James Tressler / Sunday, Nov. 3 @ 6:38 a.m. / Elsewhere
January, 2005. It had been just over two months since I’d given up my job at The Times-Standard, left America and resettled in Prague. In that time there had been many adjustments to make, not least navigating Prague’s snowy streets in search of schools looking to hire a newly qualified English teacher who was down to his last few hundred dollars of savings.
By a chance referral, I’d managed to ingratiate myself with Andy Markowitz, who was then the Culture Desk editor of The Czech Business Weekly. Markowitz, a veteran of East Coast newspapers, had settled in Prague with his wife, Barbara, who was also a journalist.
“The only reason I agreed to meet with you,” Markowitz said, as we sat over a couple of pints of Pilsner-Urquell at the Marquis de Sade pub just off Old Town Square, “is that you worked at an actual newspaper for four years.”
Most expats, he informed me, came to Prague with no experience, having read and re-read “A Moveable Feast,” and dreamed of becoming Hemingway in Prague – and expected editors at Prague’s English publications to just amiably take them on.
Grateful that Markowitz was giving me a shot, I was willing to take whatever freelance work he had. The pay was modest, but at least there was some money – although the delivery of the actual cash upon filing of the story could be maddeningly slow. Even better was the chance to be published abroad, a neat feather in any young journalist’s cap.
So I picked up concert previews, festivals, profiles – “the light stuff.” For a time, before the teaching work came, the money from those stories was about all that kept me afloat.
Then came that January morning. I got a text message from Markowitz. Lou Reed, rocker and leader of the revolutionary 1960s band Velvet Underground, was coming to Prague. He was scheduled to host a series of talks with Vaclav Havel, dissident playwright and hero of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which ended decades of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Havel had then become the last president of Czechoslovakia and, following the break-up, first president of the Czech Republic in 1993.
The two icons were scheduled to hold a press conference at the Hotel Andel in Prague. That same evening, the two were to have a stage discussion about the progress of democracy in the former Eastern bloc at the Svandovo Theater.
There was just one catch. The Czech Business Weekly, as its name states, was a weekly publication. Because of the timing of the press conference, it would be too late for us to run.
“So we can’t use it,” Markowitz told me. “But I thought you might want to go anyway. I mean, just for the experience. We’ll get you a press pass.”
Well, since I was at the time still technically unemployed, I had nothing else to do. So what the hell? Lou Reed and Vaclav Havel, together in the same room.
The day of the press conference I took the tram to Andel, a slender district that runs alongside the Vltava on the southwest side of the city. In Communist days, it was an industrial zone, but had in the years since become home to flats and shopping centers. The Hotel Andel, with its sleek black-glass exterior, was a typical example of the revamped district.
Upstairs in the conference room, a number of journalists were already assembled. Along with a number of Czech print, radio and TV journalists, there were also correspondents from CNN and the BBC (including Rob Cameron, who remains the BBC’s Prague correspondent even today) as well as a few others. I stood a little off to the side, quietly a bit abashed that I was first of all freshly arrived from America and thus largely ignorant of Czech politics, secondly merely a freelancer and finally, I didn’t even have a proper assignment. I was just there “for the experience.”
Vaclav Havel arrived, with an interpreter and an assistant or two in tow. He was a short man, with a quiet, shy air. The suit he wore was very modest, and when he spoke it was in a low voice, his eyes seeming to look either at his hands or at the floor.
Lou Reed arrived a little bit late. He looked tired, and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone had he been out late at the bars in Old Town. Sitting down next to Havel, adorned with his own personal interpreter, Reed wore a leather jacket and jeans, and spoke in a distinct, somewhat jaded way.
The first questions were asked by an attractive young woman from one of the Czech TV stations. I don’t remember her exact questions, but she welcomed Lou Reed to the Czech Republic and asked something along the lines of how it felt to be back in Prague.
Reed’s response to the question, which consisted of the expected pleasantries, all of it quickly translated, was not as memorable as what he said afterward. He finished his reply, then let stared at the attractive young Czech TV journalist, with the room full of reporters from all over, and said:
“You are incredibly beautiful, by the way.”
