Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It took a random trip back to Istanbul in 1998 for me to recognize that I could create any kind of life I wanted. I didn’t have to follow the American Dream to ‘success’: the corporate high salary job, a big house, the nice car with the hefty lease. I was living a good life in Los Angeles, but one that felt directionless and shallow.
I was in a multi-cultural city, but that place did not reflect me.
A friend asked me if I wanted to travel with her to Turkey and Greece. I immediately said yes, since I rarely turned down a chance to do my favorite thing – travel. Istanbul had been my favorite place to work, the business trips I’d made there several years before. The Turks I’d worked with had quite unlike the Japanese, the Chinese, the Indians, the Italians and other nationalities whose offices and factories I’d done business with as a clothing designer.
My agent and his employees in Istanbul went out of their way to make sure I saw their city, whirling me through Sultanahmet, along the Bosphorus, taking me to the latest hot restaurants and nightclubs. I didn’t realize that the agent’s wife Asli was one of Turkey’s top fashion designers at the time, until we were followed around one night by paparazzi and appeared in the local gossip pages the next morning. I was suddenly the ‘famous American designer’ gracing Turkey with my presence.
One afternoon, Asli took me to Pandeli in the Spice Market for lunch. But not until I’d visited the vast closet in her home with the Bosphorus view, donning heels, flowing silk, and a fur coat, since it was late November. Clearly my casual American work clothes had not met with her chic Istanbul standards. Cinderella stories like that never happened to me in the US, even in the fashion business.
With great memories of that amazing city that reminded me so much of a far more colorful and infinitely more social San Francisco, we planned our trip to Turkey and Greece. But just before we were about to leave, my friend went cold on Turkey. She was afraid to travel the Western Turkish route I’d mapped out, though perhaps Istanbul might be safe enough for her to see before we left for Athens. We agreed to meet on a certain date at the Empress Zoe Hotel in Sultanahmet, near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.
Once on the road, I was happy to be on my own. I’ve lost friendships with people who were fine at home but could not handle the daily stresses of travel. I’m most alive when I don’t know what’s around the corner, or where a fork in my path will take me. Traveling with someone who wanted to plan every move would have been agony.
Turkey solo was a challenge. I’ve never talked to more strangers in my life! By the time I got to the small Aegean town of Selcuk, next to the Greco-Roman ruins of Ephesus, I was talked out. I’d over-shopped too, and was cursing myself for lugging an over stuffed duffel bag as I struggled up a small lane from the bus station after a bus ride from Pamukkale. Why do Americans think they can see half of Turkey in 1 week’s time? I’d barely scratched the surface in three.
I’ll save the rest of the story for my book. But that day in Selcuk, I met my husband Abit, who has called Selcuk home since the age of 13, though he’s also lived for 10 years in Istanbul and in Belgium for 3. If I’d turned down another street, we never may have met. I might have returned to California, settled back into my life. The life that was comfortable, but didn’t quite feel like mine.
I did ultimately meet up with my friend at the Empress Zoe Hotel, that trip in 1998. As kismet would have it, the narrow wooden building on Kutlugun Sokak, Auspicious Day Street, where Abit and I lived and had our textile shop this past summer - is right next door.