Friday, November 26, 2010

“Principium Contradictionis"

Our Minnesotan friends Pamm and Ed have been touring Turkey the last week or so and are on their way to spending a few days at our house. Based on Pamm’s quick emails of update, I’d say they’re getting the full Turkish experience, wherein everything they expected hasn’t been delivered, which then makes space for them to be surprised by what delights them. More than anything, for good or bad, they’ve been struck by some glaring inconsistencies—which we, after four months here, make us nod our heads knowingly. For Pamm, she couldn’t believe that they were staying at a luxurious 5-star hotel that only served instant coffee. For us, we have remarked that:

--The tenet of Islam pertaining to purity and cleanliness apparently extends only to the body (ritualized ablutions are a part of every prayer and must follow all intimate relations, not to mention the ubiquitous use of Lemon Cologne, an 80-proof rubbing alcohol poured over one’s hands multiple times a day) because it is no rare thing to see a man in a skull cap cradling his prayer beads as he tosses an empty cigarette pack to the ground. Recently, on a landing next to the mosque across the street, someone tossed out six rusty stove pipes. At least it's a place where their disintegration will undoubtedly be hastened by the blistering decibels of the Call to Prayer. The entire landscape is littered with empty olive oil cans, plastic bags, rotting squash and loaves of bread, broken ironing boards, unwanted bed frames, shattered beer bottles, partially drunk liters of Coke, cracked cinderblocks, abandoned shoes, dead trucks, and ripped hoses. The first time I gave Groom directions as to how to find a nifty ancient church that I’d stumbled across, a key point to those instructions was, “When you encounter the big pile of mildewing sweaters in the middle of the road, you’ll know you’re on the right track.”

--Our 70-year-old neighbor who wears at least one, if not two, headscarves at all times and is always covered from head to toe in modest draping handed my husband the gift of a bowl of home-dried raisins covered with a newspaper. On that sheet of newspaper was a scantily-clad Warrior Goddess model with her Fierce Lady Bosoms exposed to the readership--and to raisin eaters who can’t help but imagining they’re chomping into nipples with every bite.

--Turkey, in particular the Cappadocia region, is one of the most continuously-inhabited pieces of land on the planet, a fact that might lead one to expect a that modern-day Turks would have a command of history and an elevated civilization in terms of music, art, literature. However, and with many exceptions, most Cappadocians rarely read (outside of the newspaper), think of mass production as the height of art, and have never touched a musical instrument. Even more surprising is the disconnect between the evidence of previous inhabitants and the knowledge of who they were or what they were doing. Certainly, there is a general sense of the various eras of history (the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Byzantines…), but those seeking a comprehensive archeological explanation are stymied more often than not. When our family hired a spendy nationally-licensed guide for a day tour around the region (we knew he was the real deal because he sported an ID card on a lanyard), he earned our respect due to his unwillingness to fabricate facts, as so many of the unlicensed guides do. When we toured the underground city of Kaymakli, which is thought to extend for eight stories under the earth, the guide was well able to shine his flashlight and point out rolling stone doors, rooms where fires had been used heavily for cooking, spots where grapes had been stomped…but as to the overall purpose of the underground city, he, like all authorities, was uncertain. Such cities might have been built for protection from invaders. Or possibly for storage. Or maybe for some-time usage. Or, alternatively, for long-term usage. Perhaps in the winter. Or summer. In truth, the lack of certainty about these underground cities is refreshing, as too often archaeology seems to lean towards the satisfactions of pat storytelling over the ambiguities raised by science. On the other hand, when the guide pointed out a doorway full of sand and noted, “It’s thought there are many more levels below this one which have never been touched or looted, which might be full of eye-opening artifacts, but no one is certain,” it was all I could do not to holler, “Give me a shovel and a month, and I’ll make a huge dent in deciphering this joint, Mustafa!”

As we exited Kaymakli, Groom pointed out, “We seem to run into this again and again here: it’s like the realization that something could be opened up for tourism took priority over the need to figure out the place first. If each site were properly excavated, made sense of, and then packaged into presentable information for visitors, we wouldn’t always walk away with more questions than we came in with.”

Of course, he was an anthropology major, so it’s in his training to crave pottery shards.