For a moment the room was silent. The woman blushed, expressed her thanks. Then, as if having inhaled, the room let out a rush of suppressed air and the buzz of questions came forth.
A bearded, bespectacled man from The New Presence or one of the other magazines leaned forward. He peered at his notebook, reciting lyrics from the Velvet Underground classic “Heroin” in choppy English:
“So Mr. Reed, in one of your songs you wrote about ‘all the politicians making crazy sounds.’ Do you still agree with those words?”
The respondent, with his famous heavy-lidded weariness, addressed the question as if he had been asked such questions far too many times.
“You’re talking about a lyric I wrote back in 1966,” he said. “But OK – yeah, sure. I think it still has relevance today.” He turned then to Vaclav Havel, his “personal hero,” and patted his shoulder.
“However,” he said to Havel. “I would never insult you by calling you a politician.”
The reply was translated, and a ripple of laughter arose from the packed room. Even Havel, generally an introverted man who was nervous at such press conferences, let a smile peek from beneath his trimmed mustache.
My memories of much of that press conference are blurry. I’ll admit to being more than a bit star-struck, and feeling out of my league standing alongside members of the global press corps. Here are a few scraps that I wrote down that day in the notebook:
Havel and Reed first met during an interview in 1990. They met again in 1998, when then-President Havel was invited to the Clinton White House. Havel brought Reed along as a musical guest.
While Reed said he couldn’t comment in detail about the current Czech political situation, he said his overall impression is that the country has made tremendous progress in terms of promoting personal freedoms since his visit in 1990.
“When I first came here (in 1990), it was explained to me that on the Charles Bridge if two teen-agers were seen talking and playing music they would be stopped because it was considered dangerous to the government,” Reed said. “That’s the way things used to be here. For me it’s just fanstastic to see the difference in the Czech Republic, how far it’s come, in the basic freedoms to express yourself. Before the government was so afraid that if people talked to each other something terrible would become of that – which turned out actually to be true. People did start talking to each other and they said goodbye to the government.”
Looking back now, I wish I’d recorded more of what Havel himself said. He spoke through an interpreter, and I think I was more interested at that point in just observing the man himself in person. Years later, I would end up teaching a woman named Misha at the Office of the Government who at one point worked as Havel’s personal secretary at Prague Castle.
Misha and I would talk often of her days working with Havel. She had fond memories of his “high water” pants, his Rolling Stone t-shirts, fellow writers like Bohumil Hrabal who would walk into the castle unannounced, with a beer in hand, calling out “Vashek!” He would always receive such visitors with customary humility, joy and respect.
But that was what I found out later. Recalling that morning at the Hotel Andel, he struck me as serious, focused on the task at hand, courteous and to the point. He was quite a contrast to Lou Reed, who to some extent, struck me as more or less a typical rock star, a bit up his own arse.
Anyway, the press conference ended. The reporters, having gotten their fill, rushed off to file their stories. Cameras were packed up, notebooks shut, and with a great din the room quickly emptied. I stood there, still a bit dazed by all the crush. I found myself standing right beside the table where the two principals had sat. Vaclav Havel stood up, gathering up his papers. I reached out to shake his hand. He looked up, saw my outstretched hand and, with a modest smile, shook it and went about his business.
A few minutes later, I noticed the room was empty, except for Lou Reed and a single remaining reporter. They finished talking, the reporter left, and then suddenly it was just Lou Reed and myself. I couldn’t believe it. Having accepted my nervous introduction with a quick, automatic nod, Reed waited, seeing a question hovering on my lips. In my pocket was a small digital tape recorder. On it, I had recorded some songs that I’d written.
I produced the tape recorder. Hastily, feeling my temperature rise, I asked Lou Reed the question that I’d tempted myself to ask. It was the reason I’d stayed behind after all the other reporters, even after Havel, had left. Would he listen to some of my songs?
