Howdy. The below was originally the (false) start of a short story, but
quickly metamorphisized into something close to autobiography. Some of
the original atmospherics have lingered, and don't necessarily reflect
anything about yours truly. Later.
At The Galata Tower Cafe
Cigarette smoke, ignoring the lazy sweep of an old ceiling fan, hangs in
the air above me. It seems to mock my obsessive, rambling thoughts
about teaching and writing and learning Turkish and, of course, HER.
"Take it easy", it says with a smirk. "Relax." A phony look of concern
clouds it further. "What about taking a deep breath?" Surreptitiously
(I think), I take in the recommended breath, but the smoke has drifted
in closer, notices. "There! Isn't that better?"
"No", I say to myself. (Don't worry, I am not so far gone as to take
this internal dialogue thing outside.) I flick my hand through one
particularly annoying cloud of the stuff. "Now get lost!"
Outside, at the base of the ancient Galata Tower, kids on their way home
from school set off an M-80. I flinch at the explosion, which is
amplified by the tight dimensions of the square and the old stone walls
surrounding it. The square itself, left in a premature dusk by the huge
tower's shadow, is temporarily emptied of the teenaged mob. I stare out
the window into the gloom. Though only the bottom few meters yards of
the tower are visible to me, I am aware of its tremendous bulk. The
tower, first built by the Genoese in the 1300's, dominates my entire
neighborhood, the Kuledibi. It should remind us all, I suppose, of the
durability of stone and dirt, and of the significantly less impressive
characteristics of flesh and blood. Day and night (amused, perhaps, by
the slim activity of this generation's version of flesh and blood?), it
stands obdurate, unmoved, like the leg of a giant one dare not disturb.
Emboldened by the lack of any official response to the bombing,
one-by-one the would be terrorists (or freedom fighters; who's to say?)
drift back into the square. I suspect the tower isn't nearly half as
bothered by these kid's budding pyromania as me, since it has no doubt
been subject to much more serious attacks during its 700 or so year
history. Seeing that no adult has stormed into the square to
re-establish order, I brace myself for another blast. Maybe I'm the
only one who really minds. Every male in this country does have to
serve in the army for eighteen months. Perhaps the noise doesn't bother
them, or maybe they see that this rather serious version of child's play
has a practical side to it, giving the kids a head start on basic
I am surprised to discover that the waiter, Yusuf, is standing next to
me. He has his head thrown back slightly, a gesture that has become, for
my benefit, his version of the question "More tea?" (He has given up on
words, as the ones he knows still don't much match the ones I know.)
"Evet, cay lutfen. Bir az sutlu, lutfen. [Yes, tea please. With a
little milk, please.]" (Never would have guessed that, huh. And yes, I
agree [and have been told before] too many "lutfens". There are
probably other mistakes too, but my words seem to get the job done.
I'll work on perfecting them, "sonra [later]".)
Yusuf nods, walks away.
I realize I have my head bent forward, a subconscious adjustment I must
have made to dodge some of the smoke. I see a cat under one of the
tables looking up at me. It opens its mouth for what I figure is the
beginning of a yawn. But, instead, it emits a strange, high-pitched
wail, sounding more like a bird than a cat. Embarrassed for the poor
thing, I look away.
For maybe the first time since I have been coming to this cafe, I take a
close look around. (I must be getting more comfortable. "Dikkat! [Watch
out!]") There are very few other people in the cafe, which is
surprising, given the amount of smoke. They are all sitting alone,
their heads, like mine, bent forward. I suspect that boredom, however
-- and not the smoke -- is the proximate cause.
Every table is covered with green felt table clothes, all of which are
seriously spotted with tea stains and cigarette burns. In the middle of
each table, looking like a tiny shrunken crown, is a silver ashtray.
Above the kitchen, which is squeezed unnecessarily tight into a corner
of the otherwise spacious caf?, hangs a huge painting of a beach scene
from somewhere in the Pacific. Once no doubt bright and evocative, it
has aged and has now almost completely blended into and disappeared
amongst the dull wood panels covering the top half of the room. The
green of the palm trees lining the beach is now so dark it is
approaching black. The sand, probably once pure white, is the color of
the mud in the streets outside and the sea close to the color of the tea
served here. There are several boats pictured, all pulled up onto the
sand, but they are now no more than ghosts and, indeed, look as if
someone may have tried to erase them. The painting is as changed and
distorted as the dreams of those who sit below it absent-mindedly
stirring their tea, their feet crammed into shoes stiff from having
walked through too much winter rain, their fingernails having long ago
surrendered to the dirt now permanently built up under them, wearing
clothes that didn't smell so bad this morning they couldn't be worn just
one more day, drinking the cheap tea they can scarcely afford, dreaming
perhaps of little more than an early spring.
I sit up in my chair, let my head fall back, take in a deep breath and,
surprisingly, begin to relax.
Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com