When I told my rather over-protective mother that we were going to Turkey I could count on her lack of geographical knowledge to not know exactly where we were going. It is a very American thing to not know where anything is in the world. We all came from somewhere else and in the getting of here, we purposely left it all behind. It’s why we fled in the first place: to forget. We are a nation of amnesiacs.
Sweet little blond lady that she is, she admitted straight off that she didn’t know where Turkey was. “Right next to Greece,” I explained. And left it at that.
I come from a family of worry warts. It’s like we were all dipped into a river like Achilles – only our dipping didn’t make us invincible and strong. In our family, we get dipped in the River of Anxiety. It makes us prone to hand-wringing and imagining the worst. Our loved ones dead in a ditch. Our loved ones getting on an airplane that’s doomed to crash. In our family, every time we ever say goodbye – after dinner, after spending vacation time together – we are predisposed to imagine that we’ll never see our loved ones again. Perished. Gone. Goodbye. Finito.
So each goodbye has long been fraught with watery eyes, a face rigid with panic, an attempt to swallow down fears and be brave for just these last remaining moments while our loved ones head off into the great unknown – usually a 10-minute bike ride away, sometimes a four-hour plane trip, more often just an hour’s drive north. “Be sure to call when you get there. No matter what time,” is the last remaining wish. The part unsaid: “So I can sleep and not stay up all night worrying about you being dead in a ditch.”
Telling my mom that Turkey borders Iraq and Syria and is underneath Russia was out of the question. This is why Google Maps was invented. It can do what I cannot.
Coming from a family of worriers, I’m long familiar with the spiral thinking that comes with it. The trick is to know all sorts of things are possible but unlikely – and then to do it anyway.
There is a great big world out there after all – full of breathtaking scenery, lovingly prepared food, big-hearted and beautiful people, and captivating rich histories. It’s just that I keep going back to Italy. All told, I’ve spent about a year of my life there. I’ve wandered around Greek temples in Sicily, watched the Pleiades from an ancient amphitheater near Trapani, felt shipwrecked on Capri, walked around Rome in the middle of the night, woke up next to a fountain in Florence, and in general, fell in love over and over and over again.
But the world is a big place and there’s plenty to see. I’ve always wanted to hear a muezzin make the call to prayer. It seems romantic and exotic and timeless all at once. I’ve never been on two different continents while still in one city. I’ve only ever seen the Mediterranean from the Tyrrhenian side of the sea. Stand under the stars from anywhere else on this earth than where you started and you’ll never be the same again.
How easy it is to get trapped in a rut, to do the same things, see the same people, say the same things, eat the same food. You become your own vinyl record, sealing in your own grooves, never varying away from the spiral that will ultimately meet at the hole in the middle. And start skipping. And skipping. And skipping. Until the needle is lifted and the whole thing comes to a stop. The end.
Groove – you can find one and be in it. You can get stuck in one and never get out. If you’re not careful, you get to a point where you don’t ever want to.
Going to Turkey is a grand act and not just because it’s not Italy. I don’t know the language. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know how to ask for directions. And it’s in an area of unrest that Google Maps can’t explain. But like my mom said, “Go with new eyes so that everything is an adventure again.” Like Italy was the first time I went, when I fell in love with all of it. Especially the great big world.