Since my two weeks of educational vacation in Rome were of such a great personal gain, two years later it was time to go back on the language horse. After many hours in front of the computer screen talking in rudimentary Turkish to a learning program, I decided to give Izmir a shot.
Remembering my schedule in Rome where I spent mornings at exhibitions and afternoons at school, my first choice was buoyant and artsy Istanbul. I intended to split my time exactly the same way I did in the Eternal city. But a quick look at the prices thwarted my plans. Language lessons in Istanbul costs triple the one I found in Izmir. So Izmir it was.
Everything I knew about Izmir was that there is an Izmir. Anything I was able to find on the internet was not very appealing. Izmir was described as big and modern and tolerant – which are unquestionably nice attributes. But big and modern and tolerant alone is not necessarily very entertaining, and the only sight I saw over and over again was the Saat Kulesi, the clock tower.
I was not sure if the clock tower would capture my imagination for two weeks.
In My Hood
Actually, I didn’t even stay anywhere close to the clock tower at the center of Izmir.
I had arrived at Karşıyaka, a borough with lots of very new, for my European eye quite charmless neighborhoods. Practical apartment buildings, few people on the streets – there was a project-feel to it.
Although my homestay in Rome had been a bit on the autistic side, I gave it another try. I chose to be hosted by a Turkish family. Since by then I had only spoken Turkish to a computer, I badly needed a challenge to extended conversations.
I ended up at a tiny lady’s big flat. She shared it with her son who seemed to be in his early thirties. Single woman, adult child – Rome all over again.
It’s not me repeating myself, life doesn’t surprise me enough.
Breakfast is Ready
First school day, first breakfast. “Yemek hazır!” I heard the tiny host mother calling from the kitchen next to my room. I was happy to understand right away the meaning: food is ready. What a head start, this stay promised to be a great linguistic success.
When I got to the kitchen, there was a lovely omelet, there was a small basket with bread, tomato, and cucumber slices on a saucer and one of these oriental glasses of tea. But there were no people.
“You’re not eating?”, I scraped up my Turkish vocabulary. From her answer, I understood that her son was still sleeping.
And with that, she went to the adjacent balcony, closed the glass door and lightened a cigarette.
I was hungry, school was waiting, I dug in. In front of me was a TV set blearing on a shelf behind the kitchen table. A young man, surprisingly hyper for this time of the day, informed the viewers about all sort of mostly very disturbing incidents.
Life Out There
No, wait, one story was really funny. It was about a man getting money at an ATM. While he was waiting for his cash, the shop owner let down the rolling grill without realizing that someone was standing in front of the shop at the ATM. Only hours later the man, still trapped between the rolling grill and the ATM – isn’t that hilarious? – was released by the police.
I found this incident priceless and would have loved to share a laugh with someone. But my guest mother was smoking on the balcony. And probably, my Turkish wasn’t good enough to explain this complex story, anyway.
After school – in my class, there was only one more student, a preppy American – and the first of my almost daily trips to the Saat Kulesi I came home. I eagerly tried to get my host mother involved in some kind of conversation.
My effort remained unrequited.
After a while, I heard her calling “Yemek hazır!”. At the kitchen, I found a plate with chicken and eggplant and a basket with bread and slices of watermelon on a saucer and a glass of water.
But I didn’t find people.
Since she was standing on the balcony smoking a cigarette and I heard a different TV program from the living room, I didn’t bother to ask whether someone would join me.
Life On TV
After all, I had company, anyway: On the TV was some Turkish soap opera on, and – what a happy coincident – a jolly family was about to have dinner. I joined them on my side of the screen.
For two weeks, every morning, the hyperactive young man and at night this soap opera lot kept me company and became a sort of my friends while my guest mother was sitting on the balcony smoking and her son was watching another program in the living room.
Silence Is Golden
The Turkish practice didn’t go as I had imagined, but I cannot say that I didn’t learn anything at all.
Besides the familiar “Yemek hazır!”, I learned very quickly the words yaralı which translates to wounded. Also, I unfortunately learned ölü which means dead. This proves that the show informed their viewers of mostly sad incidents. By then I had learned that it was called çalar saat, alarm clock in English, thusly a well-chosen title for a morning news program.
In order to understand more of what my TV-dinner companions were laughing and bickering about, I’d needed at least two more weeks.
Still, it was nice to see their familiar faces dinner after dinner after dinner.
Out of Izmir
Now some words about the stay in Izmir apart from my lodging situation: Indeed, there is not much of the touristy, exotic kind to see in Izmir but it’s a great gateway to other great places like the lovely beaches on Çeşme peninsula and not that lovely, but very close by beaches at Foça.
For those who are into old rocks and lots of dust, a one hour train ride takes you back in time to the Ruins of Ephesus, and after two hours by bus you reach Bergama with the Antique Acropolis and the even more impressive Asklepieion.
So all in all and especially considering the purpose of my stay, I had a nice time, but after having spent two weeks there, I don’t need to go back to Izmir ever again.
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