What surprises me more than anything is that this country existed under refined Ottoman rule for hundreds of years, and then the forward-thinking Ataturk came along and “modernized” things, yet there’s not a bookstore to be seen for three hundred kilometers.

--The men wear suit coats when they work in the fields. (I know this can be seen in countries around the world where formality intersects with the need to hoe, but it still makes me wonder why the ill-fitting suit coat can’t be hung from a nearby tree while the hoeing takes place)

--We live in a region that’s just emerging from subsistence living, yet it’s amazingly hard to find a whole grain. Semi-relatedly, can we just take a minute here to chuckle over the fact that it is possible to find brown rice (par for the course, it’s nearly inedible) in a few Turkish stores, but it’s called “diet rice”?

--The New York Times ran an article last summer touting Turkish food as a “world cuisine,” but our experiences in restaurants have been, by and large, deeply unsatisfying. Or, as my pal Pammy put it in email, the food “beggars description.” Fortunately, she didn’t let that daunt her and went on to attempt description of the challenges of tourist food for a person with a deadly allergy to anything in the nightshade family: “One night the only thing left on the buffet after the Germans and Russians went through that wasn't smothered in eggplant or bibers (peppers) was french fries, spaghetti noodles, and white rice with some fragments of honey drenched desserts and bread. All cold and all bad.”

Ultimately, highlighting contradictions begins to feel like condemnation, and that’s not my purpose. In point of fact, I feel defensive of Turkey and think pretty much everyone’s lives would be richer for having experienced it.

What’s more, as soon as Pamm half joked that Turkey leads with contradictions, my first reaction was to agree…but my second reaction was to think, “Yea, but what place isn’t? Personally, I come from a country where physical fitness is an obsession but where obesity rates are rising. Riddle me that one. Then there’s the fact that the U.S. prides itself on individualism, yet its most popular sports are football, baseball, and basketball: team sports one and all. And how about the trend of environmentalism which is laughable when pitted against the millions of cars on the roads? What about loudly-protesting Christians who spend more time in Walmart than reading to the blind? Want me to show you a ‘foodie’ in the drive-thru line? How about a doctor whose income trumps the Hippocratic Oath? Volunteerism for pay?”

This whole discussion highlights the intangible gains of travel: it reminds us that nothing makes sense, that there is beauty in the gaps between “should be” and “is,” that logic is inherently illogical when pitted against humanity’s vagaries.

In sum, it can be a drag.

But it’s also really, really fun.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"...gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder"  ~G.K. Chesterton

Dear Aunt Ethel and Uncle Frank:

Thank you so much for the lint remover. I didn’t know such a thing existed! Maybe because I’ve been really busy combing my feathered hair with a huge plastic comb under the disco ball at Skate City! Before your gift, I didn’t realize how much all my sweaters needed de-pilling! And trust me, since it’s 1980, I have a serious number of velour and cowl-necked sweaters that need shaping up before Pat Benatar will ever ask me to be in one of her videos!

So thank you for the most radical Christmas present ever, except for when my mom gave my sister and me matching teddy bear nightgowns last year, and do you think she knows I’m 13 now? Enuf of the good times; gotta get to de-pilling—

You better watch out--you better not pout! Because video killed the radio star!


Clearly, even though Aunt Ethel and Uncle Frank are, in fact, real, and they did give me a lint remover one time, I never actually wrote this particular thank you card.

Number one, I hardly ever went skating at Skate City except for every weekend, and, number two (haha! “number two”!), I never genuinely wanted to be in a Pat Benatar video, unless you count “We Belong.” Oh, plus “Love Is a Battlefield.”

I can’t be faulted. You saw the gloves La Benatar wore. You saw that toilet paper-looking skirt. Without question, you would have elbowed me in the solar plexus—(wherever that is! But remember that grade school song about the cat on the roof top, “Señor Don Gato,” who was trolling for the lady cat that was “fluffy, white, and nice and fat,” and that song had “solar plexus” in the lyrics, which was a pretty hilarious thing to be singing out loud in elementary school?)—to take over my role in the video, if it meant you got to wear a toilet-paper skirt, too.


