mardi, octobre 31, 2006

PR Tag Team

The hotel where we stayed in Turkey was one of those French-speaking all-inclusive club hotels which included airfare, accommodations, food and drinks in the price we paid up front.

I was apprehensive.

I expected to get annoyed because I prefer mingling with the locals, I don't like being told what, where and how on vacation and I especially don't like group-related activities. Invaribly, it makes me feel like I've regressed to my childhood and am stuck in a Brownies troupe meeting in some dank church basement being told by someone else's mother - never as cool or glamorous as mine - that I was supposed to glue macaroni on a square of burlap and give it to my parents as a present. This never quite made sense to me.

One afternoon at the club hotel, we were finishing up lunch when a member of the group activities staff stopped at our table and interrupted us with a dry bonjour aimed somewhere above our heads. Her job was to entertain, enthuse and convince as many French speaking guests as possible to partake in the activities offered. It took me a moment to realize she was talking to us, and expected a response.

"Bonjour," we replied cautiously.

"Coffee game at ten past?" she asked, still looking above our heads and shifting her weight from one leg to the other impatiently. Enthusiasm was not her strong suit.

"Excuse me?" I said. I had no idea what she was talking about, and her French was hard for me to understand.

"Coffee game. At ten past two. At the activity pool. You coming?" This time she actually looked at me, apparently to ascertain if I looked as stupid as I sounded.

"Coffee game?" I repeated, still having no idea what she could possibly mean. I understood the word 'coffee', and I clearly heard 'game', but putting the two together meant nothing to me.

Handsome was observing the scene and trying hard not to laugh, but realized he needed to come to my rescue.

"That's right, you aren't familiar with how all this works," he said with a huge grin. He put his hand on mine and signaled to the activity girl that he would take care of it. She left with a shrug and with what I expect was an expression of sympathy for Handsome for being saddled with such a dunce.

"Coffee game? What the hell is she talking about?" I asked.

"It's a game, like trivia, where you gather around the pool and play nicely with the other guests," he explained, still grinning widely at the expression on my face. Handsome worked for Club Med for years. If there's someone who knows how things work at an all-inclusive club hotel, it's him.

"To win a coffee?" I asked incredulously. Brewed coffee was included in the all-inclusive package, but espressos were not. This could only mean that in order to encourage you to mingle with the few other French speakers, and to avoid paying a mere 2 euros for an espresso, you would go play trivia by the activity pool. And possibly win. An espresso.

I was slightly annoyed.

At dinner later on, we had made the rounds of the fresh cheeses, olives, vegetables and fresh baked pide bread and were trying to find a table on the outside terrace, our hands full with plates and glasses. The only one available was a four-top with another couple already seated and two other seats available. We decided to go for it anyway.

"Excuse us, may we?" I asked in French, gesturing at the table. It was obvious they weren't Turkish.

"Of course," the woman replied as she looked up at us and smiled. She looked like a prettier version of Marianne Pearl.

We sat down and quietly began eating and talking in low tones so as not to disturb them.

"Have you been here long?" the woman asked after a while.

"Oh, we've been here a week now," I said, "and you?"

"We got here last night," she replied. They looked a little tired, and if it had been anything like our arrival at four in the morning, I could understand why.

"Is this your first time in Turkey?" Handsome asked, looking at them both.

"Yes, but we won a free week's vacation, and this was the only club that had space during the time we could come," she said. It was obvious Turkey had not been on their top ten list.

For some reason, I was slightly annoyed.

"Well if there is one thing you absolutely have to do while you're here," Handsome volunteered, "it's to go visit Ephesus. It's amazing how well-preserved the ruins are."

They didn't seem too interested. We continued nonetheless to enthusiastically encourage them to take advantage of being in a country with such a rich history, gorgeous landscapes, friendly people and good food. At the end of the meal, we wished them a good stay and told them we'd see them around.

The next day, we went on another excursion to visit the ruins of Didyma, Priene and Millet with a small group. Luckily, they were interesting and well traveled people and did not have the ridiculous expectation that everything should be like at home. There was even a man who had taken great pains to learn some basic Turkish, which admittedly impressed me. He was nice enough to be pretend to be impressed by my similar efforts. The group spent the whole day together, and by the end of it, I was worn out by the sun and the effort of being sociable.

We returned to the hotel, and retired to an outside cafe table for a last tea before aperitifs and dinner. We spotted a couple we had met during the day's excursion who seemed to be looking for a table, so we invited them over. I liked them. She was an elegant, very attractive woman in her late 50's, and he was tall and trim and had a full head of thick snow white hair. They had never once been condescending or critical. I especially appreciated that when she asked me questions about my impressions of living in France as an American, she always looked me in the eye, and did not make me feel as though she already knew what I would say and was just trying to prove herself correct. Most importantly, she never made me feel like a Hottentot Venus.
We chatted amiably about travels and cultural differences, and eventually went our separate ways to dinner.

Afterwards, Handsome and I had planned to go into town to have after-dinner drinks and smoke a houka in a bar we had noticed. After dinner, I went up to the room to change, leaving Handsome waiting in the lobby bar.

When I came back down, he was waiting for me at the elevator.

"Um, I ran into the couple from last night," he said anxiously, "and they asked what we were doing tonight, so I told them."

"And?" I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"So they asked if they could come along." He smiled facetiously wide.

"And you said yes!" I said, mimicking the smile and rubbing my hands together in fake enthusiasm.

"Uh huh!" he said. He turned serious. "Do you really mind?"

"Oh what the hell," I said, "let's show those people a good time."

"That's my girl!" Handsome replied, sticking out his arm for me to take.

But I was slightly annoyed.

