Sunday, October 23, 2005

Run Lola Run

I've finally got some pictures from Fethiye and Antalya up!

I checked out of the pension this morning, and now am just wasting the day. I'm taking the night bus to Cappadocia, which doesn't leave until 9pm. I switched my reservations to stay in a backpackers' pension in Göreme - I've hit the wall with speaking foreign languages and Im ready for a dose of English.

Yesterday was quite a day. It started off innocently. Had coffee at a shoreside cafe, did my internet, and headed outside the walled city & into modern Antalya for lunch. On my way back I stopped at the WC behind the mosque. It was down a flight of stairs in a grungy looking basement. The attendant sat at a dirty plastic table watching tv with his kid, while his wife cleaned. We joked a bit, I gave him 50 cents, and went in.

After he invites me to sit down for tea. Cool enough. We talk for a bit. His name is Sergio. He's Saudi, but married to a Turkish woman and has been here for awhile. And then, apropos of nothing, he leans over and whispers, Michael ... yuz dolar ... tamam? as in: 100 dollars, ok? And I think something got lost in the translation, because his child is playing at my feet and my interpretation can't be right. But then: seni, elli dolar. For you, fifty dollars. And he makes a gesture and this time his meaning is clear.

It all seems so out of context. When did hustlers start serving tea before making a proposition? I laugh, thank him for the offer, and decline. But Turkish salesmen don't give up so easily, whether they're selling carpets, water pipes, or corpus sanctus. He suggests going to the beach. No. Dinner, drinks, and a night at my pension. It's not allowed, and anyways, I'm going to the theater at Aspendos in the evening. He smiles. It's settled then. He'll be my date for the theater.

As if I was going to take a bathroom attendant to the theater. Not even for the shock value. I explain to him that in Hawai'i it's aşk kolay - easy love (it's the best I could do) - and that I don't pay for dates. Tamam, he says. Yirmi dolar. Twenty dollars. I'm not getting my message across. And then, run.

I don't know where this voice comes from, this sudden message from my unconscious to flee without delay. I've ignored it before and I've always ended up in trouble. I learned the hard way to listen to it. It's not a panic attack or any other type of anxiety - it's much more clear and precise than that. And it says: this is not a situation that you can smile and charm your way out of.

So: run. My perspective on everything shifts. I look around. Sergio's wife is gone. There are kids leaning over a railing upstairs and watching us. Schoolkids? Or baby hustlers? And those men in cheap business suits just standing there at the top of the stairs - plainclothes cops? I scan for other exits, but there are none. And Sergio ıs whispering in my ear again: Michael, yirmi dolar. Here. He motions to the bathroom. Now.

Tamam, I say. Gelin. You go. I'll follow. He jumps up and strides into the restroom. I stand up, step to the left so he's out of sight, then spin around and dart up the stairs. I see the kids do a double take. I don't look back - I just head straight out into the streets. Outside a cafe is blasting techno music into the air. Nice, I think. I'm always appreciative when life provides me with a proper soundtrack.

I head for the meydana, the main plaza, making sure to keep buildings on my left, and hugging every corner to minimize his line of sight (later I'll wonder how I know to do these things. Maybe I read too many adventure books as a kid). But when I get to the meydana it's almost empty. I was hoping to blend in with the crowds. Across the meydana is Ataturk Boulevard, and then Hadrian's Gate - the entry way into the walled town of Kaleiçi, and safety. I head straight across teh meydana, keeping up a good pace. I don't run - I just had my shoes polished, and I was not about to scuff them up running from a twenty lira whore.

I make it to the gate, down the stairs andup the other side, and I think I made it when I hear him shout my name. I turn, along with half the crowd, and there's Sergio at the top of the stairs at the other side of the gate. Mıchael! he yells, then snaps his fingers and Gel! Come. I shake my head, and damn if he doesn't stomp his foot on the ground and yell again, gel! And then my language skills fail me completely. I yell back something incomprehensible, along the lines of No, I am wanting, thank you, sir. Look - my phrasebook didn't cover this (Lesson Four: How to Escape an Angry Hustler was missing).

I duck through a garden, then zigzag through the winding alleys of the Ottoman quarter. But I am sure he doesn't follow. He's got his turf, and it's outside the town walls, in the modern world of wide boulevards and banks and shopping centers wıth Happy Ramazan Sales and hookers in the mosque basement. Kaleiçi is a world apart ... and, I realize, it's my turf. I head to the market street, and like music to my ears the guys all call out Aloha Hawaii! ( I taught them a few Hawaiian words, on the off chance another islander wanders this way). Later, I join my barber while he breaks the day's fast with a meal of lentil soup, pide (a sesame bread made during Ramazan), and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and chiles.

Later I join a tour group for the show at Aspendos, and it's from the gutter to the stars, baby. It was fabulous. Aspendos is a restored Roman theater about an hour out of the city. It holds fifteen thousand, and every seat was filled. Getting to my seat was an adventure in itself - the tiers are steep, and some of the steps a good three or four feet high. It was as much mountain climbing as it was anything else. The crowd helps everyone up, and I realized the benefit of the design - no one in front can block your view, as every seat is like a balcony seat.

And then the show started. Mustafa Erdoğan, the choreographer, used 120 dancers in a show that mixed in elements of modern and ballet, traditional Turkish folk dancing (which looked a lot like Irish step dancing), Radio City Music Hall show stopping numbers, trance, drumming, and dervishes (yeay!). He's doing something similar to what guys like Peter Espiritu, Patrick Makuakane, and others are doing for Hawai'i, but on an absolutely epic scale. The dervish number was the most powerful. It followed a more modern piece that featured a battle between, from what I can tell, Anatolian peasants and a militaristic group dressed in black. The dervish piece opened with the dead arrayed on the stage, all draped in white. A dozen or so women danced a ballet over the dead, then left the stage. Five sufis stepped up, lit only by black lights, and they began to whirl.

I don't know how long they whirled - five minutes, maybe ten. It was hypnotic - simple, but absolutely, stunningly beautiful.

We got back to Kaleici past midnight, and Aslan (the guy who had recruited me for the ill fated soccer team) was just closing his shop. Damn these guys work hard and long hours. We went into town for soup ... Çorba Kotil. I didn't know what it was, I just said I would have the same as everyone else. The waiter clarified this with Aslan, and they assured him that yeah, I would. So the soup arrived, and it was a clear broth with chunks of meat, something looking lıke condensed cream of mushroom soup at the bottom, and pieces of tripe and other body parts I couldn't ıdentify. The waıter spooned some sizzling oil (fat from the lamb?) into our bowls, added garlic and some lemon juice, and it was bon apetit.

I had to ask what I was eating. I just had to. And as Aslan started ticking off body parts I thought that Kotil must translate as 'lamb in a blender.' He points to his leg (leg of lamb, check) shoulder (check) , guts (tripe and chittlins, no problem), tongue (I can handle), brain (uh oh, that must be the creamy stuff) and eyeball (oh shit please don't let me find an eyeball in my soup).

I didn't find an eyeball, and the soup was good. Hella good. After we wandered through the Roman Marina, and I finally saw all the clubs that give Antalya it's reputation. I wasn't impressed. There were Russian hookers, drunk tourists, and bouncers in white shirts and pony tails standing around glowering and looking cool. I think my Kaleici was much more interesting.

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