Soooo. My point was that I never wrote that thank you card, but at the same time, that’s exactly the thank you card I wrote for about 15 years. The idea that every gift deserves a formalized expression of thanks was inculcated into me, gently, at a young age, by my mother. Christmas would come. Gifts would be opened. I’d spend the next three weeks scratching out one painfully-wrought line after another until the space inside the card was full enough that I could sign off. Virtually every thank you card I wrote throughout adolescence started with a salutation followed by “Thank you for the _______. I will use it ________.” Then I would vamp for a few lines and get the hell out of there so I could meet my friend Joni at the mall for an Orange Julius.

It was only when I stopped feeling the pressure to write thank you cards that I became truly grateful. There are several ways to read the previous sentence, but what I mean is this: when one sidesteps the burden of engraving gratitude in response to something gifted at least partially with the expectation of receiving thanks, what emerges is room for Real.

If I am not clawing at wrapping paper and simultaneously strategizing, “I hope I can whip out a thank you note by next Monday because I have essays coming in that afternoon, and I can’t even pretend to be excited about a doily Kleenex cozy when I have 50 papers to mark,” then I am free. I can like the gift. Or not. I can send on a note at a later date. Or not. I can feel what I feel, with no obligation to the exhausting politeness obliged by etiquette.

Rather, I can wait three months and then pen a long note full of random nothingnesses, ending with a “You have no idea how profoundly the book you gave me has affected my thinking. With one quick trip to Barnes & Noble, you set something in motion inside of me that won’t find answer for years to come. Because you were thoughtful and invested something of yourself with me in mind, I will never be the same.”

Alternately, I can wait five years and never go beyond hanging my jaw open at the fact that someone saw a poster of a kitty hanging onto a tree with the words “Hang in There” on it and thought of me.

I can allow my reaction to flow, unadulterated, unconcerned with proper form, out of my heart.

Which is exactly why I’m finding it so difficult right now to placate the pounding within me that demands I shape into words some of the most boundless, heartfelt gratitude I’ve ever experienced. That the recipient has no desire for my thankfulness makes its expression all the more natural.

You see, the person who gave direction and inspiration to this sabbatical year for our family has just left Turkey and returned to life in the United States. Last Spring, when four different possibilities for living abroad had fallen through, and we were feeling discouraged and without hope, we followed a random connection and sent a woman named Christina an email, telling her that we were willing to head most anywhere, but with children in tow, we’d feel profoundly more willing to plop down somewhere if we knew we’d be greeted with a welcome and some help with the transition. Traveling “blind” is an easy part of the adventure as a singleton, but with young kids, we hoped to leap towards a tightrope underwritten by a safety net.

Within ten hours of our initial email to Christina, we had a response, full of enthusiasm and willingness to be our go-to gal. In that first message, she combined wisdom (“I think anyone who wants to spend extended time here needs to be prepared to be relaxed, easy going, persistent, and ready to learn a whole new concept of what those things even mean.”) with zest (“…choose Cappadocia, it's fantastic!”). Her attitude felt like magic; we bought tickets to Turkey within days. Later, when the time came, and we showed up in Cappadocia, it was Christina who met us at the airport in a huge van she’d booked specially to help accommodate our luggage. Because our arrival happened at night, in the middle of a heat wave, she had us in the pool at our pension within two hours of landing while she hoofed off to buy us gözleme (a kind of village food—sort of like huge tortillas stuffed with spinach, cheese, potato, or Nutella) for dinner. In the ensuing weeks, she let us stay at her house, worked her every connection to find us a home, introduced us to sixty-eleven people, taught us to negotiate the transportation system, helped us outfit the house with furniture, and, most importantly of all, made us feel seen in a place where we were invisible.

In recent months, seven years after she first moved to Turkey, Christina had been realizing that part of her personal journey required leaving the Near East and re-meeting the places, relationships, and Western culture she had willingly left behind in her mid-thirties. Quite astutely, she framed this step by saying that she had been feeling as though she and Turkey been running hot and heavy with each other for some years, but at the same time, they had started getting the sense things were over between them and that it was time to find the courage to end the relationship, an act that required self-honesty, a certain amount of melancholy about good times past, and a willingness to look forward to a bidding future.

I knew how spot-on her decision was when even my inner Raging Toddler could only whine sleepily that she. didn’t. want. Auntie. Christina. to. leave. Mostly, my awake adult self had to applaud—had to support a healthy decision made by someone I loved. So we helped her toss things into the trash can, marched away with her bottle of vanilla extract (among seven hundred other bits and bobs), and only cried a little bit the day before she left.