He took one look at me and said –
“No.” He didn’t even blink. It was simple and final answer.
Mortified, but nevertheless understanding, I left. Christ, I thought, how could you be so foolish? Don’t you realize how often people must come to Lou Reed with such demands? After all, maybe he wanted to teach you a lesson about the realities of the music business, about how you got to be tough. Maybe that’s how he got started all those years ago.
All those thoughts, and others, went through my head as I headed downstairs and out into the street. Well, it wasn’t the end of the world. Perspective! You just met the leader of the Velvet Revolution and the leader of the Velvet Underground on the same morning. That counts for something, right? Put that in you pipe and smoke it.
Anyway, long story short: This past week Lou Reed died at age 71. Vaclav Havel is already gone, having died in December 2011 at age 75. It seems to me that the passing of Lou Reed and Vaclav Havel marks the end of something. The end of what? An era? I suppose more qualified writers, or political scholars, would have the answer. They would remark perhaps on an innocent era, sometime in the mid-Eighties to early Nineties, when rock stars and politicians felt that by joining together they could solve all of the world’s problems. Or a time when, just after the collapse of Communism, that it seemed that all the walls were coming down and a democratic utopia lay ahead. Certainly, the Czech Republic, which is at the moment without a formal government for and where political corruption is still commonplace, still is anything but perfect.
For me, their passing means something else. Maybe the answer is a lot simpler than I’m making it out to be. Maybe it was just a perfect day.
Humboldt County Superior Court Calendar: Today
MM101 / Airport Rd : Trfc Collision-No Inj
67949 - 67957 Leggett Frontage Rd (Garberville office): Trfc Collision-No Inj
Safety Corridor : CLOSURE of a Road
Nooks and Crannies: Pickens Canyon
KINS: AM News 121113
SF Chronicle: Sonoma County resident at heart of small house movement
Times-Standard Breaking: Court hears recording of Hoopa slaying: Testimony begins in Warren double murder hearing
Hank Sims / Tuesday, Oct. 29 @ 9:08 a.m. / Elsewhere
New York media is all a-flutter with the mayoral race. The big Gawkerish question, as posed by Gawker, is: Where does leading candidate Bill de Blasio’s daughter, Chiara, go to college?
Answers are hard to come by, we are given to understand. All that is known is that she attends a “small school” in “northern California” that “is not racially diverse,” and that she majors in “environmental studies.”
Sound familiar? We thought so too, so we set about to prove that Chiara de Blasio is one of our own. Then, about 15 seconds in, we were disappointed.
Apparently everyone in New York City forgot how to Google. Chiara de Blasio does not go to Humboldt State Unversity. Chiara de Blasio goes to Santa Clara University.
You are welcome, New York.
James Tressler / Sunday, Oct. 27 @ 7:54 a.m. / Elsewhere
Autumn arrived over the past week, a gorgeous sunny autumn. You can sit outside for lunch at the cafes without a jacket and look at the leaves falling in the streets.
It was like that yesterday too when I met my friend Mehmet for drinks in Kadikoy. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, ever since he purchased a new flat in Kartal, which is on the outskirts of Istanbul. Mehmet is an engineer in his mid-thirties.
We decided to go to Bahane Kultur, an outdoor café, since the weather was so fine. It was a long weekend, with most people having Monday and Tuesday off since Tuesday is the Turk Independence Day, so lots of people were out at the cafes and bars.
Bahane Kultur wasn’t too crowded though. We found a good table near the barman. He brought two pints of Bomante.
“So – my divorce is final,” Mehmet said, as we clinked glasses.
“Well,” I said. “How was it?”
“It took ten minutes,” Mehmet said, with a kind of wistful, lop-sided grin. Over the summer, we had talked about it while he and his wife were waiting for the court date. I only met her once, a petite, attractive woman who worked as a teacher. When Mehmet moved out, he’d left her their flat in Bostanci.
They remained fairly amicable, and Mehmet had held out hopes of a reconciliation, but those hopes had ended in the court, when the divorce was quickly granted.
