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Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine Themes #2: FLYING ON A WING AND A PRAYER


Each time I  fly off into the rising sun, I am reminded of another flight I took some years ago. Although these trips I have plenty of money in my pocket, that time I was really "flying on a wing and a prayer" in what was to be an unforgettable magic carpet ride.

The adventure began in the winter of '75. I had recently split with my boyfriend. I was feeling melancholy that night my friend Rosalie invited me to the disco. I certainly was not looking for romance.

It was toward the end of the evening when the handsome young man asked me to dance. Although we didn't speak at first, there was suddenly magic in the air. he projected warmth, and something very special. Strangely, even before he said his name, I knew it. "Hakki."

He was Turkish, a Chief engineer on a Turkish ship. He spoke English well having been educated in the best marine officer's college in Istanbul. He was a small, dark man with a flashing golden smile, an athlete (marathon runner) and a career merchant seaman, an officer and a gentleman. We danced together for the rest of the evening and at the end of the night we could hardly bear to part. We fell in love that night. For the next two weeks we spent all our time together either at my house or on his ship.

I was welcomed on board by the Captain and crew and treated respectfully as an honoured guest. The Captain, who reminded me of my literary hero Ernest Hemingway, invited my friends and i to dine in his private galley. he was very much concerned about Hakki and me, in a fatherly sort of way. "What are you two going to do?" he wondered. Everyone knew this was the beginning of a big love story.

Then the day came when Hakki was leaving the ship to fly back to Istanbul for his leave. It was a difficult farewell, bitter sweet, but not without hope. Coincidentally, a week before I'd met him, I had gone to a travel agent intending to purchase a ticket to Guatemala to return to the villages where Dan and I had spent three months the previous year. On an impulse I booked a flight to London instead. England in February? At the time, I didn't know why I'd done that. Now I know it was my destiny and in fact, the decision may have saved my life because a devastating earthquake destroyed those Guatemalan villages right about the time I would have been there.

So I said goodbye to my beloved Hakki, agreeing to meet him in London the following month.

When I arrived in London, Hakki called and suggested I should come to Istanbul instead. he wanted to show e his city and some of the historical places on the Turkish coast. I decided to travel to Istanbul on the Orient Express train (me and Agatha Christie) and while I waited for my money to be transferred from Canada, I went off to Wales to visit my cousins.

While in Wales, I got a call from my friend in London. Hakki had sent a cable. "Don't wait for your money. Come now. i have signed on a new ship and must leave in 10 days."

I rushed back to London, booked a one-way flight to Istanbul with borrowed money, and wired Hakki to say I was arriving Saturday morning. I had no time to prepare myself for the adventure that lay ahead. I set off with only five Pounds in my pocket, on a one-way ticket to a city I knew nothing about, a mysterious city far away to the East, flying on a wing and a prayer to the Orient.

This was Istanbul during the time of "the Midnight Express" and the very first attempted plan hijackings. As we landed, I saw that the airport was completely surrounded by army tanks and heavily armed military police. The airport arrival building seemed to be only a Quonset hut. Hundreds of men milled about staring with their intense eyes, speaking a language that was impossible to translate. I had no idea of where I was or what I'd do if Hakki wasn't there to meet me. At that moment I realized how frivolous and possibly dangerous this escapade was. Supposing he wasn't there? What would I do? the Canadian Embassy was far away in Ankara. The five pounds I had in my pocket wouldn't even get ma a taxi into the city and a hotel for the night. I pushed my way through the crowd, breathless and terrified. And then i saw him! I ran to embrace him, relieved to be safe in his arms. He seemed taken aback, a bit reserved. Later in the taxi he explained that it was forbidden to publicly embrace and kiss in Turkey. "But anything goes in private," he grinned.
Those days I spent with Hakki in Istanbul were the most memorable of my life. There are so many moments I can never forget and often I can project myself into his apartment to relive those times. Each time I make Turkish coffee, I remember that first day in his kitchen when he was showing me how to mix the coffee and sugar, fill the little briki with water, then watch carefully til it bubbled up. And each time we'd be in a passionate embrace just as it bubbled up and boiled over. I remember watching gypsies with a dancing bear on the street below his apartment. I remember all the nights he held me close, nights I never wanted to end.

He took me everywhere, treated me like a princess, lavished love and attention on me, showed me every aspect of his magnificent, mysterious city. I fell in love with Istanbul and the Turkish people and most of all with Hakki, my Prince Charming.

Finally the day came for me to leave. I don't know how i got through the departure gate at the airport without bursting into tears. Both of us were torn apart by my leaving. I walked away from him bravely and took a seat in the waiting room. A strange man came and spoke to me, pointing to the departure gate. Hakki was still standing there, so I ran back and embraced him one last time. This time I couldn't stop the tears.

I cried all the way back to London, but I vowed I’d see him again somehow, some day.

We kept corresponding for several months. I still have the letters, the tender words "you are an estimable woman". I had wanted to have his child, but it was not possible so all I was left with were the precious memories.

Some affairs are never meant to be anything more than beautiful fairy tales. Eventually the letters stopped, but my memory of him, my love for him, never faded to this day. He taught me the tenderness of unconditional love. He restored my faith in romance.

I can still remember very clearly all those days in Istanbul: eating yoghurt for the first time at a small cafe by the Black Sea; wandering thr9ug the Topkapi palace in awe of all the treasures kept there; the Grand Bazaar where he bought me a beautiful maroon velvet shirt and embroidered slippers.
I left a piece of my heart in Istanbul. Some years later, when I was living in Athens, I went back there to visit. I was sitting in the coffee shop at the Topkapi museum and suddenly looked out on the palace gardens. At the moment I realized I was sitting in the exact place I'd sat with him. My memories of Hakki were everywhere and they still live in my heart.

Since then I've been to Istanbul three times, also Izmir, Cesme, Bursa, The Princes Isles on the Marmara Sea where the Byzantine princes had their summer villas. I've visited Assos, where Aristotle had a school, and Troy and Pamukalle where turquoise cascades flow over limestone cliffs.

Once at my favourite donair kebab shop in Kusadasi, a man joined my table. He said he was a sailor on leave from his ship, an officer, from Istanbul I said I'd been to the officer's club there, because I had a friend who was a sailor. he asked me my friend's name.

"Hakki Sarikaya."
"I know him," he said. "He doesn't go out to sea now. He inspects ships in the port.' He asked why I didn't try to contact Hakki. But ten years had passed by then. It was too late.

In my jewelry box is a small gold locket. Inside this locket is a pressed violet. I still recall the cold, windy March day that Hakki bought me the violets from the little gypsy girl. Whenever I see violets, I remember Hakki. And each time I have gone back to Turkey I think of him

Hakki and me in the night club in Istanbul.
In the corner is the little gold locket with the pressed violets he bought me.
Post note: A couple of years ago I was at a media dinner for Turkey and sat next to the tourism agent who reminded me a lot of Hakki. I told him this story. He was so moved by it he insisted he would try to find Hakki for me when he returned to Istanbul, and give him a message.  After some time, he actually did track Hakki  down and spoke to Hakki's wife (of course, by now I knew he'd be married!)  He gave her the message for Hakki that his friend from Canada sent greetings.  For me that was a beautiful closure to a real love story!

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