Although I’d driven a manual transmission across America, Elif’s family was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of operating a stick shift in Turkey. Our plan was to drive south with Elif’s mother in Elif’s uncle’s car, a very old model which always stalled going into first gear. They decided to test my skill at driving by starting me along the minibus route in Istanbul. During rush hour. With all of Elif’s family in the back seat. While stalling a dozen times, I found myself narrowly skirting minibuses changing lanes, and taxis, dolmuses, buses, and pushcarts, and UFO’s coming down from the sky and landing in the middle of the road.
I abandoned the car and was curled up in a fetal position, sucking my thumb and crying, and they called a cab driver to take us all home. It took the cab driver twenty minutes to get our car into gear without stalling. I was mortified, upset, and obsessively thinking about all of the places we’d be missing out on seeing – as when would I ever return to Turkey? We called several car rental companies, but none had automatics. Back at the apartment, Dilek cooked for me to comfort me like a mother. She broke out a Ouija board to call the ghosts to cheer me up, but she was a hapless medium.
So we took the bus south the next day, seeing the usual things on the Aegean and western Mediterranean coasts that a tourist would see. The view from Tilos, where we bought oregano from an old beggar woman. Walking on a suspension bridge at Saklikent, and then crossing between the gorges in the water by holding onto a rope; the air is hot but the water so cold it hurts. The underwater ruins at Letoon, with Elif picking olives and eating them raw to show off, even though they’re disgusting unless you prepare them. Ancient cities on the Turquoise coast in which visitors had mistaken the world’s largest open-air archeological museum for the world’s largest open-air public toilet: every cave stank, and people were literally peeing on the country’s amazing historic legacy. Swimming in the lake at Oludeniz while our camera’s on the beach, constantly checking it to see if anyone would steal it, although Elif said that it was an impossibility there, for some reason.
I got food poisoning and threw up all night in Bodrum, while Dilek fed me chicken soup and had me drink sahlep, an orchid root powder drink that tastes like hot white chocolate. The next afternoon, we paid a man a few thousand lira so he could put food in Dilek’s hair while birds landed all over her body. We saw the dungeon at the castle, “Where God does not exist.” We took a boat to Kekova, with old tombs in the water surrounding the islands, the only thing louder than the jackhammer sound of the motor was the boat’s radio blasting Tarkan’s “Hepsi Senin Mi.” Elif bellydanced to that song wearing a semitransparent one-piece green bathing suit, which caused me to delay for a few minutes my standing up in front of everyone to dive into the water. And finally, I dived and dived, and Dilek shouting out, Brian, say “Guzel yuzuyorum,” which means “I am swimming well,” and Elif tells her that I’ll choke on it if I yell that out while swimming. And, of course, we saw Efes, the great ancient lost city of Disneyland. We tried to make a call back to Istanbul in a public Turk Telekom phone which of course ate our money without making a connection. And at Pergamom, I ran up and down the aisles at the amphitheater yelling, “Peanuts, get your peanuts here!” – while Elif, il miglior fabbro, pretended she was Athena.