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 number...an 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?