Sunday, October 7, 2007

Yesterday, When I Was In Istanbul


Not so long ago, when I was wondering where my life had gone, when money wasn't tight, it was evaporated, and the US was closed for business, at least as far as anyone over 32 without 40 years of Internet experience was concerned, I gave it all up and went to live with my kids.

Trust me, none of us loved that arrangement.

You see, they both had had parents like me. Not an easy thing to live with if you're them, or so they led me to believe. And I do. Believe them, I mean. They had had enough of spontaneous adventure and wanted life on still waters. Me, I just wanted to know where my life had gone.

They wanted me to give up on dreaming. Come down to earth, quit waiting for the next adventure and get a job at Home Depot, where they seemed to specialize in hiring the elderly and the misbegotten.

I tried to make them understand that I was neither. But that must be hard to imagine on the early side of the parent-children bridge. I was waiting for my life to start again. They were waiting for me to grow up.

"But, Mom, what's the matter with being ordinary?" Sean inquired, as though it were really a question with an answer. I knew what he meant, of course. For him. And I asked every friend I owned if they understood the question. Strangely, of course, none of us did.

Last night I went to a live, outdoor MUSE concert in the middle of Bucharest and let the fusion flurry and the boom-tumble of the 24 foot woofers wash through me, wash me clean of old despairs, clear every channel that stood in the way of laughing out loud, and finally understood my answer. I don't know how.

Three weeks ago I had to do a solo performance for a member of The Board, embedded in a meeting whose content wasn't mine. Nonetheless. The show must went on in a stunning solo study of competence, confidence and quiet don't-screw-with-me bravado that looked like granite expertise.

Two weeks ago the mother of my closest Romanian friend departed early, though there was a diagnosis that said there were several more months to fill up and say farewell before my friend had to join the universal adult orphanage that awaits us all. I learned customs I so much prefer to acquire as a distant tourist catching the sad parade from a bus window, and not as a sharer of the nutcakes and wine served beside the bier. Some time I'll share with you the exotic, well to me, of course, customs like only bringing an even number of flowers, and other things that will go in the guidebook to here. But now it's too personal and close, and tinting everything, so that's not for now, and the fortnight goes on.

A week ago the traffic I laugh about with you came startlingly too close. With mere inches to spare in the new emerging-country norm, at 4 feet away, crawling at too few kilometers/hour, my foot slipped off the brake pedal and hit the gas. One and a half seconds, I've since calculated, was the time I needed to recover from such a simple slip. Instead, well, this is Bucuresti. There is no second to spare. My wonderful Skoda, like my Schnauzer meeting a street dog for the first time, sniffed the tailpipe of the courier van innocently attempting to speed to a destination at about 5 mph. My first accident (ak-chi-dent) since 1974. A little soul shaking and a light tap on the bumper to remind me that in Bucharest you do not even dare to remove a loose thread from your sweater while operating heavy machinery.

Five days ago, off to my Romanian lesson in the middle of the day, in the miraculously as-yet undamaged Skoda, I took the turn I take every day of the week. A thrill-skill ride onto the highway from a near-dirt intersection at the end of the street on which the company lives. I do it daily. It's treacherous and tricky and requires skill and daring and keeps an Adrenalin junky fully supplied. I thought about turning right instead. Hie-ing the half mile to the ring road to get myself pointed where I was going. But look-left look-right look-left look-right look-left look-right told me I had the clearance.

The old guy in the old, old, old, crumbling piece-of-shit Dacia truck didn't see it that way. He saw an opportunity. A nice car with probable insurance. So he pushed his foot down hard, braced and raced, and slammed me to a standstill tearing the Skoda's front and side quarter-panel, and abruptly calling me to a hard, shaky halt. Where I come from, he had "the last clear chance to avoid an accident." Where he comes from, he had a new front end, a rebuilt engine and a new set of front tires. All for the mere price of about four hours in a, to me, foreign police station. Which by the way, was built by an insurance company, replete with ads and posters to the most prime targets, and came complete with an adjoining Internet cafe.

No, I'm fine. Shaken up a bit, of course, at first, thank you for asking. But now, of course, I'm mad as hell. And guilty of innocence. I'll also spend some time at the American Embassy, where the politia will send my confiscated drivers license, trying to convince them not to send it back to Arkansas where I don't live any more, and can't go to retrieve it. Hoping they'll have seen it all before, and know that this punishment doesn't fit this crime. Oh well. I've shaken off the early tremors, know that I'll have to get back on this horse and drive again soon, somehow, or be forever banished to learning the correct taxi Romanian expressions for "No, you idiot, don't take me to my house via Bulgaria! Do I look like I just fell off the cabbage truck, you moldy mutton of a hack!" which I can do because I lived for a decade in New York, and learned that lingo.

And yesterday when I was in Istanbul.

Two days ago, really, if you require this to be literal literature.

It was a perfect flight, and a perfect meeting, with rooms full of accomplished and accomplishing women who knew their stuff and brought it to the table. An evening wandering through the bizarre, which, now that Romania is getting, to me, to be a nearly commonplace, is not a sic misspelling. Buying turquoise and silver at the bargaining price because I carried the camera and was mistaken for a crazy American journalist. Hearing my sad friend/client explain that the millions of Euro at stake in the deal we were crafting certainly paid the tab for taking a few hours to watch the end of Ramadan break its fast by the old mosque's lawns at sunset, and worth the price. And hearing her laugh for the first time again in weeks. Crossing the bridge that took us in one short span to set a set of tires for five minutes into Asia because Istanbul uniquely stands with one foot there and the other in Europe. Talking with new friend-colleagues over a perfect Turkish lunch on a deck on the Bosporus. Sharing stories about places you only read about that we'd all been to. A story of Irish Catholic weddings in Italy conducted by an accented Indian priest. And another, after a lovely lamb chop dinner in Istanbul the previous night, how confusing it had been, if you don't speak the language, when you just want a receipt from the cab driver and he offers you instead a "fish" (fis with a cedilla so you say "sh") which is the word in Turk for "the company will reimburse me if you just give me a damn slip of paper with numbers on it." And, oh, yes, eating octopus. Lip-smacking just after the shuddering subsides.

We flew back to Bucha into the perfect sunset as though it were somehow our birthright. And somehow it was.

Last night, letting the fusion music fuse-drive-pound-rock into me with the fireworks lightshow I could see even with my eyes closed, I finally knew the answer to Sean's question.

"What's the matter with being ordinary?"

Nothing. If you know how.

But you never get to say, "Yesterday, when I was in Istanbul."

Yesterday in Istanbul


immanuel pikant said...

well, it's good to have you back in bucha. i was wondering if istanbul won't seize in rapture and never let you go. To me it's the most extraordinary city i;ve ever been to. So you still don;t know the answer to What;s wrong with being ordinary? I guess you'll never know it since you are such an extraordinary person.


Darren said...

Great post, Shelly! I love to read your adventures and put myself in your place, living and working in another part of the world and just feeling the adventure of living.