No.32 July 2003

All Will Be Well

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ISTANBUL? YES, ISTANBUL

Karen-Claire Voss No. 32 July 2003

It always amuses me when I hear would-be American or other tourists expressing nervousness about traveling to Turkey.  From the emails I get from people outside I gather that foreigners have the impression that the fallout from Mr. Bush’s Iraqi debacle has somehow affected daily life here, and so they worry about whether or not it is safe for them to come.  I usually answer inquiries like that with what I hope comes across as compassionate, understanding patience.  I explain how safe I felt here even after the events of September 11, 2002 and even before, during, and after the war in Iraq and I always make a comparison between how I imagine life in a metropolitan center in the U.S.–-as being very, very dangerous—and life here in Istanbul.  I mean, even when I am outside after dark here I am not in the habit of steeling myself to be the victim of, say, a random, drive-by shooting or a sex maniac. 

This morning I had to go to Bebek to the post office to pay the telephone bill.  I had a bit of time before a 1:00 o’clock appointment and so I headed for the seaside to enjoy a glass of tea.  For those of you not yet familiar with Bebek, there are two wonderful places by the sea where you can have tea.  One is a very chic (but truly quite lovely) café run by the Turkish Touring & Automobile Association.  It has wrought iron chairs with marble topped tables and plants in important planters, you know the kind.  The other is my favorite.  There is a small boat docked to the right of the iskele (1) as you are facing the sea and the man there makes tea, Turkish coffee and—I think—toasted cheese sandwiches.  A glass of tea there costs a mere 400,000 TL and you can sit in a chair next to a tiny table so close to the sea you could put your feet in the water.  And so this morning, that’s where I parked myself for a half hour or so.  It was great.  I looked out at the boats harbored there and entertained a brief fantasy of being the owner of an especially beautiful wooden craft that was there (personally, I can’t stand those yachts that look like white plastic.  I prefer the wooden ones . . .), looked very closely at two tiny sparrows who walked around my feet for a time, enjoyed the sun on my arms and neck, and actually smiled benevolently at one of the gypsy women who came round to see if I wanted my palm read while I refused.  (For some reason, I felt really good this morning . . .)  Then I walked back across the street and caught the bus to Kuruçeþme enjoying the fact that I had thereby saved 2,000,000 TL by riding on the bus instead of in a taxi.) 

A short while ago I went out to the garden and wiped off the marble topped table and shelves and rinsed the tea saucers I set out on the ground at night and fill with beer.  (Snails are attracted to the beer and climb into the saucers and drown.  Since I could never find the snail pellets you can buy in the U.S. here—they come in a box and always looked a bit like cat food to me, but they were easy to use—I used to use a poison powder that had to be mixed with water but for some reason I hated bothering with that.  Recently, an American friend reminded me that beer worked, so I tried it, and it did.)  While I was in the garden I found myself thoroughly enjoying the peace of it and experienced a definite sense of well-being.  Later, when I went inside, I found myself wandering through the small space of the apartment, stopping now and then to touch some beautiful object, while remembering how and where it had been acquired.  It is true, I thought to myself, that I could never afford such a space in New York or Paris or Florence.  Where on earth besides Istanbul could I enjoy life in a large city and still live in a garden apartment with a view of the water? 

These days a number of my foreign friends are taking off to visit the States and invariably ask me if there is anything I want them to bring back.  Years ago when this happened my “wish lists” were always very long.  Now, there is the only the odd thing I want—like Old English Scratch Polish or Rit fabric dye.  It seems that most of everything I want any more I either have or can get here.  Interesting, that.

I realize that this month’s ruminations are something like a kind of follow up to what I touched on last month.  You see, these days I am going through the process of deciding whether to bring a whole lot of things I have stored in a depot in the U.S. here or not.  Since I am not at all wealthy, given the fact of the cost involved, if I do bring the stuff here it probably means that this is where I will stay for the rest of my life. 

Big decision.  Big. (2)

You know, when I first came here I could not for the life of me understand what looked like a fatalistic attitude toward life.  You know the way Turkish people are always talking about ‘kýsmet’ and ‘kader’ and say ‘Inþallah’ a lot? (3) I’ve come to understand that many of them have a deep understanding of how everything in this world is not always within the grasp of our small, finite hands.  This is not only a religious idea.  Even an atheist experiences a sense of his/her own existential finitude in the midst of the infinitude of the physical universe.  Speaking metaphorically, it is true to say that some elements of the pattern in the rich carpet that makes up each of our individual lives are always going to escape us.  There simply are some things we cannot direct and we cannot plan.  In the case of my arriving at a decision about what to do, when I do decide, there will be no way I can know if I make the right choice.  No, at that point, all I can do will be to keep in mind the prayerful reassurance of a medieval Christian mystic named Julian of Norwich (who, by the way, was very, very like some of our great Sufis).  She said:  "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." (4) 

Notes:

1.  Iskele’ means a ‘wharf’ or a ‘landing place.’  Here it is where the ferries stop.

2.  To get what I mean, repeat this phrase to yourself in the same tone Julia Roberts used in that memorable scene in “Pretty Woman” when she went back to the store in Beverly Hills where she had been cruelly snubbed and actually asked to leave when she first went in to try and buy some clothes.  At this point, though, she was dressed to the nines and loaded down with packages from expensive stores.  She asked the oh-so-snotty salesgirl if she worked on commission.  The little chit nodded yes and then Julia Roberts lifted up both hands, full of bags and said:  “Big mistake.  Big.” 

3.  The word ‘kýsmet’ is used to mean ‘chance,’ ‘destiny,’ ‘luck,’ or ‘godsend.’  Here I mean ‘destiny’ or ‘godsend.’  Kader’ means ‘destiny,’ ‘fate,’ or ‘eternal preordinance.’  Inþallah’ means ‘God willing’ or ‘if God wills.’

4.  Julian of Norwich was a medieval mystic who lived a solitary life and wrote an account of a series of visions about what she believed was divine love that came to her after a serious illness.  The visions have been collected in a book called The Showings.   

No.1- April 2000 No.11 April 2001 No. 20 July 2002 No 29 April 2003
No.2 June 2000 No.12 May 2001 No. 22 September 2002 NO 30 MAY 2003
No.3 July/August 2000 No. 13 June 2001 No. 23   October 2002  NO 31 JUNE 2003
No.5 October 2000 No.14 July 2001 No 24 November 2002 NO 32 JULY 2003
No.7 December 2000 No.15 August 2001 No 25 DECEMBER  2002 NO 33 August 
No.8 January 2001
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
NO 16 September 2001 No 26 January 2003 No 34 September 
No.9 February 2001 No. 17 April 2002 No 27 February 2003 No 35 October 
No.10 March 2001 NO 19 JUNE 2002 No 28 March 2003 No 36 January 2004

No 37 February - March 2004 No 38 April 2004

 

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