What I didn’t know how to communicate to her, as we stood near the trash can that last day, exchanging Turkish kisses and American hugs on the eve of her departure while intermingling tears, was a proper thank you. What’s more, in this case, unlike with the lint remover, I was buffeted by a tempest of gratitude that I couldn’t tame into a tidy note—although no one would have appreciated a Pat Benatar reference more than Christina, Fellow Child of the ‘80s.

How to articulate the feeling deep in my gut?

If I were 13 again, my best effort would probably yield little more than a

Dear Christina:

Thank you for the motivation to move to Turkey. I will use it for the rest of this year.

Before your gift, I didn’t realize how much I was ready for a perspective shift! And trust me, since it’s 2010, and I listen to mainstream news sources, I have serious perspective issues that need shaping up before Jon Stewart will ever ask me to be on his show!

So thank you for the most radical sabbatical year present ever, except for when I gave birth to Paco last time around, but who wants to have a baby every seven years, especially when she’s in her forties? Enuf of the good times; gotta get to listening to the Call to Prayer—

You better watch out--you better not “Maşallah”! Because Allah had his ekbar!



In point of fact, that immature note does the job.

By the time I was 30, I could have added in:

P.S. You have no idea how profoundly the confidence and welcome you gave us has affected my thinking. With one quick email from Turkey to Minnesota, you set something in motion inside of me that won’t find answer for years to come. Because you were thoughtful and invested something of yourself with me in mind, I will never be the same.

However, 43-year-old Jocelyn also insists on one further post script:

P.P.S. You know how you always talked to ten-year-old Girl like she was your best friend, and you couldn’t wait to be with her? You know how you always insisted on getting in Paco’s face when he was feeling scared and shy and out of his element—on giving him both a bad time and Turkish kisses? You know how you provided me with a much-needed external processor so that I had the solace of a girlfriend? You know how you were able, so often, to be the Person in the Know so that Groom didn’t always have to? You know how you hollered down that slimy cab driver after he cheated me for double the fare? You know how you, on the sly, ordered out for a birthday cake for Groom’s early 40th celebration? You know how you found closure with people whose personal damage had caused them to cut you to the quick? You know how you went on that yoga retreat and suddenly realized that you’re on the verge of meeting your new self for the first time? You know how you embraced our wayward little family and launched us on a year of discovery? Once you know all that, then there is only one thing I can say:

Teşekkür ederim, sweetpea.

Now enjoy Madison. Enjoy the hot water coming right out of the tap. Can’t wait to see you next year. We can go roller skating and comb our hair under the disco ball at Cheep Skate together. I’m totally asking you to be my partner for Ladies’ Choice.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Occidentally on Purpose"

Returning to Turkey after a few weeks away caused in me neither joy nor dread; it was just the next thing we were doing. I did discover, though, that it was jarring to hear Turkish again after readjusting my ear to more familiar languages. Within a couple of hours, though, I felt happy to be back “home,” where we can have more control over food, heating, clean clothes--and where the kids are occasionally in a different room.

Now, a quarter of our way through this year abroad, when I have a feeling for the culture already but have recently stepped outside of it, there are a few back-in-Turkey-related thoughts tumbling around my noggin that could come in handy for the teeming masses of you who plan to come visit (Riots at the Passport Office!). Based on my first three months in the Near East, I can file the following reports:

--Observation: If I’m in a hotel in Istanbul, I will be awakened at approximately 3 a.m. by some miserable sod’s retching. The sounds of repeated heaving into the toilet will last until nearly 4 a.m. Once the drunkard/sick person finally collapses into bed, I will remain awake until the early-morning Call to Prayer, after which I will lapse into fitful sleep for 45 minutes before giving up on further rest. This unsatisfying sleep experience will cost me more than $100. Of no consolation is the hotel’s breakfast of shriveled olives and soggy cucumbers.

Actually, having now stayed in three hotels in Istanbul, I can admit that this is true only 66% of the time, for in only two of the hotels was my sleep disrupted by The Barfing. At the third hotel, no one actually vomited, but a Dutch girl in the next room did prove her race’s ability to achieve multiple peaks of pleasure. Loudly. Her example makes one muse, “How fortunate to have a notion of how Van Gogh must have sounded!”

Recommendation: Istanbul in all its forms causes the senses of visitors to be overwhelmed. Bring industrial-strength earplugs.

