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Not What I Was Expecting

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul
Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul

My heart raced as the attractive Israeli security officer with a star of David pendant peering down her breasts revealed by the dress shirt with one-too-many buttons undone came back to speak to me. I untwined my legs and shifted my balance to two feet to prepare for what ever she had to say. "After talking it over we've decided that you shouldn't get on that plane...you should stay in Israel and come back to my place." Unfortunately that's not what she said, but I think she was into me. They singled me out for the "special treatment" at the airport, I'm pretty sure because the sexy officer just wanted speak to me. Her questions and eye contact were more fitting for a first date than an interrogation. I took the procedure in good humor and answered everything with a dangerously charming smile. In the end they didn't even search my bag (and I refrained from asking her if I would need to get naked, 'cause it wouldn't bother me...). In the line for gate security a woman came by to check my passport; after glancing at it for only a few seconds she handed it back to me and teased "Creative parents" as she moved on to the next person.

My passport it getting warn out and sometimes the scanners at the border have trouble with it. While nervously waiting to officially enter Turkey, the immigration agent half-mumbled "Are you dangerous?" "Yes" I quickly replied. I mean, No. I mean, oh god. I finished in my head. They let me in but my biggest challenge was still in front of me. While letting two cute Israeli hitchhikers into the back of Omer's Land Rover last week, I hadn't notice my phone slip into the gears of the seat. When I got back in the car my phone was bent, dented through the screen, and never to return. Now for someone who didn't have a cellphone until 2008, and didn't have a smart phone until 2010, I quickly became dependent on my phone at the start of this trip. The prospect of getting from an airport outside town to a residential address in the very center of a dense, ancient city without GPS, calling or a translation app, frightened me more than it should have.

Sunsut over Istanbul and the Galata tower
Sunsut over Istanbul and the Galata tower

I had imagined Istanbul to be somewhere between Beijing and Athens (and I don't mean geographically, because obviously it is). I had envisioned windy, narrow, cobblestone streets with lots of honking and garbage and no intelligible form of public transportation. My expectations were shattered the second I exited the airport. An electronic message board displayed the name of the first place I needed to go. A man in a suit took my bag and put it underneath the bus. What I saw outside the window was... not what I was expecting. The road was lined with well-cared-for, nicely landscaped flowers. The modern skyline was broken only by the sharp minarets of the ancient mosques which looked like missiles bursting out of subterranean silos on their way into the sky. Traffic was orderly. No one honked. The city reminded me of New York more than it did Hanoi. Comfortable sidewalks, well-groomed pedestrians, cleanliness.

I was so impressed with my ability to navigate the city without a phone that I decided to head downtown alone that night. I'll walk the main drag, check out the Galata Tower, then walk across the bridge over the Bosphorus and take a bus back home. My plan broke down at step three. I walked to a bridge in the completely wrong direction, only to get denied entry by a sleepy security guard who only seemed to know the word "Problem". "Do you speak English?" I asked. "Problem." I pointed at myself, then made the little two-wiggly-downward-pointed-fingers motion, then pointed at the bridge. "Problem." I put my tail between my legs and turned around. I wonder what time the buses stop running? I'll goog... I made it home safely, though a bit later than I had expected. One nice thing about being "lost" in a foreign city is that you get to see a great cross-section of it, especially if you heedlessly take shortcuts that you've got no real reason to believe exist.

The next day I went and bought a new phone. While standing outside one of the main tourist attractions in Istanbul and messaging my friend to figure out plans for the evening, a well-dressed man approached:

Man: Are you trying to sell your phone?
Me: No, I just bought it today.
Man: Is it working?
Me: Yes.

[I continued giving the man 10% of my attention while messaging my friend. Then I turned my feet in a gesture to go.]

Man: Do you want to buy a carpet?
Me: I'd have nowhere to put it; I'm homeless.
Man: Start with a carpet, then you'll get a home.
Me: I don't want a home right now, I'm traveling.
Man: You should get a carpet to travel with.
Me: Only if it's a flying carpet.
Man: It is.

I chuckled and moved on. Somehow, that episode was exactly what I was expecting.

Soundtrack: Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - They Might Be Giants


Chubbs Peterson
March 29th, 2014 at 8:23 AM

I'm telling you, the men selling carpets outside the Hagia Sophia are relentless. It is almost a symbol of national pride (for them) and a requirement (for you) that you buy a carpet before you leave Turkey....from them....or the guy next to them.....or down the block....from ANYBODY......it's doesn't matter........just BUY A CARPET FOR CHRISSAKES!!!!

The Bhagwan
March 29th, 2014 at 8:24 AM

Suggestion for next soundtrack - Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride"

If you're asking a question, it may be better to just email me at beau@dangertravels.com