit precious and expensive.

“What are you writing?” the salesman asks me.

“Just taking some notes, I’m a writer.”

“Are you writing a book about Turkey?

“I haven’t planned that. Yet… I’m now covering my journey on my blog.”

“Is it in Romanian?”

“No, English.”

“I would like to read it.”

After the presentation is over, I get up and walk around the carpets, inspecting them and admiring the colors and patterns and I hesitate before stepping on them.

“We can make you a good offer. Which one do you like?”

“This one”, I say pointing to a medium-sized, silk on silk turquoise carpet.

“Oh, you have the expensive taste.”

“Well…” I reply and cannot argue.

“We can make you a good deal on this one too.”

“I’m sure you can, but I still can’t afford it.” I reply smiling and feeling very relaxed in the reality of my situation. “Unless you make it a gift”, I continue with a giggle, after a short break.

“I’d love that, but my boss would kick me and my wife would kill me”, he replies.

The Indian lady really likes the carpets and insists that her son will come from Istanbul to buy carpets for his house. The salesman would like to strike a deal with her and keeps suggesting that she should buy a carpet for her son’s new house herself.

“My son is very picky”, she says, “he never likes what I buy for him, so I don’t buy him anything, I let him choose whatever he likes.”

“Is he married?” the salesman asks.

“No!” she laughs, “Nobody wants him. He can’t keep a girlfriend for more than a week.” she adds making my laughter, unleashed by the red wine, fill the room and roll all over the expensive carpets at our feet.

When we leave the factory, after I give Bayram a note with the address of my blog and he carefully reads it out loud appreciating the name, adhan starts again and we are now heading to Paşabağ – mushroom valley.

capadoccia mushrooms

“In a few years, all these formations will fall down. But others will be formed. Just like human life.” the guide tells us while we’re admiring the valley in its pink splendour.

We then go to Devrent Valley – Imagination Valley – where we imagine shapes of animals and we laugh at what our fantasy chooses to see.

imagination valley cappadocia

“Do you see the rabbit there?” the Indian lady asks me and then she quickly points at it for me and I see it too – a huge rabbit head emerging from the ground, bent backwards a bit, ears pointing up. She takes a picture of me and we’re off to our last stop – Urgur with the three beauties.

the three beauties cappadocia

I play and turn my fragile and temporary shape into a Cappadocian formation:

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I give my contact information to my new friends before the mini bus drops me off in front of Angelos Travel and the sema follows and then I leave the safety of the caravansary behind.

 

Goreme. The scary episode: a trip into the wilderness

On my very last day in Goreme, right after breakfast and before meeting Furkan, I check out of the hotel. The receptionist who did the check in is not here and I am greeted by someone I later find out is his brother. He wipes his hands on his trousers, leans over the desk in the reception, checks his computer and my room number on the key chain and then I hand him the twenty euro note for my stay. He takes it and puts it in his pocket.

hotel goreme

“So, what are you doing today?” he asks.

“Actually, I don’t know. I was thinking of walking around the village. Do you have any recommendations? Something that doesn’t require money, I’m running out of money.”

“Actually, I do. I can take you somewhere for a nice walk. I just need to go to a government thing now and will be back later.”

“Ok”, I hear myself say, although I know by looking at the guy I would not even want to have tea with him. But for some reason I encourage myself that a walk cannot hurt. “So what time will you be back?”

“One o’clock.” he says.

“Ok, see you later then.”

But before I leave he insists on showing me his pigeons and doing a demonstration. He picks several up before finding the right one, which he throws  high up into the air so I can watch the bird turning several times before landing, feathers ruffled and head spinning.

“Why does it do that?” I ask, honestly thinking there’s something terribly wrong with the poor bird.

“You teach them to. Train them. This one is a champion.” he replies. “I collect birds. I cannot be without my pigeons. I cannot go anywhere. They are my children.”

After expressing my admiration, I go and have my walk in town, get the sunglasses and meet Furkan and then I resume my walk and get to this quiet valley nearby, scattered with fairy chimneys and except me there’s just this young Turkish couple probably on their honeymoon, taking selfies. The wind makes her head scarf dance around her neck as he’s squeezing her shoulder with one hand, as if for fear he might lose her to the wind, holding the selfie stick in his other hand at the same time, like a weapon against the cruel passage of time.

I call my mother to tell her happy birthday and how much I love her and hearing her voice makes me even quieter among these silent volcanic eruptions, so still and fragile in their ascension, softened and sweetened by the autumn light, taming contours and darkening shades. “It’s perfect”, I tell her, “perfect, mom”.

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I then get back to the village and pick two postcards from a shop and when I go to the counter to pay for them, the shop keeper just says “It’s present”. I find the post office and the postman, an overweight bespectacled guy in his late twenties, takes my postcards and offers to attend to them himself instead of just letting me drop them in the post office mailbox.