“Ten minutes? Wow, that was easy.”
“Yes,” Mehmet said. “Can you believe it? Seven years we’ve known each other. Five years of marriage. And it only took ten minutes.”
“How did Ayse take it?” I asked.
“She didn’t even look at me when the judge granted the divorce.”
“Well, that’s that, I guess. Sorry, man.”
“That’s life,” Mehmet said. I could tell he was depressed about it, and tried to help. I’ve never been married, but I knew how he must have been feeling. I told him it was natural, and to just hang in there.
“After all, you’re free now,” I said.
“That’s right,” he said. “I’m single.” We looked around the bar. There were several women sitting at tables, having drinks and talking.
“So what about you and Ozge?” Mehmet asked. Ozge was a woman I’d met online.
“It’s good,” I said. “We had dinner last night at her place. And we’re meeting tomorrow evening. I told her I would cook some fish.”
“Really? So it’s going well then.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Ozge is still a little bit like, ‘Oooh, but we met online.’ But I told her, ‘It’s the way the world is now. People live online, they do everything online.’ I mean, people walk around with their iPhones like it’s a part of their body.”
“Exactly,” Mehmet said. “The world is changing. You have the same chance now online as you would have if you met someone in a bar. By the way, I met another girl online, through the mail.ru website. She’s from Turkmenistan.”
Mehmet showed me her photo on his iPhone. She was a tall, reasonably attractive brunette, and I told him I thought so.
“She’s not bad,” Mehmet concurred. “She’s working as a housekeeper for a famous Turkish TV presenter. She’s not really very educated. That’s the only thing, we don’t have much in common. It’s hard to talk with her about the same things.”
“I guess I got lucky with Ozge,” I said, more to myself than Mehmet. I thought about Ozge. She worked at a national museum, and was pursuing a masters’ degree.
“You did get lucky,” Mehmet said. “She’s educated, you’re educated. You both have traveled a lot. She is someone who is more or less on your level. You can talk about the same things.”
“Well, it wasn’t without trial and error,” I said. “Remember Ozcan?”
“Who was she?” Mehmet asked. “Oh, yes. The lawyer.”
“That one wasn’t so great. She wanted to know if I was into cocaine and ecstasy. And then there were the dominant couples who wanted me for a threesome.”
Mehmet laughed. We ordered a couple of fresh Bomantes , and Mehmet put some Doors music on his iPhone. We talked while listening to “Spanish Caravan” and “Soul Kitchen.”
“By the way,” I said. “Did you see in Istanbul this week the first online halal sex shop opened? It was in the news.”
“What do you mean?” Mehmet asked.
“Well,” I said, “the idea is that it’s an online sex shop, but it is halal.” Halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible.” What is not halal, or not in accordance with Islam, is haram.
“I was curious,” I said. “How does one know, when it comes to sex, what is proper? What is halal sex?”
“Normally,” Mehmet said. “It just means a married couple goes to the mosque and has a special ceremony. It just shows you are seeking the approval and blessing of the church. My wife and I went to the mosque for a halal ceremony when we were married.”
“Well, that makes sense,” I said. “But where does the online sex shop fit in? I mean, how does one recognize a sex product as being halal? I mean, is a dildo halal or haram?”
“I don’t know,” Mehmet said.
“Well, anyway,” I said. “I guess it’s been really successful its first week, especially with women.”
“Of course,” Mehmet said. “If you ever go to the shopping malls, at the lingerie shops you notice that a lot of the customers are covered women.”
It was difficult to imagine a woman wearing a burka buying a g-string. But then, I suppose, why not? If you’re married, then I suppose everything is halal.
We were back on the subject of marriage, which I was sure Mehmet wanted to avoid. We ordered a couple more pints of Bomonte. A couple of women at the next table had changed their seats.
“I think they overheard us ,” I said.
“Yes,” Mehmet said. “They probably think we are maganda.” In Turkish, maganda means a guy who is really crude in his behavior, or who doesn’t know how to behave properly.
