Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Zooming Into A Brand New Year

......where was I?  Oh yes, walking amongst the inebriated, loud, and celebratory crowds moving up and down Dolmabahce Caddesi (Avenue/Street).  It's about 1:30 AM and not all that cold for the first day in January 2013.  I've had a number of glasses of wine, and a sip or two of champagne and have decided that I can walk the 5 or so kilometers home.  The brisk air will do me good, and because traffic is bumper to bumper, I will get home quicker than any taxi can take me.

The sidewalks at this point in the road are wide and roomy enough for plenty of people.  Many are either couples or groups of friends who have greeted the new year together.  I am able to move among them almost unnoticed.  That ability to be hidden allows me a feeling of both safety and the ability to observe people... a pastime I love.  Some are embracing still, some dancing down the avenue, some whooping and hollering joyfully.  Parties in cars call out greetings and wishes to any and everyone who will listen, music pumping from inside... people hanging out of windows and of course the flower sellers skilfully weaving in between the cars with their bunches of roses looking for men ready to drop a few lira on a whim for the lover next to them.  I love this city.

After walking about five blocks it begins to occur to me that this walk may not be as easy as it first seemed in theory.  I do have jeans on and boots, but I still have a long ways to go, and that steep hill to climb before I can be at home.  For some reason, a thought... barely perceptible to my consciousness ... develops at some level in my brain.  There might be an easier way to do this.  I look to my left at the crawling traffic and catch the eye of a young man on a motorcycle.  He smiles at me and lifts his head then dips it as if to ask if I want a ride.  Yep.  I sure do.  Now honestly, if I hadn't had some wine beforehand, my courage (some might call it stupidity - it can be a fine line between the two) would never had been at the kind of surge that would allow me to hop on a motorcycle with a complete stranger at 1:45 in the morning in one of the largest cities in the world in the middle of a six, five, four, three, then two lane road.

However... alcohol does impair reason, and so... I get on the bike with this guy (here is where I realized how happy I was that I had made the right decision regarding my New Year's Eve attire!) and away we go.  YEE HA!!!

I had a motorcycle when I was a teenager.  My dad bought us a little Honda 100 to race on the prairie with.  I loved that bike and had many fun years on it!  But I don't think I've been on a motorcycle since.  I tuck my coat and my purse securely behind me and grab on to this guy as he starts zipping down the road.  So there aren't really many traffic rules in Istanbul.  It's kind of like whoever gets there first and most confidently, gets to go, and my young "chauffeur" is both fast and confident.  We are weaving in and out of cars, between them, behind them over to the center lane and back to the right side again at a really good speed.  At one point he finds an opening and lets out the throttle and we are flying.  I feel NO FEAR.  Ok, so I do send up a prayer, but I am having ecstatic fun!  People look on from their cars and buses... jealous of our ability to zoom when and where we want.  The open air and blur of people in my peripheral vision are exhilarating.  The people and the scenes play out in a way that is so different from riding inside a vehicle, or walking along a sidewalk.  The sound of the motorcycle engine and the wind are calming.  I am inside of another world.   I am almost sad to see the outskirts of my neighborhood.  As he asks me directions to my destination, I remember that Marie Pierre, my French friend and colleague is hosting a party.  Having been to one of her soiree's before, I am pretty sure it's probably still going on, but I don't want to roar up to her apartment with this guy, so I ask him to drop me off on a side street about 4 blocks away from her place.   He wants my phone number and is absolutely insistent.  I don't know why I give him the right error in judgement I suppose but I figured if I do, he will be satisfied and ride off into the night.

Now here's where it gets weird.  This guy is about 28 I am guessing.  Age means NOTHING in Turkey when it comes to relationships.  I am so grateful to him for this once in a lifetime experience... I mean I won't tell him my age, but for me at this point in my life - to have just had this amazingly fun ride with this guy was such a joyful thing, but I can't tell him because he doesn't speak more than 5 words of English.  He's talking to me really fast in Turkish and I can't really pick up much except I can now tell there is clearly another misunderstanding because he is ready to come with me to anywhere I am going.  Anywhere.  Thinking that perhaps if I offer him gas money that will satisfy my obligation, I try and hand him ten lira.  "Yok, yok!" he doesn't want my money.  He wants me.  Hmmmmmmm.  Well he doesn't really, but he thinks he does.  No matter what I try and communicate to him, he continues unabated with a desire to follow me presumably to the ends of the earth.  Well now this is a predicament.