When I get back to the hotel I find the pigeon guy working on his bird house and, since he seems not to notice me, I just sneak into the yard and quietly climb the stairs to the sunny terrace and write the story of my meeting with Furkan and getting the sunglasses earlier today, eager to remember all the details and lines in our conversations. So I am writing passionately and thirstily and don’t want to be disturbed.

“Daniela!” I suddenly hear my name being called and I don’t even know where to look at first. “Over here”, the voice continues and my eyes finally land on the short pigeon man standing downstairs, in front of the reception. “Come, let’s go!” he continues and I realize he’s known the whole time I was here and wonder why he’s completely ignored me so far.

“Wait, there’s something I need to finish and I’ll be right down. Ten more minutes”, I reply and continue writing as my mind, in parallel, starts designing a strategy to say no and get out of the whole thing and just relax before my bus ride to Konya later in the afternoon.

When I’ve finished, I reluctantly go down the stairs and find him talking to an older woman. I wait for them to finish and then end up interrupting their conversation to ask if there’s a toilet I could use.

“Of course”, he says pointing to his right, but suddenly changes his mind and adds: “Use the one in my room. It is clean. The cleanest. There.” And I realize he’s pointing to the room next to mine. “It’s open”, he adds.

“Oh, thank you, that’s very kind of you”, I reply feeling a bit awkward as I’m going up the stairs and into his room. As I close the door behind me, I wonder if I should turn the key in the lock before entering the bathroom, but decide I don’t need to be afraid, so I just leave it unlocked.

The room is warm and big, it’s got a double bed and a single bed on the right, a small wall enclosed closet on the left, a mirror and the bathroom – a big and separate room this time, at the far end of the room. When I get out again, the woman is no longer there and I find him waiting for me and I’m suddenly too shy to call the whole thing off.

I get out of the yard and I notice the motorbike, but tell myself we’re going to walk.

“Ok, so, we go by motorbike”, he says.

I knew it, I tell myself half horrified at having to keep this small agitated man between my legs and half crazy happy about the ride. It’s been about three years since my last motorbike ride, in the Greek island of Alonissos, and I really miss riding. The weather is perfect for it, too, I declare, congratulating myself at the same time for having bought the sunglasses.

A friend’s voice echoes at the back of my head, insisting I should take care of myself and I quickly silence it with an inner cry of pure joy as I’m checking out the small motorbike. And the entire film of my bike crash a few days ago plays in fast forward motion in my head and my painful right knee also signals it can still remember the fall. I’m not gonna fall this time, I tell myself as I’m mounting the bike behind this stranger, trying to distance myself from him as much as possible, my hands reaching for his waist and barely touching it.

“It’s ok, don’t worry, you are safe.” he turns and reassures me.

But I know, my whole body knows, my whole being knows I am far from safe. And I feel again as if I were going down the water slide for the first time. There’s not even one millimeter of me that’s relaxed.

“Where are we going?” I finally ask as if it suddenly became important.

“Have you been to the open air museum?” he screams, trying to push the sounds through the engine noise. “We are going above that place. We go by bike, leave the bike there and then my brother will come with the car.”

He’s talking all the time, all the way there and I’m trying to listen, but at the same time there’s this voice of reason in my head telling me that if I get out of this alive, I should never attempt anything like this again. Why? I ask. You’re not a teenager anymore.  So? So at your age people don’t do this kind of things anymore. Well, at my age, too many people are boring and too many are already dead. Walking dead. Ok, have it your way then. You’ll see. Yeah, I’ll see.

He talks and talks and talks and I cannot follow half of what he is saying, but I know he’s setting up a private exhibition of his medals for me, so from time to time, when I get the chance, I let out an excited “Oh!” or “That’s great!”, “How nice!”, “Really?”

And then, after a sinuous road, we stop in the middle of nowhere, he tells me to get off the bike and I obey, he turns the bike around and disappears behind a stone wall.

What if he leaves me here? What if he knows I wrote about the hotel and the receptionist and now he wants a revenge? What if he makes a pass on me? And so on. There are so many what if questions in my head now. I don’t think there’s even one possibility that doesn’t cross my mind as I’m waiting to see if he comes back or not. All the ‘what ifs’ in the world are visiting my head, snuggling up there, nudging one another, hardening all my muscles, as if i were following the strictest workout.

It doesn’t take him long to come back smiling and lead me down this narrow dirt road. The scenery, the sky, the colors, the silence, the air, the light, the sun – everything is perfect. Except everything else.

