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Friday, July 14, 2017

(3) I HAVE MADE AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY: BEING SINGLE AGAIN ISN'T ALL THAT BAD.

September 21, 1971
       A week on a cruise ship seems like a year of ordinary living, but we finally arrived in Istanbul day before yesterday.  I visited the city’s famous bazaar—sixty-seven streets with forty-four hundred shops.  I walked quickly through the maze of narrow lanes, bought nothing, but took a few pictures.
      The streets beyond the bazaar teemed with sellers, buyers, strollers, beggars, and creatures humped over like camels, bearing enormous burdens on their padded backs.  I snapped picture after picture. Nearby was the university and an open area where handfuls of corn were sold by crones and children.  A pretty Egyptian girl assured me I would get my wish if I threw the pigeons a few golden kernels.  I threw a few kernels.    
     A young man, wearing tinted glasses and a dark moustach, spoke to me next.  
     "You are American.  Are you visiting our city for long?"   
      "No, my ship is leaving tomorrow," I said.      
     "I am a student at the university," he said, falling into step beside me.  
     I didn't want company; I wanted to concentrate on taking pictures.  The young man introduced himself as Ahmet and continued to ask questions.  I didn't want to hurt his feelings by telling him to get lost.
     Ahmet offered to take me to picturesque areas I would have difficulty finding by myself—outdoor markets, fishing wharves, and parks.  At no charge, he said.        
     "You are a very attractive woman, if you don't mind my saying so."  
     I didn't mind.  Ahmet was twenty-four.  He said he couldn't believe I had two sons almost as old as he. 
     "You are so slim and shapely—surely you must have been a child bride?"    
     Going, going, gone.  At the end of the afternoon, as Ahmet walked me back to my ship, I agreed to meet him after dinner and let him show me Istanbul's night life. I took the precaution of telling shipboard friends that I was going out for the evening with a student named Ahmet.    
     "If you don't show up for breakfast, we'll sound the alarm."   
     My escort took me first to a shabby cafe where we had drinks and tried to talk above the clamor of a jukebox.  Soon Ahmet was calling me by my first name, clutching my hand in both of his, and assuring me I was the most fascinating woman he had ever met.  After one more drink, I believed him. 
     He was not satisfied just to hold my hand, he said.  He would take me to a place where there was dancing, so he could hold me in his arms.   
      The next dive shrouded its seedy atmosphere in darkness.  Battered tables, lit by candle stumps, were grouped around a dance floor.  We had more to drink, we talked, we danced.  Ahmet said I had bewitched him, he couldn't bear to think he would never see me again.  Behind his glasses, his hooded eyes entreated me to relax and let him hold me closer.    
     "You are not afraid of me, are you?" he asked.  "You can trust me totally." So might a cobra speak if it had a larynx and a Turkish accent. 
     "But it's too late," Ahmet was insisting a couple of hours later when I said I wanted to return to my ship.  He showed me his watch.  "The authorities close the gates to the ship at midnight."    
     Then I would have to go to a hotel, I told him.  I was tired and had had too much to drink, and I really wasn't feeling very well.  Ahmet said it was all his fault, he was so enchanted with my company that he had lost track of the time. 
     My stomach rumbled disagreeably.   I was beginning to think I had picked up an affliction from one unwashed glass or another.  Arguing persuasively, Ahmet convinced me I should spend the night at his house, which he described as a villa, with terraces and landscaped grounds.  There, he assured me, I could enjoy complete privacy in a separate apartment; and to prove his honorable intentions, he would give me the key to my bedroom door.  He would get me back to my ship first thing in the morning.    
     Several bus changes followed, with the neighborhood and our fellow passengers gradually deteriorating.  I felt increasingly alarmed.   
      "Ahmet, I've changed my mind.  I want to go back to the city."   
      "There are no connections at this hour.  Why have you changed your mind, Barbara?  Are you frightened?  No harm will come to you as long as you are with me."    
     Next, we were walking down a deserted alley, lined with the dark irregular shapes of two‑ and three‑decker tenements.  I desperately needed a bathroom.  That first. Then a policeman.    
     "Here we are," said Ahmet, whose voice begun to sound brisker and less ingratiating as we neared the home he had  described in such splendid terms.  He led me down a set of jagged stone steps, took out his key, and pushed open a scarred, creaking door.   
      "Where is the bathroom?" I asked, looked around the dingy apartment.  I had been thoroughly conned.  The question was, would I now be killed or was I just in for a bad night?    
     "Over there." Ahmet pointed to a curtain. "The toilet seat came from Sears Roebuck," he said with a note of pride.  "We haven't had it connected yet, but you can use it."   
      "We?" I asked.   
      "My cousin, with whom I share these quarters.  You remember my telling you about him?"    
     Yes, I remembered something about a cousin.  At the time I had visualized "these quarters" as less intimate.    
     "He is very nice, you will meet him in the morning.  Ah— here he is now."   
      A dark‑skinned youth with sparse black whiskers, pulling on a pair of trousers, came through one of two doors opposite the curtain.  Ahmet started to introduce us.    
