Saturday, March 26, 2016

Whatever Lola Wants

I swore I wasn’t the type of person who freaks out over a troublesome haircut. I explained my relaxed attitude to my friend this morning. “I mean, it’s only hair. If it’s bad, it will grow back.” That’s why I couldn’t understand myself as I sat in the swivel chair, regarding my hideous reflection and suddenly fighting back tears. I’m supposed to be so carefree! But I wasn’t this morning and that’s because my hair was PINK. I had asked for red and pointed to a swatch of dark red hair on a chart, but it seems my request had little bearing on the outcome.

Hair styling is a male-dominated profession here in Turkey. The man working on my hair used the same macho body language I see every time I step outside my apartment to communicate to his colleague that he better watch where he points his blow dryer. A few times this guy next to us swung his blow dryer so recklessly that my shawl blew up in my face. Luckily, a fight didn’t break out between the hair stylists. I mean, these guys are armed with scissors.  They’re dangerous!

Before I knew my hair was pink, when I was waiting for the dye to set, I was blithely reading on my Kindle “How to Be a Woman,” by Caitlin Moran. Although this book is meant to be funny (and it is super funny), a passage in the introduction made me a bit emotional and suddenly changed how I felt about a man doing my hair. Caitlin Moran writes, 

“But all those littler, stupider, more obvious day-to-day problems with being a woman are, in many ways, just as deleterious to women’s peace of mind. It is the ‘Broken Windows’ philosophy, transferred to female inequality. In the Broken Windows theory, if a single broken window on an empty building is ignored and not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may break into the building and light fires, or become squatters.”

I saw myself as a building with shattered windows and began feeling sorry for myself. Then came the unveiling of the pink hair, and that was the biggest shattered window of them all. The hairdresser declared, “Perfect!” even though it wasn’t at all what I asked for. I complained to him, “It’s pink. I wanted red. I have really white skin, and if my hair is too light, it drains all color from my face.” I re-pointed to the dark red swatch of hair and asked him to do it again.

The second time around, I decided I looked like Franka Potente in the film, “Run Lola Run.” I’m okay with that. As I recall, Lola did most of the glass shattering with high-pitched screams. She is also a good character to model myself after since I am running a 10k in Thessalonki, Greece next weekend. Maybe I can color-brand myself into beating my personal best.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Another Day to Wear Black

My brother e-mailed me as soon as he heard about the suicide bomb attack on Istiklal Caddesi to ask if I was okay. I wrote back that I was safe and sound and that I had spent the weekend in Tarsus, close to the Syrian border. How ironic that I felt safer when I was close to the Syrian border. His reply was swift: “Stay away from the Syrian border!”

I need to travel more locally, within Turkish borders, so I can fully experience all of Turkey. Gaziantep is on my list, mainly for its baklava, but based on an article in The New Yorker, I’ve decided not to risk my life for baklava, no matter how good it is.

Tarsus is a peaceful, slow-paced town, fragrant with flowers and flooded with biblical history. I made new friends at a teachers’ conference. We ate warm hummus and cezerye, which is the specialty dessert of that particular region.

News of terrorism has become frequent. Even without the occasional advance warnings, the attacks are easy to predict just because they are sadly inevitable. I feel uneasy about the future and wonder where the next attack might be. As that one overplayed Band of Horses song goes, “At every occasion, I’ll be ready for the funeral.” Just like the rampant massacres in America, this is too tragic an occurrence to become commonplace. 

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve worn black to work as a sign of mourning.   
Walking down a street in Tarsus 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Turtle Guilt and Bird Murder

The message on my Yogi tea bag just counseled me to “Open up to infinity and become infinity.” I really have no clue what that means. Maybe the teabag is trying to tell me that I am immortal, like Aphrodite, born from sea foam. I don’t feel immortal. Just today I was talking about egg-freezing with a friend, which I’m pretty sure never came up in any of Aphrodite’s conversations, so I’m going to rule out the possibility of immortality. Still, I tore the little saying off the tea string and added it to my collection of tea bag quotes. I used to hoard the little strips of paper once entombed in fortune cookies, just waiting for the currency of fortune-telling paper strips to go up in value, and now I guess I’ve shifted my focus to other little pieces of paper with words on them.

