The Scent of Shoestrings

Danielle Mutarelli

Copyright 2005 by Danielle Mutarelli 

Photo of a woman pouring coffee.

 "The Scent of Shoestrings" is from a series of sort of successful solo travel adventures Danielle experienced in her twenties.

 I looked around the patio and saw what I already knew to be true. I was alone. The sun was shining but the air was cool. I don't think I'd ever felt so lonely.

I'd traveled to Turkey by myself as an adventure, as a challenge. Before I'd left a friend had asked me, "Do you enjoy your own company?"

At the time I'd wanted to impress him so I stuck out my chin and answered, "Sure."

But now I wasn't so sure. Up until this little detour down to Antalya traveling by myself had always meant meeting up with other people. It had never been like this. I'd never had to go it on my own.

In Istanbul, where I'd landed, I'd immediately met up with two Australian girls and a South African woman. The South African woman, as luck would have it, had lived in Istanbul for several years and spoke the language. For the next few days this woman became our angel tour guide, weaving us in and out of the city, escorting us to less touristy bath houses, finding us the best bargains in the market.

Istanbul had been glorious. Istanbul had been easy. Then I'd come to Antalya.

I was lured by the talk of beautiful beaches, enticed by its boasting of itself as the Turkish Riviera. I came to float in its turquoise waters. I came for a tan. I came far far too early in the season.

Instead of getting golden I got a cold.

But Antalya had more to offer than beaches. It was a treasure trove of archaeological sites and museums. All of which would have been much easier to find had I not forgotten my guide book.

I roamed around the city, stopping where ever I saw a cluster of tourists snapping photos and I would do the same. My plan was to later sit down with my developed photos and compare them to the pictures in my guide book.

I called it sight-sawing.

In Istanbul I'd been encouraged by my new found friends to sample strange foods from market stalls and indulge in Turkish delicacies. Yet on my own in Antalya I wobbled. My fear of foreign foods took over and I found myself zeroing in on the first Mc Donald's I could find. I practically tripped over myself trying to get to that familiar scent of slender shoestring fries. I couldn't get there fast enough. Mc Donald's was a comfort and a failure combined.

The one thing that I managed to do right in Antalya was to take a tour to the neighboring towns of Aspendos and Side. The rest of my journey was a bungle but this tour was a prize. I was in good hands with the tour guide. He was informed. He was funny.

He told us of an old Turkish custom of how when a man wants to marry a woman he visits her home and first asks the permission of her parents. If they agree it is then up to the woman to decide if she wants to marry this man. She gives him her answer not with a simple yes or no but with a cup of coffee. If it is hot and sweet she has said, "Yes. I'll marry you."

And if it is cold and salty she has said, "Move along."

I was entertained for the entire day on this tour. As we pulled back into town I found that I was reluctant to leave the van. I'd become accustomed to the quiet company of strangers and I knew what was ahead. A lonely walk back to an empty room.

I'd briefly considered venturing out to a bar or a restaurant, maybe trying something other than Mc Donald's. But I felt that I was too much of a target. The men seemed to step out of the shadows of doorways that I hadn't even noticed were there. I ignored their pestering and their proximity which only succeeded in making them angry. I would have been afraid if I wasn't so enraged. I finally stopped and faced them with my eyes glaring and shouted, "Hey, I know that I'm alone!"

This seemed to work. They backed off taking note, "Careful. This one has bite."

Yet rather than feel empowered the next day I felt drained. I didn't want to do this traveling thing anymore, not by myself. It was too hard. And so I sat on the patio alternating between reading my book and staring off to this lovely tall structure. (Through successful sight-sawing I later learned that this structure is called the Yivli Minaret.)

I was there the next day as well. Once again reading, staring, hiding out. The only difference between the two days was that this was my last day.

I decided to put my passport away after this trip, file it under 'over.' My wanderlust was wasted. I was done.

I swear it was at that exact moment that the ball hit my foot. A gentle bounce and it stopped beside me. I picked it up and looked around to find an elf of a boy giggling and holding his hands up to catch it. I tossed it to him and I'd made a friend.

I guessed him to be about two and a half. The desk clerk, who I'd barely noticed for the whole time that I'd stayed there, joined us. He was amused at how quickly we'd taken to each other. He told me that the little boy's name was Mert, yet I never learned his own. Even then the clerk kept a respectable distance whereas others had plowed right into me.

The clerk held back as Mert and I tossed the ball and played hide and seek around the patio. Mert would babble and I'd wonder if he was actually saying something in Turkish or if it was all in toddler. For all my frustration and loneliness of the past days Mert was my reward.

Two young men about my age approached and Mert ran to them. They were gorgeous, as hot and sweet as they come. The desk clerk informed me that they were his uncles. Each took a hand and Mert began to walk away with them towards the water.

 Suddenly Mert stopped, turned back, and shouted something. It took me a moment to realize that he was speaking to me. The desk clerk laughed and then translated, "He is saying 'come, come!'"

My taxi to the airport rolled to a stop beside me and I waved to Mert and his beautiful uncles. In the taxi I pulled out my passport and looked at the sticker for Turkey. I knew that this would always be the one that I was most proud of, the one that made me feel accomplished, the one that made me want more.

It was a trip riddled with equal measures success and failure (and more Mc Donald's fries than I care to remember).

I flipped through my passport and took in all the empty pages, full of possibilities.

Danielle is a freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband and three year old son. She has had several short stories and essays published in the Dead Mule of Southern Literature, Long Story Short, Eclips, and has a monthly humour column in Applecart Magazine. Danielle also enjoys writing creative non-fiction and is the recipient of an honorable mention for her short story entitled "Ass Backwards Up the Acropolis."

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