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January 09, 2011, Sunday

Some things never change

The other day I saw a lame man limping across the street when a car turned the corner. The driver slowed down but also honked his horn. The man with the limp practically fell down trying to jump out of the car’s way. İstanbul is no town for dawdlers or daydreamers.

A friend asked me how I found time to write a weekly column, and I remembered how the poet Robert Frost answered a similar question: “Like a sneak I stole some of it, like a man I seized some of it -- and I had a little in my tin cup.”

Time, time, time. My younger sister who is the head nurse in a trauma ward, takes care of critically wounded people. She says that a fighting spirit in the patient really makes a difference, that she does her bit by being kinder than necessary.

An old drunken man is in a Scottish bar asking for a last drink, one for the road. The barkeep knows that one more would kill him, so he gives the customer a wee cup of cold tea from the kettle and wets the rim of the glass with whiskey. The old sot takes a sip and crumples around his drink, “Bless you, son.”

I looked into my old journals, opened the volume for 2003 and saw that I had written about İstanbul developing and getting richer: Bağdat Caddesi changes so fast, all the shops changing, new cafes opening and last night so full of people. But it’s all consumerism, places to buy stuff. I guess that is the human condition.

A week ago I reminded my friend Robert of a story he once told about seeing Sting perform at a benefit concert. He said, oh yes, but couldn’t recall the event. Now I know, for I recorded it in my diary. The benefit was an auction party for the Rainbow Trust, held at the Natural History Museum in London. The façade of the museum is all terracotta animal figures, very wild, and they lit that up with torches and then had women dancing all along the raised walkways by the head of T Rex.

Theme of the night was -- GOLD. Robert borrowed Alexander the Great’s amulet from a film production and his wife wore a gold top. A friend’s father bid 30,000 pounds for his daughter Robbie to go to Los Angeles in a small movie role. Jose Carreras and James Brown performed, but in between someone proposed that Sting, sitting in the audience with his wife, sing a song for charity. The bidding closed at 100,000 pounds, and Sting declined a special mike and sang without backup, a capella. Robert said it was amazing, that the song was not a simple one but all over the place. Then poor James Brown had to follow that act.

I see that I wrote of the birds waking me up one morning for the thousandth time with their race day twittering. Mostly swallows I could hear, individual notes fading round the track, my building and some neighbors, while others clear and still the spectators. I don’t know what that means.

Later that day, I took a 99 bus from Eminönü up the Haliç towards Balat to go to the launching of the Renault Mégane sedan. Commuters packed the bus, and one man told me to stand by the door, that it would be easier to get off as Balat would come up soon. The event itself slowed traffic, so it took longer than he thought. At the Unkapanı bridge junction an elderly man at the bus stop directed the driver to the curb then got on at my door, the middle one.

He passed his companion’s ticket forward, then word came back, finally through the young man next to us that he hadn’t shown his own pass. The old man got miffed and asked, “Who are you?” He showed his retirement pass to the young man, but refused to send it forward. Everyone let him go, a “tip,” that is a certain type of individual standing out in the transit of our obliging mass.

Some things never change.

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