Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gokce the Sufi Mystic part one

I only know one Turkish woman and she is a self-proclaimed Sufi mystic, studying in Italy, and I would hazard the assumption, she’s not a cut-and-paste copy of anyone,

I wrote the following email to the one that I know, the intellectual one ( who I also considered writing an entire blog about and likely, one day, will.)

The email was as such:
Dear Gokce,
In my developing, strange new twist of careers, I have been asked to come up with a weekend getaway to Greece that will be marketed, primarily, to wealthy, Turkish women. From everything I've proposed, I understand that wealthy Turkish women are VERY different from American and even Western European women

Before I start telling you more of my trip to Izmir, I want to tell you about the first time I ever set foot on Turkish soil. “The moon was full that night” is how I want to start, but the moon was far away the day I woke up on the island of Chios. I checked out of my little hotel, wheeled my suitcase by the docks past rows of disco techs still throbbing with tin-can music and people who hadn’t been to bed yet as the sun yawned, bursting onto the horizon like a smat of raspberry jelly. I drank a coffee and waited for the ferry port to open it’s gate and boarded my boat. Sat alone on one bench out of 100 for twenty minutes before someone came and shooed me off, telling me I would get on another boat to Cesme. I crossed the Aegean Sea. Followed an Austrian woman who spoke English and Guide Book Turkish past customs and learned that I next needed a bus from Cesme to Izmir, a city humming with exotic electricity of vibrant color and smells, the music of people shouting over bells and horns, doner meat turning on its pole, bread and tea in tiny crystal glasses being poured to people sitting on little stools in the middle of the road. The Austrian woman and I enjoyed this together before parting ways.

After three attempts I discovered a counter with the name of the bus company I’d read about, but as no one spoke my language and I did not speak theirs, they could only order me politely about as you would the queen’s terriers. I was put on a shuttle I hoped was bound for Istanbul, but instead dropped me thirty minutes down the road at a bus stop in between nothing and nowhere. I suspected I might be in something of an Oriental pickle.

Poking my head into a tiny office next to a Turkish version of a quickie mart, I explained to a group of efficient looking men in the bus company’s uniform that I had not actually been given an opportunity to purchas a bus ticket yet. Was it a problem?
“Yes indeed, it is a problem, especially as there are no seats left on this coach.”

And at the time I remember feeling some minor surge of panic but mostly just amusement.

Briefly I mused at why they couldn’t have mentioned that at the bus station where there were approximately forty two other coach companies I could have chosen.

Some degree of typing and telephoning followed and before I knew it I had some second class citizen ticket at full cost to ride, stowaway style, in the dining car, of which I did not even know was possible to have on a bus but apparently in Turkey there are all kinds of magical things you can do to motorcoaches.

There were two levels. The bottom was decked out in brass and wine colored upholestry with waiters in white shirts, black vests, trays, moustaches...I wondered if I hadn’t stumbled into an Agatha Christie novel. They were very attentive but as I was a girl on a budget, did not intend to be served. Not at the beginning nor in the five hour journey that lay ahead.

I smiled sweetly, shaking my head as they offered me more tea or coffee and finally they had had enough of me and this is where I learned who holds the real power of the coach. Not the big important looking man at the office next door to the quickie mart, but the scrappy waiters of the dining car, because once they had decided to be rid of the cheap tourist at their table, a spot magically appeared on the regular passenger level, second row from the very front, directly underneath a television blaring Turkish soap operas. I told you buses were magic in Turkey.

The girl sitting next to me was a petite, pretty girl with short hair and a small scarf tied around her neck. She was working dillegently on her laptop and I nodded to her as I sat but did not disturb her. The waiters from below came up eventually with a snack tray. A snack tray! Just like on a little airplane, only replace the stale cocktail peanuts with a hot, fresh onion roll. And then tea, of course, poured into crystal bud vases with  candy striped saucers, two cubes of sugar and a tiny silver spoon fit for a fairy.

We rolled over mountains and through green forests and for the fifteenth time since arriving in Turkey I felt that all of my senses were so full with beauty, if I did not concentrate on a fixed point I might just explode, bursting into a cloud of doves and sparkles formed out of elation; the joy of being alive.

