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.