Rose Valley Goreme

I need a reality check, so I know what I’m dealing with and how to handle it. So, as he keeps talking almost without even breathing, I make some things clear to myself. I no longer remind myself I’m a woman travelling alone in Turkey. Somewhat attractive, it seems. I go directly to the part where I tell myself I am in the middle of nowhere with a guy who is clearly dangerous – as absolutely all my senses are screaming at me. And I don’t even know his name. Or what he does at the hotel except growing pigeons. I have no idea where we are or how to get back. I have my bus back to Konya today and I want to catch it. I didn’t write very nicely about the hotel and staff and remember my reckless Facebook check-ins, so I figure I’m not difficult to stalk. Quite easy, actually. OK, That’s the situation I’ve got myself into. Now what? Well, see what it’s about and get out of it honorably. I almost regret my honesty and decide to be careful about the information I let out on my walking tour now.

rose valley walkers

Anyway, the pigeon guy keeps talking as we’re walking, so I decide to rise above the fear and, thought it’s hard with the images and feelings I get when I look at him, I decide he deserves this much respect and I deserve this chance to live my experience instead of shying away from it. So I look him in the eyes as often as his head is till enough and I listen. There’s such beautiful silence in the valley and I listen to it, too, like looking at this white, still canvas he’s splashing  his coarse voice onto, using his bare hands to create even more motion.

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“This place is part of Rose Valley. I was born in Avanos, that is my hometown. My brother, you met him, works with me. I made this hotel. It was my grandfather’s house. I bought it from my family. Look at these hands, they worked there. You thought I only worked here? No, I own the hotel. I am a collector. All the people collect something. I collect pigeons. I won competitions with them. I was offered $2500 for one and didn’t sell it. You know how much I was offered for the hotel? 5 million dollars. How can I sell it? I hope to leave it to my children and my brother’s children. What about you? What are your plans? What do you want to do with your life? I am 32. I grew up here. I have a garden. I have pigeon caves here, look up there, that is my grandfather’s old pigeon cave. We eat organic here, everything from nature. Look, everything here is good to eat. I’m trying to find some grapes for you. You are lucky, here you are, take it, eat it. Look, a quince. We call it aiva. I will try to find walnuts for you. I only climb this tree for my mother. And you. Let me take your picture. You don’t like pictures? You’ll thank me later. You can add me on Facebook and I’ll send them. I was a police officer in Istanbul. It’s important to love what you do. Make your life simple, beautiful. If someone or something makes it hard, leave that. When you catch a terrorist, you never beat him up. Not like that you make him talk. There are other ways. I have my ways. I have ideas. I didn’t put all that cocaine in my head for nothing. Afghanistan, the people in my staff. I caught them and their father in Istanbul. Illegal immigrants. I helped the children. They work for me now. They are like family. They eat from me, they live here, they save money. I went to their family house and I was like a king there. What do you do? All my family were teachers. Except me and my brother. What do you teach? I tell you, I learned English in the street. If here you don’t learn English, they beat you. Here it’s like a stadium, you don’t need to travel, you just sit and the whole world comes to you. I just watch. Everybody comes here. I don’t have a father. My grandfather, he was out, working, and the next day gone. Here we are all like a big family. We help each other. All of us. We share. Sharing is caring, you know. If you are kind, people will be kind to you, you know. Just be kind. If you receive, also give. Here we are all friends. I know you have a difficult character. I saw you. I don’t come on walking tours with all my clients, you know. I like you. You are special. I checked your passport. I saw you are OK. i like all the signs of the zodiac. Except for the Scorpio. You are dangerous. You never say anything. And then you sting. Did you think I just worked at the hotel? No, it’s my hotel. Look, I show you, here’s what it looked like when I got it. All my family told me I am crazy to work on it and just buy something ready. But I didn’t want to. These hands can tell you stories. They are not dirty, they have some glue on them now. You are very sensitive. And clean. You are also very smart, I see that, I tell you. I see that in you. You are above standards. I like above standards. When you come again, you are my guest. And my cousin is balloon pilot, so you can go for a ride. And bring your family with you. You will be my guests. And stay longer. Here everyone is family. If you are kind. I want something, I call somebody. Here you can use my business card as a credit card. Muzo. You can call me Muzo. My full name is too complicated, you won’t remember it. So you like animals? Nature? You look so sensitive. Here we eat from nature, we don’t wash. So you travel alone. I had a wife for one year and a half. Got divorced last year. She was from Iran. Yes, she was beautiful. I learned that it’s not enough. I should’ve listened to my mother. But I followed my heart. Bad choice. She was beautiful. After we married, she let the monster come out. I told her, look there is a good way and 99 bad ways to make this soup. Why do you always have to choose one of the 99 bad ways? I called her father and told him come take your daughter before I send her from the 12th floor. It’s good we didn’t have children. Hard to divorce with children. I am a collector of birds. With wings and without wings. Like you. Do you have tattoos? Do you know pigeons shit all the time? So my grandfather was also making money from shit. You know, the shit’s good for the wine. All the rest it kills. But pigeon shit makes good grapes. Don’t worry, my brother is coming. Do you have a boyfriend? What he does? What is physicist? Children? So he said here, take all this money and go travel on your holiday, I don’t have time? Oh, spending your own money, of course, with your difficult character. You had water and you didn’t give me? You let me drink horses’ water? I told you, sharing is caring. I understand you’re thirsty. Give me that bottle to throw it for you. I’ll keep it as a souvenir. Just a bottle? How can you say it’s just a bottle? It was in your hands. It has your fingerprints. I can arrange a crime for you and you won’t get out of Turkey. Just a bottle? You’re smarter that that, Daniela. I think you are stressed because you don’t want to be late, that’s why you give me this answer. You are smarter than that.”

horses farm rose valley goreme

“You’re crazy!” I stop listening and interrupt him here, without even thinking.

