I had that dream again. The one where I’m back with you, mispronouncing “as-salāmu alaykum” and “teşekkürlar” once more. The one where I go farther, deeper, and finally see those parts of you that I promised I would: the sprawling landscape, the untamed cities, and most of all, your small, sweet villages in the east.
Oh, Turkey, you know I wanted all of that. But Cappadocia was like flypaper. I was helpless, don’t you see?
All those spires of rock and compressed ash, the hollowed-out caves from four millenia ago, and the pre-Christian churches with their manmade pigeon nests for harvesting excrement for fertilizer. I know it sounded trite, but I meant it when I said Cappadocia was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen.
It’s not that the other parts of you didn’t matter – you witnessed my burning tears in Istanbul as the Imam sang from the Koran in Arabic, and you must have seen the way I marveled at the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. I’d never seen a city which straddled two continents before. Come to think of it, Turkey, you were the first and only time I’ve ever been to Asia. And I wanted to see so much more of it. So much more of you.
It’s just that, in Cappadocia, I was Indiana Jones.
Climbing craggy walls of rock to get into those prehistoric attics, scrambling through tunnels with only a cigarette lighter for illumination, blindly sinking my feet into pools of water and piercing my fingers through countless spiderwebs. Sliding down hills of pumice, running my hands over the stone table of that ancient monastery, peering up at the arches of those carved-out churches. I tried every day to make sense of those Martian cities of human termite mounds, Turkey. Did Dr. Seuss design your Cappadocian landscape? You can tell me. Is that what you whispered in my ear that night as the cone formations stretched and yawned into your blushing sunset?
It doesn’t matter, I guess. You’re right, I focused too much on Cappadocia and not enough on your harder-to-reach parts. Even my words now sound like a love letter to the places that I miss instead of an apology to the features that I missed. But I want this letter to convey both feelings: gratitude and regret, those two sides of the very same lira.
And it’s also a promise. I swear I will return for more, if you’ll have me. I will see Olympos, to which I came so close the first time. I will respectfully pay the entry fee and visit your ancient city of Ephesus (which I am deeply sorry for dismissing before as “Pompeii’s retarded cousin”).
And most of all, I will know your eastern extremities like the boundaries of my own body. I promise I will, Turkey. You have my word.
When? Uh, I don’t know. Stop nagging me.
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Other Turkish delights:
– Learning after two weeks that the hand motion I often make subconsciously while walking (swinging my arms and clapping the side of my fist into my other hand) has a meaning in Turkey. Specifically, it means “suck it.”
– Turkey as dog heaven. From what I saw in most cities, stray dogs are not euthanized by default. Instead they are given shots and ear tags and set loose, resulting in a free-dogs-for-rent wonderland. (Bored or lonely? Bring a frisbee to the park and spend an hour with the friendly, playful dogs you find there.)
– The manager of a small pension in Cannakale sitting across from me at breakfast, using the only English he seemed to know: “Friends,” he said with a wide missing-tooth smile, pointing to himself and then to me.
– Dinner with my host family in Denizli: dolmas, soup and yogurt for me; Popeye’s chicken for them. After eating, as the prayer-calls of mosques echoed from the hillside of the farthest place I’d ever been from home, their 15-year-old son Ozan and I discussed the respective merits of Kanye West and 50 Cent.
– Metin in Denizli telling me about visiting the Catholic churches in Mexico, comparing them to Turkey’s mosques: “people do the same things there as here – they just use different words.”
– Playing ukulele in the Antalya bus station, attracting a crowd of employees from a nearby internet cafe and tea stand who brought me free tea and many, many questions.