--Observation: Turkish plumbing is abysmal. Because of this, most women in the know: roll up their pants before entering the ladies’ room (one way to keep clothing dry when wading through a ½” of standing water); prepare to squat over a hole full of the previous “tenant’s” emissions; anticipate no available toilet paper, and after they pull a stash out of their bags, remember that they can’t toss it into the toilet, as the pipes can’t handle any matter beyond fecal; count on zero paper towels for drying their hands (which clearly demand some no-nonsense sterilization after what they’ve just been through); and are certain, during their three-minute visits, that at least one of their fellow restroom visitors will heft her feet up into the sink (for religious ablutions) and scour unthinkable, dark, grainy matter only partially down the drain. It would be infinitely more logical for such women simply to take off their shoes and wade through the standing water, of course, as a means of abluting. For this rich experience, bathroom visitors will pay roughly $.70 per visit.

Recommendation: Cauterize your bladder before voluntarily entering a busy public Turkish toilet.

--Observation: I had to tone down the expectations of my grown-up tastebuds, as the wine in Turkey is made by non-drinkers who simply mix all the varietals into one big batch (but I do thank, nightly, the Muslims who kept up any production after all the Christian boozehounds were sent back to Greece in the early 1920’s), and the java is lame. In fact, it’s hard to find coffee in Turkey that isn’t Nescafe. This is particularly troubling if one has just come from a place like, say, Italy or France that esteems good beans.

Somehow, though, despite European influences in the Western part of Turkey and the presence of famed “Turkish coffee,” instant coffee has achieved widespread acceptance and is what one is given on the plane, pays for in a restaurant, and finds at the grocery store. If ordering a Turkish coffee, one should be aware it generally isn’t made the traditional way, which is a fairly intensive process, and so the quick, tourist-oriented version will be bitter and leave the mouth full of grounds. The best option is to have tea, which is served by the liter in every possible venue and is the basis of all hospitality.

This ubiquitous tea, however, is Lipton, so don’t go getting excited.

Recommendation: Much energy will be saved if you shut up and drink what you’re given. This is, not incidentally, how I first tried sloe gin.

--Observation: There are no screens on the windows, and flies abound, at least in rural Cappadocia where sheep and donkeys staff the Neighborhood Watch Program. Even now, in November, we’re awaiting the hard frost that will zap the annoying buzzers to oblivion. Because we enjoy the sensation of fresh air (and, per previous observations about abysmal plumbing, have to let some of the bathroom stink escape our environs), we open the windows for brief periods. Resultingly, there are usually a hundred and twelfty flies somsersaulting around the house. As a rule, I make myself go kill 83 of them in the kitchen before bed, but yet and so, I still have been awakened every single morning in our house being dive bombed by whining dive-bombing insects.

Recommendation: Learn to sleep with a sheet over your face. The feeling of vague suffocation that accompanies this technique, plus industrial strength earplugs and a liver soaked with bad wine, all help you wake up in just the right frame of mind to appreciate a steaming mug of Nescafe.

--Observation: Village women wear trousers called “salvar,” loose pants a la M.C. Hammer in his “Can’t Touch This” era. Such pants make up for in practicality and comfort what they lack in visual appeal. Even better, they feature an elastic waist and are one-size-fits-all, which would make them a perfect gift for all one’s female family members back home, from 300-pound Grandma Mabel to 98-pound Cousin Tiffany.

Recommendation: Buy 'em.  One-stop souvenir shopping frees up time for fly swatting.

--Observation: People in more refined countries—shall we use France again?—drink quality wine, toss toilet paper in the loo and bid it au revoir, sport tight and chic clothing, gaze upon manicured lawns through screened windows,

and treat visitors matter-of-factly at best, with scorn at worst. The feeling they convey—the feeling we in the United States convey—is mild interest underwritten by clinical detachment. In France, in the U.S., in England, in most places I’ve traveled to, I can ask a question and have it answered. I can express a need and get directions as to how I might fulfill it. Mostly, people treat each other with a “Here’s the information, and good luck with that, then.”