I should probably go into the business of writing tea bag messages myself, but actually give good advice, advice I wish someone had given me, such as, “Don’t even think about buying a baby turtle from the Grand Bazaar.”
I don’t know what propelled me in the direction of the chirping, barking, meowing, squeaking pet quarter of the Grand Bazaar. I don’t know what possessed me to look up the Turkish word for turtle in my pocket dictionary and actually say the word out loud: “kaplumbağa,” sending an eager salesman to the back of his shop to find just the turtle I didn’t know I was looking for. Then I don’t know what kind of irrational state of mind I was in to take one look at this turtle and decide his name should be Alfonzo and that I should take Alfonzo home with me. The teenage mutant ninja turtles have apparently taught me that all turtles must have Italian names.

I paid cash for Alfonzo, his plastic aquarium with a little palm tree, and his food. We took the ferry back to my place and I cleared a space for him on the coffee table. After setting up his new home, I played Pavarotti and took a long nap on my couch. When I woke up, I was thinking more clearly. I took one look at Alfonzo and thought, “What have I done?” I suddenly remembered my upcoming trip to Greece and thought, “Who’s going to feed Alfonzo when I’m gone, especially since his food is dead bugs? I can’t ask anybody to feed him dead bugs.”

I looked up turtles to see how long they could go without food, read about how turtles spread salmonella, went into the bathroom to thoroughly wash my hands, and decided I had no choice but to return Alfonzo to the pet bazaar. When I gave Alfonzo back, the salesman said he couldn’t give me any money, but he could only accept the turtle as a gift, a hediye. “Happy birthday,” I said. I walked away until the pet sounds faded in the distance.

I felt guilty about my failure to be a good turtle mother. But then I told myself that Alfonzo was actually lucky. He is probably telling the other turtles in the pet shop right now about how he rode across the Bosporus and got to go to a Pavarotti concert. That must have been like summer camp for Alfonzo. He will remember that afternoon for his whole life, all two hundred years, or however long his lifespan is.

Today while having breakfast with my friend Eda, I brought up egg-freezing because at this point in my life, I can’t even take care of a turtle for one day, but who knows, maybe in twenty years I’ll be ready and responsible enough to have a human child. We sat outside CookShop on Bağdat Caddesi and Eda broke her bread roll apart and laid out the pieces on the edge of our table to lure over a sweet little bird. “Look,” Eda, said, pointing to the adorable little bird. Just as our friend, Tweety, worked up the courage to hop over to Eda’s bread offering, a street cat leaped up and grabbed the bird it its mouth. To our horror, the cat proceeded to eat the bird in front of us and then looked up at us, as if to say, “Got any more birds for me to eat?” Eda was so angry, she tried unsuccessfully to scare the cat away from our table. Istanbul cats are ruthless hooligans and they’re not afraid of anyone.

For the rest of breakfast, Eda felt guilty and said, “It’s because of me.” All I could say was, “At least he went quickly.”

Now in my turtle-less apartment, I’m listening to The Beach Boys’ "Pet Sounds" album and remembering my old weird neighbor in Portland, Oregon. I got stuck listening to one of her crazy stories once outside her house while taking my dog for a walk, and noticed her recycling bin was filled to the brim with empty bottles of “The Chocolate Lover’s Wine.” As I contemplated the empty bottles and listened to her stories of her nineteen feral cats who slept with her and her gentleman friend who passed out on her living room floor while watching the Super Bowl, I swore I would never be like this woman.

