Friday, December 20, 2013

Turkey: Hour 1

When Lauren and I arrived in Istanbul, we had little to no idea of where we were going.  We knew the right metro stop to get off on—a woefully scant bit of knowledge towards arriving safely at our destination. We climbed out of the metro station, jet-lagged, disoriented, and quite suddenly in Turkey.  The thing was—I had forgotten to print off the map from the metro to their home—and our phones were useless until we found wifi.  Somehow, our combined logic led us to a not entirely incorrect decision (and I vouch for our combined not -altogether -ridiculous –and- mostly- sound-  logic leading us into  good places and situations for the rest of the trip).  We thought: MapàIphoneàwifiàcoffee shop?-->safety.  Had I been a vagabond traveler hundreds of years ago, and not a spoiled westerner with a tiny annoying robot that fits in my pocket and tells me what to do, the scene would have looked quite different.  I imagine we would have wandered around donned in worn brown travelers cloaks, offering silver pieces to kind locals, in exchange for valuable information such as, “where be thy abode of so and so? I beg thee!”  We also may have said things like, “We are weary and have eaten naught but a stray donkey on our travels!” Also, we would have been 20 years older and wiser than when we had left wherever we were coming from.   Instead, we are annoying, bumbling Americans a mere 24 hours older than when we had left (and not much wiser to show for those hours) who spill into coffee shops with hideously large high-tech backpacks and use up the wifi in exchange for a paltry order of tea and coffee.  And know no Turkish.  The area we were in was very metropolitan and had a serious dearth of sky-flung mosques and whirling dervishes.  We were in quite possibly the Turkish equivalent of Robert street in West St. Paul.  Not a bad place, to be fair, but not the sort of place that puts one at ease.  It was perhaps partly this that led to the horrible and wonderful thing that happened next.  

But wait!  First!  We found a map!  And it utterly befuddled us.  L.auren and I, although equipped with some meager life-preserving logic, are not true Renaissance women in the sense of cartography.  Neither together, nor apart, are we accomplished beings when it comes to maps, directions, and generally getting places.  A mere spoke in the wheels, as they say!  For, we outsourced our problem to a delightful young man in America, who somehow found us a better map from thousands of miles away which my robot phone then showed me.  We both felt impending victory fresh on our tongues! Speaking of which, I also couldn’t quite feel my tongue at this point, owing to my first powerful cup of Turkish coffee!  So it was with heavy tongues and light hearts that we fumbled our way through paying our bill (and googling tip culture in Turkey of course).  The dark glance of our waiter couldn’t get us down!  We were in Turkey! We were really here! We were doing it!  And no, we didn’t know how to say “thank you” or anything of significance, but at least we were going to do one small valuable thing correctly—that is find the place we needed in order to sleep instead of god knows what on the busy night alleys of Istanbul! We got up to leave, which actually is harder than it appears when you have a large backpack with dangly straps and sleeping bags hanging off of it, and somehow in the midst of this action, something terrible happened.  Something exploded on the ground next to me!  Had I been shot?  Where was i?  No, a shot it was not, what it was was my tiny Turkish coffee cup exploding into a million pieces after I swept it off the table accidentally.  Now, I’ve never seen anything explode quite like this before, so it must have been the particular angle of impact, for this tiny cup made the most extraordinarily loud and flagrant spectacle of flying glass I have ever seen.  It took me a second or two of shock to realize the truth, and then once the glass had settled, I did, I looked around to see aghast and angry Turkish people all glaring at Lauren and I with our big stupid backpacks and clumsy glass-exploding tendencies.  The couple next to us disdainfully brushed shards of glass off their sleeves.  No one said nary a word.  And here’s where my logic failed me.  For a moment, I bent down, hastily, with the ludicrous idea of helping pick up the grenade coffee cup I had just set off---millions of tiny pieces of glass.  Then, a second later, I realized that a bleeding American would quite possibly accelerate the hostility even more. So, I mumbled a few unhelpful things in English and then “okay, we’re going to go now” when I realized that I didn’t know how to say sorry in Turkish.  And so we stepped gingerly over the glass disaster and ran out of the coffee shop. 

It was only later that Lauren and I realized what I should have done, perhaps not culturally appropriate, but still a better situation.   When the unfortunate glass explosion occurred, instead of the mumbling and running, I should have yelled “Mazel Tov!” and gone about my business.  So, that’s not even  remotely close to the tradition of glass breaking at Jewish weddings, but it would at least have distracted and redirected things.

I realize this isn't a great stand-alone blog post, and that I got too carried away with one stupid embarrassing thing that happened to us on our first day, but unfortunately it's just what came out when I started writing.  There were totally other things in Istanbul too besides the exploding glass, and I'll get around to them soon!

Mazel Tov,