Izmir by Mac S. Pope - HTML preview
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by Mac S. Pope
Copyright requested October, 2000
Before dawn, before the first yearning wails from the muezzins high up in slender towers all around Izmir; before first light Barney and Isabel walked, bundled together, from their bed, outside on to the wide, cool, marble floor of their apartment balcony. At that hour they were still naked although she’d wrapped herself in the top sheet and he had pulled the blanket around himself. They went out every morning into the clear air under diamond stars, to smell Izmir: the great ovens of the city’s factory bakeries were at high production then and filled the air with sweet, milky, yeasty odors of browning bread and rolls. Izmir and all of Turkey was peaceful under a white moon still as a hanging ball. Always at that hour the air was balmy and sensual as light ether, the views spectacular- from the dimly lit boats bobbing on the navy blue glittering wash of open bay below them, to the palm-lined streets that radiate up from the bay, past their building, on upwards to the hills overlooking Izmir- those hills crowned by Kadife-Kale, the ancient “Castle of Cushions”- the crumbling walls of Alexander the Great’s summer palace.
Isabel spoke the first words of the day as they embraced leaning against the balcony’s low wall: “Dahlin, time for you to get dressed and go get us a warm loaf. I’ll have the coffee ready and the peanut butter and jelly 'n some orange juice...” Her smiling, untanned face glowed irridescent blue under moonglow, she was hard to leave. “ How about dates and sweet olives, hunny?” Barney asked, still kissing her.
“Those too.” she said, kissing him back
“We’ll eat on the veranda, okay?”
“Out here on the terrace, dahlin ”
“I’ll get some fresh yogurt too, babaganush, ...” He broke off the kiss. “Umm, whatever.” Isabel said as he padded off.
“I guess I’m lucky!” she smiled to herself walking into the kitchen, “No woman, except ‘Blondie,’ in the comics, gets called ‘Darling’ these days. She recalled they started calling each other ‘dahlin’ and ‘hunny’ the same day they had met Jamal and Shamika, the young African American couple who lived in the apartment above theirs. Before them that kind of lovey talk would have seemed goofy, but after watching those two clutch and merge on impulse whenever they came near one another, after hearing Jamal call Shamika sugary names in his Barry White low register voice and hearing her feminine high, southern-sexy responses both Barney and Isabel came away believing that after a whole year of marriage they were looking on real human love for the first time. They had decided to copy Jamel and Shamika whole. Before that they had modelled themselves on two characters in a 1930’s movie, sporting around in tuxedo and a silk dress. “I think we started our bogus lifestyle with that movie” she thought as she measured coffee grounds. “But don’t knock bogus” she warned herself; “bogus got us where we wanted to go, so far.” she balled her fists for emphasis. “bogus got us diplomatic status, Izmir, incredible salaries, class careers,- prestige up the ass! Bogus is good, she said seriously; it brought us our best friends, Jamel and Shamika - and they say they’re at least as bogus as we are!” She chuckled, thinking about their stories so far.
Both Barney and Isabel had been raised in orphanages; She in New York, He in Columbus, Ohio. They had been ordinary looking, introspective children, not exactly what Mr and Mrs America were looking to adopt, so few of the prospective adopters paid them much attention. Approaching their early teens they each decided to abandon Happy Family ideas and concentrate on their daydreams.
They met by coincidence. Their orphanages had sent them to a joint college prep program for poor kids with decent I.Q.’s. The both of them had scored near-genius on paper and suddenly they were hot property. That drew them together to joke about the stupid irony of the whole thing.
“Adopters!” Barney had intoned in his scratchy baritone, “Dumb bastards missed
having a couple of smart bastards!”
“Are you bragging?” Isabel had asked, she could see the self esteem showing off in Barney’s shining brown eyes. She liked him. She understood that he, like her, was excited about the possible roads their intelligence might lead them on. As the two grew closer they started sharing- first orphanage jokes and stories, then, after awhile, private dreams: Barney wanted to be a CIA operative, nothing less. He felt he had an almost photographic memory, a passion for intrigue, adventure, maybe even danger. Isabel wanted the State Department, the Foreign Service- overseas; she’d read novels about diplomatic colony life. She was handy with languages, loved statistics and economics and learned a lot from the library reference books she’d consumed. As they plotted their plans ran together; they applied to Columbia University for prestige school backgrounds and both received full scholarships. In the year of their Cum Laude graduations they changed their names and they got married. They had heard things about the Agency and the Foreign Service; that they were still “Old Guard” despite all their claims of reform and diversity. A good Eastern school and a good Eastern name still meant a lot...people said. Barney’s last name had been Padgett; they changed it to Barnaby Girard ( Philadelphia Girards...?) Her name had been Isobel Belensky; she became Isabel Chapin, good Manhattan stock. They looked good; she with ginger colored hair and blue eyes, he with agent-short brown hair, deceptively clean cut face, physique buffed up by manic training. When they sat the Agency and Foreign Service exams and interviews they were’nt even asked about their origins - the powers that be had their folders; they may have presumed that two society debs had given away their unwanted babies years before, and those good blood lines had come together nicely on their own. Luckily the background checks, which discovered the legal name changes, came after the agency selection process. They were each contracted and were even assured that they would likely be posted jointly on overseas assignments.
