Sunday, 28 June 2009

Singing My Way Home

The boarding call for the flight from Istanbul to London was more than an hour late. I tried to convince myself that it didn't matter. I told myself that even if I missed my connecting flight to Edinburgh, it wouldn't be the end of the world. I could buy another ticket, it was only money. But the part of me that cannot bear losing money -- a big part of me -- continued to stew and steam.

Another fifteen minutes passed and still the plane did not move. The other passengers began to grumble too. Finally, the plane's engines caught and the plane began to slowly taxi out, but then it stopped. Fifteen minutes passed, then the pilot sheepishly announced that it would be another twenty to thirty minutes before we had runway clearance. There was a chorus of groans. Watches and schedules were consulted for the umpteenth time. Mobile phones were pulled out and anguished conversations engaged in. I busied myself with yoga breathing and my current Turkish language project: learning the İstiklâl Marşı -- the Turkish national anthem.

By the time we finally took off, the flight was over two hours late and I had the Turkish national anthem pretty much word perfect.

I did my best to enjoy the flight. Turkish Airlines has the best airline food I've ever tasted and there was a wonderful chocolate pudding for dessert, though I declined the offer of wine. In addition to my Turkish national anthem project, I even had a good book to read. But five hours later, when we finally arrived in London, my heart sank when I looked at my watch: it was already eight and the departure time was seven. Then I remembered the two-hour time difference: it was really only six o'clock. If all went well, I could easily make the flight!

Then I saw the line at immigration. It seemed to go on for miles, looping around at least eight times. Typically, there were only three officials handling this huge crowd. I gritted my teeth and sucked in my breath and told myself that it didn't matter. But it did. My husband and daughters would be waiting for me in Edinburgh, having driven for hours to get there. They would definitely be worried about me and wonder what had happened. With a sinking heart, I took my place in the queue and tried not to look at my watch.

I was standing directly behind a dozen of the tallest men I've seen in my entire life. I'm not short. I grew up with tall people: my father was six foot four and I've got cousins who are even taller. But I've never seen anyone as tall as the guys standing in line with me. They were all carrying duffel bags and had on uniforms with Turkish flags on them. They were obviously members of some team -- basketball, I'm guessing -- and radiated athletic energy and good health. The shortest one was a head taller than I am. The tallest one was right in front of me; my nose was flush with his elbow. I'm not exaggerating.

Surreptitiously I studied their faces. Turks are an amazing group of people: you can see all sorts of influences in their facial structures. Some look vaguely Chinese or Mongolian, with high cheek bones, rather flat faces, and hidden upper eyelids. Some are swarthy and have Semetic features; some are as fair-skinned as Scandinavians with bright blue eyes and blonde hair. These young men included all types and combinations. I could hardly take my eyes off them -- or my watch. My stomach sizzled as I saw the minute hand sweeping closer and closer to seven.

Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. I swallowed and caught the eye of the shortest young Turk-giant. "Do you speak English?" I breathed. He nodded, surprised. I had half a dozen questions I would have loved to ask him, not the least of which being What team do you play in? and What in God's name did your mothers feed you? , but there was nothing for it: I asked them the question I had to ask. "Would you guys mind letting me go ahead of you? I've got another plane to catch!"

The giant cocked his head and smiled. "It's okay with me." He nudged his friend, the one who could have knocked my nose off my face with his elbow. "Can this lady go ahead of us?" he asked in Turkish. The friend smiled wolfishly. "You may. But what will you give us in return?" A few others were now listening to our conversation. One of them glanced at my passport; I heard the word American mentioned. Another Turk-giant grinned. "Yes, what will you give us?" he asked.

Now I'm not rich. And I'm not young enough that hugs and kisses might have worked with this lot.

I cleared my throat. "Well, I can sing the İstiklâl Marşı for you," I ventured in a tiny voice, mentally grappling for the first line: Korkma, sönmez bu şafaklarda yüzen al sancak. They all threw back their heads and roared at this and my nerve almost failed me. I started to hum the first note. "Next!" the clerk called out. I was saved: I didn't have to sing after all!

The giant athletes laughed and waved goodbye to me with their huge hands. I waved back, relieved and a little sad.

Now I almost wish I'd had that glass of wine.


Charles Gramlich said...

Men the world over. all the same. :)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Very clever thinking on your feet. Had I been in a similar situation and tried singing "The Star Spangled Banner" I would have been immediately banished to the back of the line.

Kim Ayres said...

Extra details in the story than the version you told me last night - then again, there were a lot of distractions abruptly ending lines of conversation. Wonderful to catch up with you again. And Meg did confirm that it was the first time she's had a cat sitting on her lap :)

laura said...

Delays, connecting flights, long lines, is exhausting but I've yet to hear anyone sing while waiting in immigration. However, I'm not going to try it or I might end up in shackles as I can't carry a tune to save my life.
I'm assuming you made your flight.

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- The truth is, these guys would probably have appreciated a little baksheesh, not a kiss. But a middle-aged American stranger singing the Turkish national anthem has to count for something.

Robert -- If I'd really managed to sing, they might have thrown their gym shoes at me. Fortunately, I was miraculously saved by an immigration clerk. And so were the boys.

Kim -- It's hard talking when there's a party going on and I get used to having to trim things down so I don't bore people to death. There were even more details I could have told, but I don't want to presume on the patience of my blog readers either.

