Thursday, 8 July 2010

City Of Surprises

Istanbul is a city of surprises.

It was the cherries that first captivated us. We were stuck in mid-day traffic, the sun blazing down on our taxi. It was so hot, my thigh and shoulder were fused to my daughter's and I ached to peel off my sticky clothes. The hotter it got, the more we all started to dream of beer and ice water and air-conditioned rooms. When boys started darting in and out of the traffic hawking sweating bottles of water, we were sorely tempted. But when the boy with the cherries showed up, we all reached for our coin purses and tried to get his attention. He didn't seem to see us sitting there, stalled in the traffic.

The longer we waited, the better those cherries looked. They were piled high in a wheelbarrow, glossy and red, and the boy, who couldn't have been more than ten, doggedly pushed them in and out of traffic, his voice hoarse from crying his wares.

"I'll bet there's ice in that wheelbarrow," my oldest daughter said. It really looked like there was. The boy had stuck small green branches in among the cherries, perhaps to keep them cool. I was thirsty and hungry and tired and hot, all in one. I'd stayed up all the previous night packing and cleaning. I hadn't gotten any sleep at all on the plane, which arrived two and a half hours late. I'd missed dinner the night before, and breakfast had only been half of a small sandwich and a glass of water.

"They're dark cherries," my daughter observed longingly. "They're not those bland red ones. These look really sweet."

The boy pushed his cherries past a store with hundreds of brightly colored scarves. Women clothed from head to foot in black swished past him. They looked hot, but no hotter than we felt. We watched as the boy negotiated the uneven pavement, deftly dodging other fruit hawkers with piles of oranges, chunks of ruby-red watermelon, boxes of bright green apples. The taxi inched another five feet through exhaust-scented air. The boy with the cherries was making faster progress through the traffic than we were.

We all stared open-mouthed at the pyramids of oranges, the wedges of cut watermelon, the piles of apples. We passed a shady garden with lush, green grass. Someone had scattered what looked like crumpled cellophane of all different colors over a patch of the grass. For a split second I was incensed: how could anyone litter in such a beautiful place? And then I realized that it wasn't cellophane; someone had planted a ring of flowers in that spot: crimson, gold, purple, and blue. There was a flash of silver and red and the wheelbarrow laden with cherries creaked past us again, the boy straining and sweating behind it.

Even through our exhaustion, hunger and thirst, we could see that we were in an incredible city. Our last trips to Istanbul had simply been to change planes; now we were entering as real visitors. We caught our breaths as we drove past the crumbling city walls on our right and the Sea of Marmara a cool, shimmering aquamarine on our left. We watched as the boy with the cherries disappeared into the crowd, taking his mouth-watering merchandise away from us.

That afternoon, we bought apples from one vendor and chunks of juicy, chilled watermelon from another. We drank cold, freshly squeezed orange juice and walked through the cooling dusk past sprawling mosques with gold-tipped domes, and churches and terraced gardens shaded by sprawling grapevines. Violins competed with the call to prayer and the scent of jasmine and roses filled the air as we strolled along cobblestone streets. When we talked to each other in Japanese, some of the shopkeepers interrupted, in Japanese: "Isn't that Japanese you're speaking?" In one short morning, we met at least a dozen Turks who were very fluent in Japanese. But we did not see any more cherries.

In the evening, my daughters almost cried with joy to find a Korean restaurant not two blocks from our hotel. We ate bibimbap and kimchi and tofu and cabbage soup, and staggered home so full we could hardly stand the thought of breakfast. On our way back to the hotel, we saw two more Korean restaurants. Who would have thought there could be three Korean restaurants in Istanbul, all within walking distance? But we did not see any more cherries.

The next day, we visited the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace. It was fiercely hot, so hot that I got addled and forgot to collect my backpack from the security check at the entrance. I spent a miserably uneasy two hours wandering around the palace, lining up to see the sultan's treasures and the relics of saints, trying not to think about my cell phone, my prescription glasses, and the 250 Turkish lira in my wallet. Just as I'd begun to give up hope of ever seeing my bag again, I remembered where I'd left it. I could have kissed the security guard who handed it back to me. But I did not see any more cherries.

