Memory Monday – Turkey, Part 2
The Concierge at the Hotel Sur was friendly but seemed a little bit bemused by the presence of this tall American who claimed to be from England, traveling all by herself, who had landed in his small lobby. He seemed even more taken aback when I asked if there were any safe places for me to walk around, as it was still early evening and light out, and if there was an inexpensive restaurant where I could get supper and not be bothered. Like the good Concierge he was, he had a satisfactory answer to both of these questions, but it dawned on me later that he might have been wondering why, if I really were as modest and concerned for my personal virtue as I seemed, I was visiting Turkey by myself in the first place.
I put my luggage in the really quite decent room which was to be mine for the next two nights, locked everything up tight, and sallied forth into the early evening sunshine. The area around the Blue Mosque was public and peopled and the mosque itself was breathtaking, so I walked up the hill and began to circumnavigate it.
I made it around the first two sides with no issues, but as I rounded the corner of the third, a guy approached me. I mean, he walked right up to me, instead of calling out like the other vendors were doing. I don’t even remember what he said at first, but I have never been good at dissembling . . . or just telling people to beat it . . . so we ended up having quite a conversation there on the sidewalk, a bunch of other men looking on. He wanted to know if I wanted to buy a carpet. I said I would love to buy a carpet, but I didn’t actually have any money–I just wanted to see Istanbul. He could tell I was American. He was married to an American himself, he said. She was a redhead. They had two boys. He talked to me like this for a while. Then we said goodbye and he said to look him up if I changed my mind about a carpet. I laughed and said I would, and made my way to the restaurant the Concierge had recommended. It was a good restaurant. I had brought a book and so I sat there reading over my dinner and glancing up from time to time as the sun set over the Sea of Marmara. This vacation could be great. It was starting to get dark by the time I left, but seriously, it was only a five minute walk, and I was accustomed to tramping around East London by myself past 11 o’clock at night, so I wasn’t too worried.
The next day was as beautiful as the first. I had breakfast on the roof of the hotel and then set off to explore. I wanted to go into the Blue Mosque because it was impressive, and the Grand Bazaar because it was famous, but most of all I wanted to see Ayasofya because even then church history and theology fascinated me, and Ayasofya was linked to such an old part of it.
Some other young women tourists at the hotel were chatting to each other at breakfast about catching some of the night life in Taksim, and I wished I knew someone in Istanbul so I could go to places like Taksim and see some night life without becoming a casualty of it. As it was, I was probably going to be stuck in my hotel room reading a book. But never mind. It was a nice day. I sallied forth.
It was as I was leaving the Blue Mosque that things started to get a little strange. First of all, a man started following me. Did I want to buy a carpet? I gave him the same line I had given Married-to-an-American-Redhead the evening before, but this guy, lacking an American wife already evidently, was not to be put off so easily. After a little back and forth, he asked if he could take me to that cafe over there, see, with the tables outside, and buy me an orange juice?
I guess the fact that I was about to turn 30 and had never dated anyone, and also was getting ready to leave London, a city where I thought I would settle, and I was kind of angry about both things, I decided it was time for me to start taking some risks. Anyway, how risky is orange juice in broad daylight outside at 10 o’clock in the morning? We sat at that table drinking orange juice for a surprisingly long time. Orange Juice Guy (whose name I have since forgotten–Ercan, maybe) was a good conversationalist. He talked frankly about how he could tell I was different from other American girls, and how at first he had wanted to talk to me because he thought I was like the rest of them, but now he was glad he was talking to me because he could tell I was a really good and pure person, and he would want to protect me like his sister. In spite of the fact that I found this man insanely good-looking, I was comforted by this assertion. So comforted, in fact, that when he suggested we meet at this same spot again at 7 o’clock that night, so he could take me to Taksim, I agreed. Well? I had wanted to go to Taksim and hadn’t even mentioned it to anyone. Maybe this was the one way I could get there safely.
As a bonus, before he returned to his carpet-selling, Orange Juice Guy told me that it was a good idea for me to go see Ayasofya, of course, but I should really also see Yerebatan Sarayı, or the Basilica Cistern, this Byzantine underground waterway near the basilica. It was pretty dark down there, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeing, because by that point the fact that I had just accepted the invitation of a Turkish man I did not know, to go to the nightlife capital of the Turkish capital was dawning on me in all its insanity. I looked around at the pillars in the dark, snapped some pictures, and then decided to try to calm down at Ayasofya.
I’m not sure I calmed down exactly, but the Muslim/Christian mashup in that gorgeous, ancient building did distract me for at least half an hour.
Soon my mind began racing again. I had just, maybe the week before, told someone–maybe only myself–that I thought that standing someone up was unconscionable, and now here I was, having committed to something I was now feeling by the minute was a worse and worse idea. I tromped out of the basilica grounds, back toward Hotel Sur and the restaurant. I was going to get my journal and write all this out. And it was lunch time. I had to go through the small bazaar. Vendors were calling after me. I ignored them. I was angry–mostly at myself, for having put myself into such a stupid and, as it seemed to me at the time, impossible, situation. I have a code, you know.
“Please, miss,” said a young man–a very young man, far too young to be interested me, I thought–coming out of one of the shops, “Would you like to learn about carpets? You don’t have to buy one. I just want to talk to you.” In fact, I would have been quite interested to learn about carpets, and I really did want to get inside one of those shops just to look, but by now I was suspicious of everyone and was sick to death of being hollered after, so I rounded on him and said, “NO!”
“Well, I’m sorry!” he snapped back. “I don’t want to do anything to you. I don’t even want to sell you a carpet. I just want to have a cup of tea together and talk!”
I was breaking my code all over the place. Not only had I made a commitment I could not possibly keep, but now I had just been rude to someone I didn’t know and who hadn’t done me any harm. “It’s just tea,” he said, showing me.
I sighed. “Oh all right,” I said, and went into the shop.