I'm glad to know my cat was Meg's starter cat and I hope the cat fur comes off her clothes. (Meg was actually one of my cat's first little girls, come to think of it!) And she's honestly a lovely little girl.

Laura -- I've been practicing the Turkish national anthem for almost a month now and I must admit, I was chomping at the bit for a a chance to sing it, immigration line or no. If I'd had the wine on the plane, I'd have warbled away.

Yes, I managed to make my flight and I'm now in Scotland!

Charlie said...

I so wish that you could have sung for those fellows, just for your description of their reaction.

But after all the toil and trouble of travel, it must be wonderful being among friends again in Scotland.

Robin said...

You rock, Mary! I love that story! I love how your memorizing the Turkish National Anthem paid off so nicely. You earned that bumped up place in line!

debra said...

What a great story, Mary! My husband just asked why I am laughing. Glad it all turned out ok.

Kit said...

Great story! I was agog to know if you'd catch your flight and it was a brilliant strategy. I really am goignt o have to learn more of the South African national anthem now - you never know when these things might come in handy.

Anonymous said...

ROFL! I love this one. Now I'm inspired to work on my Dareja!

Miss Footloose said...

Thanks for the story! I know the feelings, have had similar experiences, but never had to sing for giants! You are very brave. Wish I'd been there and witnessed it and then I'd have a story too ;-)

Miss Footloose

adrienne said...

Oh, you are brave. Love that story.

angryparsnip said...

Great story !

You will have to check the sports section of the newspaper to see if you can find any info !

Hannah said...

Oh mom, they didn't call my flight to Istanbul until 15 minutes before it was due to leave, either! It was terrifying, especially since all the electricity at Erjan kept going off.

I hope you did get back to Scotland okay! I'll try and call you tonight (morning, for you).

Love you all~



Angela said...

Whooo, saved by the clerk! Me, I can't sing--they'd never let me go ahead of them, lol!

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie -- I'm honing it down: no way am I not going to sing the İstiklâl Marşı for my pals at work, whether they want to hear it or not.

Yes, it's great to be back! Too bad we can't stay here longer than a month or two...

Robin -- I swear, I wish I'd sung the whole song now. Just whispering out the first line seems like a paltry achievement to get all this kudos.

Debra -- I'm thrilled I made you laugh. Wish you'd been there to hear me.

Kit -- Ooh, the South African national anthem -- what does that sound like, I wonder?

I have this corny idea that learning national anthems creates international harmony. And even if it doesn't, it can't do any harm, can it?

PN -- I like the sound of the Dareja.

I love learning national anthems; I'm a cheapskate, and a national anthem well memorized is the one thing you can take away from a country that doesn't cost a thing or take up luggage space.

Miss Footloose -- I'm really not all that brave, I'm just giddy and silly.

I really hate butting ahead in line, but this was an absolute emergency. I just hope the references to Americans weren't along the lines of how we always have to be first.

Adriemne -- I'm not so much brave as I am determined to use what I've worked so hard to acquire. Wonder if any of my colleagues will want to hear me sing the İstiklâl Marşı. I sure hope so.

AP -- That's a good idea, but I think that ship has sailed. Maybe I should google the date along with 'Giant Turks'. I've never seen anything like those kids in all my life. A lot were well over seven feet tall.

Han-chan -- Hi honey. I had no idea your flight to Istanbul was so precarious! We're waiting for our first power outage here. I'm guessing it will happen the next time I'm supposed to be online for my writing group.

How's the little boy? Is he behaving?

Angela -- Well, I didn't manage to sing very much. If I'd sung the lot, who knows? I might have missed the flight after all.

Anne Spollen said...

Thinking on your feet -- very funny ! : )

poppy fields said...

Great story...I must remember to memorize the could come in handy.

kara said...

you had me at "pudding". damnit.

Mary Witzl said...

AnneS -- It helped that I'd been singing that song internally from Istanbul to London. I figured it was too good to waste.

Poppy -- By all means, polish up your Marselliaise! There's no better way to hush up some French person who tells you how insular your country is.

Kara -- It doesn't make sense that that their pudding is so good. Airline pudding is supposed to be saccharine and gummy, full of synthetic sweeteners and fillers. The Turkish Airline chocolate pudding is rich and creamy and tastes just like chocolate. Or maybe I'm just chocolate deprived? You'll have to try it and tell me what you think.

Anonymous said...

The giants were probably shocked and reacted/ responded less cheerfully than they would like to... I'm assuming that you went back for the holiday and will be back in fall. Otherwise I'd be very sorry, 'cause I bought some Turkish Language books for you :))

Mary Witzl said...

Anonymous (P, right?) -- Don't you worry: Inshallah, I'll be back! And I've got the İstiklâl Marşı 100% word perfect -- you'll be amazed. When I sing it, I sound just like a Turk. A tired, sleepy Turk with a speech impediment.

Eryl Shields said...

Where are you now, back in Moffs or someplace else? Near enough for cake and chats perhaps, it would be lovely to see you and hear some of your stories?

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I'm e-mailing you my whereabouts (top secret, you know). I'd love to see you and hear your stories, too. And do you have any extra tomato or basil plants, by the way? I'm getting herb and vegetable growing withdrawal symptms...

Barbara Martin said...

Great story, and men act the same everywhere.

I'm doing catch-up tonight with your posts, to be enjoyed one by one with no interruptions. Wonderful stuff you write about.