A handsome well dressed man who is much closer to my age happens to be walking down this cobble stoned side street.   I ask him in Turkish if he speaks English.  He does!  I ask him to help me and I tell him about my ride and ask him to thank this young man, Ridvan, (by now we are on a first name basis) and to tell him he is a really great driver and I had great fun, please take my ten lira and go away.  The older gentleman laughs and he proceeds to have a conversation in Turkish with my friend.  Oh how I wish I could understand what they were saying.  I get a little glimpse soon enough.  "He wants you to give him more money."  I am informed.  I know this Ridvan has told another version of this story to my interpreter, but if it will send him off happy, I am willing.  I reach in my wallet and hand him another ten lira.  He takes it, says something else to the older gentleman and prepares to leave.  "Now you see how it is with these things." The translator says to me sagely.  Yeah I see..... I think to myself, wanting very much to be able to explain the real story to him, but knowing it will never come out correctly so I simply say "Evet, bilyiorum." and thank him for his help.  Thinking that I am done with this chapter, I head down the shiny wet streets towards the back alleys of Ortakoy and the next stop on this epic new year's eve adventure.

The street cats look at me and scatter or meow as I head up the narrow passage by the old seminary.  I've only been to Marie Pierre's place once before and I am not exactly sure if I can find it again, but the name of a side street seems very familiar so I turn left down another cobbled road.  "Coney!  Coney!"  I hear an accented voice calling my name.  I am dumbstruck.  Ridvan has followed me!  So here I am in a dark neighborhood I am unfamiliar with, no secure idea of the address where I'm heading, and motorcycle boy is still following me.  Fortunately and thank GOD, at this exact moment Caitlin emerges with some people I do not know from the entrance to an apartment building.  They have come from the party I am headed to.  I do NOT want M.B aka Ridvan to know where this party is.  I quickly explain (extremely abbreviated version) to Caitlin and she says to me.."Ah don't worry.  We'll just take your new friend for a walk and she and her buddies steer him off my trail down the street and away from the sight of me entering the building.  She will later tell me that he was quite concerned about me.

I climb the winding narrow marble stairway in the dark following the sound of music and laughter.  Indeed, the party is still going on with relatively quiet conversation and some early January 1 snacks being served.  It is nice to visit with my friends and share stories about our evening.  There is some dancing and some laughing and a much too sweet cocktail offered to me, which I cannot drink.  At last, at 4 AM I hitch a walk home with Matt and Connie.  Matt is a teacher at the high school and Connie is his gracious and lovely wife.  Matt assures me that if my "boyfriend" is still lurking outside, he can handle it.  I am pretty certain this is true.  Matt stands at about 6' 7" and is no beanpole.  (That's an inside joke only for MEFers).  We bid our last "Happy New Year's!!" and head back down the stairs, on to the very empty streets of Ortokoy.  This place is so magnificently beautiful at night.  Matt and Connie are both very fit so there will be no taxi ride.  We talk and laugh as we head up the hill to our homes.  It has been a good entrance into the new year.  No sorrow.  No harm.  No drama (well at least none of the bad kind).  Life is good.  I think I might like this 2013.  There is an old saying that how you spend your New Year's Eve is an indicator of how your year to come might be.  I kind of doubt that.  But if it were true....... if it were.... then I would say some adventure and courage and new experiences are on the horizon.  Maybe even a motorcycle ride.  wink wink.

I had a lot of people ask me when this post was coming and why was I delaying it ... why so silent for the past 30 days.  If you will give me just a few more minutes to explain.  I had a ton of fun on NYE.  To say it any other way would be a lie.  I enjoyed it to no end and the motorcycle ride will stand out in my memory -
I have said before, as one of my most exciting adventures.  However, ever the daughter of a good Calvinist father....(you should have met his mother!).. I felt a ping of guilt and conviction over having had such a jolly wonderful time.  I vowed to avoid wine for a month and to tone down my social activities for a while.  A bit of contemplation and sobriety never hurt anyone.  I've spent my month in some serious self reflection.  Reconnecting to my faith walk, finding renewal and atonement.... learning again that nothing I ever do or say or am can ever earn the most wonderful adventure of all.... living in endless grace of God's immense love.  That isn't to tout cheap grace that Bonhoeffer wrote so eloquently and bravely about.  No I am talking the kind of Grace that puts self satisfaction to cinders.  That Grace is where I want to live.  I got pretty sick this past week.  I am a very healthy person and rarely succumb to illness.  I can beat most things inside of a couple days, but this flu laid me out.  I had no choice.  I had to be still.  In that stillness I came back to genuine appreciation for this magnificent life that we are given.  I don't want to waste a moment of it.  Let us be full of joy and dancing and singing and serving.  Let us regard one another with dignity... even those we disagree with.  Let us love full on, engines roaring, power surging, throttle off zooooooooooooooming down this path we are on, staving off the sorrows of this world with our love.