In contrast, our first night back in Turkey, when our worn out family checked in to the hotel in Istanbul (so charming before the vomiting began!), I asked the clerk behind the desk if there was anywhere nearby we could get a couple of beers to drink in the room. Taking one look at my frizzed hair and slumping posture, he replied, “Beer? Of course. But you must let me get it for you. I will go get it. You go to your room and take some rest, and then I will bring you beer.” Moments later, his colleague realized we would need to be on the shuttle to the airport at 7:10 the next morning and that breakfast wouldn’t open until 7:00. “I will go in early and put out the breakfast. Come at 6:50, so you can have some food before you fly.”

The next day, after only a few hours’ sleep followed by an early-but-then-delayed flight back to Cappadocia, we pulled in to the main square in Ortahisar aboard the airport shuttle van. It was just past lunchtime, and the early-morning breakfast was long digested. Our heads were drooping, our spirits were flagging, and our hands were raw from dragging our bags across continents. Before my foot hit the ground, the owner of the liquor store, Murat, a man who’s declared we have to ask for our purchases in his store in Turkish so that we learn the language, had come over to wish us “Hoş geldiniz” (Welcome!) and to offer, gesturing at our luggage, “Can I help you?” Even though it meant he would have to leave his store unattended or close it up, just to drag a suitcase for us, I was fatigued enough to say “Sure.” At that same moment, though, one of the local benign crazies, Mithat, came over and started wrestling three pieces of luggage towards the lane leading to our house. Waving off Murat and all words of thanks, Mithat said, “You are tired. I can help. You are tired. It is nothing for me.”

As we rolled and trudged down the street, following Mithat’s perky steps and inhaling smells of sheep manure, we were spotted by our neighbor, who has so little English she can only communicate by hollering the Turkish for “Neighbor!” every time she claps eyes on us. “KOMŞU!” she squalled. “Hoş geldiniz!” As usual, she continued with a long stream of unintelligible well wishes, and I returned her greeting with “KOMŞU! Hoş bulduk!” Seeing me loaded down with bags and thus unable to exchange our habitual Turkish kisses, she glanced down into her hand at the handful of pumpkin seeds she’d been snacking on. Pressing all eight of them into my palm as a spontaneous gift, she insisted that I take them home to enjoy after my long journey. Simultaneous to her wishing me good eating, a second voice echoed down from two stories up. It was Hulya, another neighbor, calling out “Hoş geldiniz!” as she batted the dirt out of hanging carpets and attempted to keep her toddler from toppling down the staircase.

Once in the house, Mithat deposited our bags, wished us a happy return home, and backed out. We set to opening the windows so that the crisp autumn sunshine could offset the cold staleness of the long-empty rooms. As I shoved and yanked against one poorly-constructed window, I noticed our landlord’s mother, one of her arms well swathed in bandages, sitting out in the courtyard in her salvar pants, plucking dried grapes—now hefty raisins—off their branches. Within an hour, we had a bowl of the raisins on our kitchen counter, a “Hoş geldiniz” gift from her. “I fell,” she told my husband in Turkish he could decipher. “My arm is cracked, and I will get plaster on it. Enjoy the raisins in good health.”

Recommendation: Come to Turkey.

All you’ll need are


a brave bladder,

nondiscriminating taste,

mosquito netting,

a love of elastic waistbands

and an ability to accept hospitality so unalloyed

that it dwarfs your bumbling attempts to express gratitude.

Saturday, November 13, 2010



Begging the forbearance of long-term readers here, as I re-run a post from one year ago, originally written in honor of my tenth wedding anniversary. Now, as we hit #11, here it is again.


My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother's relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my favorite memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I'd won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet late at night, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left me a note, telling me he was so proud, he was "busting his buttons." Another time, after I'd behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was "deeply disappointed." Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a fairly apeshit "I'm all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me" meltdown for three hours in the bathroom, I managed to grab my phone (with the bat only gnawing off one of my fingers above the knuckle as I reached for the receiver) and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, "What you need to do is try to reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don't think you have. Dig deep, and you'll find something you need." He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested itself. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything. It signifies that our parents see us as separate, as differentiated beings, that they have thought about us, that they have taken stock of us, that we are far enough away from them that the space has cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent”—although it was a welcome label—but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn—repeatedly--that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I did think being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

Fer damn crap smeared on a thrice-read Jane Austen novel.

Oh, all right.

