Istanbul, mon amour

When the plane starts descending and I see the sea and the ships and the the city, my heart becomes so warm I have to remove my scarf so that my chest doesn’t start burning, for fear I might become the first Turkish airlines passenger in the entire history of the company to suffer from spontaneous inner combustion. 

And I find it so hard to stop taking pictures and I don’t even try to wipe the idiot smile off my face as the overweight middle aged Romanian guy next to me scans me in amusement. I feel like Alice going down the rabbit hole. 

Here I come, my love, canim benim , habibi, Istanbul of my heart! Here I come, take me, leave no part of me outside your hug, eat me, swallow me completely, canim benim. Your lover is here, feed on me.

Landing is truly like finally feeling your lovers feet touching yours after a long absence. Well, it is only the third time this year… I let out a sigh of pleasure and finally close my eyes as my head leans back in contentment. Yes, baby, I am bere now yes, evet, evet, evet. He seems happy about the reunion and greets me with my favorite views and with that special pinkish golden light,like honey dripping on my skin, healing all my wounds.

As I get off, I almost run to passport control, forgetting all about my painful knee. I rush through the exit gate and I must look so convincingly happy as I am quickly scanning the crowd lined up at the arrivals, that some of the faces there actually start smiling back uncontrollably. 

I do not see my friend. And I do not sense him there, either. So I fool myself into thinking he must be outside, smoking. I rush out. Still no sign of him. Maybe he’s running late, I tell myself as cinvincingly as I possibly can. So I wait. The possibility that he might not show up, right on my birthday, after having planned and looked forward to our meeting for about a month, seems very remote. Like a thought that comes to sabbotage your peace of mind when you are at your best. So I banish it gently and wait, all the time smiling when someone looks at me. 

I decide I am going to wait no more than thirty minutes. I try without any success to connect to a wifi, so I try calling him instead. Only a woman’s voice informs me in Turkish and then in English that this number cannot be reached. Reality forces herself on me eventually and I take the escalator to the underground and come up with a plan to spend my four hours in Istanbul on my birthday today.

I do not worry and, despite the sudden sharp pain in my heart, I do not even fall into despair. I am not even feeling sad. I am thinking rather it must be karma’s way of telling me to let go once and for all. Let go and move on. So I do. 

If before I had absolutely no plan whatsoever about my day in Istanbul except meeting my friend, I now decide I am taking myself out to lunch in Sultanahmet, right across the street from the Blue Mosque. 

I catch the metro and ask for directions and get them in Turkish and then someone offers me their seat. I start talking to the young girl sitting in front of me and she offers to help.

“Come with me, she says, and we both get off and I submit and follow her. Although, I told her I want to walk, she takes me to the train station, pays for my ticket before I can do anything about it, and we both get on the same train and get off together again, this time at the university. 

Nihan (stress falls on i) is a beautiful long haired brunette Turkish girl from Adana, in her twenties, studying political science and dreaming about going to Europe. Loves the UK. ” Are you a student, too?” she asks me. And though I feel flattered, I disappoint her and say I am a teacher. And then I get the same reaction: “Konya?! Why?!”

After we say goodbye, I walk past the university and the Grand Bazaar. Such dear memories tie me to this place. Perhaps it is time to get untied, to cut myself loose from this spiderweb. But now I am here and enjoy the colorful, loud crowd of Istanbul.

As I start recognising places, I remember the bookshop where I bought “The Dervish Gate” by Ahmet Umit, the book that first introduced Konya to me. So I suddenly decide to make a visit and say thank you. I can see the  Blue Mosque in front of me on the right, so I start searching for the bookshop on the left. I remember it is a famous one and only remember the name when I see it: Galeri Kaisery.

I go in and take a look around and when Rhana comes, the bookshop lady, I am so happy I can thank her for the recommendation she made in April. 

“You know, today, because of that book you recommended, I am travelling to Konya!”

“Really?! Today?! You read the book and are going?”

“Yes. And so I felt I should come in and thank you for it.”

“Well, I am happy for you. You know, I feel you need a new book now. This one: “Potrait of a Turkish Family”. Then you will really understand the Turkish people and our history. It is really everything you need to know about Turkish people. After you read this, you’ll be back again.”

She then pulls out this thick file full of feedback from customers about this book, but she really doesn’t need to. I know it makes sense to get it and, even more than that, I know that somehow it is going to change my life. So I get it.

“You know, I am looking for a place with wifi where I can have lunch. Can you recommend one?”

“Oh, go here, on the right, after the kebab.”

We shake hands and I go. And as I get into the restaurant and up the stairs and down at a beautiful wooden table, I am greeted by friendly faces and I remember I was here before and had something sweet.

The waiter, a tall, stout guy in his late twenties, comes and hands me the menu. When I ask the password for the wifi, he simply takes my phone from my hand and keys in the password himself. I feel it is a bit too much, but then I remember I am in Turkey and I relax. Personal space is an overrated form of distance used by smug people in cold, western European countries.

Yalcin, as he later introduces himself, leans over the table, resting on his elbows, takes the pen from my hand and marks our location on my map to show me how to get back to the airport. He is flirting with me shamelessly, totally ignoring my attempts to intimidate him by giving him my most penetrating look. And, even more outrageously, completeley ignoring the bruises on my face. Up to this moment, everyone began any conversation with me by addressing a few words to my right cheekbone, stripped naked of skin now. So, when this guy looks me directly in the eye, as if he were talking to a real person, I finally start feeling whole again.

A Scandinavian would probably have to get himself drunk before even considering doing anything remotely similar. Or would kill himself instead of ever trying.

An hour and a half later, having resisted the Turk’s attempts to convince me to stay till tomorrow morning, I make my way to the tram station. A guy on the tram quickly explains in Turkish what I need to do. Hands free. Smile free. Flirt free. I can’t understand a word, but, miraculously, I know what he tells me, I get the message.

I get to the airport when the sun is setting and rush to the domestic departures terminal. It is so much cosier than the international departures. I feel like I am in a big Turkish home, where everyone loves me.

Next episode: my first night in Konya- missing my airport pickup, taxi driver who speaks absolutely no English, not finding the address of my host and not being able to contact  her. The great adventure begins.

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