I wake a few minutes before the ezan that calls the faithful to pray, amplified by speakers in the spires of the Ottoman mosque across the street in this neighborhood of shiny things - rings and necklaces, earrings and bracelets - laid out by the thousands on the jewelers' tables that are open day and night. I can smell the Bophorus. From the terrace, I watch launches and ferries and huge big-bellied container ships plying the double currents of this strategic passage between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and, beyond it, the Mediterranean.
4:17 a.m., Istanbul time. Not a bad time to reflect on what it required to get here. I left early for my home airport less than 36 hours ago, before noon on Wednesday. A good thing too, since they told me at the airport that my first flight was seriously delayed and I would never make my connection from Newark to Geneva. I suggested a change of itinerary, and managed to get the last seat on a flight to Washington-Dulles where I could board a different flight to Geneva that should enable me to make my original final connection, Geneva-Dulles.
So far, all good and familiar. My antennae were twitching because I have noticed that whenever plans get scrambled, the Trickster comes into play. We want to be alert to the nature of this energy in our lives. The Trickster can be our devil if we are set in our ways, bound to plans, unready to improvise. When we are ready to expect the unexpected and turn on a dime (or something less), however, the Trickster can be a very good friend.
Time for a beer and a snack at my local airport bar, where I am greeted by a familiar friendly face. Bonnie, the bartender, is a world traveler. "Never been to Istanbul,: she says, pumping the pale ale. "I'd love to go. But what I really want to do is go back to Tasmania. Tasmania is to die for."
"I know," I allow. "I died in Tasmania when I was three years old." She knows that story.
Just a dozy young geek with headphones for rowmate on the puddlejumper to Washington. No likely story here. We are slightly delayed, and further delayed when we are made to wait on the tarmac for a personage known as a gate agent to wave us down the steps of the little Dash propeller plane. The gate agent takes 25 minutes to appear, while we stand swaying in the super-heated cabin. It's 95 outside, 115, maybe, in the cabin.
Sweat rolling down my face, I am finally released to hurry from the end of the A concourse to the end of the C concourse at the vast Dulles airport. This requires taking eight escalators, several moving walkways, and a train. When I get to my departure gate for Geneva, the last passengers are boarding. I sink into my seat on another plane that was not in my original itinerary with a sense of gratitude. What next?
What's next is a fellow who is not quite falling-down drunk but certainly falling-over-himself drunk. He's been talking to relatives on the plane. He hands me a plastic cup of snacks to hold for him while he finishes lurching around in the aisle. When he tumbled into his seat, he immediately pulls out a couple of small airline bottle of wine and a vodka miniature. "I hope you don't mind," he breathes stale alcohol in my face. "They don't serve drinks until after takeoff."
Now he is chugging red wine, from the bottles. "I had five wines in business class on my last flight," he confides with a dreadful leer. "And a couple bottles of champagne."
This guy seems to be a serious wino. He starts pouring out his life, including his current travel plans to visit Italy to see the country of his ancestors. As I take another hit of wine-breath. I suddenly have the strong impression of some of the dead drunks this fellow is drinking for. Chief roisterer among them is a big hunk of sausage who calls himself Gianni. He worked as a stevedore - I see him wielding a crowbar, not only on the job. He loved to help out with making wine in his family village. I see his big,dirty feet stomping as they press the grapes.
My rowmate's ramblings are becoming exhausting. he is venting his opinions about everything and asking for my agreement. Then he asks, "Are you going to Istanbul of vacation?"
"My life is a vacation," I tell him. Then I decide to give it to him between the eyes. "I have a date as Death in Istanbul. I am going to guide people into conversation with their dead, and on a journey to explore what awaits them in the afterlife. Best of all, I am going to help to embody their personal Death. They will be required to brave up to Death and submit to his interrogation on how they have lived and not lived their lives."
The wine drinker turns pale. His eyes roll around in his head. His lower jaw drops to his collarbones. Then, rallying himself, he orders champagne from the flight attendant. When it comes, he adds a hit of vodka and a variety of colored pills.
"Salute," I say. "But you know Gianni prefers red wine."
Conversation languishes. By popping Ambien into his cocktails, my neighbor manages to knock himself out for an hour or so. The price for me is that, in his sleep, he shoots out a leg or an elbow, making it impossible for me to protect my physical space though - after picking up some awful, despairing images from the dreams he rarely remembers - I am moved to ward my psychic space.
Not as much fun as I'm used to, this eight-hour flight to Geneva on the wrong plane.
During the long layover at Geneva airport, I admire a Barclays Bank add that borrows the image of Sekhmet, who was a very powerful and challenging presence in my Dreaming Like an Egyptian workshop last weekend. I wonder what is Sekhmet's investment strategy, and what price she may exact from those who borrow her numen.
My rowmate on the last flight is wearing a sweatshirt with the state map of Tasmania and the name of the state blazoned in huge letters. He's a young, sporty Swiss male. "Have you been to Tasmania?" I ask. "No. But a friend has. I don't know why I am wearing this today."
Ah, but I do. I died for the first time in this life in Tasmania, aged three. After I was pronounced dead from pneumonia in a Hobart hospital and then revived, to general surprise, one of the doctors told my parents, "Your boy died and came back." Thus the title of my new book, my nonfiction spiritual thrilller The Boy Who Died and Came Back. Hence my license to play Death in Istanbul, and elsewhere in this world of ever forking paths.
photos (c) Robert Moss