“I was expecting a different answer, Daniela.  It’s ok, relax now, here, I wipe it, ok? I was joking. Yes, you laugh. Why you laugh? You like horses? Six months ago my best friend fell off the horse and died. Since then, pigeons are my best friends. All Goreme was crying. He was a man no one could say he did anything wrong. You know, you are teacher. You can tell a story in many ways. It depends who you speak to. You know. I can say the same thing in many ways. Always be careful how you speak and how you tell it to the people, be careful it is for them, so you speak their language, so they understand. It was so nice meeting you, a pleasure. Thank you. I wish that you are always laughing, have a happy life, do what you love always. I wanted to have your smell and now I have it. I am done with you. I hope you liked your stay. And come back. I have to go now. Feel free to use my room, stay in my bed. Joking. Take care of yourself. Add me on Facebook and I’ll send you the pictures. You’ll thank me later, you’ll see.”

I just listen with an open heart. I know I shouldn’t do anything. Just give, let it flow. And there is no way out. Just as I keep telling other people this thing I’ve heard somewhere: the only way ahead is through. So live it, see it through, walk it through. I remember the sema last night and the witnessing dervish, holding it together, creating space and the acceptance for the others to whirl. I am an old witnessing dervish right now for this man. I am the witness. I am here in silence, accepting, witnessing and listening.

He reminds me of one of the children in my class – the one who used to be the most challenging for me in the beginning. That helps me love him. Working with people has taught me a lot, working with children has really taught me to ask the most important question: what does this person need right now? And although it’s hard, I look at him and struggle to go beyond the troubling images floating around him, beyond the violence in his eyes, beyond the unrest tormenting his body. I am looking for the inner seed, that small, hidden part that hasn’t been defiled by the script his life has been following. He doesn’t need me to make any gesture or say anything. He just needs me to be there. He needs to be accepted. And loved.  For who he really is. And I love him.

After he drops me off back at the hotel, he’s getting ready to leave and take the car back at the farm where we borrowed it from and I hug him. He is surprised.

“Thank you.”

“Here”, he says untying one of the nazars in the small tree in front of the reception, “take this with you.” And then he screams to one of his employees who’s just crossing the yard: “Give her everything she wants.”

“You are completely crazy!” I scream to myself laughing out loud from the stress, as I get into his room again to use the toilet, after watching him drive away. “Never, never, never do this to yourself again! Never!”

Before I take my backpack and leave the hotel for good, I give one of the quinces to one of the boys I believe is from Afghanistan. When we greet each other, our eyes meet in such warmth and I feel our hearts are bowing in respect, like two old comrades.

I then go to Angelos Travel to say goodbye to Samet and I stay for a cup of coffee because I know it makes him happy and I need a few minutes to sit and change company and mood. After that I walk to Furkan’s shop to say goodbye and, right before I leave, as I’m hugging him tightly, I believe with all my heart he is my best friend in Goreme.

“Be happy!” I sincerely wish him, as his left temple is touching mine, and, when I gently move away, he pulls me back and makes an affectionate encounter between our right temples.

I head to the otogar and I realize I miscalculated time and I’m an hour early. I sit down on a bench in the setting sun and write everything down before I forget anything, allowing my body to tremble freely as it’s shaking the stress out of its muscles. As I’m getting on my bus back to Konya, the muezzin is silent.

Making a Cappadocian friend in Goreme

It’s my very last day in Goreme, Cappadocia and I decide to take a morning walk in the village, after having breakfast on the sunny terrace of my hotel. I go down the stone steps, cross the small paved yard, get out into the alley, turn left and then right at the first corner, into the narrow street, looking at shop windows on the way. My eyes are hurting from the strong sun and I decide I need a new pair of sunglasses, since I left mine at home – the pair I got in February form the night market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

So I stop at this corner shop and check out the sunglasses displayed outside, but they seem to have survived every rain here since spring, covered in layer upon layer of white and red dust turned to mud by the rain, dried by the sun, wiped by the wind and so on, again and again. So I think they must be fairly cheap. I am running out of money, but my eyes are not happy at all, so I’m looking for a pair I can afford.

When the shop keeper comes, a dark haired man, mustache, black leather jacket, hands stuffed in his pockets, he hits me with the 20 lira price. And I am too polite to turn my back and just walk away. And my eyes hurt. So I manage to choose a pair and ask him to wash them so I can get a better idea of their real condition.

When we get into the shop, he sprays window cleaner on them and starts rubbing them with a soft cloth. I cringe at the sight and look around the shop, trying to feel more comfortable.