One month down.  11 to go.  What adventures await your acceptance?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Erasing Panic

January 1, 2013

Dear Diary,  I am glad to report that I survived all of the fears and trepidations that threatened me in 2012, thanks to God.  I am still here in Istanbul, still happy about it, still discovering new things, still glad for my decision.  New Year's Eve was almost everything I have ever imagined it should be (I didn't get the romantic kiss... but had lots and lots of kisses Turkish style from many new friends) .  I chose to sail on a party boat with  Expat Events of Istanbul... to watch the city celebrate at midnight.  One of my fears about making the trip was that I had no one to go with and only knew the hostess.  Right away I ingratiated myself at a table with a woman who looked to be around my age.  She kindly allowed me to join and I was NOT disappointed with the company that began arriving from the various boarding stops.  Teachers, attorneys, performing art center directors, marketing specialists, and Clint Eastwood.  (Pics to follow)

By the end of the evening, I had several new friends, a glass of Moet, a wild motorcycle ride, and one of the best times I've ever had in my life... and I've had some pretty great celebrations;  Not one but two weddings in the wild unknown parts of New Mexico, a cast party on the faux Japanese castle movie set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III,  New Year's eve in Sevilla with 3 of my sons, a family reunion in Salida with four generations present, and now I can add yesterday and part of today to my list.  People keep commenting that there's a book and movie in my blog.  Everyone says that, I imagine, to everyone who has a blog because anyone can publish to the world now days.  I have my doubts that this humble little bit of sometimes vanity writing will ever be discovered by the masses, but just in case... I am going to narrate the slide from 2012 into 2013 as if it were indeed a movie scene.  So close your eyes and listen to the plaintive azan ring out from the loudspeakers on the two mosques near my apartment, stereo calls to evening prayer... as I ready myself for the festivities.

Three outfits.  It's not cold, but we have been told that heels are okay and sparkle is de rigueur .  I don't want to wear heels.  Not that I don't have great legs now that I am walking everywhere... but I'm just not in the mood for a dress or a skirt... later on I will be very glad I made that decision.  That throws out two options, so the new skinny jeans it is, tucked in with black boots that I will polish.  Turks are very fashion conscious and they do NOT like dirty shoes.  Mine will shine.  And my sparkle... a little flashy purple/red tee... and some magenta eye shadow to match.  Curl the hair.  Lots of big curl.  Mulberry lipstick.  Shiny nail polish.... maroon.  Funny, I just looked up synonyms for maroon because it was turning into a definite maroon themed night, and one of the obscure little definitions is the bursting flower a firework makes.  Perfect.  Some jangly rhinestones, a black velvet coat given to me many years ago by a friend who inherited it from her aunt.  I am hot... smokin'.  I haven't felt this good looking in a long time.

Not wanting to take a bus dressed like I am, and not sure of the NYE traffic, I hop in a taxi and have a lot of fun trying to explain where in Kabatas I want to go.  I tell him "ferry" because I think surely he will know this word, but when he tries to drop me off at the swank Feriye Lokanta... I clearly realize we have a language barrier.  In the end, via sign language and the inspiration to mention the Petrol station near the ferry docks, I arrive, ready to party.
A comedy of errors ensues trying to meet up with the right boat, given there are about 5 party boats lined up at the Kabatas ferry landing.  I make it on board though after some frantic texts..  A cozy little group of beautiful 30 somethings people quickly stake out a table in the rear of the boat wanting very little to do with me.  At this moment I have a choice, I can simmer, cry, or get off the boat.... oh yeah, a new year.... I am tossing off fear so after sadly fidgeting at an empty table, I get up the nerve to ask the lady standing at a nearby spot if she minds if I sit with her.  She obliges kindly, and we make polite conversation which is quickly warmed with a glass of hot mulled wine.  We shove off, after waiting for another group of 20 somethings who DIDN'T listen to my advise not to wander off, wandered off anyway, gotten lost,then eventually board.  One of them says to me, out of earshot from her smart and snotty friends..."We should have listened to you".  I feel smugly vindicated.  Age has its perks on occasion.  I smile magnanimously.  We are off to the last pick up spot amid a black strait dotted with many many boats full of celebrants.  As we pull away, we note the large boat next to us is filled with women in headscarves and full length dress, accompanied by many children.  The tables are loaded with plastic bottles of Orange Fanta, Ginger Ale, Cola, and Water.  I am glad I did not board this boat by mistake.

