Not enough to move me from my firmly middle-class and conventionally monotheistic roots, but enough to give me an enjoyable frisson, a little cosmic jolt, an indiscreet sense of intrigue.
The ancient and magnificent city of İstanbul has often been referred to as the “Navel of the World,” mostly for the cultural, historical and artistic merits of our precious jewel. Those merits surely apply to the whole Anatolian peninsula to a greater or lesser extent, but because of what it is, İstanbul is the distillation of 100 cultures' spirits and energy. People from all over the world, in İstanbul for a day or a year, seem to feel this pull of -- what? Romance, history, music, beauty, danger, noise, tulips, roasted chestnuts? All that for sure, and more, but my personal opinion is that all those things are touchstones for the real mystery the old girl presents to those who are lucky enough to be open to it -- synchronicity.
Merriam-Webster defines synchronicity (in part) as “the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events. ... that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality.” I am sure there is a scientific reason for this syndrome that simply hasn't been discovered yet, just like déjà vu -- I don't accept the “illusion” explanation for that very real phenomenon. Like the “miracle” of electricity in the old days, the cause and effect simply have yet to be identified. Granted, a scientific explanation will take away some of the romance (the movement of electrons isn't nearly as satisfying as Jupiter's having lightning bolts made to order by Vulcan), but that is the way of the world. Without further ado, allow me to share my own two (currently) favorite İstanbul synchronisms:
If I hadn't wanted my old friend Virginia to spend the money from her late husband's insurance policy before other sticky hands got it, I wouldn't have gone on our church's tour to Turkey and Greece (I paid my own way). If we hadn't landed at Atatürk on 9/11/2001, I might never have seen the overt kindness, public grief and total hospitality Turks are capable of extending to strangers. Having been welcomed so warmly and compassionately, as the US was changed forever, I had no choice but to return the next year to see if it had really been magic I felt in Turkey or merely wishful nostalgia. If I hadn't got three other women to come with me (the rest of Virginia's money had been stuck to the sticky hands), one of them wouldn't have discovered and booked the Ambassador Hotel in Sultanahmet for us. Had that not happened, I would never have met the handsome young man who worked in a nearby travel agency, and fallen deeply and foolishly in love. So that's the beginning -- if Chuck hadn't died and left his wife a little legacy, I wouldn't have met my future husband. Got it?
That same trip, while my romance was still a big secret, I returned from a jaunt to the Med and my first Blue Cruise, and sitting in the lobby of the Ambassador was a couple from England, awaiting their transfer to the airport, whence they would return to the UK. We had a memorable chat; the couple was Barbara Nadel, the crime novelist, and her husband, who have since become dear friends. Promising to keep in touch, like people who meet on the road always do, I wished them bon voyage and hoped I would see them again. Barbara was in İstanbul a few months later on business, and had some books for me, which she delivered to the nice young man at the travel agency, although she didn't know he was my intended; I had referred him as someone who wouldn't mind holding on to the books for a while. Needless to say, my fiancé and Barbara got on famously, and I was jealous of both of them, seeing each other while I was so far away.
I came shortly thereafter, and was duly married to my handsome prince, and soon after became addicted to Barbara's novels, which are set in İstanbul. While we were living in California, in 2005, her very spooky “Deadly Web” was published. I noticed in the dedication the name of a village -- Göreme, in Cappadocia -- where I knew my husband had worked while he was in university. I showed the dedication to him, and he recognized two of the names from Göreme -- his former boss at a hotel there, where he worked for two years, and her daughter! They had been great friends and are to this day, and I am glad to say I am now friends with the woman and her daughter, as well. So, California meets London and Erzurum in İstanbul. London and Erzurum already know Göreme, who happily reunites with Erzurum. London visits California, Erzurum and California visit London, and everyone visits Göreme and is fast friends. I don't know about you, but I found all this amazing, although I am getting used to it. And to think none if it wouldn't have happened if poor Chuck hadn't passed away, back in Trabuco Canyon, California!
Strange and amazing events
More recently something even stranger, in some ways, happened. In May 2011, we met a nice man in İstanbul from New Zealand, who I'll call William. We were involved with him on some business for a week, and were both really impressed with his dry humor and remarkable intelligence. We encouraged him to return to Turkey when he had some time to relax and really see some of the sights. He eventually took us up on our offer, and came this past August during Ramadan, accompanied by his partner, who I'll call Cynthia. It was Cynthia's first trip to Turkey, and we liked her as much as we liked him. Both Cynthia and William are originally from Australia, so one day I was telling them about my only visit there, for 10 days in 1976 (I must have been merely a child!). A memorable event of the trip was when my then-husband and I were kidnapped on the steps of a museum in Sydney by a one-armed journalist and spirited away into the Australian evening to his home in the suburbs, where we were held hostage and made to eat marvelous food, drink good Australian wine and listen to this guy's terrific stories. Having told this anecdote a thousand times, I barely missed a step when Cynthia asked what his name was. “I don't remember” was my reply, and a few sentences later she interjected “Was it ‘Sinitti'?” “No,” I replied, still going strong; “I think it started with a ‘Z',” not yet realizing what had happened. “Yes,” says Cynthia, “Zanetti. Jules Zanetti.” “That was it! Jules Zanetti!” I finally realized that this lovely little woman from New Zealand, originally from Australia, and I, from Kocaeli via California, had known the same person in the same place at the same time! Cynthia had been a young college student back then (she is an accomplished internist now) and was very close to Jules' wife and children. So in this scenario, California goes to Australia and meets Sydney, who is friends with the future Kiwi, who doesn't meet California then. Ms. Kiwi moves to New Zealand and meets Mr. Kiwi, who comes to İstanbul on business and meets California, who now lives in Turkey. A year later, both Kiwis come to Turkey and meet California, who made friends, on her only trip to Australia 36 years ago, with Sydney, the old friend of Ms. Kiwi, who would never have met California if Mr. Kiwi hadn't come to İstanbul in the first place.
Coincidence? I don't think so. There is a perfectly logical explanation why such a string of events could connect two unrelated women, who met because one of them met the other's partner in İstanbul, with a one-armed journalist from Sydney, not to mention for a couple from different worlds to have friends in common even before they meet, from two or three different continents. And did I mention that the friend in Göreme is also from New Zealand? For some reason, these things happen quite a lot to friends of mine and to me, and we all think they happen more often and more extravagantly in Turkey than elsewhere, and especially in İstanbul. That, or we all knew a guy named Chuck that passed away some years ago, in Trabuco Canyon, California, may he rest in peace, or maybe it's all just -- İstanbul.
*Elsie Alan lives in Gebze with her husband.