“I think they should be washed, really… And I think 10 lira would be enough. I mean, they are dirty and scratched. And it’s winter…”

“Maybe I would make it 15 lira, but not if you say like that”, he replies giving me his most expert puppy eyes look.

I smile, giving him my most penetrating look, stripping him naked of all the pretense.

“I’m sorry”, I continue. “I mean no offence. Really, look at them. I am just stating the obvious. And it’s off season. No one buys sunglasses anymore.”

“It’s all right”, he answers smugly, “I’ll sell them next year.”

“In this condition? OK…” I answer and let him continue rubbing them as I continue looking around the selves.

“You have a really nice shop.”

“Thank you.” he replies and I feel him softening up.

“Have you had it for long?” I insist.

“The building? Forty-five years. Family business.”

“Wow, a long time. That’s nice.”

He then hands me the sunglasses, proud of his work. I pick them up, turning them in my hands unsatisfied with the result.

“Can I?” I ask picking up the cloth myself.

“Of course.” he replies with a frown.

I wipe them again and carefully check them for scratches.

“They’re still dirty. And scratched”, I land the verdict on the glass counter between us.

He moves away from the counter, sighing and picking up a carton box from the lower shelf on the right, places it in front of me and starts shuffling through pairs of brand new sunglasses, clean in their thin plastic covers.

“Oh, the secret stash”, I giggle.

He hands me a pair and then my hands find their own way into the box and I try on several pairs, some just for fun, asking him for his opinion and making him laugh.

Eventually, I narrow it down to two pairs.

“Hmm… Which one should I get? What do you think?”

“This one”, he says, pointing to the pair I’d actually choose.

I decide to play a little longer and try both on alternatively a few times, complaining it’s so hard to decide.  When I see him rolling his eyes, I say I am sorry, forcing him to encourage me to take my time and keep going. Eventually, when I get bored, I choose the ones we both like and hand him 15 lira.

“Do you want tea?” he asks.

“Actually, yes. Why not?” I reply, although I wasn’t planning to.

And I let him lead me to this other room in the shop, where a hot chimney is burning, inviting me to take off my coat and pretend not to notice the satisfaction on his face.

“How nice! I love your chimney!”

He smiles and points to a chair next to the window and I sit down. He pulls a white plastic chair and joins me after pouring tea into a small tulip-shaped glass and handing it to me on a matching square shaped plate.

“Are you travelling alone?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I like travelling alone. I can write. I can sit down with you over a glass of tea and talk, I can do whatever I want. And it was my birthday. So this trip is a gift I’m making myself.”

“Oh, really? Happy birthday!”

“Thank you.”

There is a short silence between us as I’m looking around, getting more familiar with my surroundings.

“You have nice things. I like your shop”, I add honestly. “And your notebooks are really nice.”

“You can choose one. I’ll make it a birthday gift for you.”

“Oh, really? That’s so kind. I will.” I was not expecting that and I’m feeling very grateful.

We are drinking tea and smiling and I tell him which notebook I like, so he picks it up, wraps it and adds a card with his number and a happy birthday message. So I decide I should also be generous.

gift notebook from goreme

“Do you have Facebook?”

“Yes, he says, handing me his phone. So I type in my name, tap ‘add friend’, then take out my own phone. He takes it from my hand when I ask about WiFi (it’s a Turkish thing, I guess), he keys in the password and I accept his friend request on the spot. We then shake hands and he pulls me closer, kissing my cheeks. We have the Turkish ‘double hug’ which I love.

“Come again”, he says.

And I do. After the scary episode that follows with the owner of my hotel (unpublished at the time I’m posting this), I return a few hours later, still trembling inside, to say goodbye before going to the bus station. When I get to the shop, it’s empty and the sunglasses I tried on earlier are still resting on the glass counter, the chimney is burning, the tea kettle is boiling and his phone is charging in the shop window. I call his name and there is no answer, so I take a few photos of the shop before walking from one shop to the next, as several of them are connected, and find these two older men chatting, surrounded by carpets.

shop in goreme cappadocia

shopping on goreme

“Merhaba. Furkan?” I say when they finally notice me.

One of them stands up and starts calling Furkan. He offers a seat and tea while I wait, but I carefully refuse, smiling politely and asking questions about the shop. And by now I know it has become a defense strategy and I am no more willing to make any new friends in this place at this point.

When Furkan comes, he looks so happy to see me and, at the same time, a French couple come into the shop, trying to choose some lamps. I tell them in French that they are very beautiful and the only problem in choosing. I show them the model I have at home, from Istanbul, and tell them I keep it on the kitchen counter and light it almost every night when I get home. They seem a bit more determined now, so I let them choose.

I turn to Furkan and he looks so proud of me now, as if he’s raised me himself to be a good seller or I’ve got contaminated by the talent just by being around him for a glass of tea earlier this morning. I smile and offer him one of the nice, ripe quinces that the psycho hotel owner picked for me on our trip in the forest in the middle of nowhere in the nightmare I’ve just survived.