At the next table, a young Turkish man and woman sat morosely over their drinks. They weren’t looking at each other.
“They probably met online,” Mehmet said. “This is their first date, and it isn’t working.”
“Oh well,” I said. “Better luck next time.”
Later, we paid and got up to go. Mehmet had slowed down the last hour or so because he had to drive back to Kartal. It was a good walk back to my neighborhood. The streets were full of people out enjoying the fine autumn weather.
“Have a good dinner tomorrow night with Ozge,” he said, as we reached his car. “Maybe if this thing works with the girl from Turkmenistan, you and Ozge can come to my place and we can all have dinner.”
“Sounds good to me. Take care man.”
“You too. Take care.”
James Tressler was a reporter for The Times-Standard. He is the author of the recently published novel, “Lost Coast D.A.,” which is available at Booklegger in Eureka. He lives in Istanbul.
James Tressler / Sunday, Oct. 20 @ 5:38 a.m. / Elsewhere
With the bayram holidays, Istanbul becomes very quiet, as most people leave the city to visit relatives in the countryside. This year most of my friends had left too, on exotic trips or else home, but I didn’t mind having the city all to myself.
One evening I met my landlady to pay the rent. We had dinner at a local restaurant. That evening I wasn’t feeling particularly well (too much holiday cheer the night before), so the landlady suggested I take things a bit easier.
“And eat well,” she urged. “Yogurt and apples. Trust me.”
The next morning, having taken her advice and slept well, I got up and went to the local bakkal and purchased a small bucket of plain yogurt, the kind that is a staple of the Turkish diet, not to mention throughout much of the Middle East, and I picked up a few red apples.
Back at the flat, I dished out a few spoonfuls of the yogurt onto a dish, then chopped up the apples and added them to the yogurt, swirling them up a bit. The sliced apples gave off a faint spray of perfume, and sweetened the yogurt. It was good, healthy tasting. I ate the whole thing, and later in the day, had another plateful, this time on my own initiative adding a few black olives and slices of cheese (interesting, but not really necessary I found).
That night I slept well again, and awoke feeling very good. I texted my landlady, thanking her for the recipe. “U R welcome,” she replied. “It’s my favourite dish. It’s my secret for staying young and beautiful.”
That evening I had a date with a young woman I’d met through Craigslist. Her name was Ozge, and she had proposed that we meet for a glass of wine, “just one glass.”
Ozge had to work at her job at the museum during holiday, so like me, she was stranded in the city. Upon her suggestion, we went to Viktor Levi, a well-known wine house and restaurant in Kadikoy. She hadn’t been there yet and wanted to try it. I had been there one time, as a favor, to fill in as the fourth on a double date. A friend had wanted to take his mistress, a young woman from Turkmenistan, out for dinner and she had a friend visiting from back home. My “date” spoke only Russian, and a bit of Turkish she had learned during her stay, and she didn’t drink alcohol, so we really didn’t get anywhere.
“So you sat like idiots while your friend and his mistress carried on,” Ozge said, finishing the story and laughing sympathetically.
“Well, I did it as a favor.”
Inside Viktor Levi’s it was nearly empty. The wait staff, who were mostly standing around, gave bayram greetings and said we could sit anywhere we wanted. We found a nice table in the garden. It was still warm enough late in the year to sit outside. Under the light, I had a good look at her. As her photo had showed, she had good taste. I liked her simple, but elegant outfit, her long dark hair, and fair, almost Russian features.
“Lots of people say that,” Ozge said, her eyes acknowledging the compliment. “But actually my family is Turkish.”
The garcon brought the wine list, and we decided on an expensive bottle of merlot. If there were to be just one glass of wine, we reasoned, it might as well be a good one.
“Actually I’m starving,” Ozge confessed. I was hungry too, so when the garcon brought the wine, we told him we wanted dinner. Remembering the last time, I remembered that my friend’s mistress had really liked the ravioli, so I suggested that for Ozge, and had the same thing I’d had before, the fettucini Alfredo.
