Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dilly Dallying among the Lales

The lales are in bloom and are glorified in heaping abundance at Göztepe Park. Walking along the garden paths, I noticed that in several patches of tulips one tulip of a contrasting color announced its otherness in the most beautiful and striking way. The color variety and the splashes of non-conformist flowers that refused to grow with like colors reminded me of people I know, those who boldly follow their own paths in life.

My mom's stay is almost complete. We've spent a great deal of time luxuriating. We stayed one night in the Pera Palace Hotel, where I channeled Ernest Hemingway at the bar and we perused the possessions of Mustafa Kemal in his own Pera Palace room, now a museum. I felt inspired to begin a dystopian thriller about a married couple that returns to the now abandoned luxury hotel where they were married to try to revive their marriage and forget the decaying world outside.

In the Pera Palace we rode an antique elevator, which also happens to be the first elevator in Turkey. The elevator has held so many fascinating people over the past 125 years. Although I was excited about my new novel idea, nothing in my imagination could compete with the stories the elevator could tell, if only it could speak.

I wrote in my notebook a lot and we watched a couple films on my couch: When Marnie Was There, which was mysterious and poignant, and Carol, which was disappointing and flat.

Stories are like flowers in a field. Some seem no different than the others, but the best ones stand out and draw our attention and admiration.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cultural Observations in Thessaloniki

The night before the race, I made a cultural observation about Greece. Children here, like children in Turkey, take center stage. Even the naughtiest kids, displaying the most reprehensible behavior, are coddled and handled with kid gloves. I had seen kids throw explosive temper tantrums and defiantly push all the elevator buttons, only to be gazed upon with adoration and patient acceptance by their parents, but the night before the race, as I lay in bed, I heard a whole pack of feral children in the hallway. I heard doors slamming repeatedly and playful screams and when I stepped outside to inform these kids that people are trying to sleep and to ask where their parents were, the answer I got from a girl who looked to be about ten, was “I don’t know.” The whole scene looked as if a bunch of elementary school students went on a field trip and the chaperones were abducted by aliens. I had to make the most unusual call to the front desk. “Hi, I’m on the third floor and there are LOTS of children in the hallway making A LOT of noise.”

Another cultural observation is that Thessaloniki never sleeps. With more cafes and bars per capita than anywhere in Europe, the motto of Thessaloniki seems to be “Drink and be merry.” It’s a beautiful city full of friendly people and now that I’ve finished the 10k and earned my Alexander the Great medal, I can go out and join the party. Revelers can choose between a wide variety of venues. I am drawn to the romantically lit caverns with straight-ahead jazz playing on the stereo, but I’m also drawn to the traditional Greek restaurants with Turkish-influenced cobblestone side streets and mezze style dining.

One more cultural observation is that the people of Thessaloniki stare with more directness than I am accustomed. I never once felt uncomfortable by any of the stares, but it was during a hair appointment, when I was hoping a hairdresser would rescue me from red overload, that I noticed and felt the deep stare of another hairdresser. He sat to one side of me and told me how much I looked like his childhood friend. “We grew up together. You look so much like her. She’s a psychologist now, so she’s a little . . . . .” I didn’t see the hand gesture he made, but I’m guessing it was a sign to indicate “crazy.”

This brings me to another important observation: Greek men are handsome. Kissing in public is about as Greek an activity as smashing plates. I had been walking around Thessaloniki thinking about how I might like to have a Greek boyfriend. If teen movies have anything to teach me, then I know from watching The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants that the key to finding a Greek boyfriend is to first find a pair of magical jeans and then take turns wearing them with my girlfriends.

I also fell in love with Greek women, especially older, energetic and assertive ones. A simple visit to a jewelry store resulted in my being patted and pampered by an enthusiastic woman who promptly nicknamed me “Baby face.” She gave me a crystal necklace and pantomimed wildly in an impromptu game of charades that this necklace was good luck. Pretending to swim and repeating, “No problem no problem,” was her way of telling me this necklace could help me overcome all obstacles. At least that was my interpretation. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Alexander the Great 10k in Thessaloniki

I had set an unrealistic goal of running the marathon and I’m glad I recognized my limitations. The 10k is hard enough. Running through the streets of Thessaloniki today, my stamina was pretty good, but every time I was tempted to stop I reminded myself that my name and time would be engraved on my medal. Every time I became painfully aware of a blister on the side of my foot or the onset of menstrual cramps, I told myself Alexander the Great could have run a 10k with a sword sticking out of his chest so I had nothing to complain about. Coming into the city, I saw one arch after another and mistook each one for the finish line. These fake finish lines added to my frustration and improved my time, but not my disposition.

My 68-year-old mom crossed the finish line shortly after me. She loves Alexander the Great so much that she would travel all the way to Greece from Oregon just to win a medal with his face on it. Growing up, I remember she papered her walls with running bibs. Running is second nature to her, and a very tiny bit of running DNA seems to have been passed down to me. 

Last night , in an effort to preserve our strength, my mom and I went to see Eddie the Eagle at a small cinema blocks from our hotel. I had no idea I would leave the theater feeling confident and inspired about taking part in the Alexander the Great 10k. Like Eddie, I hear an occasional nagging voice telling me I’m not an athlete, but the nagging voice is my own. Eddie Edwards, the eccentric and recklessly determined ski jumper, was discouraged by just about everyone, but he competed in the 1988 winter Olympics anyway.

He’s a relatable character for me, even though he outnerds me by a mile. I had just bought myself an olive green dress, which I noticed was the same color as his jumpsuit in the beginning of the film, when he is trying to teach himself to ski jump and barreling down steep slopes like a loose cannonball. Hugh Jackman, as the rugged American hotheaded coach, is reason enough to see this film, but the beautiful message that hope conquers all is the biggest takeaway. I loved this film.

The wonderful surge of victory I expected to feel after the race didn't kick in right away. I needed to go back to the hotel and shower and rest before a feeling of pride could sink in. 

Thessaloniki is a beautiful city and running along the Aegean sea will be a long-lasting memory for me. This experience is a good reminder that every goal that grows to fruition starts out as a tiny seed. My plan started in September last year when I googled flat marathons in Europe. I came, I saw, I didn't exactly conquer, but I did see my idea become reality.