Once in a while a chance encounter with a stranger can change things forever. My happy happenstance was crashing into Liam one wintry afternoon after work in a pub called ‘Half Way to Heaven’.
Matt Krause, a mighty Yankee vetpat from California has recently released a book. A Tight Wide-open Space tells the touching tale of his own chance meeting that led to love and a journey across an ocean to follow his heart. The story is much more than a boy-meets-girl penny romance, as sweet as that is. It’s also about his struggle to adapt to the strange ways of a strange faraway land. We can all identify with that one.
To celebrate the release of the book, I asked Matt to write a guest post about his love, hate, love relationship with that great and ancient metropolis that straddles two continents.
I am not a city boy. In my more militant moments I will rail against urban life, calling cities “cesspools of human filth” and swearing up and down the truest beauty in all the world can only be found when no man is present. In fact, put a glass of scotch in me (I am a lightweight, it only takes one), and I am likely to say things that make the Unabomber look like a humanity-loving urban hipster.
So why did I write a book that starts out as “boy meets girl,” but ends up being “boy loves city”?
Believe me, it wasn’t easy (learning to love a city I mean, although writing a book is no cake walk either).
There are people who go to Istanbul and fall in love with it in 20 seconds. They barely even pull away from the airport before they start raving about how amazing the place is. Immediately they begin posting photos to Facebook and drooling all over everything and generally acting like giddy teenagers who just found the most perfect guy or girl in like, EVER!
I am not one of those people. When I first got to Istanbul I saw little but smog and chaos and stress. Even six years after I arrived I was comparing living there to living like a lab rat in a cage stuffed with so many other lab rats they go insane from the overcrowding, and end up attacking each other and gnawing off their own feet.
But Istanbul has a way of getting under one’s skin, even mine. Few things bring me peace like strolling through the square just north of the Ortakoy mosque on a cool summer night, where young lovers cuddle on the benches and little kids laugh as they chase each other around the plaza. Few things strike me with awe like standing atop the stone walls of the Rumeli Hisari while watching a massive Ukrainian tanker sail south down the Bosphorus on its way to the Mediterranean.
Don’t let my mixed feelings about Istanbul scare you away from it. For every person like me who doesn’t know whether to call that place a shining city on the bay or a shameful scar on the face of the earth, there are ten who say without reservation that it is the greatest city they’ve ever seen in their entire lives. Istanbul is the kind of place that every person, country boy or city slicker, should see at least once before they die.
And certainly don’t let my mixed feelings about Istanbul scare you away from Turkey in general. If I were to list the five most beautiful places in the world, three of them would be in Turkey. The first would be a particular balcony in Gumusluk, a small town on the Bodrum peninsula Jack mentions occasionally on this blog, from which all you can see is sea and all you can hear is wind and waves. The second would be the side of a hill in Kapadokya, 600 kilometers inland, where in the mornings you can step out your front door and marvel at a sky so big and so blue it reminds you it is the sky that brings life to this earth, not the ground you are standing on. And the third, well, that third image is just for me.
Maybe I wrote a book about adjusting to life in Istanbul because I was trying to sort through contradictory feelings that will never reconcile. Maybe I did it because after the thousandth person asked me what it was like in Turkey, and for the thousandth time I didn’t know where to start, I thought maybe writing it down would help me clear my head and move on.
A fat lot of good that seems to have done me though. I miss Istanbul and will be moving back in a few months.
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