Breakfast: They did’nt eat sitting across the table from one another anymore, now they copied the way Jamel and Shamika jammed their chairs together and sort of reclined together to eat out of the same plate:
“Dahlin’, it sucks you can’t tell me what it is you do all day...” “Shhhh, Hunny, the very fact that I do something all day is classified...” She glanced up at his cheshire cat smile and frowned. “I bring you all the skinny on all the crazy business I handle in Consular Affairs Office... like that incident on May day, when all the Americans in town where supposed to stay off the streets, especially near the radical University district, and of course we got a call that an army G.I. in uniform had struck a Turk student with his car outside the school.. About a thousand Turkish students and street toughs had surrounded him...”
“Yeah , what happened, how’d you keep that from flashing?” he asked. “Luck!, seems the kids wife was with him and she started bitching at him in the street,- ‘he’s a loser, wrecked their last car in Texas...‘- she threw her bag at him and stomped off...”
“And, the Turk men rushed in to cushion the poor guys male ego...they righted his car, -which they’d flipped on its side, even the “injured” guy helped, they patted the G.I. on the back and kept saying “Gecmes olsun!...”
“Which translates to “forgetaboutit..”
“Yeh, roughly”, she said. “You know Turks, they’re like the Americans over here: Unpredictable. Turkey changes people who stay here awhile... alters the DNA, I think: especially in Izmir, which is so sleek and flashy compared to the rest of conservative Turkey. Izmir types drink good liquor, dress like Paris, party at night and love American things - if not Americans in person. And, God, there are thousands of Americans in Izmir; Army and Air Force units, the NATO headquarters, my Consulate people...all with spouses and rugrats aplenty.”
Everyone lived in downtown Izmir, sharing luxury midrise apartment complexes with the Turkish upper and middle class; social interaction between the two worlds came mainly through the black marketing of goods from the PX and Commissary supermarket, and that thrived. High ranking military and civilian officials and their wives did genteel crime with their Turkish and foreign counterparts, exchanging furs, silks, cognac and cigars for cash to build their retirement rocking chairs. Enlisted people dealt in cigarettes, liquor, blue jeans and canned goods through shyster entrepreneurs. Turkish law prohibited US military investigators from operating in the country and although the traffic was officially illegal, only the most inept Turkish detective failed to show a pack of Marlboros in his shirt pocket.
Isabel thought of Jamel and Shamikas apartment upstairs - A shrine to the black market, they called it; a stunning place of handmade white leather sofas and chairs, rose quartz tables, breathtaking oriental carpets: Sarouks, Milas and Isfahans, with embroidered kilim covered cushions everywhere. Not bad for an Army two-striper, Jamel would say when Barney and Isabel visited.
Not bad at all: Jamel’s Public Defender and his Army recruiter back home in burn-out Brooklyn had managed to have certain misdemeanor charges against him go unprosecuted, allowing him to enter the military. Shamika was pregnant with their first child, Marisa, then and he kept his promise to marry her, take her out of her unheated tenement room and bring her to his first permanent assignment. Jamel said they looked so shabby and scared, going through Istanbul airport, that even the beggars looked away, embarassed.
“Look at us now, though!” Jamel could rightly brag. Because after about only six months of Brooklyn-style merchandising and socializing with the “fellas”; cadging and boosting ration cards from nonsmokers and nondrinkers, both of them hustling. Jamel and Shamika had made themselves a power name in Izmir. Normally, junior enlisted families found quarters in far less glamorous apartment buildings, but the two had the money and the ambition for the best. Normally, the Turkish Generals and other old families would not
have tolerated their social class in the building, but word quickly went around that Jamel and Shamika were Muslims. The Turks took pride and pleasure in their presence then; and they were Muslims, at least technically; Jamels Dad had been a firebreather Black Muslim but his children had fallen away soon as they reached their teens. Jamel had remained a “Social Muslim” never foreseeing that someday that might be an advantage. Shamika followed her husband, lovingly, but tended to backslide to Baptist sometimes...