I did date a guy through my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy—one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doc found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, I still had girlfriends who called, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, and they opened with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had family who knew how to circle ‘round gently and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly post-hunting butchering of the deer, and they talked at and around me.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive North to come visit them and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

Turns out my cousin already had someone in mind, a 28-year-old guy he worked with in a very small town of about 300. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this 28-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Guy ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving and the deer butchering and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s Jocelyn ever going to find someone in the bohunk town she’s living in?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached Guy, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours North and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Guy. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

So we’d see.

That February, over Presidents' Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby a lot and watch his 4-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we swung through the campus where Cousin worked. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Guy.”

Cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier. Cousin is a man.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into Cousin's house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Guy not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who'd minored in Environmental Science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconunts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison's Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference book, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn't infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen 8 feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me all of thirty seconds after the door closed behind Guy before yelling, "SO? SO?????"

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

But all the little broken pieces inside of me weren't quite realigned yet. I wasn't going to put myself forward this time. I couldn't take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Guy asked my cousin for my email address. It had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he "could get lost in it."

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Guy announced he was ready to "jump off the comfortable dock" and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed North again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

Like 14" of it.

When it came time to take Guy to his house before driving back to my cousin's place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Guy's house. He didn't seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Guy liked to listen to me read aloud--and if that's not an activity of the infatuated, I don't know what is. He also proved that he's very good at snogging.

And, about three days in, after he'd had a bath one night, Guy came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. "Brrrrrr," he exclaimed. "My feet are cold!"

"Why are they so cold? You just got out of the bath tub," I noted.

"They're freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off" was the answer.

Suddenly, right then, right there: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

It was all going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled "Fox on a Journey."

And he asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order, like, the night we got engaged, I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I'd been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to that November 13th, not nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Guy became Groom right there at the environmental learning center where I'd first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, Jocelyn and Groom became Jocelyn and Groom and Girl.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn't possibly have imagined.

He likes to touch me. He likes me to touch him.
He cooks dinner every night.
He has been our stay-at-home parent since Girl was born.
At promptly 8:00 every night, he brings me a drink.
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He likes to play cribbage.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like "go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon's head."
He moves to foreign country and ends up drinking tea with the guys who deliver our drinking water.
He deciphers the public transportation system in every major city.
He draws pictures that say what words can't.
He takes my ideas and makes them happen.
He still brews beer.

Like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

Thus, eleven years in to the marriage, we often sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"You Know How People Broadcast Images of Glowing Fires on Their Television Sets, Rather Than Sitting in Front of an Actual Fireplace?  Right About Now, I'm Left Feeling We Could Have Broadcast Images of The Eiffel Tower on the TV, and Our Kids Would Have Enjoyed It Just As Much"

So let's see: 

one overnight trip on a bus from Cappadocia to Istanbul;

a day in Istanbul of visiting an ancient church with tremendous golden mosaic remnants on the walls;

one night in Istanbul;

five days in Paris, replete with macaroons, The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, an on-and-off bus tour of the entire city, some hours at Sacre Coeur watching buskers perform, a trip around Monmarte to view artists at work, an afternoon in the historic and jaw-dropping spaces of Versailles, an after-dark hangout in front of Notre Dame so as to watch the shadows dance amongst the gargoyles and filagreed architecture, shopping along the Champs Elysees, repeat visits to street crepe stands, a passle of hours in Paris' floral park (a place featuring no less than four playgrounds), unlimited passes to public transportation;

a trip under the English Channel;

a night near the station where Paddington Bear gained legend;

three nights in a hotel with a swimming pool and breakfasts of Rice Crispies and Cumberland sausages;

two days of rides and fireworks at the much-hallowed Windsor Legoland;

another night in London to sleep in a room with bunkbeds and then take in the science museum, ride the London Eye, and visit the home of The Queen;

another trip under the sea by train;

multiple experiences with Subway sandwiches, KFC chicken, Starbursts, Skittles, Ritz Crackers, tortilla chips--all tastes of home not experienced in Cappadocia;

another night in Paris, during which the final Hannah Montana episode is watched;

then again to Istanbul for some big city hustle;

finally a flight back to Cappadocia.

In reflecting on the trip in its entirety, the kids are in agreement: 

the coolest thing of all was the toilet on the Eurostar train through The Chunnel.  See, you flush it with your foot, by pressing down on a button on the floor. 

And. that's. just. awesome.