When I checked my email back at the hotel, however, I found a message from an agent expressing interest in my writing. I wrote back to him and he wrote back to me, and I got the call: an offer of representation. I've been waiting for just such an offer for a long time, so I won't even bother trying to explain how euphoric and grateful I felt. For the better part of a decade, I've imagined getting the call, but never once did I expect it to come to me in an Istanbul hotel room with trains trundling past and people selling cashmere shawls outside. I held my hand over my ear and tried to concentrate. I hoped the agent wasn't getting an earful of the trams trundling past, the hawkers outside screaming, "I make very cheap for you, pretty lady!"

After dinner, we found a boy selling cherries. They more than lived up to our expectations.


adrienne said...

Great news with a cherry on top! What a wonderful story.

Vijaya said...

Mary, you are a wonderful storyteller. It's the best "I got the call" story. Love it.

Carole said...

Woo Hoo. Such awesome news. And you are a great storyteller. You are a great writer and I love it. Very good.

Robin said...

Oh, yay, yay, yay!!!! Love it! This will make your travels that much sweeter! Major congrats!

AnneB said...

Gad, what discipline. Waiting until the next to last paragraph to announce your news. I am in awe.

I mean, it was a great story in itself. I could almost feel the heat. But oh, that finish!

Robert the Skeptic said...

I wonder if that is where that expression came from: "Life is just a bowl of cherries".

You make it sound true.

e said...

Your life sounds better than a bowl of cherries...Congratulations!

Mary Witzl said...

Adrienne -- I'm still half in denial that it's happened. I just know tomorrow I'll be weeping over revisions, fighting my kids over internet access.

Vijaya -- Thank you! As you can imagine, I've lived for this day, but I never really expected it to come. I've still got a long way to go, but it's great to have crossed at least one hurdle.

Carole -- Thank God these years of ceaseless rejection have humbled me. I've kept my first horrible manuscript and given my family instructions to stick it under my nose should I ever show signs of getting a swollen head.

Robin -- It has! We got terribly overcharged at a restaurant, my kids are tired and grumpy, and my husband's angsting about our bus reservations and how much money we're spending, but I'm still floating along on cloud nine.

AnneB -- Well, you know how this works. Once you've waited ten years to get The Call, you've gone all zen inside.

I wonder where you'll be when you get The Call? I can't wait to hear!

Robert -- Cherries can come with worms, mold, and blight of course, but they're still cherries. And right now they're pretty sweet.

e -- Once in a while, good things actually clump together this way. All too often you get the opposite situation, so I'm going to milk this dry.

Kim Ayres said...

Well now we have to work on a new "Author's photo" for you :)

Anne M Leone said...

Yay, so happy for you! What a great story! Though now I'm really hungry... =)

Kit said...

Great news, I'm so glad for you and after ten years you really do deserve it. Cherries and all.

Luna said...

Congratulations on the offer!
Your post today was so gorgeously descriptive.
I actually felt that heat, and envisioned the colourful fruits.
Thanks :)

Eryl Shields said...

Holy cow!!! I didn't see that coming, I was just hoping you'd eventually get some cherries. Congratulations!

Marcia said...

Great story, and though the agent is the big news here, I swoon for the FRUIT!!

AnneB said...

Gad, Kim, you are so right. We gotta get Mary in front of a photog who will make her look as edgy like those other McVeigh authors.

With a kitty, of course.

Ello said...

Mary - I am so freaking happy for you!!!!!! It's so awesome! And I can't wait to hold your signed published book in my hand because you are an awesome writer.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I can FINALLY use the one you took now that I've got my foot in the door!

You thought this was going to happen for me eventually, didn't you? I still have the sneaking feeling I've just managed to hoodwink the people who believe in me, but I still didn't turn that offer down.

Anne -- I wish I could send you some of the cherries in my bag right now. We bought too many for a bus journey last night (I keep getting the Turkish words for 'one' and 'two' mixed up) and after 2 kilograms' worth of cherries, they aren't quite so enticing.

Kit -- Frankly, I wonder what the I've been messing with, taking this long to get an agent. But I've always been the sort of person who passes milestones years after everyone else, so considering that, I'm bang on time with this.

Luna -- I've longed for a good offer from an agent as passionately as I wanted those cherries. So many things we look forward to in life turn out to be let downs, but I doubt I'll ever forget the good feeling that The Call filled me with.