“Did you see how we arranged the carpets today?” he asks taking me into this hidden yard at the back of the shop – a carpet paradise. He is so proud of his work and so affectionate of his carpets and I do believe it looks impressive.

carpet arrangement in goreme

“It looks beautiful!” I tell him.

“Like you.” he quickly replies, smiling and giving me his warmest look.

“Tesekkur.”

We go back in and he brings me a water bottle for the road, telling me he saw my picture on Facebook, wearing the new pair of sunglasses. We both laugh at the new memory we have in common and I hug him before I leave, taking in his warmth and that soothing smell of a good man, like warm bread when I’m starving.

 

PS If you travel to Goreme, pay Furkan a visit at the Ikman Gift Shop and please give him my warmest regards.

The day I leave Konya Shams does some magic

I wake up moaning from a dream I forget as soon as I open my eyes and jump out of bed, grab my tablet and do my online check in and proceed with packing. Then breakfast. There’s this guy I saw yesterday too. Tall, firm, dark hair, beard. Something tells me he might be a journalist. When I get to the cheese section with my plate, he comes and stands close behind my back. Just like yesterday. Yesterday I turned smiling and made room for him to come next to me so he can fill up his plate, only to be refused and shown by a quick hand gesture to carry on. So today I don’t bother and just attend to my plate, feeling his presence in the room and his invisible touch on the back of my neck, under my hair being held up by two bobby pins with round shaped blue and black gems at the end.

I resume my seat next to the window. This time the room is full and some women wearing scarves wrapped around their heads are also here, still outnumbered by men. The TV is on again and everyone is watching the news, so I decide to crawl out of my autism and join them. Nothing to be worried about: arrests being made, police officers beating up people, protests, street explosions, a blast in an apartment building, speeches, riot police marching. I have no idea where all this is happening and I am not sure I even want to know. Wherever it is, it’s too close.

“Postane?” I ask my fat bearded receptionist when I finish breakfast. “I want to post some cards…”

“There, but is closed today. I think… But I can help you. Monday.” he says , looking directly behind my eyes somehow.

“Tesekkur, evet. I go and check now and if it is closed I will leave them with you. Tamam?”

“Tamam”, he replies and we say our goodbyes and, as I get out into the street, an old man speaks Turkish to me, so I know I have become a Konyan. At least partly. This, too, is one of my homes now.

I get to the post office and find my receptionist was right, so it will be the second time in Turkey that I leave my postcards to be sent by a receptionist after I am already back in Romania. I still have time before my flight, but I decide to go back to the hotel and write. Then I see this natural shop on the left and go in. I let out a sigh of pleasure as a smile warms up my face when I get in and dip myself in the mixed smell of spices and herbs and oils. Did you know that the Turkish word for ‘mixed’ is ‘karma’, by the way?

It’s sunny and quiet as I come out of the shop and the thought of visiting Shams again starts challenging my decision to go to the hotel. But we said or goodbyes, I tell myself. It is good to respect that. Yes, but you don’t know if in this lifetime you can ever come back here again. So now you are here. You have time. Go. And so I go. And as I’m walking to the mosque, I realize it’s my third time here this week and I’ve always come from the right side and went away on the left side, surrounding the mosque every time.

shams park                     shams mosque

In front of the mosque, just like yesterday, some boys are running and laughing around the ablution fountain, scaring the pigeons away. I take off my shoes and get in without covering my head again. I remember when I am already in front of the tomb. The atmosphere seems more peaceful today and I have a stronger and more stable sense of the energy here, bathing in rose perfume.

You have come again.

I have.

You are already whole.

I am.

What is it that you seek?

My love, send him to me. I want my equal. My partner. If he is already close, wake him up, remind him of who he is. Send him to me. I want to be found.

mevlana museum

I walk slowly and calmly back to my hotel, finish packing and then carry my suitcase down the stairs to the reception. The ‘journalist’ comes in right as the receptionist hands me back my credit card. We smile to each other and he hesitates for a moment before getting into the elevator. I ask the receptionist to call me a taxi for the airport in thirty minutes and then sit in the red armchair facing the elevator, planning to take out my tablet and work on my writing. The ‘journalist’ comes down a minute later and, when he sees me, he says something in Turkish.

“Sorry?” I reply.

From here on, it all happens very fast and I just remember he asks me if I want to have tea with him somewhere and I say yes, but I only have thirty minutes before I should head to the airport. I think we also talk about where each of us is from at this point, but I am not sure anymore.

“What if I take you?” he offers and I do have a brief moment of hesitation before my right hand reaches out to him and I introduce myself. In something like a fraction of a second, the following inner dialogue takes place:

“You are completely nuts! You are absolutely not getting into a car with a stranger again in this place!” my mind says.

