Thursday, June 2, 2011

My teacher, my enemy--Miss Peacock of Istanbul

The Gürsel companyt that ferries Ms. Peacock to her roost.  No, as one friend asked, they are not like the pick up trucks that take migrant workers to the fields.

Let me be brutally honest. There is a side of me--rearing its ugly head more and more these days as the end of school draws tantalizingly near--that absolutely despises Istanbul—the traffic, the trash, the horns. Call it ‘culture shock’, call it humbuggery or sourpussery, call it sociopathic tendencies—whatever the explanation is, venom has been circulating in my brain fairly frequently lately, and it really gets going whenever, at 6:30AM, after insufficient rest and coffee gulped down as I run out the door (forgetting either keys, my computer, or once, even a shoe) I climb on the service bus to school—the trusty number 46 which brakes and charges and brakes again the entire forty-five minutes to work. (Woe is he who has a hangover). It is kept hermetically sealed in all types of weather—people here have a bizarre terror of air.

Number 46 is driven by the intrepid Mehmet, who is infallibly red and bleary eyed every morning and can barely sputter out a ‘Gunaydın’ when I board. He makes me sit in the front seat next to him for some reason—the foreigners cat-bird seat, I reckon, as a couple of my other foreign colleagues are similarly situated by their drivers.

I spend my entire ride in the front seat scowing and mocking everyone in the back—cussing as we crest Çamlıca Hill and the breathtaking view of the Asian side of the city emerges from the sunrise fog, the Marmara Sea glittering like shredded silver. And rolling my eyes in fury as we reach the Bosphorous Bridge, where the number of cars surpasses the legions of damned that will be dumped duly into hell once Armageddon finally arrives (the date pushed back to October 21st, or, if your posse is the Mayans, December 2012).


Well, the main source of my ire is a woman I call Miss Peacock—mainly in tribute to the way her hair fans out around her head, but also for the mother birdy way in which she treats her eight year old daughter (who also rides with us) which is, namely, as if she were managing a very fragile but talkative egg—the last of its kind, delicate, on the verge of extinction, which must be guarded against disturbances and disasters of all degree and manner—and the usual tool of Satan is moving air. Yesterday, the red level threat was a deadly draft from an open window on the driver’s side—Mehmet had uncharacteristically cracked it. But Snookums was a little ill and the wind might give her le grippe and could Mehmet please turn on the heater even though it was approaching 78 degrees outside? It was for Snookums. (Snookums herself gives a feeble little cough and says ‘Mommy, I’m so cold.’

Snookums. Why the silly nickname? It’s hard to translate the barrage of pet names Ms. Peacock fires at her offspring. It runs like this ‘Canım benim, kızım, ne oldu aşkım?’ Which translates literally as ‘My soul, my daughter, what’s wrong, my love?’ It makes the Anglo Saxon blood in me curdle.

Today Snookums’ destroyer was the dust. ‘Mehmet,’ Miss Peacock says in that breathy, consumptive-aristocrat tone she likes to use. ‘You must really have a professional clean the inside of this van. My little Snookums can’t tolerate all this dust. It gives her allergies.’ As Miss Peacock says this, she pats Snookums cheeks and makes a kissy face and Snookums herself responds in an appropriately tubercular dying-any-day-now breathiness. ‘Mommy, my eyes are getting itchy!’

‘That would be too expensive!’ Mehmet protests.

This is how I imagine Miss Peacock, only with the skin color of a Saltine
And Snookums adds, ‘My eyes are burning Mommy!’

My theory is that Miss Peacock frets over Snookums to have something to talk about. On the whole, if the woman is remotely concious, her mouth is moving—which is why the mornings can be relatively peaceful, for she often sleeps, especially in the depth of winter when the darkness of our 6:30 journey keeps Miss Peacock, as it does with most birds, soundly and dormantly asleep. I have proposed that Mehmet, on these brighter almost-summer mornings, drape a cloth over her head as one might a parrot’s cage, to trick her into sleeping longer, for alas, with the light comes wakefulness, and with wakefulness comes the never ending chatter. She doesn’t even stop to breathe—and that’s no exaggerating. Rather like a trained musician, she has worked out a method of wheezing at the end of her sentences which enables here to take in breaths without actually having to stop talking. Whenever she laughs, she uses the opportunity to suck in particulary deep draughts of air, just as my ney teacher taught me, a kind of Tuvan throat singer circular breathing, right through the nose so that mouth movement need not cease.

Sometimes to keep the empty conversation flowing, she asks Mehmet questions, peppering her sentences with his name, even using it as bookends. ‘Mehmet, why is that car stopped in the median. Huh, Mehmet?’ Or ‘Mehmet, where is that truck going in such a hurry. Mehmet?’ To these he usually replies, ‘How should I know?’ But then, she’s not really interested in the answer. It’s just a launching point for more talk and more questions. I think she might use the driver’s name so much because the airy H sound in the middle enables her to take extra breaths when she talks. For example, yesterdays 6:30 am conversation went like this.

‘Mehmet, are you taking a different way today? Mehmet? Oh no, this is the same road. I didn’t recognize the McDonald’s. Is that new, Mehmet? Where are those men walking, too, Mehmet? Did his car break down, Mehmet? Or maybe he is walking to the bus, Mehmet, but it’s not legal to cross the road like that, is it Mehmet?’ The use of his name is rather like a musical rest.

I am scribbling this furiously into my notebook on the service bus at 6:47. For some horrible reason, Miss Peacock is not asleep today either but perkily chattering to whoever has bumbled into her line of vision. Her egg snores soundly beside her covered with a variety of jackets because, despite the 79 degree weather, she must be incubated properly.

The Dalai Lama says our enemies are our greatest teachers. From them we learn patience. Well, Miss Peacock, I may be your greatest student, or just a cranky old man, but I have yet to learn my lesson.


Anonymous said...

ahhh sounds very similar to my old ex-landlady. I bet her husband spends large amounts of time at tea houses.

Anonymous said...

She sounds hot.