Eryl -- I didn't see it coming either! Two other agents had the full manuscript, but I really wondered if I'd ever hear from them. And I hardly dared to hope that the one who called me would read it and actually like it. (I'll post his name as soon as I've figured out how to sign an electronic contract. Or as soon as I've gotten the nerve to tell him I don't know how.)

Marcia -- I swoon all the time here at the fruit! We left Istanbul yesterday and as we drove past the city walls, we passed a man with a huge cart laden with pineapples, bananas, apples, watermelon, cantaloupes, cherries, pomegranates -- you get the picture. I DID swoon and my daughter had thoughts of hijacking the cart.

AnneB -- Whoo...Kim will have his work cut out for him, transforming my comfortable, middle-aged self into a cool, edgy writer type.

Ello -- THANK YOU! You know what this trying-to-get-published struggle is like, don't you? But until I actually sell my ms, I won't know whether I've laid an eagle's egg or a big, fat dodo's.

Kim Ayres said...

That feeling is universal, Mary. I was chatting with someone the other night about how I keep expecting someone to point out all I do is snapshots. She used to be a concert musician and said she kept expecting someone to turn up and say, she couldn't really play very well and people had just been being kind.

As for the photo, my photography has improved since then so you can keep that one is reserve and we can try for another one :)

Anonymous said...

I love this whole post! And I'm so happy for you! You certainly deserve it and I for one can't wait to read your book! :)

Anonymous said...

I felt like I was there... I cannot tell you how good it feels to see that my dear friend got the "special" news she'd been waiting for in such a "special atmosphere".
I hope the twelve-hour journey went well, and I just can't wait to hear what you think about İzmir.

Carolie said...

Hurray--an agent with good sense finally! Squeeeeeee!!

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I'm glad it isn't just me. Maybe we should go to one of those seminars where they show you how to cope with success?

I'm glad you don't mind doing another portrait session with me! My face has weathered that extra little bit in the past two years and God forbid I should miss out on representing that in my author's photo. I'll make us some good French roast coffee and we can take another turn around the garden to see just how bad the slug damage is. (Remember that? :o)

Elizabeth -- Thank you so much for that. From reading your blog, I know I'll want to read your book too. When you're back in the States, you'll have good, cool Oregon weather to write in!

P -- Thank you!!

As you know, I'm head over heels with Istanbul. But the best shoe store in the world is in Izmir and the man who runs it doesn't speak a word of English or seem all that bothered if you don't buy his shoes. He praised M's Turkish and sold us four great pairs of shoes for only 100 lira. And the fruit here makes me want to weep, it's so fresh and beautiful.

Carolie -- Thank you for believing that, my dear! He really does have good sense, but I'm crossing my fingers that I won't be his big exception.

Rose said...

Congratulations...I love your writing and am very happy that you have been recognized for your talent.

angryparsnip said...

Had the same thought as Erly,
I thought at the end of the story the little boy would be outside of your Hotel selling cherries... but your ending is so much better...

A Big Cheer..... parsnip

Pat said...

Sorry Mary - it must be the heat. I put my comment on the previous post.

Blythe said...

Cherries. I will think of you when next I eat a cherry.

Marian Perera said...

I don't know what to congratulate you on first, Mary - the cherries or the offer of representation! How wonderful. :) Well done to you.

Falak said...

woohooooooo!!!!!!!! You deserve it Mary! Better late than never:)Congratulations and best of luck.

Mary Witzl said...

Rose -- Thank you so much for saying that. (Yokohama Rose, right? I've lost your email address!)

Parsnip -- I liked that ending too! And after that day, we saw people selling cherries all over Istanbul -- in fact, all over Turkey. I'm full of cherries now.

Pat -- Thank you for your congratulations! The heat makes me do all sorts of daft things, but I've left the wrong comments on the wrong posts when the weather is perfectly fine.

Blythe -- Oddly enough, cherries feature in my book. From now on, cherries will taste like success.

Marian -- I was pretty thrilled to have both cherries AND an agent, though after two weeks of traveling and eating every cherry in sight, I got a little sated. The thrill of having an agent will never get old, though.

Falak -- Thank you! I'm not sure I do deserve it, but I'm taking it and running with it anyway.

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