     "I have to go to the bathroom," I interrupted.    
     The toilet seat, backed by a lidless, empty tank, was stationed over a hole in the floor.  I had no choice but to use it. 
     Outside I could hear Ahmet and his cousin conversing in low voices.  Oh God!  Trapped in a 12 X 14 "villa" with Bluebeard the Turk and his cousin, Blackbeard.         
     "If you need water, I will show you where you can wash up," Ahmet called through the curtain.   
      When I came out, the cousin had disappeared.  Ahmet said he had gone to bed.  I certainly hoped so.  He ushered me into a cubbyhole which was apparently the kitchen.  There was no sink, just a pipe with a faucet.   
      "Where's a towel?" I asked. 
      Ahmet gestured toward a grimy rag hanging next to the pipe and left me to manage my Turkish bath as best I could.    
      Ahmet entered my cell in his maroon pajamas, removed his glasses, and surveyed me with dark, heavy‑lidded eyes.  He had changed from a mild‑mannered university student to a mustachioed imperious sultan, accustomed to having his way with his choice of the night.            
     In an attempt to think positively, my mother's precept, I tried visualizing myself aboard my ship, having an elegant breakfast with my fellow passengers.  If they could see me now. . . .    
     Throughout that long night I felt an affinity with women of all times and all cultures who have been sexually exploited against their will.  The next morning, haggard and degraded, my self‑esteem in shreds, I accompanied Ahmet and his cousin to the bus stop.  The three of us talked about the weather on the long ride back to the city.
 September 22, 1971
     It worked again. Like my stay in the loony bin, my night with Ahmet lost its obsessive power once I had written it out in terror-assuaging paragraphs.
     I stayed in my cabin on the ship until noon yesterday, writing, writing.  I sent for a sandwich and wrote some more.  Then I slept, and slept.  This evening I was ready to face the pre-dinner cocktail group. There, someone asked me, “What do you do?”  I had rarely heard this question until I started traveling.  At first, my stammered answer was “I’m a housewife, I guess.”  But now another answer occurred to me.  “Well, for one thing, I fly an airplane.”
    This terminated all conversation within earshot as effectively as if I’d announced I was a go-go dancer.  My shipmates insisted on hearing about some of the zanier adventures Ed and I have had, starting with our boating days; they wouldn’t let me stop until my memory went dry.  Next to writing, holding a group’s attention is the best poultice for a traumatized psyche.
     I am about to go to bed, after condensing a sanitized version of Istanbul and Ahmet onto a postcard for Kathie: “Leaving the bazaar, I was picked up by a twenty-four-year-old Turk, a university student who told me I was beautiful and said he wanted to take me dancing so he could hold me in his arms.  Wherever you may roam, a line is a line is a line.  After a few drinks of Turkish rotgut, we did go dancing and I woke up this morning with a hangover.  Love, Mom"
 November 2, 1971
Westwood
     I returned from Europe looking and feeling like the one thing I had never been able to be for Ed since 1940—a new woman.   In an earlier era we might have reconciled and lived haphazardly ever after, but now I know I have options besides shrinks, suicide, and little blue pills.  I asked for a trial separation.
     “`Enry `Iggins” was sure I’d come crawling back in two weeks as if, like Eliza Doolittle, I was nothing without him.  Instead, I have made an unexpected discovery:  being single again isn’t all that bad.  Rather than orbiting like a trapped planet around my husband’s personal planet, I am free to explore new worlds, including the world evolving inside my head.
     I have joined a women’s consciousness-raising group and signed up for a seminar for recently divorced and separated men and women.  I’m looking into Parents Without Partners.  I’m even taking dancing lessons.          
 April 4, 1972
Aboard Swissair 707
To Vonnie
     We're not even off the ground yet, and already I'm off to a flying start, Dingbat style.  Your father accompanied Floyd and me as far as the Swissair gate where we chose our seats and were given our boarding passes.  Then Dad suggested I walk back with him to the lobby to say goodbye.
     When I rejoined my beloved high school English teacher, he said, "Do you have your boarding pass?"  How did he know I didn't have my boarding pass?  I can see how he would have noticed last September, fifteen minutes before boarding time,  that I was missing a coat -- but a little green ticket?  With Floyd's x-ray eyes, he could get a job in the security department, visually frisking potential highjackers.
     I thought I might have handed the pass to Dad out of habit, so I bolted for the door in hopes of catching him before he drove off.  (As years go by, I may become a legendary figure at Logan Airport as I pursue my current missing object, dodging tourists and vaulting suitcases while my traveling companion alternates his gaze between the clock and the heavens.)
     I dashed out to the parking lot.  No sign of your father.  I gave up yelling "Ed!" because several fraudulent Eds, including two women, kept turning around and staring.  Then I heard a familiar voice ask me what I was doing out there.
     "Looking for you and my boarding pass."
     Skeptically, he went through all his pockets and wallets and then insisted on investigating my pockets and purse.  When his search was completed, the green ticket had not turned up, and my passport was missing.  Your father's indignant disclaimers turned to surprise when he pulled the passport from his inside pocket.
