FG: First Person
There's a blind man on Bagdat Cadessi who sells evil eyes, which has always
seemed to me such a paradox. Still, I always buy something from
him--always. He's usually on the sunny side of the street (as he was
yesterday, just below the old Atlantic Cinema). He collapses himself on a
low crate and in his lap rests an open wooden painter's box, in which are
neatly organized bowls and dishes wherein he separates his eyes according
to size and shape and worth. I always buy the wee glass elephants.
(Although these are not as whimsical as the eyes the gypsy women sell from
their baskets.) I adore this man.
His hands are huge! And like the great paws of a Retriever pup who will
eventually grow into them, they seem similarly out of proportion to his
folded little frame. (I suppose, if he were to stand up, his proportions
would adjust themselves.) When I put all the eyes I want into his massive
waiting hand, the little glass talismans look minuscule, inconsequential.
And I stare for long seconds at the vast whiteness of his outstretched
His voice is soft and deliberate. Even before I tell him how many there
are, he responds, Tamam. Oldu . Sometimes I give him an extra bin lira
note, or a coin--if I have one. And he always knows--instinctively--when I
have given him extra; for he grabs at my fingers with his great, gentle
grip and says that Allah blesses me.
Well whoever you are who has blessed me, thank you! In particular, thank
you for these years in Turkey. This has been a remarkable, sublime
adventure. And like the blind man who sells eyes, it is both paradox and
irony. Contradictions everywhere.
I embark, for example, on my morning "constitutional," and watch the
gypsies haul up their plastic tubs and buckets and hoards of bouquets from
hidden chambers beneath the sidewalk. How the streets are filled with a
palate of color and a blend of fragrance. I grin, inhaling this balm
deep down in my belly. It's wonderful!
The wonder is short-lived. As I turn to cross Bagdat Caddesi a putrid
blast of foul-smelling petrol and coal (both of low grade and quality)
suffocates the atmosphere. The air is rancid and smoky. I am disgusted
and consider this contradiction: two men next to me light up their
Turkish cigarettes, and it smells wonderful!
The bandanna tied around my neck is there for such occasions. I mask
myself, bandit style, then begin the jog down toward the sahil, where I
know the Marmara will offer relief. I crank up the head set music and find
a tolerable pace for this ole body.
Again the magnificence is spoiled. The wretched stink of debris and
garbage--washed and dumped ashore--lingers in the air. The System has
carelessly, without vision, made this beautiful place a dump. Plastic,
glass, metal, fabric--all the evidence of a great civilization, all the
evidence of uncivilized behavior--here, trashing my sahil! Okay, okay,
don't look down. What you don't see won't hurt you.
On my return from Fenerbache, along the narrow pedestrian walk, a white BMW
screeches carlessly behind me. A young couple, out for a morning spin,
slide their way into the soft earth and across the walk path. Their
outside mirror scrapes my elbow; in less than an hour's time, I reflect,
I have beheld the most beautiful and the most awful.