It was not the last time I would hear this question.
When I informed the guy who takes care of our swimming pool for us that we were going to Turkey, his immediate reaction was,
I got it.
At this juncture in history, there is a life-threatening illness emanating from West Africa – nowhere close to Turkey but considerably closer to Turkey than it is to Santa Monica. (My darling comedy writer daughter’s inevitable first question upon our return: “Welcome home Dad. Do you have Ebola?”)
Underscoring this prevailing and not entirely unreasonable query, towards the end of the trip when I bought an “Istanbul” t-shirt – for which I totally discombobulated the vendor by bargaining him “up.” But more on that later – the purchased t-shirt was slipped into a plastic bag decorated with colorful graphics featuring some of the most famous tourist attractions of the world – the Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, “Big Ben.”
None of them, you will notice, are of tourist attractions in Turkey.
So once again brings up the question,
Okay, so here’s how it started.
A few months ago, we get a call from a couple we really like – Joan and David – who live in Berkeley, California. (We had met them a few years earlier at the fitness place we go to in Mexico. These are the only new friends I have made in thirty-five years, which makes them inexpressibly special.)
They tell us they are getting a group of people together (which turns out ultimately to be seven, including Joan an David) to rent a seventy-foot-long motorized sailboat, in which, in the company of a professional tour guide, we would explore the southwest coastline of Turkey, following a couple of days visiting points of interest in Istanbul. (Important Note: We would not have to pilot the boat ourselves. There would be a captain and a four-person crew handling the nautical duties, as well as providing three meals a day, plus an afternoon snack.)
Upon hearing this invitation, we immediately replied,
Returning us again to the as yet unresponded to question,
A question it turned out that was not only of interest to caring acquaintances concerned with our wellbeing and safety but also to Joan who had invited us in the first place and who apparently harbored a nagging curiosity as to why we had said, “Yes!” (Memo from the “Self-Doubt Department.” Did she secretly want us to say “No”?)
My response was simple and direct.
“We said ‘Yes’ because it’s you. And because it seemed like it might be interesting.”
(Though we have enjoyed many trips in the interim, our last actual “adventure vacation” was a photographic safari to Kenya in 1981. So another answer to “Why?” might be that we wondered if still had an adventure of this magnitude in us. People of advancing years sometimes like to test themselves, to determine what they’ve still got left in the tank. File that under “Parenthetical Conjecture.”)
As it turns out, Turkey of late has become a highly popular tourist destination, as confirmed by our monumentally knowledgeable tour guide, Serhan (pronounced, as we were immediately educated, Sarhan (“I am not the guy who killed Bobby Kennedy.”)
Serhan reported that in the past quarter of a century, Turkey had jumped on the list of “Most Popular Tourist Destinations” from “Number Forty” to “Number Six” – behind only France, the U.S., China, Italy and Spain.
Turkey had apparently become the “gluten free” of travel destinations. Everybody was suddenly – and inexplicably – into it. I personally knew of four couples who had recently been there. And I hardly know anyone.
We read out loud to each other numerous books on Turkish history and venues of interest. (I cannot say this for a certainty but I believe that, having forgotten we had already read it, we inadvertently read one of those history books twice! Ah, declining mental capacities!)
I also read a Turkish novel called The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, which I enthusiastically recommend. And I barely ever read novels. (This means either that this is an exceptional example of the form or that, due to the infrequency of my novel reading, I have no idea what I’m talking about.)
Prepared and more than amply provisioned, we were totally ready to depart.
About a month before we actually left.
And when it was finally time,
We were really ready to go.
I will not go into it again, but – the fast version – because of our insistence on upgrading via our air miles to “Business Class” to avoid being crippled by the time we landed by a journey of close to seven thousand miles, combined with the airlines’ insistence on controlling when we were permitted to receive that upgrade, our ten-day itinerary ballooned into an eighteen-day excursion, including a return-flight arrangement that would take us three days to get home, which, I will remind you, is two days longer than it took Lindbergh to fly to Paris.
Suddenly – if you can call a day and a half’s travel “suddenly” – I found myself wandering half-dazed through Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. I spotted Dr. M rounding the baggage carousel wheeling her obscenely over-packed suitcase behind her. (Her bloated bag bore the contours of the gluttonous “Fat Diner” just before he burst to pieces in the Monty Python movie.) (And we hadn't bought anything yet!)
There is a palpable sense of relief traveling long distances and discovering that your luggage has completed the journey with you. Unfortunately, I did not experience that that emotion, as my suitcase had been left behind during a recent stopover in London.
It took everything I had not to identify this as a signifying omen. Although I was unable to expunge the fear of wearing the same pair of underwear for the next eighteen days.
Fortunately, my abandoned suitcase was delivered to our hotel the following morning. You could tell it had been traumatically shaken.
(MY SUITCASE, TEARFULLY, TO DR. M’S MATCHING COUNTERPART)
“You left me!”
In short order, however, I forgot about my bag’s (possibly long-term) psychological difficulties and I turned my attention to Turkey.
It was really something.