Fernweh

A friend of mine who has travelled the world and has made her life in a foreign country once shared a word in the German language which describes the yearning for travel which we both share. She told me I have “fernweh”, which roughly translates into “far-sickness”; that being a craving or ache to go to other places, the opposite of homesickness.  The wanderlust within has been building, and so I have recently been away satisfying my fernweh.

Having returned from my adventure, I sit here among a mess of small packages, plastic bags, laundry, an open suitcase, a dumped backpack and all the extraneous Stuff that I had packed “Just In Case“.  It’s been about a day and a half since my return and I am disoriented still, not getting with the flow of being home yet and struggling with a little exhaustion.  Along with some  Nazar Boncuğu (Turkish Blue Eye Beads) to protect against the Evil Eye, I also brought home a nasty little sore throat which I am starting to think might be some Turkish variety of strep.    One of the things I did not do was keep a journal to document those small but poignant observances unique to this trip, which is a regret.  In other posts I will probably expand upon some of the delights I stumbled across.  Right now I am just trying to settle in.

I travelled to Istanbul with my drum to study a recent style of playing darbuka called the Split Hand Technique, which was developed in Turkey.  Istanbul was someplace I had wanted to go for years….something on my “Bucket List” if you will, so the opportunity to learn something became the impetus for this trip, which would also alleviate the fernweh.  My first attempt to go there happened maybe fifteen years ago but it fell through.  Being acutely aware that Time seems to be slipping away, I looked up flights just to see what the current availability and price was, when suddenly a wave of weird electricity seemed to roll over me, causing me to spontaneously click Book Now . This occurred without further rational thought.  After confirming the flight, the next wave to hit was sort of an “Oh My God What Did I Do???” vertigo.  To make it worse, the Significant Other was dubious about the whole idea of me taking off alone for this, causing the “Sinking Sensation” wave to follow.  After those waves passed, I realized I was awash in the tide of another adventure.

Aside from one man who attended this music retreat, I was the oldest person at the  training by at least ten years – and in some cases closer to thirty years.  I was the only student who is a grandparent.  It was interesting to discover the similarities and differences among this span in age and even generation. While I felt for the most part totally comfortable with everyone, mostly what I did notice was the energy level – or lack thereof, in my case.  This could have been either age related or fitness related.  Not being able to stay up with the late night party crowd, I would be the first to retire back to my hotel room –  a room which was on the fourth floor of a quaint little Otel, up sixty-four stairs rising in a steep, narrow, tight spiral (sixty-six going back down to the lobby – figure that one out…).  There was no lift.   For the first six days or so I could make it up to level two before my legs would start to go into spasm and I would have to stop to breathe while my heart was crashing around all the way up to my skull.  By the last few days I did manage to get to level three and a half before that would occur.  Seeing the woman who cleaned the rooms bounding up the stairs with no problem made me feel out of shape and old.  I would pretend it was a Stairmaster as I steadily ascended.  I was under the illusion I was dropping pounds by the day.  (Upon arriving home, I find I weigh exactly the same).  I will say since I am home I practically levitate up my own fifteen measly stairs.

Where I stayed the roads were mostly paved with cobblestones and were steep, narrow and hilly – the closest I can compare it to in the U.S.  is San Francisco, and it really isn’t even quite like that.  Whenever we would break out into various groups of people for impromptu exploration, that is when I would notice everyone else was zipping up these hills and I was working hard to keep up while trying to look nonchalant, hoping that I was not getting Tomato Face.

There were other issues to navigate. I have a serious hearing loss, which heartbreakingly occurred when I was still a young mother .  I don’t think I have mentioned this anywhere in my blog before, but I do.  There are things I can here quite clearly, some sounds which are distorted, and there are some sounds I don’t hear at all anymore (thus taking up the drum vs. another instrument). This presented a challenge on many levels during the trip.  Mostly the struggle involved basic conversation among the other participants, many who were from a number of other countries and spoke English as their second language.  Trying to catch and decipher the jokes and learn about my new friends and their lives, to be part of things, was at times daunting and exhausting.  Having enough trouble hearing English, trying to communicate in Turkish was interesting. I carried around a small phrase book in which I pointed out words in as much as attempted to say, often pantomiming rather than speaking.  When all else failed, I had a little note to show that said I could not hear well (Benim işitme pek iyi değil).  This was especially helpful in the hotel and airport, as well as with merchants.  People were understanding and kind. Because I cannot hear a motorcycle or taxi roaring up behind me, a couple of these younger friends also took me under their wing (unasked) and steered me across streets of insane traffic madness.  I felt like an old granny as they looped their arms through mine and rushed me across.  I am not that old, really!!!  But I was glad for their concern and support.

Along with visiting the tourist sites like The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), savoring locum (Turkish delight) at the original location in the Sultanahmet district, and playing music, of course, there was a small list of experiences I wanted to do and managed to accomplish:

  • Went to a hammam (Turkish Bath)
  • Smoked apple shisha in a hookah
  • Sat in a carpet store sipping elma çay (apple tea) and bought a small kilim
  • Sampled the various foods and mezes
  • Immersed in the spice market
  • Took a ferry across the Bosphorus to the continent of Asia

A few confirmations, discoveries and self-discoveries on this trip:

  • I was able to hear the call to prayer five times a day, which was haunting and rather beautiful (there are mosques everywhere, there was never one too far away to hear)
  • Music bridges all generations and cultures
  • It is healthy to get out of our ethnocentric country and acknowledge there is the rest of the world
  • Everything you see in the media is not necessarily exactly as it is.
  • A taste or smell can powerfully evoke the past. Upon having a cup of sahlep, a hot drink made of milk, ground orchid bulbs and sugar that is sprinkled with cinnamon, I welled up with tears for a second as I realized it was the same as the sahleb I used to buy every morning when I lived in Jerusalem over thirty-five years ago
  • I packed too much Stuff and then I had to haul it around.
  • I really need to get in better shape. There weren’t any obese people walking up those hills exactly because they were walking up those hills
  • Perhaps it is in contrast to the younger people around me, but seeing some of the photos I am in makes me feel like I need an Extreme Make-over….
  • Travelling has sharply awoken my fernweh and now I crave more.

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One Response to Fernweh

  1. Judy says:

    I love it!

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