A mania seized me. I wandered up and down Cumhuriyet Caddesi, the drag in Uskudar in which I live, and upon which many automobile people have decided to make their livings. I went into every shop from the bottom of the hill (near the ferry stations) to the top (closer to my house). It was a saturday afternoon. Each place I asked the same question in my awful turkish: “araba kıralık?”
The first place I actually asked “satılık?” which means “for sale?” which is a little different. They told me no. “Türkçe only,” they said. “Why?” I asked. “Neden yok,” they said. “there is no why.” Racists.
I’d wandered almost to the top of the hill, to discover that most places were either closed or had no automobiles on a saturday afternoon, when I tried a dingy repair shop across from my alleyway. I opened the top half of the door and spoke into the dark office.
“Do you guys know where I could rent a car?”
A bald guy looked up. “Tamam,” he said. “Tamam, gel.” He drew up the papers, and told one of his sons to disappear further into the alleyway to retrieve a beat-up Symbol, which is not a brand of car I was aware of, and we signed some papers. (we used Anna’s passport because I’d left mine at school.) We called alex.
“We got a car. WE GOT A CAR. WE DID IT. I did not think this was possible. We’re going to the beach.” I was shouting near the ATM. People were staring.
“Ughhhhhhhhhhhh I don’t know, I want to plan some lessons for monday, and then go to this weird monastery, and those are two excuses that I just came up with…”
“ALEX. You know what’s going to happen if you stay home this weekend? You’ll read some stuff, have a nice relaxing time, get some work done. You know what will happen if you come with us? I DON’T KNOW AND I HAVE NO IDEA. IT IS VERY EXCITING.”
“ughhhhhhhhhhhh stop speaking directly to my soulllllllllllllllllll” and by that time me and anna were driving towards her house in Acıbadem (which I think means “pepper almond” (my neighborhood of Fıstıkağacı means something like “pistachio tree man”(?????))) While in Alex’s place, her french sort-of-roomate Paul showed me a picture of a glorious beach with sculpted white cliffs. “It’s near Ağva,” he said. Destination SET.
We managed it and departed by five o’ clock to escape the dismal drag of Istanbul traffic and the crowds and the noise and the ceaseless noise, to find some real american freedom in the rolling hills of Turkey. None of us had really left the city.
Zeynep (so our Symbol was christened) is a stick shift. I love driving stick shift. It is terrifying to drive in the city. As I may have mentioned, the streets are all small and were originally designed for horses or trams or whatever and there aren’t really…rules…so cars squeal by and sneak through and one has to be sixteen times as aware of the automobiles and humans and street cats surrounding. For an hour outside the city, even on the freeway, it was bumper-to-bumper-to-cat traffic. When it broke, finally, we saw trees and forests and space and sunsets over the undulating world.
After an hour more of driving, it was dark and we had arrived in Şile, a small seaside town. I was blackout hungry and was talking to the dogs as their king, and alex and anna steered us towards an Iskender place. Delicious delicious delicious shaved meat things with bread and grilled tomatoes all topped with meat juice and tomato juice and OH MAN it was good. I had ayran, the weird salty watery yogurt. We found a cheap pansiyon and ponied up to stay the night. The patron offered us tea and we watched an utterly bizarre version of “Turkey’s got talent,” in the lobby, in which all of the talents were gross. The first guy twisted his arms and shoulderblades around in circles, and that blotted out any memory of the second guy. The second thing was an onstage makeup application where the artist made her willing subject look like, in front of an audience and judges and with the greatest slowness, a man who had been shot in the eye. One of the turkish guys deadpanned at us and explained: “culture.”
We left the pansiyon to purchase wine to consume in our cell of a room, and in the cobblestone plaza night, a family was lighting tiny hot air balloons. They were globes of red and blue paper shaped with cane, with a flaming coal suspended in the middle. A few people gathered round, watching them inflate. The blue one got enough lightness to start drifting along the ground, and then one of the men started tossing it into the air–until it finally started to rise, to shoot up. we cheered and people started clapping. And then we saw the little flame going straight for the top of a minaret–closer, and closer, and it got caught on the tip. And a wind picked up, and tossed the little balloon off the minaret and into the night. People cheered again. A strange turkish man came up to me, and clapped me on the shoulder. “God has accepted it,” he said, in what must have been the only English he knew. We laughed. “Make a wish!” I heard someone say, or maybe I said it. We all made wishes. I thought about eunjey. The balloon sailed away into a quiet sky.
The next morning we ate breakfast in town–Anna purchased three watermelons, to smash on rocks and devour like devils–and then we drove out along tiny tiny country roads. The highways had evaporated. We’d do a few kilometers of violent switchbacks, and get rewarded with spectacular views of the black sea. Cliffs and valleys plunging into a clear blue. The road ran through villages, next to narrow walls and gates. We stopped only to take pictures of strange things–of strange lion heads wearing lipstick guarding a house, of machinery, of yellow vespas, of cowboys and indians. I found a handful of tiny mystery beads in my pocket. They were very colurful. Anna bought a towel with a map of Turkey upon it. The woman at the village shop quoted us fifteen lira. I said, in my worst turkish, “how about…..ten????????” and she started laughing and said, “tamam.” We followed a slow-moving police car with its lights on for about 10k out of town.
And finally we found it. Our road, for whatever reason, wandered past the white cliff beach. The police (though we’d lost them temporarily) had pulled in, lights still flashing, and they were playing cards with some one-eyed sailors and their street dogs. The beach was perfect. The water was clear and the sand new, geologically speaking. I stripped and played in the surf and made weird noises. Alex and Anna were happy and wandered around the beach and took pictures.
After an hour or so of idly playing around, we finished the drive to Ağva, an even smaller seaside town, and found a Mantı house (tiny lamb dumplings smothered in yogurt AND melted butter AND spices) and hit the beach to smash watermelons. We saw four muslim women who had buried themselves in the sand to take a nap. I walked out to the pier to smash my watermelon. A bunch of tourists were there, taking pictures, and I had Anna take a picture of me hurling the thing at an ocean stone. It exploded. It was great.
“Neden?” someone asked me.
“Neden YOK,” I said.
And it was sadly time to return to Istanbul to teach the following monday. Our whole excursion was a mere 24 hours, but it made all of us HUNGRY for more adventure. Both Alex and I work Saturdays, but we are all committed to adventure time, as much as possible, naturally. We took a different back road, accelerating needlessly through the countryside, until we found a roadside stand where a village woman sold things. Preserves, tomatoes, fresh bread. She toasted a few slices for us and served us tea at her plastic table. I bought tomato paste and pepper paste. Alex bought peach preserves. Anna bought the best grapes I’ve ever tasted. We promised to come back and visit. Total distance away from Istanbul: 105 kilometers. We’ve barely seen a corner of a corner of this wild country. Can’t wait for the rest.