We came back one afternoon to find two swans on our bed, long white necks leading up to a rose held between their beaks. We would’ve let them live forever in their state of perpetual love, but we had to kill them because they were formed of towels and we needed to take a shower.
This and other surprises, from the minute to the extraordinary, have crossed our paths in the past week and a half of Jenny’s visit. I pause now on the balcony of our room at the Gelidonya Hotel in Kemer to reflect on what we’ve beheld.
I wanted to show her everything. Hyperbolic as that may sound, there is validity in the desire. I’ve been in İstanbul for over two months and done my fair share of adventuring, taking notes, taking photos, mapping out routes that we’d follow, noting unexplored areas we’d bring our light to. The to-do list was long. I knew as soon as she landed I’d want to take her by the hand and watch her fall in love with this country as much as I have.
I’ll never forget the way it felt to see her across the terminal and see her face when she recognized me in the crowd. Fresh off an eleven-hour flight from South Korea, with one suitcase and longer hair, as pretty as ever: Jenny, materialized like a character from a dream. The flowers I bought en-route to the airport timidly exchanged after a long, quiet hug and a few stuttered words shared in achingly familiar tones. It was her. It was me. Survivors of six months apart. Together now, as if not by planning but some miracle, feeling overwhelmed by luck, we had that kiss and we held those hands and we walked out into the rainstorm to find a taxi and find our way to the apartment.
It’s been perfect, to ruin the surprise. It’s been exactly what I dreamed it would be to have her here and reignite and become brighter. It’s astonishing, really. I’m generally modest and wary of bragging, but goddamn, I say, goddamn.
It’s been perfect, if not precisely to plan, showing her everything in İstanbul that I can: from the castle at the lip of the Bosphorus overlooking the Black Sea to the overlook at night where students drink beer and watch the light show on the bridge; from the mellow bustle of Beşiktaş to the churning chaos of Taksim (day and night); from the view from the water to the view from the 54th floor; from the spiderweb maze of the Grand Bazaar to the sweet smells of the Spice Bazaar where she bought scarves and apple tea; from a crowd of flare-wielding Beşiktaş soccer fans to a World Festival in the Sultanahmet plaza; from the breathtaking beauty of the Aya Sofia to the eerie charm of the Basilica Cistern to the glowing magnificence of the Blue Mosque; from the art gallery to a walk across the Golden Horn Bridge, from dinner at Iskender to kavahltı in the park to fish sandwiches at sunset on the Asian side; from a walk through Bebek and South Campus to going off the beaten path in the lush Belgrade Forest where I carved our names in a tree; from nargile and tavla to midye and islak burgers; from “Chris’ girlfriend in South Korea” to “Jenny.”
Our Antalya vacation-within-a-vacation has the aura of a honeymoon getaway (with friends), where we’ve seen the rocky Mediterranean beaches of Kemer and searched for tiny shells and stones smoothed by the waves that sound like maracas against the pebbles, where we’ve been sunburnt by lackluster sunscreen, where we’ve eaten and drank and laughed and talked and played games and perhaps sometimes drank too much and certainly over-eaten, where we’ve heard bird calls unlike any other and seen snow-capped misty mountains and towering stone hillsides draped in forests and come across turtles on the trails of ancient civilizations and forded a river in an over-stuffed taxi, where we’ve found rose petals on our bed, where in the day we parasailed as fake Canadians and at night we’ve seen the misty haze that settles low over this exotic sea where water swallows the sky, where after smoking nargile outside on bean-bag chairs we were mugged on the beach by a stray dog who wanted our water bottle, where we put garlic in my ear to heal an earache, where we went into the city center to wander through the market and buy eucalyptus tea and have a water-gun fight with our friends by the clock tower, where we took a taxi ride to Olympus to traverse overgrown ruins in the rocky mountains to gain adventure points and eat spaghetti with salad at the world’s most adorable sea-side restaurant while opening up to each other about the big things on our minds.
Today we leave for İstanbul and there’s still more to do before she goes. Now we rest before checking out and we think of ways to make this last forever.