Yes, I definitely need to avoid the pet quarter of the Grand Bazaar.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A toast for all occasions

My friend JoJo and I went out to a bar near Taksim Square for theatrically-prepared cocktails with clever names tonight. We talked about riveting relationships, proliferating travel plans, noxious narcissists, and our homesickness for America. The jazz on the stereo was Bill Evans. The ingredients of my cocktail were redolent of cocktails I'd kicked back on previous occasions on other continents. The spirit rarely moves me to drink spirits, as I am a steadfast red wine lover. The bartender made our drinks one at a time, giving me mine first, so I forgot to make a toast after JoJo received hers. Making a toast is an essential way to launch an evening out, and when I mentioned the absence of a toast, JoJo raised her glass and said, "Better late than never." Her sentiment became the subject of our toast and we clinked glasses. Our next stop, at a Thai restaurant, Cassandra Wilson came on the stereo twice, once with “Harvest Moon” and then “Love is Blindness.” Whenever I am exceptionally moved by music in a way that makes me feel like an oddity, I remember my guide book, “The Highly Sensitive Person,” and how high I ranked on the quiz at the beginning of the book. According to the quiz, one of the distinct features of a highly sensitive person is being bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises and chaotic scenes. This one doesn't characterize me as such, or else I couldn't live in Istanbul.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Bear Facts

My phone has been rendered useless, except for the clock function, until I get it registered. I actually find that being out of the loop is sort of liberating, until I actually need to reach someone. That was the case last night. I had two movie tickets for “The Revenant” and my friend was late. I thought of asking a woman if I could use her phone but that seemed like such a strange request to make of a complete stranger. I informed a couple employees at the cinema that my friend was late and to please let her in if they saw her. I described her appearance: short blond hair. That’s all I needed to say since both features are hair-rarities here in Turkey. Most Turkish women have long dark hair, so I knew my friend would stand out. I took my seat just as the previews were ending and the movie beginning. I wondered if I was doing the right thing by going in and not waiting longer or borrowing someone’s phone to call her.

My inner dialogue about my friend added to the tension of the film. “What if she’s in trouble? No, she probably just fell asleep. But what if she’s in trouble? No, she probably was on her way and bumped into friends and got carried away talking to them.” I was finally able to relax when I saw her shadowy figure enter the theater. I waved and she took her seat next to me, removing her coat to reveal pajamas. “I fell asleep and forgot to set my alarm,” she whispered.

I was so relieved, especially since I’ve had two friendships in the last five years end over my unwillingness to wait for them longer. My limit is about twenty minutes.

I should clarify that overseas friendships with Americans can be overly dramatic. One woman was so enraged by my non-persistence to get in touch with her -- although she wasn’t answering her phone -- that she called me a “truly horrible human being” the next time she saw me. I guess she expected me to slit my wrists and go bleed in the sidewalk as penance for not waiting longer than twenty minutes. I’ve learned that this woman fits in with a whole species of entitled, insane, self-important Americans living abroad.

A fun fact about this odd species is that if someone does anything to awaken their wrath, everything unpleasant that happens to them after that incident will be the fault of the person who stirred their anger in the first place. So, if crazy American spills tea on herself, stubs her toe, breaks a nail, gets coughed on by a sick person, smells someone’s horrible body odor, etc., it’s the fault of the wrongdoer who somehow put a curse on her day.

In the words of Meriwether Lewis, after being chased up a tree by one too many grizzly bears, “The curiosity of our men with respect to this animal is pretty much satisfied.” Amen.

I’ve been feeling more thin-skinned and woundable than my normal self, and I don’t think I could have handled losing a friend, or even being reprimanded for deciding to see the film with or without her. Fortunately, everything was okay. She was worried I would be mad at her, which I wasn’t. But because she was late, she missed the bear scene, which was perhaps the best scene from the film. I felt compelled to act it out for her when we left the theater, trying my best to relay the sheer awesomeness. I don’t think I did the scene justice.