Saturday, October 15, 2016

Retail Therapy

The brand name of the black dress I bought is “Missguided.” To wear this dress in public anywhere in Turkey would be exactly that: misguided. I attract enough stares already for being foreign. I don’t want to attract any more stares for being foreign and showing too much flesh. But the dress makes me feel good. It’s a knee-length number with a scoop neck and a slit going up the left thigh. The dress itself is impractical but it’s not impractical to want to feel good. The slit is what moves the dress into scandalous territory, but in the dressing room, I reached the verdict that I could wear this dress secretly under a raincoat when I go to a friend’s apartment and then strut my sartorial stuff when I’m safely behind closed doors. The other dress, a pink and black floral ensemble, announced itself as the winner of what I would wear to the opera in Budapest next month. I bought them both.

Meanwhile, my friend Kelley shopped for athletic equipment on the other side of the mall. When we met up again, she asked me if I wanted to look for stud earrings. My left ear had become infected from my sensitivity to strange metals, so I thought after dabbing my irritated lobe with tea tree oil, I would return to the smallest of studs, the kind of earrings tween girls wear when they first get their ears pierced and are waiting for their ear piercings to heal. Kelley and I asked to see the gold and diamond earrings, although diamonds are way beyond my budget. I purchased what Patrick from Auntie Mame calls a pair of “almost diamonds.” I still have a lot of big dangly earrings, which like my new black dress, I will have to hold off on wearing for a while.

On the metro, going back to the Asian side, a man glowered at us for a few minutes, for no reason, except that we must be horrible, disgusting Americans in his eyes. Just imagine how much more hateful his stare would have been if I’d had on my new black dress.

Kelley used the speech-to-text feature on her phone to ask our friends waiting for us at a restaurant to order us menemen with cheese. The text read, “We’re almost there. Can you order us many men with cheese?”

On the final stretch up the hill to the restaurant in Uskudar, the dolmush driver asked where we were from. I answered, “America,” which sent him on an anti-American rant. The woman sitting behind me was kind enough to translate his anti-American tirade. Everyone on the dolmush, about ten of us in all were listening to the opinionated driver. “He doesn’t like your country,” the woman behind me offered. “He doesn’t like your government. He doesn’t like your politics. He doesn’t like your war in Iraq. He doesn’t like Donald Trump.”

“Neither do we,” I said.

“Trump hayır!” Kelley said, meaning, “NO Trump!”

The driver loosened up a little when I said, “Istanbul çok güzel,” (Istanbul is very nice) and Kelley said, “İstanbulu seviyorum.” (I love Istanbul.) When the man continued his inhospitable remarks, I said, “Çok ayıp. Amerika güzel,” (Shame on you! America is nice!) at which my fellow passengers all laughed. What can I say? I’m a comedian! Or maybe there’s just too much tension between our countries and people are happy to break the tension with laughter, even if it’s at me using my Tarzan Turkish to shame a dolmush driver for badmouthing Americans. I think we all need to try harder to break the tension.

As Auntie Mame would say, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Peculiar Children, Stranger Things, Disgusting Perverts

Unwinding in my cozy recliner, I sometimes think about the character Eleven in “Stranger Things,” whose friend Mike showed her his family’s recliner, saying, “This is where my dad sleeps.” Eleven falling back as Mike pulled the lever was a type of trust building activity. She'd been through so much that just dipping back in that chair gave her a fright.

I love Eleven. I really wish I had her powers. That would make my life so much easier.

I'm so uptight right now that I don’t think I would let anyone pull the lever on my recliner. That’s what walking home at 11 PM in Uskudar, carrying a rock for protection, will do to you. All I want to do is relax and put my feet up. I don’t actually want to bludgeon anybody with a rock. But if someone sexually harasses me and follows me home, I will protect myself by any means necessary.

It would be so much easier if, like Eleven, I could just break bad guys' arms with the powers of my mind.

This evening my friend Jillian and I took the metrobus to Zorlu Mall on the European side to have dinner at Eatily and see the film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Dinner and Chianti were satisfying. The movie was creepy and demented and spectacular. My favorite character was the fashion forward Horace, who projected his dreams like movies for the other peculiar children to watch. That’s another power I wish I had. Leaving the mall, we were in good spirits. We saw a little girl going in circles inside a revolving door and surmised that she must have been one of Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children.

