Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

It’s always good to have a backup plan October 27, 2008

In case you were starting to worry about my job prospects based on my faith based plan to transition to a writing career, you may be relieved to hear I’ve gotten some alternative offers. Saturday I received my first marriage proposal of the trip. Should things not work out for me back at home, I have been invited to live out my days running a cheap hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. This arrangement was suggested during the ride to the airport, along with pleas not to leave or to return immediately after the marathon. At first I was offered the role of business partner, and then my impending departure encouraged him to put all the cards on the table. When my young suitor sensed I wasn’t going to go for it, the ante was upped with promises of regular picnics, fishing trips, and all-night clubbing with the hotel guests in the summers. I’ve hit an age where all-night sleeping is WAY more appealing than all-night clubbing, but I guess this is one of those differences that keeps things spicy?

If you think it sounds aggressive – if not preposterous – to propose to a hotel guest you’ve known for less than 24 hours, then you clearly haven’t spent much time in Turkey.

I had heard the men were pushy in their zeal to sell carpets, trinkets, and fish dinners – and they are – but I seem to be attracting an additional level of attention. For those of you that aren’t naturally aggressive and would like to try these moves on the next interesting female you see, I offer this step-by-step outline:

  1. Make eye contact and stare into her eyes as if you are trying to bore into her very soul. Think about pictures you’ve seen of Charlie Manson or Saddam Hussein and try to emulate that semi-insane and super intense ferocity

  2. Continue stare for as long as humanly possible while simultaneously mustering courage for step three

  3. Break the ice with a cheap and easy pick up line. “Where are you from?” is exceedingly popular, but innocuous. You won’t be original, but you probably won’t send her into a high speed run in the other direction. This is also best-directed at someone you’re pretty sure doesn’t live next door. If you want to mix it up, some other options include:

      • Are you from Heaven?
      • I would like to make your holiday better.

      • Do you know this word, “Gorgeous?”

      • My friend and I have a bet. Are you from <<<insert country here>>> (helps if you have a friend)

      • Buy her a mussel from a street vendor (I fell for this one, and that is how I met Octopus Man)

Octopus Man was no doubt the worst of them, although Carpet Man and Blue Mosque Man were contenders. And, in the hopes you will find it entertaining and perhaps educational, I will share the moves and highlight the fumbles.

Carpet Man: 21 or 22 years old – Stopped my friend and I on the street outside a carpet shop in Sultanahmet. We cannot remember if the pickup line had to do with where we were from (my recollection) or “Can you tell me the most famous thing about Turkey?” The latter line was used at some point, and I guessed carpets and then kebap, but the correct answer was “hospitality!” We were then invited in for apple tea (they all try to get you with the apple tea). However on this occasion, my friend seemed open to it (probably the cold and rain as much as anything) so I went along with her.

I sat on the far end of the couch, and left her with the middle, next to him. Other young men emerged from elsewhere in the store or on the street, and wanted to discuss American politics, the U.S. banking system, and how long Slovenia has been on the euro. Carpet Man seemed disgruntled and moved to the other end of the store to look at a newspaper. At some point, the discussion turned to hammams (the Turkish baths), and where we should go.

A voice that sounded like a robot announced, “I give good massage. I give good massage.” Carpet Man was back in the action. “You do not waste your money on hammam. I massage you best.” We declined, and he waved me over, “Come here. I give you massage. You no like, you leave.” Then he tried to get me to go upstairs because “he had something to show me.” Yikes. What am I? 15 years old?

At this point, I was glad I hadn’t drank the tea (which tasted like hot apple cider). I’m such a paranoiac that after one sip I realized that if he’d slipped something in it, I wouldn’t be able to taste it. Then I noticed that my friend had drained hers dry – one of us needed to be sober enough to get us out of there!

The massage offers were endless, and he eventually placed himself on the arm of the couch just inches away from me. “I’ll massage your legs!” he cried out. Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m really horribly sore in my thighs…but there’s no amount of sore that would cause me to go for that. We got up, and as we were walking out, he commented that I had very nice legs, grabbed both my calves, and pleaded for us to come back tomorrow.