They were the only known American Muslims in the US colony in Izmir and the Turks looked after them like pet cats, helped them shop the bazaars,fed them bits of Turkish and temple Arabic, and showed them off - in cabarets, at their homes, at the Mosques... The Americans, including Jamel’s Commanding Officer, treated them with cautious "Sensitivity".
On their way out of the apartment building Isabel reminded Barney of their supper date at Jamel and Shamikas in the evening. They’d wear their new caftans- Jamel and Shamika relaxed in long slinky-looking caftan-gowns all the time, while they had sat around looking like the Mertzes...
They had learned so much from those two. Learned how blank their own years of living in institutions had left them. Learned about high emotions, watching them argue so heatedly that Barney and Isabel thought the floor would split open beneath them. Then, amazingly, Shamika would approach Jamel, he still silent and pouting - touch his arm and say:
“ Ummm, ain’ had nuthin...”
“Let me get you sumthin’...” And it would be over. They would step in to each other. The meal would be superb, with plenty for all of them. Barney and Isabel had never seen that kind of anger or love or much of anything else in their orphanage and college cocoons. They had dealt with each other and the world on the surface, jokingly, always imitating, always working to learn the rules and abide by them.
They had gone about their lovemaking like happy rabbits - and their sessions had’nt lasted much longer, until Jamel, big brother patient smile on his noble-looking mahogany face, briefed Barney on the rudiments of foreplay, delay and afterplay. Barney taught Isabel and she ran out and proclaimed him a God
-from the balcony - knowing Izmir would’nt hear or care.
Shamika let them in; her pretty, pecan-colored face bright and welcoming. A peach colored caftan clung to her tall lean shape as she oohhed Barnibels new look. (Jamel had contracted their names into ‘ Barnibel’ and it grew
.3 into their nickname.) The room was immaculate and plush; Shamikas maid was one of the best in town. There were about eight other guests but Jamel also came to greet them and draw them into the group.
There was a mix of people attracted to Jamel and Shamika: a Turk with a doctorate degree, Shiraz -Bey, who worked as a NATO interpreter was there with his wife Ana, who was dressed in an evening gown. There was a young black couple, Jamel’s co-worker Reginald and his wife Gladys, both draped in flowing African dashikis, two French tourists Shamika had met on the street came along. Ahmet, Jamel’s black market dealer was there with a lithe belly dancer he was obsessing over. The background music playing was an old Ahmad Jamal record, everyone looked cool to each other under the soft glow of red lighting and burning incense.
Isabel was telling the group about an incident that morning at the Consulate. “This Sergeant from Puerto Rico comes running in, eyes wide as dinner plates, he’s shouting:
‘Theres spies in my building -I must be the target!’, I asked him what happened, he says he was standing on the street before his apartment building, his wife calls down from the third
floor, says something in Spanish, but he can’t hear. After a couple of repeats the little girl of a Turk family sitting dignified on the second floor exchanges glances with her elders and leans down to tell him, in clear Spanish: “Dijo que ‘vayase pa’ la tienda y traiga pan y leche...y da te prisa-bago!” ( “Get to the store and bring me bread and milk and hurry! -you lazy...”)
‘They tipped their hand!” the sergeant cried, they must got lifelong training schools set up for this...’ Isabel said she tried to show the man the wonderful time warp he’d stepped through; that he’d encountered a family of Ladino’s - direct descendants of the Spanish Jews his Spanish ancestors had driven out of Spain in the fifteenth century. The Turkish sultans had given them refuge but over the centuries they had passed their language down along with their culture and religion. The sergeant was’nt buying any of that, Isabel said.
“The dummy ratio in the Army has risen above forty-nine percent...” Reginald said,
so matter of fact it took a moment for everyone to break down laughing at his joke.
“Excuse my US Army, Shamika drawled... we owe a lot to the system. It ‘s been good to my man and me; not just these material things either: I took Marisa on a bus trip with other Army wives and kids to the old Greek ruins at Ephesus, down the coast. Well, the bus broke down and we’re standing around near the well in this tiny village and the villagers are staring at us like we aliens... Anyway, these Turkish women sees Marisa and goes to pick her up, all smiling and stuff - and suddenly one of our group, a white woman from Iowa, or somewhere, ran over and blocked the women from touching Marisa: ‘You Back off!, she said, -give your hepatitis and your TB to your own kind, ladies - this is Our Kind!’
