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By jeanpaulsartre
May 31, 2002

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On a bus from Istanbul to the Greek border, I was reading an architectural manifesto. I know that I am reading an architectural manifesto when I am reading something about architecture that is unreadable. My wife, the lone blonde when we departed the ancient city, was at my one side, and on the other side was a thousand pounds of her clothing, assembled in a leather bag from Norway that made my shoulders itch when I happened to strap it on. I had a sneaky suspicion at that point that she had married me to have someone tote her bags. We were dreaming, thinking, and reading, and dreaming, and the Turk driver, with a huge wound on his forehead, for which it appeared that he was feared by his other passengers, explained with excitement his days in Turkish military service.

He spoke the rotgut English of a drunk, with many slurs and happy pauses for forgotten nouns, but this is the way many Turks speak English. Another Turkish couple across from us, more worldly than the rest of the groups of people in the bus�no Turks seem to travel alone�did not smile at the driver's comments and explanations, even if perhaps they alone understood him. They had that Euro patina of being too civilized to smile in transit.

"So we exercise, as swimmers, and we swim. Yes, and in the pool one day a solda [this for soldier] dies."

"Drowns?"

"DROWNS, yes, very good. Drowns. And we mourn. Yes we mourn. An hour, even."

When traveling some place like this, after a few bad experiences, you wonder how you should react to death. Americans at home when on vacation generally smile through everything but American loss. In Europe, Americans are constantly smiling, especially if they are younger, it is one of the ways you locate them. In Turkey, the Americans who have been there for more than three days smile, for everything is amusing, life is upside down, with all the half gestures (of which the Turks are abundantly proud) towards westernization, and half-sensibilities that distinguish their lives from all others. We opt to keep our general American smiles on our faces.

"And then, for every day I am in the service, we punish that pool for drowning the solda. We crack the pool with a whip. We never clean pool. Pool gets green. Yes, we really punish pool. It is the way we do things in Turkey."

Now we are laughing. At that point, the bus rolls to a bus stop, and another couple, two fair backpackers get in. I try to put my nose back into my architecture manifesto. I have just seen the Hagia Sophia, and I am trying to digest what I have seen. I know that as we left Istanbul I may not see it for a long time, indeed perhaps never again�certainly true for seventeen years now.

"I need passports, please?"

The couple finds the passports.

"OK, I keep them. Have a seat."

"No," the male says. "Give us our passports."

"No," the driver says. "In Turkey, I keep the passports, then I hand them to the Greeks, then you get them back."

The couple gets very pouty and don't sit down.

"I insist. Give me my passport back," the man says.

The driver rifles through the stack of passport at his side.

"You cannot let me touch your Denmark passport? You fool!" He slaps the wound on his own forehead.

"What is Denmark? It is nothing. Look, look at this." He holds up my wife's passport. "This is an AMERICAN passport. I get it no problem. "This is a passport. This is something. Not like your miserable Denmark passport. These people are full of trust for me. That is why they have movie stars, and Dallas."

We are sitting smug and satisfied. The urbane Turkish couple across from us continues to travel joylessly.

After a few miles down the road, the driver turns to us and says, "Do you like this?"

He is referring to his plaid sport coat, a piece of fabric that looks like a bad satire of something a used car salesman would wear circa 1960.

"In Turkey, this is great beeceebeegee," he says.

"I don't doubt it," I say.

He then says to my wife, "I see your name is�ha hah hah�Lisa. That's very funny in Turkish."

"Oh really? I don't remember that [a Norwegian-American, her college language was Turkish, of course]. What is your name?"

Unmistakably, he says, "Tuna." We both are cracking up.

"What is so funny?" he says. "I know what it means. It is a fish. A GREAT FISH", he says with pride.

I didn't finish my architectural manifesto, but it shouldn't matter anyway, because, as Antonio Sant'Elia said in an architectural manifesto, no architecture has existed since 1700.

jeanpaulsartre


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