Critical blunder: Excessive aggressiveness

Blue Mosque Man: early to mid-30s – Approached us as my friend was taking a picture of me in front of the Aya Sofia. “I will make picture for you!” was the ice breaker. He worked through the usual rigmarole (where from, how long here, what have you seen), to which I kept replying that we were in a hurry and thank you very much, but no thank you. Then I went back to trying to pose for the photo.

At this point, Blue Mosque Man (still standing next to my friend) starts saying, “She is very pretty. Don’t you think she is very beautiful?” Uncomfortable photo completed, I tried to get us out of there by mentioning that we were rushing off to the Blue Mosque. He said that we needed to hurry, because it was closing soon.

My friend had been in Istanbul a couple weeks ago and went into the mosque at 7pm, so she vaguely implied that she thought he might be mistaken. From there, he demanded to know why she thought he was lying. As we approached the mosque, I stopped to take a photo. At this point, I was pretty sure I heard him ask, “Where are you from? Are you from Mars?” I took a couple pictures as they walked away together. As I just about caught up to her, he turned around and walked toward me. “Oh great,” I thought…and then he walked right past me without a word. When I caught up to her, he had apparently been incredibly obnoxious and even mean to her! This, I think, only works with women who are into being abused.

Critical blunder: Unfounded rudeness

Octopus Man: 25 (he showed us his ID, born in 1983) – You can buy a wide variety of foods from the Istanbul street vendors – corn on the cob, cashews, rice and garbanzo beans, sesame bagels, and mussels. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t feel compelled to try them all. I stopped to ask if the mussels were raw, and the vendor cut one open and presented it to me. “Is it raw? Is it raw!?” I kept asking, but he didn’t speak enough English to answer. He’d already cut it open, so I felt compelled to take it. It was, by the way, totally disgusting. It had all this bumpy stuff – like eggs or something. I like mussels, but this was sick. Are they all that way raw!?!?

Anyway, a guy in a suit showed up and ate a few mussels. When I tried to figure out if I needed to pay the vendor, it was clear that the suit guy (later to be re-dubbed Octopus Man) had taken care of it. I thanked him, and we walked away.

Seconds later, he came up alongside us with the typical questions. His English was abysmal, so we slipped into silence and continued walking. He trailed along all the way. Then he started reaching out via pantomime. “Do you dance?” he asked me. (and if I’d had the words, “Not well” would be the accurate answer. I try to avoid dancing because I have no natural sense of rhythm and am quite a pitiful sight.) We tried to explain about the marathon the next morning and were not partying and needed our sleep, but it wasn’t getting through.

He spent a lot of time on his phone, and eventually communicated that he had friends that spoke good English. He wanted me to come with him to meet them. Obviously this was not going to happen.

I had a list of Turkish words translated into English given to me by Orhan, and I pulled it out to see if it would help. In response to my sorry attempts to communicate, he put his arm around me and squeezed in a “You’re so cute” kind of way. But then the arm didn’t leave. And then he kept trying to kiss my cheek. I kept looking at my friend – now laughing uncontrollably – and mouthing the words HELP ME. I would slip out of his grip, and he would come back twice as strong. I remember reading that if you SCUBA with giant squid they will wrap themselves all around you. The same can be said for young Turkish men who buy you a disgusting raw street mussel.

Anyway, as we walked down the street, my friend got stuck in the role of translator, even though she doesn’t speak Turkish. At one point, he pulled out his wallet, which she understood to mean he wanted to know how old I was. “I’m old,” I told him, “OLD. Too old or you,” but he didn’t understand, and kept looking at me deliriously.

Having been through this the night before with Orhan who had seen my passport and still didn’t believe me, I really didn’t want to go through this again. Octopus Man was telling us that he was 25, and started guessing my age. “21?” he guessed. No. “22?” On it went. When we got to 27, he pulled out his wallet again, apparently thinking we didn’t understand what he was asking.

“Just agree,” I told her. “Tell him anything. I do NOT want to get into this with this guy.”

The numbers started over. Eventually, she nodded to him, “Yes. 26. She’s 26.” He hugged me again in sheer bliss. By now we were to the hostel, and said goodbye. After thwarting yet another attempted kiss, he touched me on the cheek, “Baby face,” he said, smiling down at me, “Baby face…”

No kidding, baby face. You have no idea, my friend. NO IDEA.

