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Entries in Turkey (11)


Reading These 5 Writers Will Make You a Better Person 


Peter Matthiessen

In Saudi Arabia, I was still trying to make sense of the insane thing I'd done in America. Which was to quit a perfectly good job at Rolling Stone, pack a bag, and walk from New York City to New Orleans. My wife and I had given that Louisiana city a try, staying for a few months in a rambling shotgun house by the race track, drinking and eating and walking around, but in the end it had made sense, I suppose, to move to Riyadh, capital of the world's most Islamic country, itself a custodian of the religion's two holiest sites. 10 thousand miles from anything I knew well, I'd wander the dirt paths of the sprawling compound we called home, dark and windy on the city's western edge, and I felt as disconnected as I ever had been before. I was trying to be a good husband. And an American. And soon enough, I'd be a dad.

The book that resonated with me most then was Snow Leopard, the late Peter Matthiessen legendary account of trekking through the Himalayas to find the reclusive cat. More than a record of physical hardship, the book is a long mediation on pain and suffering and perseverance. Why do we do hard things? It's not just about the steps he takes through the snow, but about all the moves he's made in his life up to that point -- the choices big and small that found him alone, away from his children and with a dying wife, trekking in search of something that didn't want to be found. The copy I had was a friend's, illegally photocopied in some stall in Nepal. The cover was fraying but the writing inside was gorgeous, subtle, and much better than anything I could do. I still haven't written about that walk to New Orleans. But when I do, a copy of that book will be on my shelf.

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In Defense of National Airlines


Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: How can 239 people just disappear? I fantasize about the plane itself: What it looked like, the color of the seats, the food. Will I ever fly on Malaysian Airlines? Will anyone ever want to again?

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Swimming Upstream: A Memoir in Pools


Because I loved the water and because I moved all the time—in search of what, I wasn’t yet sure—I found that swimming laps was a good way to get somewhere without booking another ticket. Wherever we were, I’d search out an open lane, and sometimes I’d surprise myself, encountering the person who emerged on the other side. You could learn a lot with your eyes closed.

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I'm afraid of Virginia Woolf: On war movies, adolescence, and the 50th anniversary of Albee's masterpiece


Last year, my oldest friend, Dave, was serving in the US military at a base in southern Iraq, where rockets rained down near his trailer, driving his roommate to hand-build a wall made from paving stones and water bottles around their bunk. My wife, meanwhile, had accepted a job in Baghdad, where projectiles took paths close to where she slept. In the meantime I made a home for us in Istanbul, the closest reasonable city, where I could raise our young daughter. The situation wasn’t ideal, but it’s the one we had. Alone for weeks at a time, I’d think about growing up in Florida with Dave, meeting my wife in Asia, moving to New York, then lighting out for more difficult terrain. I’d pour myself a stiff drink, wondering how we’d all gotten here: Was life at all what we may have imagined, or hoped for?

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Citizen of somewhere


Before the memorial for the fallen journalist, I stumbled down the hill toward the church, hungover and hungry.

Consider the falafel sandwich. At under $2, it was my obvious move. But I was sick and sad, and the kids behind the stove looked like 12-year-olds who should have been in school. An alarming percentage of children here work instead. The last time I bought a falafel sandwich, the guy ahead of me had a growth on his face. It was so big I worried he might tip over, face-first, into the grease. 

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Right into the fire


My daughter is bawling, red faced, legs held ram-rod straight.

Loretta was born in Saudi Arabia, turned two in Turkey, and we've just moved to Lebanon. In a stroke of luck, we found a rare flat in a stunning French Mandate house. But until our boxes arrive, the place is empty, echoing.  

I reach out to touch Loretta's head, assuming she's hot again with fever. But maybe it's something else.

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Life near the center


Last summer, my wife became NPR’s correspondent in Baghdad. I couldn’t join her there, so we decided I’d move to Istanbul, with its cobblestoned streets, abundant fresh food, humming nightlife, and gleaming airport.

We weren’t the first journalists to discover its charms. At a rooftop party a few weeks after arriving, I encountered some of the other media people based here. A pile of sausage was tended by New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, who gestured with tongs at Ivan Watson, the CNN correspondent. They both covered conflict, same as Dexter Filkins, author of an award-winning book on Iraq and Afghanistan, who lounged on a carpet and cushions. The lights sparkled on the Bosphorus and I watched as Imma Vitelli, an international writer for Italian Vanity Fair whose travels take her from Mogadishu to Milan, embraced Peter Kenyon, another Middle East correspondent for NPR. Tipping back a cold beer, I basked in the presence of so much achievement.

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The cannibal birds of Burgazada

THE AWL - 24 JUNE 2011

We saw the island as sun dipped below the hills. I hefted luggage onto the dock. My wife Kelly, who worked in Iraq, had flown to Turkey, where I was raising our two-year-old daughter. We'd planned a week's stay on Burgazada, one of seven islands a short ferry ride from Istanbul. I was excited.

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Leaving Egypt, with regrets: The evacuated students of Cairo


The other day, 19-year-old Dylan Sodaro was in line to register for classes at American University in Cairo. The Egyptian woman processing forms asked Dylan if he was Jewish. All week, people had been taking to the streets to criticize Hosni Mubarak, widely considered a friend to America and Israel. "Won't this hurt your people?" the Egyptian woman said. Dylan shrugged—at this point, he wasn't sure what the protests meant.

On Thursday night, the eve of the largest gatherings calling for Mubarak's resignation yet, a friend of Dylan's named Will was having a party. Dylan retreated to a bedroom with his best mates, Matthew Scarvie, also 19 and from New Mexico, and Gunnar Dancer, a 20-year old from Minnesota. It was very early on Friday morning when they made it back to a shared apartment they rented—a block from Tahrir Square, ground zero for the protests. The friends called the apartment "The Aviary," because of the birds they kept on the balcony. "They're probably dead now," Gunnar said.

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Blood in the water


On New Year's Eve in Istanbul, I make my way from the seaside enclave of Beyoglu across the Galata Bridge. The gauntlet of fish restaurants lining the bridge’s lower level are gaily festooned for the holidays; white tablecloths are starched and a big flounder is laid out on ice. A foursome of fleece-laden Germans take their seats, while a mustachioed Turk frowns and smokes in a too-slim, hastily stitched Santa outfit.

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Fitness for Foreigners


Here in Istanbul, where I swim laps at a university health club, time in the pool looks a little different than in New York: A pear-shaped boy prefers the deep end, where he sinks to the bottom, twirling slowly, floating gaily back to the surface to bob and splash. Then there are the two bronzed women who emerge from the locker room in flowery towels. Wearing the briefest of black bikinis, they slip long limbs into the far lane, dog-paddling daintily to and fro, painted toes barely pushing the water. In the center lane, a thick man in his 40s dives in, sending tremendous waves skating around. He swims furiously, nearly drowning us, his hairy arms thrashing. But two laps later, he's standing in the shallow end, soaking, massaging his vast upper body, smiling. I smile back, then continue swimming, getting nowhere fast on another day far away from home.

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