Melissa, Antalya, Turkey


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Marlene Dietrich. The woman who made it okay for us to wear pants instead of skirts. The woman who made it sexy to be strong and assertive instead of frail and helpless. The woman who redefined what it means to be a real woman.

She was so very much ahead of her time, and thank god for that.

Melissa, 34, nostalgically fangirling in Antalya

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Antalya Sunset

This photo was taken yesterday evening from my balcony. Those things on top of the bulidings are solar-powered water heaters— we take advantage of our global warming here. I lived in Texas for 25 years and we never did anything that intelligent with our overabundance of sun. But that’s Texas and this is Turkey.

On days like this I think Antalya is the most beautiful city in the world. We’re directly on the Mediterranean, with a strip of gorgeous snowcovered mountains hugging us to the coast. We have friendly locals and fantastic food (even if it is all kind of same-y, better to have fantastic same-y food than mediocre same-y food, eh?). We have a rich culture stretching back more than two millennia. We have scenery that will take your breath away.

Living here is not always smooth sailing, though. Temperatures in July stay up in the mid-40s (113F), and sometimes reach the low 50s (122F). And this is the third-world— we don’t have anything in our home like your fancy-schmancy Western air conditioner. We just deal with the heat. It gives us something to talk about until October. People are starting to buy air conditioners for their homes, but as that happens, the grid gets frequently overloaded and the electricity goes out all over the city. Sometimes it stay out for hours, sometimes for days. These are things you just have to accept when you move here.

But the trade-off is that the winter is mild and pleasant, and the city is full of things to do. The restaurants here are amazing, though you won’t find countrythemed restaurants— nothing as specifically foreign as “Italian food” or “Japanese food” (I particularly miss sushi). 90% of the restaurants here serve generic Turkish food, kebaps and stuff. It sounds like it would get boring after a while, but somehow it doesn’t. There are enough different types of kebaps that you can change your diet quite a lot just by switching between them. And if you crave something else, you can just make it at home. If I could find sushi-grade fish here (or indeed any other east Asian ingredients), I’d probably make Japanese food at least once a week.

Antalya is a growing city of about 1.5 million, and though it doesn’t quite have all the European amenities of Istanbul (e.g. indoor heating and multiplex cinemas), I’m enjoying watching it grow and develop. We get in excess of 20 million tourists here every year, the second highest of any Mediterranean city. It’s a popular destination, and there’s a reason for that. Pristine beaches, majestic mountains, wonderful people, and a vibrant culture all combine to make a city that I am proud to call home.

Melissa, 34, Antalya

Back in March I covered the Antalya marathon as a member of the press (I love that bloggers are considered press now!). Emirhan and I were both inspired. Later that evening we said that if it weren’t for our plans to be abroad next March, we’d definitely want to run the marathon. In fact, we kind of promised that if we weren’t out of the country at the time, we’d do it. But we knew for sure we’d be out of the country, so there was no harm in making a teensy meaningless promise, right?

Yeah, well, guess what? Those solid-as-a-rock travel plans fell through. So I suppose that means we’re running a marathon next March.

Wow. I’m excited and terrified. I’m near the end of the first week of training, and there’s a huge mountain ahead. I’m keeping track of this mammoth journey so I can look back at it later and feel proud/laugh/cry/whatever.

Right now it just feels so surreal. I’m going to run 26 miles? I’m going to run 26 miles.

Melissa, 34, Antalya

I’m a funny person. Everyone tells me this. I like it when people around me are laughing, and I like it even more when I’m the one who caused them to laugh. So it concerns me that all of my posts here have been of a serious and introspective nature. You guys probably think I’m the quiet scholastic type. No fun to be around. Not up for serious amounts of debauchery.

And then I wonder if the reason you think that is because that’s who I’ve become.

I am 34, not 84, and I’m reclaiming my right to drink all night and laugh all day.

Melissa, 34, Antalya

I remember the day I left my car behind in England. I hadn’t figured out a practical way to bring it to Turkey, and though it was my pride and joy, I resigned myself to the fact that it would just have to stay parked alongside the curb in front of my friend’s house until I either learned of a loophole through Turkish import restrictions, or came up with a better idea. I panicked at the thought of not being independently mobile, but one does what one has to do, and at that point my top priority was getting myself to Turkey. But I knew the car would have to follow soon, of course— how could I live without driving?

But less than a year later, I reluctantly agreed to sell the car to a mechanic in England after my friend reported that the car was wasting away in its parking space, and it wasn’t getting any younger, and it would have a happy life as the mechanic’s wife’s daily transportation. The mechanic agreed to take on all the repair costs, and still gave me more than a fair price. I felt a pang of sadness, but I knew that I could make better use of the cash than I could of a car rotting on the side of the road on another continent. So I sold it, and to be honest, I didn’t think too much more about it. It didn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected.