We walked with the other couple from the hotel to the bar, making polite chit chat along the way. Inevitably Handsome ended up walking next to the guy, while I walked next to the woman and asked her questions about herself and her husband. It turned out she had just learned she was pregnant, which was enough conversational fodder to last through almost the whole evening. The husband seemed rather lifeless and monosyllabic, and I was grateful for the gender divide. In normal circumstances, it annoys the hell out of me.

At the end of the outing, we walked them back to the hotel and said our goodbyes in the lobby, wishing them again a nice stay.

"Man," I exclaimed, slumping in one of the lobby chairs with exhaustion, "we should totally get paid for that shit!"

"We fucking rock," he agreed, shaking my hand in congratulations, "and this hotel should totally hire us to help them with their PR, entertain their guests, and bring them out of their shells."

"We are a veritable coffee game and activity girl," I replied with a smirk.

vendredi, octobre 06, 2006

Çok Güsel

Yes, I know.

I have been quite a louse and not satisfied your desire for Turkey photos and Turkey stories. This I will try to rectify.

Only, you will have to be patient, as my internet connection at home is - yet again - not working, so I must do this Blogger thing surreptitiously from work. I don't exactly want to be the next "La Petite Anglaise", so you'll just have to bear with me as I sneak in a few sentences at a time, only to quickly hide the Blogger page with an Excel spreadsheet when I hear my boss' door open. (And really, this alone should raise his suspicions, as I'm not exactly a fan of the program.)

And now, Ladies and Gentelmen, I give you Turkey!

Taa daa! That was easy!

Except we didn't go to Istanbul, and that right there is the famous Blue Mosque located smack dab in the middle of that fine city. I don't exactly have all my Turkey photos with me at work, so this will have to do for the moment.

Okay, wait. I can at least tell you a funny story.

Handsome and I were on vacation in the lovely little tourist town of Kuşadası, located on the west coast in between Izmir and Bodrum. We had decided on a package deal with a 'French speaking club hotel'- which I have to admit I was less than enthusiastic about, expecting to find myself in the middle of Turkey eating cuisse de canard and bavette à l'échalote and trying desperately to block out songs by Michel Fougain and Johnny Hallyday blasting in from the organized activity pool. (As in Water aerobics! Stretching! Water polo!)

Thankfully, the hotel turned out to cater much more to the Turkish tourists, who far outnumbered all others, and weren't exactly interested in doing aerobics to un, deux, trois. The hotel served delicious and authentic Turkish cuisine, the staff was majority Turkish, and much to my delight, most of the music blasting from the activity pool was Tarkan, Candan Ertegun and the like.

By the end of the second day, we had already established a ritual. After spending all day snorkeling, scuba diving (full post on that later) or sightseeing, we would come back to the hotel, shower, get dressed up and head out to the the bar overlooking the sea to have a rakı and watch the sunset. I love an excuse to get dressed up. Especially if it's to go to a place called "The Harem Bar".

After a long day visiting the ruins at Aphrodisias during the beginning of our first week, I noticed an angry rash on my thigh, no doubt an allergic reaction to some plant or sea thing. For days, I regularly slathered it with copious amounts of bug cream, and even borrowed Handsome's super strength Egyptian cream, which normally gets rid of the most persistent irritations. But this rash was not going down without a fight, and it stubbornly ignored my attempts to placate it. After several days of no results, I had a flash of brilliance one evening as I was getting dressed up to go to the Harem Bar.

"Why not try toothpaste?" I thought.

The minty-ness would feel good, and it might turn out to be the miracle cure. (This probably only makes sense to me and mother, who believes aspirin, garlic and vinegar can combat just about anything that ails you.) Hey, it did a bang up job stopping up the nail holes in my former apartment, and it had even made my scuba mask stop fogging up. (An old divers' tip, apparently).

I spread the Colgate - extra whitening - on the rash, let it dry, and finished my toilette. I put on my flirty brown mini dress, dabbed on some perfume, and slipped into my high heeled strappy Brazilian sandals.

Handsome surveyed the results with a whistle of approval and held out his arm. We made our way through the hotel to the bar, keeping an eye on the time so as not to miss the setting of the sun. We waved at the hotel employees we had become friendly with, trotting out the Turkish for "Good evening!" and "How are you?" much to their delight and amusement.

We crossed the garden, passed the oxymoronically named "quiet" kiddie pool, and waved a hello to the diving instructor who was closing up shop below. We stepped up and onto the terrace of the Harem Bar, and I headed out to grab our favorite table while Handsome got the drinks.

I lowered myself into the nearly ground-level banquette as Handsome carried out the rakıs with a devlish smile. He slid in next to me on the multicolored cushions, draped his arm around my shoulders and we settled in to watch the sun set. We talked of what we had done, seen and heard that day as we marveled at the shades of red, yellow, orange and purple in the sky. We waited for the very last sliver of sun to disappear below the horizon, on alert in hopes of seeing the "le rayon vert." (He saw it, I didn't.)

We stared into each others' eyes, whispered words of love and talked of what to do the next day. The stars came out, and we stretched out on the cushions to point out the few constellations we knew between the two of us, as strains of Turkish music weaved around us.

He sat up, and I put my head in his lap, continuing to stare at the night sky.

"You know," I said, reaching up to run my fingers through his hair, "this is just what I hoped it would be."

"Mmm," he replied, and leaned down to kiss me.

"I mean, all of this: the music, the rakı, the sunset, the stars, this place.." I gestured around us and brought my hand back up to caress his face. "You, this. It's just so perfectly romantic."

"Yes, it is." he said, smiling.

"But even all this loveliness," I said, sitting up and looking him in the eye, "all this magic, cannot possibly take away the fact that at this very moment, I have toothpaste on my thigh."

We laughed so hard our stomachs ached.

And then we went to dinner.