The garcon poured a bit of wine into my glass. I approved it, and so he filled our glasses, left the bottle on the table, and walked off to place our dinner order.
“Şerefe,” we said, raising a toast, and clinking glasses.
It was good wine, especially after it breathed a bit. We talked about her work at the museum. She worked most days at the museum, which was over in Beşiktaş. So most mornings she got up early and took the ferry over to the European side. On her days off she was pursuing a master’s degree in museum management, following in the footsteps of her father, who was a museum curator.
“Basically I work every day,” she said. “That’s why I decided to try Craigslist – because I really don’t have the time for ‘dating.’”
The garcon brought the food eventually. I finished my first glass of wine, and poured a second. Her glass was still half full, but when I topped it up, she didn’t object.
“So,” she said. “What about you?”
It was my second “online” date. How had the first one gone? Not so well. We’d had dinner at an outdoor café over on the European side, and my interest had quickly waned when the woman had told me she had just broken up with her boyfriend and wanted to know if I was into cocaine and ecstasy, which I was not.
“This is my second time too,” Ozge confessed. “Actually – the first one was last night.”
“Really? How’d it go?”
She studied. “Umm … He was nice – for somebody else.”
“I don’t know … He talked too much, or not enough. I think maybe he was too young. By the way, how old are you? In think you said 35.”
“Actually 41, soon to be 42.”
“41!” She laughed. “Well, you don’t look it.”
“On Craigslist, I was afraid if I said 41 it would scare the women off. So I figured the best thing to do was to just wait and tell you, and then let you decide.” Ozge was 33.
“Well, you don’t look 41,” Ozge said. “Ah, Tressler. Tressler. It’s a nice name. I think I like it better than James.”
“You can call me Trez if you like. Old friends do.”
“It goes back to school days, the basketball court. We used to play all the time and sometimes I’d be one of the only white guys on the court. So all the other guys would be like, ‘Here comes the Trez!’”
“Trez,” Ozge said. “I like Trez. It’s honest. So – OK, Trez, you have been living in Turkey for nearly – four years? Why is it that you don’t speak better Turkish?”
Lots of people asked that. The reason, aside from laziness, was mainly work. My job was to teach English, and like most people in Istanbul, I spent a great deal of time at work.
“Right,” Ozge said, finishing the thought. “And most people you meet in Istanbul want to practice their English.
Her English was quite good. She’d been in a relationship with a guy from Scotland, and had travelled in Europe.
We continued talking through dinner, and finished the bottle of wine. When the bill came, we split it. The garcon wished us “Iyi bayramlar,” and we headed out. The streets were pretty quiet, but most of the shops and cafes were open.
“It was a nice place,” Ozge said. “There are some better wine houses in Taksim, but this one was not bad. Do you go to Taksim often?” Taksim is the entertainment center of Istanbul, located on the city’s European side.
“Actually I don’t get over there very often,” I said. “Just now and again, I go to the bookshops on Istikklal Caddesi. I prefer the Asian side. It’s more relaxed. It feels more like home. The European side feels like you’re in a completely different city.”
“I agree,” Ozge said. “In Taksim you feel more like a tourist. So where do you usually go in Kadikoy?”
“Well, why don’t you show me one of your places?”
It was only fair, as Viktor Levi’s had been her call. There was the Hera Bar, which was just around the corner.
We went in. The barman recognized me, and I introduced him to Ozge. The back room, which has a big window looking out onto the street, was fairly empty. Normally it’s very crowded because everybody wants to smoke. Inside there was a nice fire going, and some of its warmth crept out, but it was nice evening anyway and we didn’t really need it.
“I forgot about this place,” Ozge said, looking around curiously, approvingly. “It’s very cozy. So you come here?”
I did, usually on the weekends, early in the afternoon, after I had done some writing. It was a good place to cool off, have a couple of beers, and look over what I had written. Also, most of the people who went there were very open and friendly; inevitably you could always find someone with whom to strike up a conversation. Even if nobody was available, I could always sit with a book, or else look out at the people passing in the street.