     I had to get a special boarding pass from an official who grilled me about my hereabouts for the last twenty minutes -- had I been to the bar . . . the gift shop . . . the ladies' room?  I blushingly assured him I was not guilty of any such detours, the ticket had simply evaporated between the boarding gate and the lobby.  The fellow shook his head and said, "Women!  Give them a little lib and what do they do, they get dizzier than ever!"  He had a twinkle in his eye, so I didn't do anything militant like blacken it.
     After Dad got home he found my original boarding pass in his raincoat pocket.  How do I know, you ask?  My dear, after thirty-two years a woman just knows these things.
     It's now April 6th and we've been seeing Vienna for two days. I'll write again if Floyd ever lets  me sit down long enough.
April 6, 1972
Vienna
To Ed
     Many, many thanks for making this trip possible for me.  It was dear and generous of you, in view of all your business problems.  I hope your current deal is still alive and well.     
     We've been touring Vienna by aching foot, and now that Floyd has proved he's much younger than I, we're going to spend the rest of the week playing musical chairs.  The opera tomorrow night (Macbeth), symphony Sunday at 4:00, Tristan and Isolde Sunday night.  I'll be so cultured by the time I get home, you'll have to find a blue velvet box to keep me in.  
     With love from your cultured pearl. . . .
April 11, 1972
Vienna
Postcard to Ed:  We had dinner last night at Vienna's most superb restaurant. "The Three Hussars."  Our leisurely meal, with wine and excellent service, took nearly three hours.  The conversation never falters with Floyd, and I enjoy matching wits with him -- or trying to.  This morning we are leaving for Greece.
     Haven't I been good about writing?
April 13, 1972
Athens
To Ed
     My first impression of Athens was Diesel fumes, and I wondered if my nose would stop tingling long enough for my eyes to start enjoying. Today I escaped from the belching busses and made my way through narrow, people-packed streets, gradually going uphill towards the Acropolis, which appeared from time to time between tenements.
     I spent three hours, exploring and taking pictures.  One shot was very nearly my last.  I had lined up a striking view of the Parthenon, with bright red and yellow wildflowers brightening the foreground.  There were two women in front of me taking pictures of each other beside a toppled pillar and blocking my shot. When they finally made their exit from my viewing screen, I saw that a new group of tourists was about to intrude.  By taking a couple of steps backwards, I was able to eliminate them.  I snapped the photo, then bent down to pick up my purse and sweater.  That’s when I saw where I would have landed had I stepped back two more paces -- at the bottom of a pit at least thirty feet deep.  Its edges surrounded by vegetation, it was not readily visible to your average photo-journalist walking backwards with her eyes glued to her camera.        
     Travel continues to be as therapeutic as photography—so many exciting things happen (with a spicy sprinkling of near-calamities).  The Athens Hilton is like a city in itself; Floyd says it is one of the most elegant hotels in the world.  He was pleased when the doorman recognized him and made a big fuss over "Dr. Rinker."  He has a bad cold and has quarantined himself for the day, so I am about to collect my free, on-the-Hilton "ouzo" cocktail and dine in not-on-the Hilton lonely splendor.
Intercontinental Hotel, Vienna
April 12
     We are now in Greece.  One could spend a week at the Athens Hilton learning your way to the shops, restaurants, and art galleries.  
     Then there's the view from my bedroom:  the Acropolis looms on the horizon, while across the street an enormous Coca Cola sign reminds us what century we're in. 
Cruise Ship Galaxy
April 15, 1972
     Floyd, oh wise man of the West, arranged for me to take this cruise.   Up at 6:45 this morning for an excursion to Knossos by bus at 8:00.  At this early hour we are ahead of crowds who wander into one's viewing screen as one pushes the shutter button.  My Nikon is a splendid companion.   We share the sights that interest us most, and it lets me do all the talking.   Usually this is under my breath:  "Go on, lady, move, will you?" or "Dammit, where is that filter?"
     Knossos didn't look like much until we came to the palace area.  Here we breathed the past and felt awed.  Although only an infinitesimal part remains of the "Labyrinth" of 1500 rooms, there was enough to feed the imagination and make me hunger for more.  We saw the king's throne, railed off to protect it from souvenir hunters; the underground drainage system, much like our modern pipes; and frescoes of girls in topless costumes and boys with long hair.  If Minoans could be transported into our era, as we were into theirs, they would shrug and say, "What else is new?"
   This afternoon, a trip ashore to Santorini.  The town is situated at the top of a towering cliff which we reached by riding donkeys, some of them docile, some like mine.  On the steeply winding trail, mine kept veering toward the abyss on the right; then he would do his best to scrape me off on the wall to our left.  An ancient donkey‑ driver controlled the beast with a flick of his switch and a phrase that sounded like "Giddap."  I was tempted to say "Whoa, there," but having learned that no‑no‑no means yes‑yes‑yes in Greek, I didn't want to risk a misunderstanding.  I tried to snap pictures along the way, but the animal sensed when I wasn't hanging on with both hands and would pretend to stumble.  He may have fooled his driver, but he didn't fool me.

                                       

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