And then traffic.

Traffic that could arch it’s eyebrow west at Mahnattan rush hour and snort. “Amateurs.” The blocade of chrome and steel was mostly impressive due to location. The middle of the wilderness. There was surely nothing for miles and miles! Nothing, that is, except for Istanbul.

We pulled off of the road into a parking lot full of similar grand, snack trolly-equipped buses as well as family cars and motorcycles. A streamlined, modern building lay before us. “Baba merhaba tjulee doolee baba.”

That is not actually what came over the loudspeaker but it might as well have been for all the sense it made to me. I thought to myself, “Hmm. I wonder what has just been said.” My thought was made quietly and inaudibly as far as I recall, but the slim dark girl next to me leaned toward me and said in seamless English,

“If you were wondering what he just said, we are breaking for thirty minutes and then we are to be back on the coach. So you are free to go in, have a little something to eat, maybe buy some souvenirs, they have some very nice Turkish delights, have you had one yet? They are these little candies that come in so many flavors and are very very nice. You must try one.”

And this was Gokce, who was to become my friend.

“What does your name mean?” Asked Gokce, a logical question as all Turkish names have meanings. Not just meanings, every name in Turkish is like a little poem. “Gokce” for instance means “Belongs to the sky.”

My name comes from the page, as in, the little boy scampering after his squire. It was a servant whose ambition was to one day become a knight. One day someone slipped an elegant “I” in between the “A” and the “G” and decided it was fit for a feminine creature. For the last twenty years I’ve felt that, even if I’ve liked my name, it was meaningless, and I told her so.  Writing this now, I realize my name actually suits me perfectly, but that’s for another story.

We quickly moved onto our star signs, which in the Mediterranean is crucial to understanding the person in front of you. The rolling golden hills and groves of olive trees roared past us as the bus stood still and we delighted in passing each other the little pieces of ourselves, like jewels from a treasure box, our conversation pouring out like ribbons braiding themselves together until we were bound up like a satin papoose in those two bus seats under the television monitor playing non stop Turkish soap operas.

I told her how I got my ticket.

“Really, Paige!? That’s very impressive. It is amazing you got a ticket at all. Everyone here surely booked theirs weeks in advance. You don’t just get a ticket last minute.”

I expounded on my present theories of travel.

“I’m trying something new. I just feel like if you’re really on the right path, if you’re honestly trying to be the person life intends you to be, you can move on faith. I’m traveling without plans and accepting the consequences.”

She blinked at me in amazement.
“Do you know I’ve just spend the last two hours writing a thesis paper on that very subject?”
Apparently I’m not alone in my theory and a few highbrow philosophers have come up with something similar.

Whatever walls were left between Gokce in me were shattered, and the rest of the conversation bounced between mysticism, boys, travel, mothers, Italy, the sun started to discreetly leave the premises.

The traffic returned, and this time it had eaten it’s supper and was letting its belly hang out. The road, having turned into a giant parking lot, ended at the Bosphorous. All of the cars were waiting to board the ferry into Istanbul. The engine of the bus switched off and people got out to stand in the night air, Gokce included, and I just sat there in the dark, watching, wondering, not really caring. An hour later the bus engine started up again and everyone got back on. We moved 300 meters to board the ferry and the engine switched off again. Gokce looked at me.

“Well, Paige, we can sit here in the dark, on the hot bus, or we can go up to the second level of the boat and drink some tea under the moon. What do you think?”

What a question.

As we clamored up the stairs and purchased our little cups of steaming black tea, sucking in our breath to fit between the people, Gokce informed me that the best place to sit was on the north side of the boat. Tea in hands, we squirmed in the direction only to find that there was not one seat. So we moved around the railing of the ship to the west side, then the south, and finally having made a complete round of the ferry’s walkway we found enough space for the two of us to sit and watch the moon over the Bosphorous, fat and luminous as a Botero goddess.

Some time after, an older man with all of the markings of a poet, long white hair pulled under a beret and silver rings on all ten of his fingers, ushered his harem of women into our small space on the ship.