I told Ozge some of these things, and she listened. We’d ordered the more modestly priced, but reliable Angorra red.
“So you were in Prague before?” Ozge asked. “You mentioned it somewhere. How long were you there?”
“And how was Prague?” She peered at me closely. “In one word, how would say it was?”
“Pohodichka?” Ozge tried out the word. “And what does ‘pohodichka’ mean?”
“It means, ‘cozy.’ Like this place.”
“You know some nice places then, Trez.”
“And nice people.”
“So were there any women in Prague?”
“A few.” I told her about Olga, a bi-sexual Russian woman whom I’d briefly dated. It had ended when a conflict between me and her girlfriend arose. I told her that story, and a couple of other ones.
The wine loosened us up, and she told me about the Scot. That relationship had ended, she said, because he had wanted her to move to Scotland with him. She’d refused, unwilling to leave Turkey. He eventually returned to Scotland on his own, and evidently that was that.
We talked of other people and other places. We talked of Europe, of Paris, comparing travel notes. We talked about her job at the palace, about her sister, who was living in Eastern Turkey, and we talked about my family back in the States.
“Do you ever miss your family in America?” Ozge asked.
“Sure, all the time,” I said. “But you know these days, with the Internet, Facebook and all that, they don’t seem so far away. I know what everybody is doing.”
“I know what you mean,” Ozge said. “It’s the same with me, and my family live here in Turkey. I mean, they are not so far away as America.”
We raised our glasses: “Well – to family then.”
The bottle of Angorra was empty, so I went to the bar and got another. There we were, two strangers stranded in the city. The holidays are always a sentimental time. Perhaps we were both feeling a bit melancholy, but there was something else there too with us, and it wasn’t such a bad feeling. If you were alone, you were not entirely alone.
As a matter of fact I was feeling pretty good, and it wasn’t just the wine. Maybe it was Ozge. Maybe it was the holiday, or Istanbul on a rare quiet evening. Maybe it was the yogurt and apples.
Later I escorted Ozge down to the main avenue, where the taxis were waiting. She had to get up early to work at the museum.
“Damn, Trez,” she said, swaying, taking my arm affectionately. “We were supposed to have just one glass of wine.”
“We did have one glass,” I said. “Then we just took it from there.”
James Tressler was a reporter for The Times-Standard. He is the author of the recently published book, “Lost Coast D.A.” He lives in Istanbul.
James Tressler / Sunday, Oct. 13 @ 9:15 a.m. / Elsewhere
So I met this woman. I won’t give her name here, since she is a perfect stranger. We met online through Craigslist. Many people use Craigslist here in Istanbul. Foreigners rely on it to find flats because they can be reassured that the landlord speaks at least some English; Turks who use it are usually looking to have an “international” flat, and to practice their English.
Anyway, Istanbul, like any major city, is an extremely crowded, busy place. Everyone is working all the time. Meeting people can be difficult, especially if you are in your early forties and not especially enthralled with haunting the bars like some lonely undergraduate or permanent case of arrested development.
So the thought was: why not try Craigslist? I mean, you use it to find a flat, right? And that’s not to be trivialized; after all, your flat is where you breathe, the roof over your head. You don’t just go out and blindly wander the streets looking for a place to live. You have certain specifications, and so you use Craigslist to help narrow your search. Why not, then, the same with people? So the reason goes.
I posted, stating simply that I was looking to meet a “nice, educated Turkish woman, who speaks English, likes the company of foreigners and isn’t too conservative.” By “conservative,” I simply meant in a religious sense, although this was probably unnecessary, since a conservative Muslim woman probably would not be looking to meet people on Craigslist – she would probably meet someone through her family – but I digress.
The responses came surprisingly quickly. A sample email from a “dominant couple,” read:
“I’m 40. She’s 32. She seeks a lover. I seek a ‘special friend.’ Come on, not too ‘conservative,’ right?”
Eh, no thanks.
Another email read:
“Are you a black American man lol??? Sorry, I am not racist but I LOVE black American men!!!”