“I guess I had mixed emotions?...” Shamika said. “On the one hand I hated to see the shame on those womens faces as they backed off...Lord, I recognized that... but I’ll admit I never felt so included in being American until that moment. I talked to the other colored girls on the bus and they said about the same thing....’Our Kind’, goddam! -gave me shivers!”
Shiraz-bey and Ana had never been so happy in their married life as they were with the young Americans, both weere from aristocratic families that stretched back into Ottoman Empire glory. Shiraz-bey was a classics scholar; knew Greek, Latin, German; English was his weakest language and Americans thought him fluent. He had left a professorship to become an intepreter for the US Forces because it paid three times the money... that fact haunted him all day as he sat at his small desk in the NATO support facility office. Unless some offficer or sergeant needed a Turkish regulation translated or an explanation of a local custom there was no one for the 62 year old scholar to talk to, nothing to do except reread Islamic poetry verses. When Jamel signed into the unit Shiraz had his mission: young Jamel knew basic Arabic after six years at the strict Black Muslim school his father had sent him to. He knew some Koran passages and enjoyed Shiraz' coaxing him to learn more.
Shiraz introduced him to important locals at Mosque services. Jamel even appeared on the covers of Turkish newspapers, in full uniform, kneeling prostrate with a mass of Turks at evening prayers. Shiraz did whatever he could to mentor and assist Jamel, he had even arranged a wild boar hunt when the men asked him to. Like any Moslem Shiraz was repulsed by the wild pigs,- "Dolmus",that the Americans called Boars and that ranged wild in the Northern woods. But everyone recalled how a jeep filled with beer-brave off duty Army troops had gone into those woods on a night hunt and how the men had barely survived being slashed and gored by a mean-tempered Boar pack.
"I have arranged a guide and beaters for you, he told Jamel, Barney and Reginald. "They will make noises to drive the pack within your aiming range. "They know the bush and I shall go along on the trip to translate."
"Yesss!" Jamel sighed, slapping hands with the others.
This won't be no cheesy rod and gun club outing: this is Man against beast, on the ground, in the dark! The prize: a couple hundred pounds of bacon; theirs or ours!"
The women laughed uneasily; Shamika said: "You bring back one of those monsters and a barbeque cloud will hang over Izmir for a week. That pork will bring big money on the G.I. market - for those of us that don't eat the stuff... Shamikas' laugh was cut off as the room and all Izmir shook from a deep,long,loud rumble.
"Earthquake!" someone screamed.
Shiraz bey, who knew Turkish earthquakes, thought differently..." Not an earthquake, more like an explosion" he said leading them onto the balcony. "Over there, he pointed towards the palm tree lined city boulevard of beige buildings called "Little America" where all the U.S military and diplomatic facilities were located: The Post Exchange,finance and administration units, hospital, Commissary-Supermarket side by side with the Dependent School. Sure enough, a cloud of black smoke rose over the area.
The men, caftans lifted high, ran from the Apartment building towards the area, fearing the worst, they approached the damage scene. It was at the huge US Information library located near the edge of Little America. It's once massive expanse of glass front was a sheet of millions of glass shards along the surrounding streets. A Turkish police captain was at the scene and Shiraz translated for him: "A work of God", he said, breathless, "I had a man on duty in a guardbooth along the side of the building. He reports that a single lightning strike hit the glass, and- you see! How foolish to use that much glass in a country with earthquakes and storms! Allah-Bey!"
Barney moved away from the group, he picked his way through the rubble, whispering tightly into a small recording device he'd produced from somewhere. He also entered the buildings vault room after punching in a code known to him. He shut the steel door behind him.
Barney emerged only to give Frederick instructions to relay to The Consulate. As he turned to reenter the vault Jamel grabbed his arm: "Whats wrong?" he asked, because his friend had on a fierce, intent face he'd never seen. Jamel caught Barneys' quick glance towards a rear brick wall; between damaged bookshelves was a black crater the size of a basketball. Books, once neatly shelved, were laid out in a wide fan patter
with the crater as its nucleus. Jamel saw what Barney knew: There was no lightning strike. Someone had planted a book bomb on a center shelf, perhaps expecting it to explode while the building was alive with students and staff. Barneys thoughts centered on the awesome power of a simple secret act. As he returned to the vault room he gave Jamel a message for Isabel and when Jamel objected to leaving him there alone he said in a chill voice: " Don't sweat for me, pal...I'm very much strapped."
