Strong shafts of heat hit my back as I walk up the stairs from the guest room. It is not yet nine in the morning, and already dry-hot beyond my comfort level. Sliding into a space next to M. after greetings in Turkish, I slide my tiny stainless steel tea spoon around the fine Paşabahçe tea glass. (Paşabahçe is a Turkish company – formerly run by the government – that has lovely glass and ceramic products, akin to Crate and Barrell). Crystalline ting-ting sounds are emanating from spots all across the table as everyone is doing the same thing. Armed in my best sundress, in other words, the one I feel most thin and attractive in, I hope that the mealtime talk will not, once again, turn to the American obesity epidemic.
“Fat chance!!!!!!” Karagöz yodels from the buffet before making an impossibly long bounding leap over to my shoulder. I am hoping that M.’s family did not see me flinch at the morning surprise that is the caustic and jesterly Karagöz , embodiment of my internal, sarcastic and somewhat base self. They all seem absorbed in a very important discussion about their futbol (soccer) team – Galatasaray and the politics of the club’s inner circle. I have become adept at adopting a pose of apparent listening with respectful intent while sending my mind around the block on a journey to gather all intelligence I can about everything else going on around me. Today, I don’t make it around the block in my mind, but I do make it out the window, over the balcony and onto the massive, two-story tall red and yellow Galatasaray banner that M.’s brother has hung there. It billows in the breeze like a sail on a sailboat – ready to launch this chalk-white dollop of a summer home over the hill and on across the Aegean to Kos Island, in Greece.
“Tell them you thought Fenerbahce was the best team!” Karagöz screeches into my ear, dancing with hilarity across my shoulder in a mock soldier’s dance. “That’ll really get them.” Hacivad sighs, tearing himself away from the morning paper, which he has magically tapped with his Chartreuse parasol in order to shrink it down to a readable size for a human-inhabiting puppet. “You must remember, my dear canım, that Fenerbahce is actually the mortal enemy of the grand and gallant Galatasary Futbol Kulubu. As Karagöz says – you must unsay. As Karagöz walks, you must lie down. It is black and white in this manner, and as for controversy, you must mind your manners, bide your time, and swelter in your smile, canım.”
“Swelter in my smile,” I think. “Yes, somehow that is how I feel despite the antiquated English. ” I recall friends who have had massive weddings and complained of sore smiling muscles from all of the photography and videography. Although Bodrum has been lovely, the water warm and buoyant, the window into the family illuminating and the sun relaxing, I do still feel like a duck out of water. No amount of salon visits, clothing shopping, walks on the boardwalk with the ladies seems to get me to a point of feeling at ease. “This is not the life for me,” I muse, “but a necessary thing for now, and many would covet this time.” I feel maudlin, but with no excuse to feel that way. I have way to much time these days feigning interest in Turkish as I over-analyze everything. As entitled and financially blessed as these folks are, I am equally so with all of this mental energy for analyzing everything. I am entirely too inwardly focused. “I must remember others would covet this,” I remind myself silently, “yes, they would covet it.”
Karagöz snorts as he somersaults over to Hacivad’s shoulder “Covet this time! Use them for all its worth – this is a jet set lifestyle – you don’t have a maid at home – look at your life here – you should live like this! Listen to yourself.” After expelling Karagöz with a gentle shove, Hacivad raises his left eyebrow and looks at me straight in the face. “Listen to yourself, canım dear, you sound ridiculous and pedantic. These people are not your cup of tea, perhaps, but it is time-limited, and you must reap the silver linings of this lovely spot despite the glitter and glitz. As your Yankee father would say, “stiff upper lip” and as your much more reasonable Granny would say “be polite and appreciative” and as your stepmother would say “pretend you are an anthropologist, trying to understand this new culture.”
M.’s sister in law -taps me on the elbow, repeating something I cannot yet focus my mind on, as it is still too deeply whirled in the inward spiral of the Nautilus shell that appears to be my brain right now. I have been sweltering in my smile too long. “Sorry,” I lie, “I was trying to pick out the verbs and the adjectives in Turkish, what was that?” “I am wondering, my dear, if you need your full American breakfast today,” M.’s sister says. “I have just had one almond, one dried apricot and non-fat yogurt along with my tea, but I am sure you are used to something more. What can I have Kalinka make you?” The air sucks out of my lungs, and I find myself speechless. Kalinka, hearing her name, hovers her way over to the table, anticipating the orders from the lady of the house. She winks at me and smiles as her bare feet make an imperceptably silent plip-plap sound on the marble floor. “Buyrun, efendim,” she says, and I understand this to mean “please go ahead, ma’m.”
“Woo-hoo!” Karagöz yells as he stomps on the table, “now what are you gonna say to this b-word lady! Look at how she slid that insult in there! You have to think of a good one.” Hacivad doesn’t even look up from the paper, saying “just go easy. First meeting with the family and all, she may be trying to be nice.” “Umm, ahh, well,” I stutter and splutter as my face shades from pink to as red as the Turkish flag fluttering next door, “I was just hoping to start with a bit of tea – you don’t have any milk, do you?” Shifting in her seat, her cigarette held high above her head, diamonds glinting in the sunshine, she responds with an eager glimmer in her eye “Dear, of course we don’t have milk, not good for the health in the summer, and certainly not on a day when one eats fish, don’t you know. Why not the Turkish way? It might help your regime some (regime=diet).”
Karagöz screams “don’t let her get away with it!” I ignore him, focusing instead on placing my cool hands on my cheeks to hide some of my blushing, which I know is a losing battle. I begin to wonder if it some sort of lady game, this one-upsmanship at all moments. Maybe I am really just not ever going to be accepted into a family as a non-Turk. I wonder what I would have to do to endear myself to her, how much hazing I would have to take. Maybe she doesn’t mean to hurt me so – maybe I am just so easily hurt, overly sensitive, maybe I am making this up in my head. As M.’s sister in law is calling over to Kalinka, the Moldovan maid, M. puts his arm around me and squeezes my shoulder in recognition of what’s going on.
As M.’s sister-in-law angles herself lithely out of her rattan chair to take a mobile call, Kalinka delivers my Çay with a side glass of milk, extra sugar and with a wicked wink, says to me “what a bitch” in Russian, our shared language. My gratitude knows no bounds and I could hug her, if it wasn’t against the protocol of the moment. We beam at eachother in some sort of knowing sisterhood that transcends language and culture. M., his brother and his sister-in-law have no idea that the Moldovan put-down has just landed.