I was trying to be the Johnny Appleseed of what I don’t know. This was my fourth country in four years. Jerry had done five countries. His least favorite was Denmark. He said the people were cold and he was forced into using prostitutes. Spain was much better he said. The people were warm. Just like the stereotype he said. And lots of parties. But he taught children. The children were nice and he got along with them. But it took too much out of him. I had been to Poland and South Korea. I liked both. I left both in various states of panic/emergency.
How to purge oneself of oneself and still live in the world? That’s the question I kept asking myself every morning in the shower.
After about four months of settling in Jerry and I took our first trip to Istanbul together. The bus had seats that leaned back and there were little televisions on the back of the seat in front of us. But it was all in Turkish. A Turkish man came with little wet towels and we stopped at a glowing white building for kebabs. We were halfway to Istanbul and it was 3AM. Most of the people on the bus got off and sat down and ate big piles of meat. We smoked a few cigarettes and had two Turkish teas. He loved the Turkish tea. I was developing a like. I did like the red tint of it in the glass. I took mine with sugar. Jerry took it without.
When we got back on the bus we tried to sleep. The seats leaned back so that was good. I don’t remember much else about the bus trip except he was having some mild panic attacks from being on a bus too long.
Our contact met us in Istanbul and took us to the hostel. I booked the hostel online but got the dates wrong. They kept my deposit and couldn’t give us the room. So we went to another one. We took some kind of wrong turn and ended up in the dirt. Our contact was Turkish but was a nervous driver. There were three Turkish policemen in the dirt. They were clubbing someone. A lot. They motioned us to move along. Our contact backed up and we got out of there. She said it wasn’t a good sign.
When we reached the second hostel there didn’t seem to be anyone in there. Except carpet. Some Russians were rolling up carpet. Lots and lots of carpet. We were on the fifth floor and every floor had some Russians rolling up carpet.
The room wasn’t much to look at. But both of us had seen worse. There were two small beds without much spring left. And dirt. A lot of dirt. But not a lot of cockroaches. At least from what we could see. And that was good.
Our contact arranged to meet us the next morning at a cafe around the corner. She told us that she would bring us to the fish district. She said we could eat fish and listen to gypsy songs. We both nodded. Then we settled in.
A third friend was supposed to meet us. Scott from Guernsey. Scott called us and said he would be at our hostel around midnight with his Turkish girlfriend.
When he got to the hostel there was a problem. The hostel did not allow mixed race couples. Or they didn’t allow unmarried couples. Or maybe both. So they got separate rooms. Scott slept with us.
Scott was gone in the morning and there was a lot of noise. Banging and that sort of thing. I looked out the window and saw a lot of men without necks. They weren’t Turkish so I guessed they might be some stereotypical Russian mafia types. Jerry was still moaning under his pillow so I walked down the creaky stairs. There were no more carpets or Russians on the various floors.
I asked the ding dong man about breakfast and he said: NO BREAKFAST. The other hostel had free breakfast. I was out of luck. Our contact was not due to meet us at the cafe for another two hours and I was hungry. And thirsty. I set off alone.
The streets were under construction. Lots and lots of dirt and construction all around it. The second thing is that I didn’t see any tourists. If there were tourists they didn’t look the part. Everyone seemed to know where they were going and none of them had cameras. Most of the people seemed Turkish. But before you get a set image in your mind I should also add that looking Turkish means a lot of variety. Some were blond. Some were light skinned. Some darker. Some in-between light and dark.
The morning prayers were ringing through portable speakers from some kind of nearby mosque. There were plenty of mosques around. And the pigeons were flapping their wings through the dark alleys.
I am good at getting lost. Sometimes getting lost is good and sometimes it is not so good. This was one of the times when it was good. But in hindsight maybe it was just OK. At the time it was more than OK. Then it became OK.
The first wrong turn, if there was a first wrong turn, happened after I went down one of the alleys with flapping pigeons. The morning prayer calls were just wrapping up and the shop owners were moving back inside their shops. During the call for morning prayers I was thinking about Charles Dickens. All the pubs in London with something to do with Dickens. The stale carpets. Old drunks. But I wasn’t in London. I was in Istanbul. With all its layers upon layers of history. Nothing seems to get erased. Only layered. I want to say like a wedding cake. But that’s not quite right.
Regardless. There I was. Lost. Down an alley. Feeling all spiritual from all the exotic sounds, sights, and smells. Then a lady approached. Nothing distinct about her, exactly. But my plastic container of mints was childproof. And she stopped to help me open them. When I tried to speak to her she motioned with her hands to indicate no English. Or a type of English she was too embarrassed to use. This lady with long black hair took my arm. Linked her arm around my arm the old fashioned way and took me toward the Galata tower. Cause that’s a tourist mecca. Maybe she thought I had lost my way. Lost my tourist tribe.
