It was a grueling start to my Turkey adventure. The plane flight from Helsinki to Istanbul took three hours, the freeway drive from the airport to the hotel, the same. Between 11 pm and 2am, traffic was at a crawl and nobody knew why. Having come from a large country with a mere 5 million people, spreading forests and lakes in every direction, this came as a bit of a shock. After two peaceful days in the countryside, an afternoon in Helsinki was a welcome hit of urban life, the extra buzz and energy when people gather in the marketplace. So I was ready for the city life of Istanbul. But this freeway madness took it too far. Henry Ford, what did you unleash here?!!
I crawled into bed at 3 am, woke up at the tail end of breakfast being served, ascended the two flights to the roof garden and the scene took my breath away. There was the fresh Mediterranean air coming in on a warm light breeze, the boats out on the clear blue water, the minarets of the mosque piercing the sky, the sound of horns from the traffic below, the call to prayer from the muzzein, the breakfast of fresh yogurt, dates, apricots, hazelnuts, feta cheese, red peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, cherry juice. My heart stopped and my spirit soared and perhaps just a little higher having battled the stop and go traffic (well, more like stop and stop and stop and go and stop).
My definition of vacation is when a place lifts you wholly out of your self, no familiar creature of set habits left, just a loose sense of a self holding together breath, bones and muscles and soaring out into the wonder and excitement of the world. The kind of feeling I often had as a child before my identity wholly formed and began to crust over into a hard noun instead of a flowing verb.
I love this place and this feeling, the Mediterranean invitation to float out on the water into the next adventure, the energy in the streets, the perfect temperature (in the shade of this garden) where there is no border between skin and air. The world is born anew and for at least one brief moment, with seagulls circling the distant boats, the people sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes chatting around their breakfast tables, the red-roofed buildings to my left, the treed boulevards to my right, the open air and awning of a rooftop garden like so many I have known in Cuba, Greece, Italy and beyond, this old traveler is suddenly six or sixteen or twenty-six years old, the world more an invitation than a routine, more a dream than a resume, a moment when the lane on the clogged freeway opens and the car zooms forward, released from the stop and all systems go, alive with the thrill of motion, unimpeded, soaring, free. The world invites me into the day and I accept wholeheartedly.