Bonjour & Merhaba (From Paris to Istanbul, with Airport Applause)

Paris 009The next day I sleep in. Something I’ve not done in awhile, no work deadlines or trains waiting.

147I grab my almond croissant and cafe. I set out on the Paris tourist circuit. The quiet cool Pantheon, the glorious Arch d’ Triumphe (break for a nap in the sun and grass in the Champs Elysees gardens), over to the Eiffel Tower, I walk home, to feel the strength in my legs and make the most of the sunny day.

I’m done seeing things, snapping photos–I just want to feel it now. Being in Paris. The fun part about not being in one place for too long: you never see the downsides, it’s all roses. And today has been glorious. I return to my little hotel room, exhausted.

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I grab a quiet dinner with my notebook and a glass of wine. A curious waiter looks after me, as I sit and scribble down notes, bits of moments and shreds of conversations, before they slip away forever. He serves me complimentary apertif and dessert, creme brulee. He compliments my French and asks polite questions about what I am writing.

Aside from my waiter, the hotel staff and only a few others, my limited French has been greeted more often with disinterest than not. The Parisians don’t play my game “let’s learn French”. It’s the only thing I don’t like, how hard it is to get through in French, only to be corrected in English, or ignored, only to feel like there was no point in trying. I hate that feeling. Especially after working so hard to learn the little bits and pieces I do know. I walk for a bit, through unfamiliar streets of charming neighborhoods, then finally make my way home.

Istanbul 021The next morning, I grab my last almond croissant and cafe and eat in the park by Notre Dame, watching the man who feeds the birds and let’s them sit on his finger while tourists take photos. Then make my way through Notre Dame and the hush of a Sunday mass.

It’s beautiful and thrilling to be inside a building so beyond description. Mass starts and the ancient halls reverberate with choruses and chants. Listening to it then, there, I felt like I could believe in anything. The ceremony continues behind me. Hundreds sit and rise in prayer. Hundreds others tip toe around them, snapping photos. I stop at Jean of Arc and light a candle, then leave.

An hour later at Orly, she looks at me incredulously. No visa? But you need a visa for Turkey. You cannot travel today. She snaps my passport shut and holds it out for me.

I’m sorry, what?

You must stay in Paris for two more days (because it is Sunday and the embassy is closed), get your visa on Monday then fly out on Tuesday.

There must be some mistake.

I’m sorry there is not.

OK, um…can you reschedule my flight, then?

I’m sorry, I cannot.

I feel sick, she is stone-faced. Two other agents come to her side, and stare me down. I retreat.

I sit. I smile sadly at the baby, sitting in the lap of a massive woman.

I text Namik the bad news. (How did I forget? I swear I don’t remember seeing this…)

I can’t get online. I start thinking about the next few days (hotel X 2 plus expensive taxi X 2 plus flight reschedule….)Istanbul 095

Namik texts me back: you don’t need a visa. you get it at airport in Turkey. Do I need to come and get you?

I jump from my seat, surprising the baby and her mother. I explain in pantomime and poor French that I wasn’t able to fly and now I fly!

Her and her neighbor applaud me and send French well wishes as I run back to the desk.

She glares at me. She calls her supervisor. They call someone else. We wait. There is only 5 minutes until checkin closes when they print my tickets and motion to the gate.

Without a smile or an I’m sorry, or just oopsies! I join a group of men and head-scarved women–so happy to be heading to Turkey, again. It sounds like heaven.

I pull out my Turkish dictionary (and retire my French one) as I wait in line, and realize I’m starting all over again.

Merhaba means Hello.

Bir means 1.

Tes….Tes….Tesekkür edirum means “Thank you…”

After starting the morning listening to choirs in Notre Dame, in Paris, I’ll fall asleep listening to muezzins chant over the microphoned minarets of Istanbul’s mosques. I make it to Turkey for one month of living, steps from the 14th century Galata Tower.