By the next day life was back to normal along Little America boulevard. Groups of GI's, U.S. Government civilian
employees and their wives gathered in the snack bars, bookstores and at the bowling alley had read the official findings about the damage in the 'Stars and Stripes', an English language newspaper:
'A powerful lightning strike' the story said.
"They oughta find the engineer who put up that much glass in a disaster prone spot like this" someone said, to everyones agreement. People in Izmir had lots of time for discussions; It took a newcomer a while to realize that there was no real military mission. There were supply units to bring in provisions, furniture and office materials, there were clerks and cooks and finance people to service and pay motor pool operators, medics and morale specialists but there were no airplanes, bombs or guns. Moreover the Turkish Unions made sure that a Turk performed most work usually done by trained military plumbers, technicians, mechanics, etc. So that the men spent the days in snack bars and on their balconys drinking beer and complaining about the slow loss of their cutting edge skills.
Izmir, being the site of a NATO headquarters, needed the US colony to help provide support for the high level US officers and foreign officials who swarmed the headquarters. In turn, they shared use of
'The Jolly', a luxurious leased grand hotel overlooking the bay, with restaurants, ballrooms, spas and fine rooms at fifteen dollars a night for military and their families.
Isabel told friends about an incident in which some top Admirals and Generals of the NATO countries attended a ball at the Jolly. She recalled how the officers, in formal uniforms and gilded swords, their ladies in long gowns, went walking, in procession, from the bayside up the steep marble stairs that led to the teakwood and brass front doors. Suddenly two drunken sergeants who had started a brawl in the upstairs bar and decided to take it outside, burst through the doors, locked together, and rolled down the broad stairway, bumping against the marble retaining wall, the only thing preventing them from rolling into the bay. Isabel said that immediately, the most powerful men in Europe ran down to pick the two up, examine them for injuries and send them stumbling on their way before rejoining their ladies and the aristocratic procession.
"Izmir", Isabel sighed, "is so weird!"
She worried a little about Barney; since the night of the explosion he seemed pensive, jumpy sometimes. She was glad when the hunt weekend came around; it was good to see him, Jamel and Fred forget work and concentrate on pumping up for their Wild Boar bonding trip.
"Gonna kick some pork butts!" Fred growled. (the men wondered why the women chuckled)
They went off in a Land Rover at midnight, Macho talk died out about two o'clock and by four all of them were nodding off, including the Turkish driver-guide. Shiraz-bay kept him on track as they made their way along unlit bush country roads to their rendezvous with ten hired local village men waiting with lit torches and metal clangers.
Shiraz-bey explained that the guide would send the beaters out in a funnel pattern at the edges of a heavily wooded area known to be thick with 'dolmus'-. Their noise would stampede the beasts towards the hunters, placed at the 'mouth' of the funnel- shotguns ready...'Be careful he warned: the dolmus attack low and fast, if they get beneath a man's waist they'll gore him by thrusting upwards..'. the hunters instinctively covered their crotches with their shotgun butts... But Jamel looked into Barney and Reginalds eyes fiercely: "No Fear!" he shouted. "No fear!" they answered back just as loud.
They separated,they spread out at thirty yard intervals across the imaginary mouth of the funnel. Each was starkly alone and in blackness; could'nt see more than six feet in any direction. Jamel, holding the center position tried to shake off the shiver that only partially came from the chill night air. from the distance he heard the metallic noise of the lines of beaters, saw flickers of their torches through the trees and bush. Then he felt more than heard the thundering hoofs of angry, panicked beasts closing in,
he cocked his weapon and dug his feet into the rough ground. He had a glimpse of red eyes moving, he heard deep rasping grunts as one of the swift herd scented him and moved on him. A soundless scream shook his frame; he could see his attacker- steam rising from its huge hairy grunting mass... only his trigger finger escaped paralysis as he fired a single blast at the red eyes. The boar died instantly but the force of its forward charge propelled the carcass against Jamels legs, knocking him down and filling his nostrils with gamy, fetid stink. "Got mine" he shouted "Got mine!"
Jamel left a lighted flashlight to mark his kill and went looking for the others. He found Fred shaken but successful, standing over his still beast. They compared sizes and settled a side bet before they went looking for Barney. They could'nt find him anywhere.