Who, me?

Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway.
~John Wayne


Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.
~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker



Since several people have told me I’m brave this week I’ve decided to respond and correct that flattering, but ultimately incorrect, perception.

I guess living in Istanbul is like living in New York. It may sound interesting and exotic and exciting but really, it's just life. I get up, make my bed, have breakfast. I worry about work sometimes. I try to have a social life and still accomplish all the things I want to do as well as all the things I have to do. I avoid vacuuming and dusting and washing the dishes in favor of drinking coffee in the café.

Well, I say that and then realize that today I felt very grateful and very spoiled. I don't know about brave, or that other adjective that has lately been attached to descriptions of my life, “interesting”. I always feel like my actual life would bore other people but it keeps me entertained.

Here is what I did Friday. I got up, took a long shower, washed my hair, and shaved all the bits that needed shaving. Then I made breakfast. Actually, I heated up breakfast which was this magic new kind of borek they told me about last night when I was having coffee and desert in the patisserie. It translates into "water borek" and somehow water is involved in the making of it but I have no idea how that works. Anyway, somehow those few activities took two hours.

Then I went to my cafe and tried to work, but I could only do so much as I am STILL waiting for my domain to become available. So I paid some bills, did a bit of work, some correspondence, and was as productive as I could be under the circumstances. Two coffees, a bottle of water and many, many chocolate covered coffee beans later, I asked for my bill and my favorite waiter told me there was no charge! So I wandered off into the sunshine thinking how lucky I am. I'm not sure I can ever leave Istanbul, I am completely and utterly spoiled here. Brave? More like spoiled and coddled.

It was such a nice, sunny day, warm for this time of year. I thought I should do something outside, but couldn't think what, so I wandered over to my friend’s hotel thinking I would pick up the candelabra I bought from him. I picked it out a week ago, and paid for it two days ago, but somehow never managed to get it home (why I am buying candelabras at a hotel is a story for another day).

So, I fetched my candelabra and we sat around the hotel lobby watching "Ratatouille" on my MacBook. I drank sage tea. I watched an episode of Meerkat Manor. Someone brought me a tea which I made the mistake of drinking (if you sit still in Turkey for more than five minutes someone will bring you tea. I think it’s a rule). Since I hadn't had anything to eat except coffee beans for six hours the tea made me nauseous and I decided I needed to go eat. I asked if I could have a bag or if I needed to carry the candlestick home held aloft like some sort of Turkish Statue of Liberty. The Turks suggested I would look more like Florence Nightingale. They had to explain to me that she was known as the lady of the light or something like that and is always pictured with a lamp. I had no idea. Anyway, they got me a plastic bag so it was covered up. It's this five-candle candelabra, very dramatic. Every time I thought of it over the past few days all I could think was "Professor Plum, in the library, with the candlestick..."

Brave? More like spoiled, coddled, and a wee bit lazy.

On my way home I called the friend who is visiting from the U.S. We went for a quick dinner, picked up some groceries, and were home by 6:30, in our jammies. On Friday. Yeah, I'm feeling really brave and interesting! I spent the rest of the night doing some sewing, putting together a little table, cleaning my candlestick and chatting online-- fascinating stuff!

I do feel lucky, but not brave. Like I am in the right place for me at the moment, but a place that would drive lots of other people crazy. And of course, that’s the secret-- to find the place that’s right for you at the moment. I don’t know about bravery, but I do know it would take a strength I just don’t have to live somewhere less right for me.

So, I will finish with one more quote:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave.
~Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, 1894


I’m not brave, I’m just not afraid.

An Istanbul Christmas














The mysterious mirrored ball with hat which appeared shortly before Christmas. It appears to have thudded to earth from a great height, displacing cobblstones upon impact...




Because Turkey is approximately 98% Muslim, Christmas is not celebrated here, at least not in the way we Americans are used to. I was confused and curious though, to see what Christmas would be like since many of my Turkish friends would refer to Christmas and the Christmas season.

About two weeks before Christmas I saw my first Christmas decoration go up. A small artificial tree with blue lights appeared in the window of the Pudding Shop, a well-known restaurant on the main street of Sultanahmet. Soon lights and snowflakes and decorations appeared in the malls and every once in awhile I would hear a Christmas song playing in a restaurant.

Things that never appeared:
Christmas commercials on television
Christmas sales
After Christmas sales
Rudolph, or any other reindeer

Also, no live trees. When I asked a friend if Turks ever have live trees he laughed and said there are more Turks than trees so if they had live trees for Christmas there would be no trees left in Turkey. My very favorite decoration was the ladder hung with lights and Christmas balls in the back of the pastry shop; it was festive, clever, and creative.

My students were very surprised when I told them school would be closed for a week. This year the Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram came right before Christmas so my language school closed for a full week in recognition of the Turkish holiday but also because most of the teachers come from countries (England, America, Canada) where Christmas is a big deal. However, the Turkish universities were open, so my friends who teach there were working on Christmas day.

I had planned to take Christmas day easy, but it turned out I had to take care of a little business so I headed out to my café with my laptop. It was festive because of the lights and decorations, but other than that, the streets bustled with business as usual. The café workers on my usual path had been wishing me merry Christmas intermittently for a week or so, but there was no special recognition that today was the day. In fact, every so often someone had asked when Christmas actually was, and if it was right to say merry Christmas now, or when they should.

I worked away until my battery ran low, but when I moved to the table near the only electrical outlet in the place I found that there was something plugged into it. I considered leaving but wanted to get some more work done. When I asked if I could unplug the one little tree which seemed to be the only thing occupying the outlet, they said no, but then came back in five minutes and unplugged it for me, causing ALL the Christmas decorations in the place to go dark. Apparently everything was connected to the one little tree. So the only Christian in the place was responsible for taking the sparkle out of Christmas.

It turns out that New Year’s Eve is the holiday that everyone really celebrates. In fact, some of the “Christmas” trees don’t go up until after Christmas, they are put up for the New Year celebrations, which are pretty much the same here as in America. Some people go out to big parties, some go to restaurants, and some stay home. I had a relatively quiet night with friends, but from the sound of it some of the celebrations are as rowdy and loud as in New York, with drunken revelers on the streets and people dancing the night away. One difference was that Santa appeared. There’s a pub on a busy corner where a man in a suit and hat stands outside, inviting and welcoming passersby. Because I see him almost every day, we’ve come to know each other a bit and have a regular dialogue where we exchange greetings and how-are-yous in Turkish. On New Year’s Eve he turned up in a Santa suit, complete with beard, and instead of our usual greetings I got a kiss from Santa. It was a week late, but a kiss from Santa is always welcome.