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This is Your Home October 24, 2008

Bodrum harbor

Bodrum harbor

Wow.

The Turks know how to treat a guest. I am sitting here with Orhan, his brother, and his mother. We are eating dried garbanzo beans (not much better than they sound and causing some FEROCIOUS heartburn) and pistachios and watching The Assassination of Jesse James because it’s the only English-speaking movie they own. The Southern accents are tough, even for my American ears, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has a clue what’s going on. As I result, I keep sharing these elaborate explanations about the “wild west” (and just making the bulk of it up as I go along) in order to keep them involved. Did you know Jesse James invented moonshine? Yeah, well, as far as my new Turkish friends go, that’s a fact. Don’t go blowing my rep…

Meanwhile, Orhan himself has admitted to me he can’t understand what any American says, let alone the men in this film. His impersonation of an American talking is, ‘Dontcha think, Dontcha think, Dontcha think, ummmm, ummmm, ummmm, You know, you know, you know” (which ain’t half bad. You could take that act on the road.) He has commented that I don’t talk like an American (add that to “don’t look like an American” and I hope they let me back into the country next week!), but that is a deliberate act. When in the presence of someone whose English is intensely difficult for me to understand, I slow way down, simplify my vocabulary, and annunciate with a slight British accent. Basically I try to sound like the tapes they learned English from. I figure it’s the least I can do since my Turkish is so rusty.

Case in point, while being driven to the Turkish baths tonight, we stopped to pick up Orhan’s relatives. His aunt and uncle and their young children piled in, and after a moment of discussion, everyone was enthusiastically saying ‘VaNESSa.” I turned around to smile and wave, and the aunt told me, “My name is Sophia,” the same way I must sound when I say “Je m’appelle Vanessa” to the French. Then the kids were instructed to say, “How are you?” To which I responded, “Fine, thank you. How are you?” and we all happily took turns like this for five minutes.

In the same vein, my vulgar Turkish is rapidly improving. Orhan has printed out a list for me, and I can now hold my own in what could only be described as a very alarming conversation while in Istanbul. I can’t say ‘good morning’ or ‘how much does this cost?’, but I have learned that the number 81 is pronounced “sex and beer.” I have my fingers crossed that I’ll end up in room 81 in Istanbul. For tonight, I’m bunking in lucky #13, and that number didn’t make it onto my vocabulary sheet.

Bodrum in the distance as seen from the Kos-Bodrum ferry

Bodrum in the distance as seen from the Kos-Bodrum ferry

Otherwise, in addition to being the lavished-upon American guest, I suspect that tonight I am the only guest. I arrived here around dinner time, and was asked if I was hungry. Unable to face the buffet this last day, I ate pretty sparingly and had to admit that I was. Before I knew it, I had a hot bowl of what I would describe as mint and garbanzo bean soup in front of me. Then my dinner of barbecued chicken wings, rice, and a heaping helping of yogurt arrived.

After two weeks with the Greeks, I thought I wouldn’t be able to look at yogurt again for months, but it was a surprisingly pleasant combination. The Turkish – people after my own heart – are big eaters. While snacking on a substantial amount of garbanzo beans and assorted nuts, we’re drinking tea that is being kept warm on an elaborate kettle set up. Although I don’t know this for certain, in most countries it’s quite rude to reject any hospitality, so I am – despite being very tired and not really hungry for a third tangerine – going with the flow.

For example, i was poured a couple glasses of raki (Turkish ouzo). I was also told that I had to toss it back. It was ‘the way.’ After chugging my second gasoline-strong glass, I was informed through peels of laughter that raki is drunk like ouzo – slowly and mixed with water. Great. Now that I’ll burst into flames if anyone lights a match within ten feet of my breath…

However, despite treating me a little bit like a trained chimp, I would still rate this family highly in terms of hospitality and warmth. It’s not every day I find people that are wiling to spend two hours of their life watching a movie they don’t understand, while continually urging me to eat and drink more because, ‘This is your home.”