Lots of things happen during my morning run. In the first few minutes, I grunt and groan like an old Buick and consider calling it quits. Then I level out and just go along with the tuff tuff tuff of my shoes against pavement. After a few more minutes I feel my pulse and go, “hmmm.” And I also smile and wave at any other runners I come across. My logic is that if I collapse into a ball of sweat and athletic logos, I’ll need all the allies I can get.
And sure enough, somewhere along the run, my stupid muse will show up.
And while double anything always seems to get me in trouble, the lure of it is too enticing.
Enter a new fad: double roasted coffee. This entails brewing a pot of coffee at night, refrigerating it and then using that pot of coffee as your ‘water’ for the next day. So you are brewing coffee with coffee rather than water.
Logic: if coffee is awesome, double coffee is double awesome.
Ever since attaining my Czech permanent residence last month, people have been asking me, “So, do you feel more Czech?” And though I’ve been blowing this off with a laugh, I have to admit that the question did intrigue me to my sock-and-sandal wearing core.
It’s hard to live in a place for a decade and not take on some of the customs and habits, right? So, last night, as I partook in an age old Czech custom (sitting in a pub) and an American one (hating soccer) at the same time, I was inspired to jot some notes on the battle that is raging inside my torn body.
The battle of the Czech vs The American
We are sitting at pizza place on a back street in Beşiktaş, a section of Istanbul near the European shore of the Bosporus. We are here with Ekrem, a Turkish teacher from the university who has generously offered to bring us around his neighborhood. The back street offers relative quiet in this busy part of town.
In any case, we are getting pizza soon, so I am organizing my attack plan.
Most people have travel “barometers,” things they use to gauge a city or country’s acceptability in terms of travel. These can include a good cultural scene, good hotels, or no cholera. Mine is pizza.
If I were in charge of the world, places with bad pizza would be put on a UN watch list.
Wednesday, 8:30 am. I am walking across the Galata Bridge, basking in a rare moment of almost quiet as I cross the Golden Horn. The Galata Tower, my objective this morning, stands at the top of an enormous hill (of course) in the distance.
The scene is peaceful, a thing which I have come to realize is as much a commodity in Istanbul as food and water. The sun is shining, the birds hover above the three dozen fishermen who stand at the rail and drop lines into the water 40 feet below. The simit peddlers push their carts and the shoe polishers have set up their squat stations all along the river and on the bridge.
A shoe polisher crosses my path, carrying his tool chest/foot stand. As he passes, a brush drops off of it to the ground in front of me. Instinctively I pick it up and call to him. He accepts it with realization, then a huge smile, and offers me a shoe shine in the shade of one of the pillars. I take him up on the offer, thus extending this moment of peace.
In ten seconds he has related most of his life story, whose abridged version involves ten children, three ex-wives, and two imminent, major surgeries. Surely, I am going to be asked to pay for one of them.
My moment of peace has ended.
I am walking up a hill. (Almost everything ever written or said about Istanbul should start with that sentence). But I don’t know that yet. It’s about one hour after my arrival in Istanbul and it’s the third hill I’ve had to climb. It does not seem to end. Ever.
We are lost.
So, I am walking up a hill and looking at each eave and shingle and sign in the desperate hopes that one of them reads: The Hotel Nobel. Thus far, my hopes have been thwarted. All of the signs are in a language I not only don’t understand, but can’t begin to decipher. For all I know, these signs are hanging above a clothing store, a nunnery, or a clothing store for nuns. All I know is that we are walking up, straight up, and the Hotel Nobel does not seem to exist.
We turn the corner. Another hill.
I am leaving on a trip to Istanbul tomorrow and that means I am surrounded by lists. There is a packing list, a list of things to do in Istanbul, a list of things to remember about my presentation, a list of subsidiary reminders for the packing list, a list of things to buy in Istanbul, and a list of things to do in the morning before leaving.
Of all these lists, my favorite is the packing list.
I am standing in front of my bed now, considering the notepad in my hand like a foreman in front of an assembly line. The bed is covered in neat piles of systematically arranged clothing. There are notebooks, gadgets, and pens. There are medicines, products, and body tools. I am looking through the list, comparing it to the objects and devises on the bed and doing my favorite activity: ticking things off.
I sit in my armchair and gaze at the organization in wide-eyed wonder. I am in Heaven.
It’s Sunday morning and I am suffering the previous evening’s beat down by the Becherovka Imp. I went to the village and met L. The beer flowed like wine and the Becherovka flowed like beer. And now, I am paying the price. My head is both swimming and pounding so much that it’s like being in a cyclone. I can’t see and hope that my blindness is temporary, but I would gladly give up the gift of sight for this hangover to disappear. My stomach is making its future game plan known by sending highly unsubtle hints that I will not explain any further.
I squint, blink, and peep enough to make out the time on the clock: 7:32 am.
I have a lot to do today. I am leaving on a trip tomorrow; I need to finalize a presentation, write two blog posts, and pack. So getting up and getting an early start is the most prudent decision. However, my brain says nuts to this and I doze off again immediately. It’s as if my body is sending itself into torpor to avoid the day’s events. When I awake again, it’s 9:10 am and I feel slightly better. I can see, so that’s good.
I feel slightly guilty about sleeping in until after 9, as it’s not something I do much these days. This is a drastic change from my night owl youth and that I have become something of an early bird has caused my parents to reconsider their belief in a deity. But still, 9 am isn’t too bad.
It’s when I turn on my computer that I find out it’s actually 10:15 am. And then it dawns on me, the Time Thief has been here. I then begin imploring the heavens.
Every now and again, I go through the search engine entries on my blog to see how people find my blog. There are the obvious ones (my name + blog, my name + my book, hottest teacher in Cz Rep, short fat men who write, Bjork haters of the Czech Republic). Same old same old.
But there are also weird ones, creepy ones, and downright inexplicable ones. This morning I go through the search engine entries that people have used in the last three months. Some of them elicit confusion – how did someone find me using that? Some of them elicit a belly laugh, and some of them elicit an online search for bodyguards.
Be scared, people; be very scared.
Here are the top ten.
Friday night. I am cooking and watching a documentary on the birth of language (cartoons) on my laptop. I am slicing a cucumber when I am struck but something odd, and it takes a moment for it to register. It’s silence.
I look over and sure enough the screen is frozen and I have that initial jolting reaction, as if something has just tugged on my leg in the Atlantic Ocean. I go to the computer and fool around with it, check settings, check signal. Everything seems OK. I check the router and the signals are fine there too. But when I click a link, it says I am offline.
Another five minutes of curse-laden exploration shows that my WiFi signal has now disappeared. I am getting a black exclamation point on a yellow triangle, the international coat-of-arms for: Sir, you are 100% f*cked.
Houston, we have a problem.