It’s gone. I didn’t notice its absence until last week. And I didn’t take enough time to savor it.
Here I was, pleased to be back in Istanbul after a brief trip to the States. When I walked outside one morning and noticed that my shoulder and neck muscles no longer tensed up, I realized that I was finally at ease here. That at-home feeling, fought hard for during these past months, had finally arrived. But as I continued down the hill without the jolt of elation the picturesque old houses and sea views usually bring, I realized, a little sadly, that my comfort had come at a price.
It turns out that the cost of my calm, the wages of my new serenity, can be measured in wonder. Now that I am relaxed and feeling content, I am less likely to experience that transcendent “wow,” that feeling of amazement and disbelief that I, Susan Black from Falcon Heights, am living in one of the world’s greatest, most glamorous cities. Yes, the peaks and valleys of the expatriate experience are bound together; one is a necessary condition for the other.
I hated last year’s loneliness, disorientation, and most of all, its cluelessness. But I think those troublesome emotional states served a purpose. I am pretty sure that it took long days cooped up in a stuffy apartment, the weather outside so humid it made me dizzy, to appreciate standing in the breeze at the mouth of the Black Sea, Europe on my left and Asia on my right. And a solitary Sunday trek to the—surprise!—tightly locked Grand Bazaar led to a foot-dragging detour — and a discovery that standing in a mosque created by Turkey’s genius architect, Sinan, is like floating inside a sirius cloud on a sunny day. All those weeks of not knowing my way around? Well, when I was finally able to guide friends successfully through this magnificent city, I felt like a conqueror.
Yes, both frustration and exhilaration were regular companions during my early months here, but it turns out that both are like the bubbles that dance madly on top of a fizzy drink. They quickly exhaust themselves on the placid surface.
So what do I have now? A list of places to visit around Turkey: some will surely dazzle. Plans to return some of the Turkish hospitality we have received: we must, finally, be grownups here. Ideas for much-anticipated visitors: with them I’ll grab some vicarious thrills.
We have built the sober structure of a normal life.
I can’t go back to those days last summer and fall, and I guess I don’t want to. The incompetence alone was excruciating. All that wonder is simply too expensive to invite back.
But it was great while it lasted.