how I fell in love with a gorgeous
blonde at a circumcision party
in Istanbul, from
my humorous travel memoir, Bright
Sun, Strong Tea. (The
previous episode is Divine
coming to Istanbul in
July. Will you be around? Can we
get together?" she asked in her letter,
which I read with trembling hands.
I had occasionally been a lonely
bachelor in college, I was five times
as lonely in Istanbul all the time.
a Radcliffe girl I had dated a few
times in college, was for me the
Impossible Dream, a girl too beautiful,
smart, well-bred and personable ever
to fall into my arms. Would I get
we get together? By osmosis if
was traveling with a friend, and
asked if I could meet them at the
hear all these stories of young women
arriving at the airport in Istanbul
and being abducted by local romeos," she
hurt my pride that she wasn't afraid
I'd abduct her. Was I not a romeo?
Apparently not, or at least not as
titillatingly sinister as a Turkish
arrived on the daily Pan Am flight
from New York on July 20th.
I dutifully met her and her friend
at the airport and escorted them
to their hotel, leading them bravely
through the surging crowds
of Turkish romeos who thronged
the arrivals terminal in their imagination.
next evening Olivia and her friend
came to my apartment. I served them
drinks and a simple dinner, and we
sat on my balcony, talked, laughed,
and non-looked at my non-view of
the Bosphorus. It was delightful,
but her company only made me want
more of her company. As they were
getting ready to leave, her friend
went off to the bathroom and I asked
Olivia if she'd like to go to a party.
Not just any party, a Turkish sünnet (circumcision)
party. Not just anyone's circumcision
party, the circumcision party for
the son of Yener, Istanbul's King
of the Hippies.
loved the idea!
his unconventional hippy sympathies,
Yener was a good family man with
a comely wife and stout nine-year-old
son. Before Olivia arrived he had
invited me to his son's sünnet, and
I had accepted.
is minor surgery in which the foreskin
covering the head of the penis is
surgically removed. It's done on
many male babies regardless of religion
to enhance cleanliness and prevent
infection, but it's a religious requirement
for Jewish boys at birth, and Muslim
boys of nine or ten as a right of
passage into puberty.
it's a cause for great celebration
similar to confirmation or first
communion for Christians and bar
mitzvah for Jews. Before the operation,
the Muslim lad is dressed in a special
fancy suit of white satin with
red decorations and paraded around
the town with all his friends and
relatives to the strains of wild
music often provided by a live band.
After the operation, which only takes
a few minutes, the proud parents
host a big party for all their relatives
had never been to a sünnet party
so I wasn't sure what to expect,
and I couldn't describe it to Olivia
either, but I felt sure that whatever
a sünnet party was it would
be bettercertainly no worsewith
a gorgeous blonde on
my arm. I took a bus to Sultanahmet,
picked up Olivia from her hotel,
and took her by taxi (damn the expense!)
party was in a spacious function
room at the Beyaz Saray, a big multi-purpose
building facing the tall stone gates
of Istanbul University. We entered
the building, followed the music
and found two bands, one Turkish,
the other Western, tables laden with
food and drink, and most surprising
of all Yener the hippie cookshack
owner dressed in a suit. When
he saw us he rushed over, his face
split in a wide grin. He hugged us,
shook our hands and pulled us into
Masallah! Look, it's Tom Bey!
And who's this? Olivia? Olivia
Hanim! Hos geldin! Hos geldin! Come
meet my wife! Meet my son! Come!
Come! Eat! Drink! Dance!"
high-ceilinged room was filled with
Turkish men in conservative suits,
Turkish women in stylish dresses,
and a disreputable-looking handful
of hippies, regular customers from
Yener's restaurant dressed in tattered
jeans, buckskin and beads. Yener
had invited some hippy friends out
of the goodness of his heart and
the traditions of Turkish hospitality.
They looked about as comfortable
as transvestites at an army
and I got in line and paid our respects
to his son, a sweet boy who lay in
a fancy brass bed under a satin coverlet
on one side of the dance floor looking
vaguely in pain, shyly happy and
mostly bewilderednot all that
bad for a nine-year-old who had just
had the tip of his penis
whacked off by a bearded
old man muttering holy formulas.
A table by his bed was cluttered
with gifts. I was supposed to have
brought a gift! How was I to know?
I grabbed a gift off the table behind
my back, whipped it out and showed
it to him before placing it gently
back on the table. He smiled. We
moved on to the buffet and drinks
tables laden with goodies.
of Yener's beans-and-rice here! Dozens
delicacies covered the
Turkish band took a break; the Western
band struck up a dance tune. Yener
rushed over to us.
Dance! You must dance!" he
exulted, dragging us onto the floor
and pushing us together. A few
Turkish couples were dancing but
the floor was mostly empty, a state
of affairs which Yener obviously
considered reprehensible. The band
was playing! This was a party!
Dance! Yener would have danced
for us but I wanted to make my
own moves on Olivia.
years of childhood lessons which
I cordially hated, or perhaps because
of them, I am a lousy dancer. My
sense of rhythm is entirely intellectual,
and it translates only awkwardly
into physical motion. Luckily Olivia
didn't seem to mind. Actually, it
was pretty nice holding her slender
waist even while shuffling like a walrus
in a swamp. In fact, I soon
forgot I was a walrus. Nothing mattered
except the feeling of her waist in
my right hand and her fingers in
my left, and the mysterious communication
coming from deep within her eyes.
danced. We ate and drank. We knew
no one else at the party. Most of
the others were from Yener's extended
family, and spoke only Turkish. The
hippies looked more lost than we
did. So we chatted as best we could
over the loud music, and I drank
in as much as I could of Olivia.
was a good sport about all this.
After the first half hour and a good
scoping of the scene it must have
been flat-out boring for her, but
she exhibited relaxed fortitude,
which only made me want her more.
She was patient, strong, serene.
Actually, I was ready to leave too,
breathless to find out what might
happen between us after we left the
party. The only thing holding us
there was Yener and our debt of courtesy
to him, but after a few hours had
passed we decided the debt had been
paid and it was time to go. We found
Yener, thanked him, said our good-byes.
No! You can't leave! The party's
just starting! Eat! Drink! Dance!
You can't go!"
danced. Our feet got tired, then
more tired, then turned to lumps
of aching flesh. By now the walrus
had cut a wide, ugly swath through
the swamp and was ready to rest on
his rock. It was getting late. It
really was time to go.
we seriously wanna get outta here, we're
gonna have to dance out the door," I
whispered into Olivia's delicious
here to order an autographed
copy of the book online with
credit card or PayPal.
from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong
Tea copyright © 2004, 2005
by Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)
Excerpts from Bright Sun,
Sun, Strong Tea Photo
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