Totally better than Versailles.

Put another way:

for less than a quarter of the cost of the whole vacation, we could have installed a new toilet in our house, one that flushes with a press of the foot, and given the little buggers a daily thrill surpassing an up-close-and-personal view of The Mona Lisa.

Having kids redefines Buyers' Remorse.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"The Women--With the Exception of Your Humble Author--Truly Are Chic, and the Fact That Nearly Every One of Them Was Wearing Knee-High Black Boots Almost Blotted Out the Fact That We Couldn't Find Internet Access Fer Nuthin'"

All apologies to the complex and fascinating country of Turkey,

but when we got off the plane in Paris, it was like the start of five days of shore leave. We were giddy. Suddenly, it felt like we'd been shipped away from a barren outpost and dropped into a city of twinkling lights, crusty bread, layered pastries, stacks of books, straight streets, even walkways, sophisticated fashion, neon-leafed trees--a place with a sense of plan, organization, elegance.

*Exhales sigh of heady romance*

Our first afternoon in Paris, we figured out the train system enough to get to our hotel; because the city is prohibitively expensive, especially for a family of four on one partial income, we had put in hours trying to find the cheapest option. Eventually, we happened upon the chain of “Hipotels,” specifically the one near Joinville le Pont, which, fortuitously, turned out to be a charming section of the city much like the Linden Hills area in Minneapolis. After checking in and appreciating firsthand the spare reality of “basic accommodation” (ah, but towels were provided, in contrast to our recent Istanbul hotel), we headed out for a meander around the Joinville area. First we passed the green grocer (Endive!); next the cheese shop (A mind-boggling palette of fromage!); then the first boulanger (Pain au chocolat!); followed by the second, third, fourth boulanger (Macarons! Baguette! Tartelette!); then the hair salons (Should one desire une coiffure tres jolie!)...and on and on until the grocery store (Crackers! Applesauce! SALTED BUTTER!).

Mon Dieu. What's more, the wine cost under 5 Euros a bottle.

Between the chocolate and the booze, it's like they invented the place just for me.

The interesting part is that I've been to France a couple of times before, and it left me shrugging with a noncommital, “Eh. It was okay.” I had been put off by getting terribly lost the first visit and then being treated snootily the second time. This time, though? I was smitten.

Thank you, Turkey, for the perspective that allowed me to leap around gaily, doing high kicks all the way from L'Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concord.

As we rode the on-and-off double decker bus the first couple of days, and as we used our five-day Metro passes to get around, and as I felt like dancing a la Gene Kelly in ANCHORS AWAY, I thought about how easy this year would have been if we had chosen—if we could have afforded—to live in a country like France. I'm glad we didn't and couldn't. While Turkey is a relatively Western and familiar-feeling culture, compared to, say, Iran, it still stretches us. When we are in Turkey, I feel disconnected from everything that makes me feel easy inside: in our daily lives, we aren't surrounded by people who read books, who drink espresso, who have a vigorous Life of the Mind, who sit--genders intermixed—and converse for hours over intricate food. In Turkey, men get up, leave the house, and don't come home until they feel like it, often after 10 p.m. In Turkey, men love children but spend little time with their own. In Turkey, our village's main street and square are completely the domain of men who drink tea and gossip all day (this is them at “work”). In most of Turkey, no one goes out for a run. In rural Turkey, life for the women is about scraping and roasting seeds out of squash, about putting up tomato paste, about making pekmez, about doing handiwork. In short, in Turkey, we can never fully relax because we are outside observers and queer objections of observation ourselves.

I'm deeply grateful for this. I'm hugely glad we landed in a place that is further down the “foreign” continuum than, say, France. In France, we would be more comfortable, plunked into a place that makes easy sense. However, simply moving from one leisure culture to another would have yielded lighter rewards than a year in a place that feels less natural.

Thus, these last few days, as we've gasped from the top of the Eiffel Tower, oohed at the gilt of Versailles, moaned with pleasure at every bite of ham, marveled at the array of talent on display at Monmarte, ahhhed at the Mona Lisa, and gone goggle-eyed with people watching on the trains,

I've not only thanked Turkey for making me ripe for shore leave in France.

I've also thanked France for renewing my gratitude toward Turkey.

Except for the part about there only being unsalted butter in Turkey. That's always gonna suck.