“Have it your way. Anyway, you know exactly how it’s going to be: you’ll say no, of course, because it’s the sensible thing to say, and then spend the entire taxi ride to the airport wanting to go back to the hotel and, after that, both flights designing plans to jump off the airplane and, of course, the next few months (at least!) wondering what could’ve happened and trying your best to forget you were so stupid and said no.” My heart doesn’t explain all this actually, but gives me a homeopathic dose of the feeling projected over the whole film shown in fast forward motion. Less than a fraction of a second.

“Hmm… OK!” I am actually shocked and, at the same time, happy at the sound of my own voice. He happily picks up my backpack, says something in Turkish to the hotel staff, who are all gathered around a table in the restaurant, watching the whole scene with great interest and some of them even envy, and then we both get out.

“You haven’t learnt anything. ” my mind insists hopelessly as I get into the front seat and he apologizes for the mess.

“No, I haven’t, thank God. Now just shut up.” I reply.

“Let’s see, where can we have tea…”, he says trying to focus.

“In Turkey? Everywhere.”

“In Konya… You know, when I saw you yesterday I wanted to ask if you want to have tea with me, but I… It’s hard… I didn’t.”

I say nothing.

“You look Greek.” he continues.

“Do I? Everyone here says I look Turkish.”

“I thought Turkish at first, you heard I spoke Turkish to you at first.”

And we talk about our professions, the political context, our living situations, family relations, anxiety, my birthday, my bike fall, my travels, my writing and why I came to Konya and I don’t remember everything and we decide going directly to the airport is a better idea than finding a place in the city because once we are there we can be more relaxed and just enjoy our cay.

“So are you going to write about me?” he asks.

“I think I already have, to be perfectly honest”, I reply and check my draft, which I already started earlier this morning, and find it’s right in the first paragraph.

“I will read it later”, he says.

Our interaction is pleasant and whole, natural and honest, lacking the usual aggressive courting heavily infused with sexual tension I have got used to in most of my interactions with Turkish men. Moreover, it is not seduction that has brought us together. So I finally start feeling I am being treated like a person, not a mere walking sex opportunity.

“So why are you traveling alone?”

“Why not?”

“Oh, right. I would be afraid to go alone even to Bulgaria. And you come here alone. It is not safe here. People get drunk and have knives and there are fights after dark. I have this pepper spray with me, look.”

“Well, I am not usually afraid. Now it was a bit stressful, it’s true.” I reply.

“How old are you?”

“34. How about you?”

“What do you think?”

“The same. Or maybe 35?” I reply.

“I am 34. I was born in…

“1982” we both say at the same time.

“When?” I ask.

“The sixth month… June.”

“What day?” I continue driven by my insatiable curiosity. “20? Something with 2, right?”

“12”, he says and he doesn’t seem to freak out.

We get to the airport in a short while and he takes my luggage out of his car and then I give him my mobile check-in printed by the receptionist and he goes in and asks what time I should come for boarding. He comes back triumphantly and tells me we have two hours. So he puts my luggage back in his car and we drive to a nearby place. It is a nice restaurant and we are both here for the first time. We sit at a table for two next to the window and he asks:

“How is your stomach?”

I mean to say fat, but I just say it is ok and, when the waiter comes to take his order, I can’t help noticing that the waiter looks so much like Hamodi, my good Syrian friend in Istanbul, so I smile to him perhaps with a little bit too much attention, but really I feel like hugging him.

And I also can’t help noticing that we are both sitting at a table for two next to the window, facing each other, just as we were yesterday morning at the hotel, only this time we are finally at the same table. And I remember how this morning I regretted having put my coat and purse on the seat in front of me and thought I might have invited him to share the table and eat together, since the restaurant was full and the only free table he could find was right next to the huge TV screen. But I figured I was leaving today anyway and women don’t usually do that here. Not because they can’t, but because they don’t need to. Men around here still seem to have balls. And I want that. Not needing to make up for someone else’s lack of balls. Plus, I thought there is no point in forcing things and I reminded myself (as I always do) that life always finds a way.

The waiter brings cay, water and the same traditional desert I had last night with Merve. I get up and go to wash my hands and I simply notice, I just notice how I leave my purse with my phone and wallet with passport and everything on the chair in front of him. When I return, we enjoy everything together and talk.

He asks if I have eaten some traditional Konyan food and tell him I am a vegetarian. He asks why.

“Well, long story”, I reply.

“Long story and you think I wouldn’t understand”, he says reading my mind.

“I will show you a poem from Mevlana to Shems, so that he doesn’t leave him”, he says out of the blue and picks up his phone and types something. When he points the screen at me, a video starts playing. “But it’s in Turkish”, he adds. We watch a few seconds of it and then he gets the idea to find the poem in English so that I can read it.

He hands me his phone again and I barely get to read the first two or three lines and I feel something is changing dramatically in the atmosphere. I look up and ask if he is OK. I feel a sort of agitation and very ample movement, like spinning. In the beginning it feels like the tension preceding an earthquake, but then the movement is much more erratic, not only vertical and horizontal, but more chaotic on account of what I perceive as fear of letting go, of losing control. He is clearly affected by something and is struggling to keep it all together. I remain calm and ask the question again. He answers in Turkish, gets up in a rush, spilling the water glasses on the table and over his phone, a few drops landing on my trousers.

