Letter from Istanbul: Lodos

James Tressler / Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012 @ 7:38 a.m. / Letter From Istanbul

Gil Davis, the teacher, decided to have the afternoon conversation class in the school lounge. Davis was an American, mid-thirties. Before deciding to become a teacher, he’d lived in California, doing odd jobs and playing trumpet in a jazz-funk band called Spun. Students generally liked him because he was from California and was very laid-back.

The lounge had a balcony which offered a fine view of the shopping on Bağdat Caddesi and in the other direction the sea and even one of the islands. It had been a bright, fragrant spring morning but now, just after noon, the air was heavy, cool. The sky was dark, and formidable clouds were moving in from the sea.

They ordered tea and sat in the lounge, with the door open to let in some of the cool breezes. But almost immediately, the breezes began to get stronger, so the doors were shut. Of the two students, Ayşe spoke better English, meaning she had better fluency and was generally more comfortable speaking. Didem had just started taking the courses and was still very shy and self-conscious. She preferred to sit back, putting herself into a kind of mental corner, and listening while the teacher and Ayşe spoke.

“Gil, how long are you in Turkey?” Ayşe asked. She had wavy brunette hair that was cut fashionably short, and wore a new blouse, jeans and white Reeboks, a nod to the fresh spring weather.

“Two years.”

“Two years?” again both women answered in unison. “And how do you like living in Turkey?”

“I like it,” Gil answered promptly.

“And where do you live?” Didem asked, gaining confidence. Like Ayşe, her blonde hair was also cut fashionably short, and she wore a blouse and jeans, but a pair of pink slippers instead of sneakers.

“Kadıköy. Near the fish markets.”

“Balık Bazar,” It was Ayşe’s turn to correct. “You mean the Fish Bazar.”

“And do you like it?” Didem asked.

“Of course. It’s right in the center, near all of the markets and the cafes and bars. Do you know the Sedir Café? I am right above it. The same building.”

The women both knew the area.

“Yes, right in the center,” Ayşe said. “It is perfect for you. My son he wanted to live there too for the same reasons but we would not allow him. We said he could have his own flat but a newer one in Ateşehir.”

“Of course,” Gil said. “You don’t trust the old buildings.”

“No,” Ayşe said. “They are too dangerous in – how do you say? Eart—”

“Earthquake.”

“Yes, Eart-quake.”

As always, whenever the dreaded word was raised in conversation, everyone thought of the deadly 1999 quake. Gil Davis had not been in Istanbul then, but he had talked with many of his students about it. One of his students had lost nearly her whole family. They had lived in Yalova, near the epicenter.

Didem too had lost someone, or somehow been strongly affected. She didn’t speak of it, but it could be seen then in a sudden tightening in her face, and seeing that, Gil didn’t ask her.

“Yes, the old buildings are very dangerous,” Ayşe continued, and the American thought of his room in the old building above the Sedir Cafe. There was a way out in his flatmates room, a window with a tree just outside they could climb down.

“What about holidays?” The American teacher decided to change the subject.

“I am going to England,” Didem said.

“Really? For how long?”

“Tree monts,” she said, struggling with the ‘th’ sound. “I want to work on my English.”

“Oh, so you’re going to attend a course?”

“Yes. In London.”

“I want to go to New York City,” Ayşe interrupted. “I would also like to improve my English. My other son, he is going to New York. He is studying to be an architect. I say him I want to join and he says no.”

“You mean he doesn’t want you to go?” Gil asked.

“Yes, he doesn’t want. I say him, ‘I will pay for everything. I will cook for you. I will clean for you. I will not – how you say –”

“Bother,” Gil offered.

“Yes, bodder. I say him, ‘I will not bodder you, but –” The rest of her sentence died on the pattern. Ayşe looked imploringly at the teacher and at Didem, who looked intently at her. Didem also had a son and he worked in Istanbul as an engineer.

“Well,” Gil said. “You know young people. Young men. They want to be free. They don’t want their mothers around.”

Didem seemed to agree. She was really listening, or doing a really good impression of it, her eyes shined with interest.

Suddenly there was a sound like a bomb going off out on the balcony. Everyone started, and there was a mad rush toward the door to the balcony. Gil’s own instinct was fear, with mad, blurred images of TV-terrorist bombings flashing in his head.

Fehti, who operated the cantina, was the first to the door, followed by several of the women from downstairs who rushed up, frightened and curious. They talked very quickly in Turkish, and Fehti would not let anyone out onto the balcony.

“Ay-yh!” Didem said, craning her neck and trying to see out from the window. “Look!

It was not a bomb. The wind had suddenly become very strong, like a gale, so intense that the building actually swayed. They were up on the top floor. Outside on the balcony, some parts of the roof had evidently been blown off by the force of the wind and had come crashing down on to the balcony. That had been the sound they heard.

They took turns cautiously looking out the window. The sky was very grey and the city seemed blurred by the wind. The sound of the roof pieces crashing still rattled in their heads, and everyone was a bit shaken. Behind them, on the TV, someone had turned it to CNN Turk. The news reports were reporting 100 km per hour winds. Some trees had been knocked down. One person had been killed, and several injured.

“They say it is the lodos,” Didem said. They had sat down again at the table but were still watching the TV. “You know lodos?” Gil did. “A very strong wind.”

“Dangerous,” Gil said.

“Yes, very dangerous.”

They ordered more tea, and Fehti brought it to the table.

“So anyway,” Gil said, trying to resume the conversation. “I wouldn’t worry about your son. It’s normal. Why don’t you go to Chicago, or Los Angeles? There are many good places to practice your English in America.”

“I know,” Ayşe said. “We have relatives in Los Angeles, and Hawaii. They say I can visit them anytime, for free. But I don’t want to bother them. I would feel like I – bodder? – them. Yes, I don’t want to bodder them. They have new life. That’s why I say my son, ‘I don’t want to bodder you! I will pay for everything. I will cook, I will clean. I only want to come to New York. I only want to learn. But still he say me no. I know. You are right. He is very young. He doesn’t want his mother now. But I say him –”

Outside it was very calm now, but there was a raw, electric feeling, or perhaps that was just nerves. They continued talking. Gil wasn’t really listening. New York. He wanted to go to New York, too. A cousin had just moved there. He’d seen the pictures of her new flat on Facebook. Warren, Abby, he thought, they were there too. A handful of other acquaintances flitted about in his mind. But it was true though, you didn’t want to bodder people.

“How long will you be in Turkey?” Ayşe’s question broke his train of thought. Outside the lodos had passed, but the sky over the sea was still dark.

“I don’t know,” Gil Davis said.

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James Tressler, a former Times-Standard reporter, is the author of several books, including “Conversations in Prague” and “The Trumpet Fisherman and other Istanbul Sketches,” available at Amazon.com and Lulu.com. He is currently living in Istanbul.

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