Wednesday, March 2, 2011

istanbul pt. 1

my foot will not budge. i am desperately pulling at my boot, squirming my foot around. i set the metal detector off and now the security officer is insisting i take my boots off. the left slides off easily, but the right holds firmly to my foot. madeline had already passed through so i'm oscillating between staring desperately and laughing maniacally at her through the metal detector as the officer offers her help, grabbing my foot, holding it high in the air, but then proceeding to pull at it so delicately that i wonder why she's offered to help at all. 
a frenchman behind me in line wants to join in the fun and grabs onto my shoulders, holding me back and telling her to pull plus fort. she continues to hold my foot by her head and do not much else. i try to take my foot back. she continues to hold it in the air. i ask for my foot back. she continues to hold it in the air. i finally forcefully regain control of my right foot and another security officer says not to bother, she'll hand scan me. clearly she was waiting until everyone got their laughs in before making this offer. 
we appear to be the only non-turkish speakers on the flight and as we board the plane, the steward switches into english when he lays eyes on us. this is a sign of things to come. we are two light-skinned, light-haired, light-eyed, english-speaking girls and any hopes we had of passing unnoticed were sorely misplaced. we're entering a week of being shouted at about whether we are a set, whether we are real, whether we are superwoman, whether we scream for ice cream, etc, etc, ad nauseum. 
the safety instructions on the plane are given by a video of small children dressed up as stewardesses and pilots. i understand nothing as it's all in turkish, but the pilot is an 8-year-old boy in aviators laughing wildly and giving lots of thumbs ups. it is, to say the least, disconcerting. we once again question our decision to fly a budget turkish airline named after a mythical creature. we had accepted that we were taking our lives in our hands in boarding the flight. 
passengers clap as we land, which drives me crazy. even worse, they begin clapping before we come to a stop; there is still plenty of time for us to die. but given the situation, celebration of safe arrival seems acceptable this time. 
we wait in the line for non-turkish passports and person after person has their passport stamped and scuttles through. the agent flips through my passport and asks for my visa. i point him to my french work visa, unsure what else he could mean. he tells me no, the visa for turkey. my pulse quickens. we need a visa? i tell him i have no turkish visa (we are only visiting for a few days) and he tells me to go see the officer around the corner. the fact that this conversation takes place in broken english dotted with turkish does nothing to add to my understanding or reduce my panic. 
we approach the window, passports in hand to find no one behind the glass. we wait, our unsureness building until the agent yells loudly in turkish towards the window and a sort of turkish danny devito comes ambling out from the back, short and round and dark, with a cigarette in hand it appears. 
we venture some english and show him our french visas, explain we are only in turkey for a few days, tell him we do not understand. he points to a piece of paper taped to the wall: usa-3 months-15 euros. we try again to explain we are visiting for less than a week. he points to the sheet. 
we return to the agent to try and understand. finally he says "one day, visa. 3 months, visa." we understand. we need a visa. 
we return to t.d.d. who is now wearing a smug smirk. we hand over our passports and 15 euros, expecting paperwork, a form at the very least. he peels off two small rectangular stickers and places them in our passports and hands them back. we read "multiple entry visa valid for 90 days". 
what took months of paperwork, applications, and a trip to the embassy to obtain for france, took 15 minutes in the istanbul airport at 1 a.m. 
we change our money, find the bus, wait, try to speak softly and not crunch our peanut m&ms too loudly to avoid stares, receive stares anyway, and an hour later we are descending onto taksim square. because of its size and the nearly complete absence of street signs, there are a few false starts before we start heading down the road we are looking for, a wide avenue with heart-shaped lights hanging above. it would be charming if it were not approaching 3 a.m., raining, and full of drunk people shouting "hello! very nice!" at us. 
it is also becoming apparent that the vague directions which i thought would make sense once we were actually there, do not. we do know that it is across from the italian consulate, so after walking the length of the avenue with no luck, mad has the great idea to ask the guards in huts in front of the other consulates where the italian one is. despite their confusion at why two decidedly non-italian looking girls speaking english are looking for an italian consulate in the middle of the night, two sets of directions later we are headed down a side street. it is impossibly steep and full of cats (recurring themes in our stay) and we feel sure that this is the wrong street. but in an attempt to stop making the mistake of turning around too soon, we persevere, decide we will continue just down to the lights. 
when an italian flag appears in the right corner of the sky we are filled with more happiness than i would have thought was possible upon seeing red, white, and green rectangles. 
maddie spots the neverland sign up ahead and we enter a room full of plants, incense, very low candle light, and a turkish man who says "oh yes, hannah. welcome, i've been waiting for you." 
he shows us to our room and we peel off our travel clothes to crawl into bed. i prepare myself to once again battle my footwear. but my right boot slides quickly off my foot and falls to the ground. 
in this moment, giddy, exhausted, drunk on the seemingly ubiquitous humor and adventure just waiting to be unearthed, nothing has ever been more hilarious to me than the other shoe dropping. 

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