The waiter comes and accompanies him to the exit. Before getting out, he looks back at me and makes a reassuring gesture with his hand, telling me to relax, stay there and wait. And I remain calm, wipe the water off his phone with a tissue and continue reading the beautiful poem, wondering if I can find it in my book as my mind makes the connection between these lines, in which Rumi’s asking Shams not to leave him, and my complaints about his absence as I was visiting his tomb.

When he returns, he has washed his face and it’s wet and he keeps apologizing.

“It is first time, never happened to me before, I don’t know what this is, maybe tension, I don’t know, I have anxiety. I am sorry.”

“Have some water”, I advise him smiling calmly. I want to squeeze his hand and help him get down on the ground again, but at this point I don’t. I am just witnessing. And I have no doubt that nothing is wrong.

“Let’s go”, he says, “when I stay here my head is spinning again.”

“OK. Let’s get out of here, the air will be good. You are OK.”

“Daniela, I am so sorry. I am sorry. Daniela… Daniela… Where is my car?”

“It is in the back, let’s go this way.”

“It never happened before.”

“You haven’t met me before”, I reply and make him laugh so now he is more relaxed.

” Where is the car?” he asks again.

 “Where is my head?” I reply.

“Where are we? Who am I?” he continues and we laugh.

Having exchanged contact information, he now drops me off at the airport, complaining about my heavy suitcase as he is carrying it inside.

“Sorry, it’s not a Turkish guy”, I tell him so we laugh again.

konya airport

As I continue working on my blog post after the security check, I lean back in the chair at the boarding gate and rejoice in the silent and relaxed atmosphere of the Konyan airport.

konyan airport

The guy at the security check even insisted I should keep my water bottle. All my previous tension is history now and the atmosphere has either cleared or I cannot be bothered by its heaviness anymore. When I get in my seat on the plane, I start feeling the same rose smell as in the Mevlana museum and Shams’ mosque. Suddenly, I hear a girl at my back say in a British accent:

“It is your destiny, you can’t escape it.”

The weather is perfect and taking off makes me a bit high, as it always does, and I enjoy it like an addict taking a dose of his drug. On board service soon starts and everyone is relaxed, no one talks loudly, we smile to one another and I take pictures of the sky. It looks like a snow covered field, making me dream up plans about this winter.

flying above the cluds

“Istanbul”, I turn and say it to the big girl on my right as we have come down through the thick layer of cotton above the city. And I purposely stress the ‘a’ and add some air around it before I allow the other sounds of the name to slip out on the water slide my tongue curves into.

img_11321

“Istanbul”, she repeats returning my smile.

“Guzel”, I add, this time stressing the ‘e’ like licking a lolly pop.

“Cok guzel”, she corrects me, her face lit up by an even warmer smile.

At passport control in Istanbul, with a big smile on my face and the rose perfume still in my nose, I get to this desk where a guy with a purple right eye checks my passport. And I think it is just too funny a coincidence and can’t help laughing and pointing to my purple right eye.

“Merhaba! We both have a purple right eye, look!” I say and close mine so he can have a better look.

He listens and takes out his pistol from his waist to show me how he got it, explaining everything in Turkish. Then I tell him about the bike crash, but I am not sure he gets it.

” Daniela… Daniela… Daniela… I am not handsome, Daniela…” he adds, composing the beginning lines of his first elegy.

We wish each other the best, like two brothers in arms and then I catch a glimpse of the most beautiful red sunset before it takes me almost one hour to walk through the entrails of the huge airport from the quiet domestic arrivals to the busy international departures, where I struggle to find a WiFi  connection.

red sunset

             attaturk airport international departures

The first time I hear someone speaking Romanian I think “Oh, how nice, they are going to Romania!” I feel I am not and it takes me a moment to realize I actually am. It feels as if I were just passing through, that it’s not really my destination. I feel I am on this long journey, going somewhere very far away. Such a strange and strong feeling…

plane view of istanbul by night

The plane takes off in Istanbul and I am looking down at the beautiful lights and taking photos, thinking that we all get this impulse to arrest moments, as if simply living them is never enough. We cannot just look at the beautiful lights and enjoy the feelings they awaken, but need to make them our own, to possess an image of them, frozen, stopped in time. A moment that is so fleeting and so artificial in its death caught on camera. We arrest impressions of time passing in an attempt to create permanency. Only that never really happens, everything keeps flowing all the time. Whirling.

 And I keep repeating I my head “the Istanbul of my dreams, the Istanbul of my dreams” and I remember my friend Hamodi calling me earlier today, before checking out of the hotel, reassuring me everything will be all right by telling me that I will always be safe in Turkey even if there was a war because “everyone loves you here and you have a friendship with the dangerous things”.