On the metrobus going back, my friend was groped. This is not uncommon in Istanbul. I shouted “Ayıp! Ayıp!” which is Turkish for “shame.” No one intervened. The groper pulled an innocent face and showed us that he was just taking a thumb tack out of his pocket. Right. Alongside posters condemning terrorism that are plastered all over public transportation, commuters can also stare at videos of adorable puppies and kittens. I believe the puppies and kittens are meant to discourage violence, but really, what is being done to discourage all the perverts from being perverts? Nothing.

When we got off the metrobus and started walking home, a man followed us. We screamed at him in Turkish and English. We crossed the road and when we came to some construction blocking our way and realized we’d have to cross again, that’s when my friend picked up rocks and handed me one of them. We finally made it home, shaken by the experience. Our texts letting each other know we’d arrived home safely were much more than just a courtesy. 

Now I can't sleep. Why is it still acceptable in some cultures for men to view women as property or prey? I’ll be watching the second presidential debate in the wake of Donald Trump’s latest lewd comments about women. He’s dismissed his own comments as “locker-room banter.” Americans who are just as deplorable as he is will accept this obscene bragging as water under the bridge. They’ll try to ignore the fact that this man sees women as either sex toys or objects of ridicule.

I’ll be comfortable physically in my own space while I watch the debate, but uncomfortable emotionally as I’m reminded again and again how abuse of women is such a big problem. All I can do is pretend that I’m living in a science fiction TV series and that my powers make me invincible. Oh, and vote. That's one super power I do have. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Glimmer of Soleil

I was slow to perk up this morning, listening to Tom Waits’ somber ballads and soothing my headache with alternating cups of water and coffee. Earlier this week, I had an extraordinary encounter with a woman. Our conversation and the coincidence of our paths crossing left a lasting impression on me. I’d call our meeting magical, since this is the word I use to describe any transformative experience in my life. That day I had gone up the road to buy bananas and other ingredients to make myself a booster smoothie. She was also buying produce and I heard her speaking Turkish to the grocery store worker in an American accent. I first asked her if she was a teacher at the nearby high school and she answered no. I asked her a couple more questions before finally asking her if she was a tourist. I imbued this last question with a surprised tone, because I couldn’t imagine why at a time like this an American tourist would be in Istanbul, let alone Uskudar. She said she was a writer and asked if I would have a cup of coffee with her. I warned her that I was sick, but she wasn’t worried about catching anything from me. I realize now that I was far more susceptible to the opinions she shared with me over coffee than she was to my sickness.

Both writers, both Oregonians, both confused about the world, we sat in a modern semi-outdoor Turkish coffee shop, complete with shawls draped over each chair for ladies who feel chilly. Not wanting to make myself any sicker, I made a shawl cocoon for myself and ordered a latte. The café, after getting caught in the chaos of the summer’s failed coup, had long been boarded up and closed for repairs. It has just recently reopened and shows no battle scars, not even a scratch.

My fellow Oregonian told me she's been coming to Istanbul for her writing getaways for the past 20 years and has seen plenty of changes over time. She wanted to know all about my impressions of Istanbul. I said I’ll always remember the love I felt for Istanbul when I first visited in 2007, the excitement that ran through my veins, the joy of getting lost while wandering narrow, enchanting streets. But lately, there’s been a lull in my excitement. I don’t want to get lost anymore. The stares directed at me are more drawn out and are tinged with suspicion. Tensions are higher. More men are fighting in the street. Just last weekend in Karakoy, I saw a gang of hooligans roughing up a man riding a bicycle, for no apparent reason. Just for laughs, I guess. Tourism has dwindled because of terrorist attacks. Istiklal Caddessi, which once felt like the whole world’s meeting place, no longer feels international. My new friend gently urged me to leave Turkey. The fact that she’s a writer, and a scholar, who also happens to be from the sensible, politically and environmentally progressive state of Oregon, added some weight to her words.

Living in Istanbul is a bit like logrolling. I’m currently doing my lumberjack balancing act, waiting to see if I’ll fall off or if I make it successfully down the river. It’s been hard.

Today, I needed to get out of my rut of listening to Tom Waits sing on repeat “A Little Rain.” A little rain is nice, but I needed some sunshine. I went to my first Cirque du Soleil show with friends. The show was breathtaking. I love it when a sight is so mesmerizing that I can’t help but utter, “Wow,” or gasp at something truly impressive that I never knew was possible. I still feel that way when I walk along the Bosporus or the Sea of Marmara and remember that I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Cirque du Soleil was magical, just like meeting that woman earlier this week. I wish there was some way to make the magic endure, so I don’t experience another dip in enthusiasm. I really want to love living in Istanbul and I’m trying my best.