Happily, Hope, my new friend and table mate is joined at the next stop by a person I have met before, Betty the English teacher, an adventurous spirit who entered the world of international teaching at the age of 67 to teach English at University!  She is sharply dressed in a sparkly little see through blouse and she looks stunning.  Her face is happy and glowing.  I am so glad to see her again.  She is with 2 other people I do not know... who are developing a new performing arts center here in Istanbul.  We make introductions all around and the mezes come out, cheese and crackers, dolmas, spinach pies, dips.  This stirs the crowd and everyone is on their feet for the first round of hour d'oeuvres.

Last stop is way up the Bophorous, I recognize the shores of Bebek.  The coast road is packed with glittering cars traveling to their destinations, the clubs are also crowded and it seems all of Istanbul is in a festive mood.   We stop at Arnavutkoy to pick up the last of our party.  A couple joins our table, two attorneys who are soon moving to Spain.  They are charming, interesting, and friendly.  I am happy to be with these people, and grateful that they have included me in their party.  We head up for a bit toward  the Black Sea.  We won't go all the way, but it is a clear lovely evening and the fireworks are a couple hours away.

There is a table of women near us who are clearly out to have a great time together this new year's eve.  They are all dressed in little black outfits and have had no shortage of spirits.  I am surprised when they approach our table and ask one of the men sitting with us if they can have their picture taken with him.  He obliges and his wife happily snaps away as he is surrounded by the bevy of beauties.  I ask her if this happens often, and she replies, "Oh yes, everywhere we go, all the time."  I am puzzled, and ask why.  "Because everyone thinks he's Clint Eastwood."  I can sort of see the resemblance, so I snap my own photo.  A great memory from an epic night.

 Later when we head up top to watch fireworks together, Hope hands me a bottle of Moet to open.  Now I really am feeling lucky.  I strip the wire sheath and notice "Clint" has been cornered by a rather drunk and aggressive woman who is fawning all over him.  His wife joins me as I begin to work the cork.  "I could shoot her in the butt with this if you like..." I offer.  She chuckles but declines.  The cork pops at midnight and I am suddenly very popular with people who have not spoken to me all evening long.  Interesting how that happens,  "Just tell them no and walk away!" Hope chides me as I pour her a glass, it is after all her champagne!  I do end up protecting the bottle and everyone in our party gets a glass for our toast.  The fireworks pop, the boat horns blow, sparklers are lit, and suddenly everyone is kissing each other Turkish style with a kind buss on both cheeks and a "Happy New Year!".
We chat some more back down below where it is warm and there is more food.  Business cards are passed around so we can keep in touch.  One by one, my new friends are deposited at various drop off points with promises to contact one another.  Hope is still on board and not ready to call it a night.  She invites me to a club after the boat docks.  I think about it a while.  Not knowing where the club is... or how on earth I will get home afterwards, I decline.  I am about 7 km from my apartment.  Traffic is bumper to bumper and inching along down the coast road at about .5 km an hour.  Really.  Revelers are flooding the sidewalks.  It might be fun to walk home I decide, and I bid farewell to Hope and head off, thinking New Year's Eve is over with for the most part.  Never imagining one of the most exciting parts of my evening was yet to come.

Next post........  The wild trip to the second party!

Before I sign off, I have some thoughts I would like to share.   It is actually January 8th as I post this.  Snow is flying sideways and blanketing lovely Istanbul.  School was canceled for today, and I am hoping the same for tomorrow.  I've had some quiet time today to ponder my life, my future, and my place in this world.  New Year's Eve was quite truly, a lot of fun for me.  It's been a long time since I honestly enjoyed this day.  But there is more to it than the parties, the wine, the food.... even the company.  I thought a lot about my experiences since starting this blog... I actually had some panic last night when I was unable to sleep and remembering all I had left behind.  I started thinking perhaps I had made a mistake in coming here.  Though it has been incredibly exciting and new, that alone is not enough to sustain me.  If I lose my connection with my creator, the GOD whom I have loved for so long, the Jesus who has kept me near and loved, the Holy Spirit who has chided, encouraged, counseled and directed me throughout my life... well no experience on this planet can replace this connection.  So the streets of Istanbul, the taxi rides, the exotic people, the flavors, the scents, the Hagia Sophia, the balloon rides, the handsome men, the fantastic people I have met.... are only icing on my cake.  Lovely icing to be sure, but I do count them all as loss in comparison to what I hold most dear.  So as I took this sudden fear to the place of prayer last night, I was, as I have always been, comforted by the still small voice telling me to trust in His grace.  That we are loved and cherished and that I remain sheltered in the crevice of faith, imperfect to be sure, but safe nevertheless.

As my son once wrote on the banner of my cell phone, because he knows me so well...