I’m two years on from the sale of the car now, and I’m to the point where I can’t remember why I ever thought a personal vehicle was a good idea in the first place. Losing that car may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.

Like most Americans, I learned how to drive young (Dad took me out for the first time when I was about 14), and I got my license as soon as it was legally possible, followed by my first car soon after. For my parents, it spelled the end of sixteen years of having to drive me everywhere— school, the mall, choir practice, dance classes. For me, it was a right of passage I felt was absolutely god-given— I mean, what kind of loser doesn’t have a car? Come on, seriously. I’d heard stories of places like New York and London where subways were convenient and people took the train or the bus to work, but as far as I was concerned those places might as well have been on Neptune. This was San Antonio, and you went nowhere if you didn’t have a car. So of course, I had one.

Even when I moved to England, I never got the hang of alternative modes of transport. They had buses and trains and stuff there, but they were even more expensive than the cost of running a car, so it made sense to me to skip the inconvenience of being at the mercy of the city bus schedule and just get a car instead. So I did. And other than a precious few park-and-ride experiences, I don’t think I ever used public transportation in England. Why on earth would I do that when I could just take the car?

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an eye for an eye

The responses to my blog post are still rolling in furiously two days later: “Hooray for you for defending yourself!” “That’ll teach him— we girls aren’t easy targets!” “You should have kicked him in the groin, too, not just in the face. He deserved what he got.” “He didn’t give you a choice. You did what you were forced to do.”

I’m shocked and saddened. These same people, almost all of whom would condemn the death penalty or even corporal punishment on the basis that violence in response to violence is neither appropriate nor beneficial, have now rallied around me with their virtual torches in support of what I’m coming to realise was the lowest moment so far in my spiritual development. I didn’t get half this amount of comments when I posted that I had finally graduated from university after a ten-year struggle. I guess personal achievement is not as popular as revenge.

Let me be clear about what happened: I was not defending myself. The man was not after me, he was after my phone. At the point when I made the choice to kick him in the face, he was not attacking me, and in fact he was not even facing me. My phone had fallen out of my hand when he hit me, and after that he was scrambling on the ground to retrieve the phone, not the least bit interested in what I was doing. If it were my safety I was worried about, I could have taken the opportunity to run away at that moment. Instead I turned toward him, kicked him square in the middle of the face as hard as I could, and when he fell back I grabbed my phone from the ground and ran away.

So even after all those NLP anger dissipation courses and what I thought was years of progressing away from my indoctrinated eye-for-an-eye cultural upbringing, it still seems that when put in a situation where I don’t have time to think, my snap reflex when wronged is to lash out and punish. That worries me much more than the possibility of ever being attacked again. I thought that reading the words of other women who had gone through the same thing might help me come to terms with what I’m feeling, but most of the women I read about are now afraid of men or afraid of going out or afraid of dark streets. Me, I’m afraid I don’t know how to control myself.

When I talk about “the attack,” people always assume I’m talking about the man’s attack on me. But I think it’s safe to assume that what he did came from a place of immense desperation and situational anguish. He did not wake up that morning with my name on his lips and a personal vendetta. So what’s my excuse? I chased after him as much as he chased after me, and it didn’t take much provocation. I thought I was in a better spiritual place than to literally kick a man who was already down in every sense of the word. His life was at a low enough point that he was willing to punch a human in the eye over a fifty dollar phone. And apparently I am at a low enough point that I am willing to kick a human in the face over the same fifty dollar phone.

Most women who have post-attack trauma say that when they close their eyes they can see flashes of their attacker coming after them. Me, I see the moment when I was already fifty metres down the road and glanced back to glimpse the man I kicked still lying on the ground. My heart aches every time I think about it. I’m very sorry for what I did. It wasn’t right. Sure, what he did wasn’t right either, of course, but that doesn’t give me carte blanche to go around kicking people’s faces in. It was not my proudest moment.

Being a grown-up is hard. I’m trying to accept what happened and learn and move on.

Melissa, 34, Antalya, Turkey

Antalya

Yet another cloudless Antalya day is coming to a close, and as I listen to the sound of the evening call to prayer, I think a lot about the possibilities ahead of me. Most certainly I am at a very tangled crossroads right now; most of the things that were certainties in my life two weeks ago have been reduced to a series of very wobbly question marks. But I crave adventure, always have— I’ve been told more than once that I tend to sabotage perfectly wonderful stable situations because I’m not happy until things are all up in the air again. Perhaps there’s some truth to that. Over the past ten years, three continents and thirteen nations have endured my ferocity. Perhaps by the summer it’ll be fourteen.

As I type this, the evening has turned to rain. So much for the cloudless day.

Amazing how we know nothing, and yet we manage.

Melissa, 34, Antalya, Turkey