We walked through the mad energy of Taksim. I looked inside the bars and old bookshops. I could see the fire inside. Heating the living rooms. In no one direction. All over the floors. I was feeling that fire. Generally. Because I felt free.
She gave me a kiss on the cheek under the tower and left. Not bad I thought. I didn’t have a mobile phone so I couldn’t call Jerry. Or our Turkish guide to the city. But this is what we both wanted. An adventure of some sort. A way to leave our self behind. Our obsessive self at least. So I decided he would understand and we could hook back up at the hostel.
I smelled fresh kebabs and saw the creamy yogurt dripping all over them. So I plopped myself down at a restaurant near the Galata tower. Not far from Molly’s American cafe. And I ran into one of my online friends.
Most of my friends are online. If you can call them friends. OK. They are friends. Just not the traditional kind. Her name was Cansu and her father owned the restaurant. I got an extra helping of Iskender kebab with fresh warm grease drizzled over the top.
The warmth had left my groins and moved into my fuzzy tummy. Cansu told me her name meant “life.” And “su” meant “water.” She was life water. I said cool name. I asked her when she getting off. I liked that expression. Getting off. When are you getting off. Not that I’m a pervert. Oh no. My mind is usually far away from my body.
Cansu said she was getting off soon. Very soon. I told her I would come back to the restaurant and maybe we could grab a couple of beers. I went off to Molly’s Cafe and ended up getting a book called Elegy for a Fog Death by someone named Julie Doxie. I liked the title. The book was pretty good too. It suited my mood of the day.
Ok before we get back to Cansu. A few caveats:
- I was told when I was young that I was born on the real birthday of Jesus
- I was taught good manners and developed extreme forms of religious discipline at an early age
- I had a mind body problem
- I revealed all my secrets to women rather than other men
- I always wanted to be perceived as the good guy
I list these things in order not to give the wrong scent. I was not thinking of hooking up with Cansu. At least as far I was consciously aware of. I was just attempting to let go and let be. But that has never been the case. The problem is whether or not intentions count. Or that’s not it. The problem is knowing our own intentions.
When I came back for Cansu she had herself done up. People do themselves up for all sorts of reasons. Not just to please some stranger from an online friends website. So I didn’t get an ego boost or anything. We look good for the world right. Not just the person next to us. Cansu sported high heels and bright red lipstick and a short short gold speckled skirt.
Cansu took me to meet her friend Özge. Özge meant “daredevil.” She was a little bit homely but sported some gold as well. We ended up at some pub where you can get one Effes beer and three shots for something like £2. The pub had a roof that opened up to the stars. Right off the bustling Taksim street. And there was joy there. The beer. The shots. The stars. A mood was developing. Maybe the mood was leading to certain emotions. How are moods and emotions related? Is it mood then emotion or sometimes emotion then mood? I dunno. In this case it definitely felt like the mood led to my more carnal emotions.
The more shots and beers the more the old lizard brain crept out from under the rocks. Once toasty, we ended up at a reggae club. Özge told me she was in love with an American but he went back to Ohio. Cansu told me she was married and divorced and was searching for a new life. All three of us danced. We danced and then we danced some more. All six of our hands were finding various body parts. Some sticky. Some not. Then the lights came on.
Cansu said she couldn’t drive and suggested a taxi. She asked if I wanted to get a room. I told her I had a room at a hostel. I said they could stay at the hostel too. Of course I was forgetting about the rules. But I was also thinking about how to make contact with Jerry again. At this point I wasn’t getting any hot steamy images of threesomes. I was still thinking of being Mr. good guy.
So we got the taxi and headed toward the hostel. But when we got to the entrance of the area the taxi driver shook his head. There was a road block. The road block consisted of a ton of police cars. I thought about the Russians and the carpet. I wondered about Jerry. I wondered whether my rule about not having a mobile phone was such a good idea.
So the taxi pulled out of the neighborhood and we began the search for a room. From hotel to hotel. Cansu ran inside to ask for vacancies and within a few minutes was running back out shaking her head. This went on for four hours. Until 9AM in the morning. No joke. By 9AM I was entertaining other thoughts. Less good guy thoughts. Or maybe those thoughts came before 9AM. They built up slowly and then were pushed back down again.
The taxi dropped us off near the Bosphorus. We walked along the Bosphorus. We each took a bench and had some shuteye. Then we ate some baked potatoes. The baked potatoes had a ton of toppings. And a mysterious green sauce I couldn’t really taste.