Other emails arrive. Most send photos. They are dowdy, blowsy spinstresses with a “MARRY ME RIGHT NOW PLEASE!” sign all but hanging over their heads. Not ready for that ever.
Finally, a promising prospect. She’s “29” (aren’t we all?), an attorney for a big firm over in Levent, on the city’s European side. We meet for dinner one evening at an outdoor cafe in Karakoy near the ferry station. She seems friendly enough, a looker, wearing a pink split skirt and high heels. She’s tired and stressed (“Work,” she says). Over dinner and wine she relaxes a bit. We talk. She confesses that she’s just broken up with her boyfriend (YELLOW CARD).
“So are you into cocaine and ectasy?” she asks (SECOND YELLOW CARD, SEND OFF).
After that encounter, I decided maybe it was best to lay off the online thing and just focus on my “real, living” relationship –- you know, students, colleagues, friends, neighbors, dolmus drivers –- for a while. I forgot about the posting. Occasionally, I did get offers, again from “dominant couples.” (Just as an aside, are there really that many bored married couples out there? Husbands who don’t care who screws their wife as long as they don’t have to? Wives looking for a “dynamic love triangle” to spice up the conjugal bed? Anyway …)
Then, out of nowhere, a message arrived. She worked at one of the national galleries in Istanbul, was working on her master’s degree. Her photo showed elegance, taste, style. Just “happily” ended a long-term relationship? “Happily?” Well, hold the yellow card for now, but keep it ready.
She says she agrees that dating can be a real hassle. “It feels like a subtle job interview,” she writes. She lives in Kadikoy. I live in Kadikoy. We’re practically neighbours. She says she prefers the Asian side of the city, even if “other people say it has no real character.” She says she finds the Asian side more relaxed. She likes to stroll through the street markets, with their endless offerings of the world on display.
So, she writes, we can meet during the bayram next week. The bayram is a four day religious holiday honoring the sacrifice. We can meet and have “just one glass of wine.” If after that one glass of wine we find that we are OK, then we can have another, and just “go from there.”
The key is to keep expectations low. I couldn’t have agreed more, since my expectations were already there.
At the school, we had a barbecue on Friday to kick off the bayram, and to welcome new teachers. We all sat out on the balcony and had sucuk, a Turkish sausage, and bulgar and a lot of other stuff. Fueled by a few beers, I decided to sound out my colleagues, who I trust with my life, paying special attention to the views of the ladies present. They asked the usual questions, and then inquired as to the plan. When they heard the part about “just one glass of wine,” one of the women screeched out the theme from “Psycho.”
“I don’t know,” one of them said. “This girl sounds like a control freak.”
They all concurred that it should be I, as the man, who should take the lead on the first date, come up with the program.
“It shows you are decisive,” a male colleague posited.
“Well, let us know how it goes,” they said, as the evening broke up.
That gave me the weekend to sort of toss the issue about, to formulate, reformulate. A plan. Hell. There’s something deliciously thrilling in the prospect of encountering a perfect stranger – one of the brunette, elegant variety – in the big city of Istanbul on the first day of the holy bayram. Sure, there are risks – on both sides, but if you can’t give yourself up now and again to the mysteries of life, then what’s the point of it all? As an Irish friend often reminds me: Lad, we live on a rock that floats in the sky.
So here’s the plan, folks. She lives in Kadikoy. I live in Kadikoy. Being neighbours and all, we can meet up at the Bull Statue, say, in the early afternoon. She likes the markets? Great, we can have a leisurely stroll through the markets and check out all the world’s offerings on display. Then, weather providing, we can walk down to the Bosphorous and look at all the ships passing through on their way out to sea, and look at all the people out enjoying the bayram.
Then: We go and have our rendevous with destiny, that famous one glass of wine – upon which the fate of empires may rest – and drink that mother down.
After all, one must find some way to enjoy the holidays.
James Tressler, a former Times-Standard reporter, is the author of the recently published book, “The Lost Coast D.A.” He lives in Istanbul.