I could take bus #139 or 139A from Istanbul to Sile, but today I am in a car. In fact, I have always taken a car up to the Black Sea, because in a car I am better able to feel the gentle, wavelike rhythms, the sweeping curves and the swells and dips of this particular highway.
The grasses, shrubs, and hills we pass remind me of the scenery along California’s central coast, north of Santa Barbara but south of Paso Robles. When I was small, my mom and my Aunt Mary used to take my brother, my two cousins, and me to play in the surf at Pismo. This outing reminds me of those times.
On the road to Sile there is a string of rustic restaurants where my companion and I like to stop for breakfast. The restaurants are far enough from Istanbul so that my spirit has had time to begin decompressing, but not close enough to Sile that the expectation of arrival can overcome my hunger. All the restaurants look the same to me, and they are staffed by short, stout elderly women who are at least 100 pounds heavier than me. These women could easily take me in a wrestling match, but their faces are gentle and their eyes calm. They dress peasant-style in colorful scarves and patterned cotton dresses. I wonder whether they dress like this all the time, or just for work.
About ten kilometers outside of Sile we turn and begin heading west along the coast, the sea visible now to our right. I am looking for a beach with no people, no loud music. It is late enough in the summer that most of the beaches are empty, but we need one still open to the public. We find one, completely deserted. Even the house on the nearby bluff appears to be empty. Its owners probably went back to the city a few weeks ago. We park at the edge of the pavement.
Before I even step out of the car the surf begins calling to me. I dance on the balls of my feet as my companion and I pull our things from the trunk. She shoots me a strange look. I wonder why she is not enjoying this trip as much as I am, and then I realize she is probably nervous because she knows if something happens to me out here, there will be no one around to help. I think it’s great there isn’t a soul for miles. She finds it nerve-wracking.
As I run out to the waves I notice storm clouds coming up from behind us, heading north. They have already passed over Istanbul and are now beginning their journey across the Black Sea towards Ukraine. I watch them approach, wary of them until I see they are going to pass us to the west. They have brought rain to the suburbs of Istanbul, but they are not going to bring rain to us. I know clouds do not have feelings, but I cannot help but admire these for their bravery in venturing out over the Black Sea. I swear that every time I glance at this sea I spot a flicker of anger, isolation, and loneliness before it puts on its beautiful face. I love playing in it, but I also fear it.
I dance and bob around in the waves. If I stand, the peaks of the waves are not high enough to block out the horizon, but their troughs are low and if I crouch down the peaks appear higher than they really are. As the cool water crashes over me I shed the worries and stresses of city life. I remember what it’s like to feel joy.
The undertow here is so strong I know that if I stumbled it would pull me out beyond the breakers before I even knew what was happening. In the back of my mind I tell myself that should that happen, don’t fight it, just relax and float up to the surface where the undertow has no power. Another wave approaches and as I crouch down I grab onto the waistband of my shorts, knowing that my shorts hang on me loosely and the sea will take them if I am not careful.
The wave breaks over my head and passes. I shake the water from my face and glance back at my companion sitting on the beach. She is watching me nervously. If she had any idea how strong the undertow is out here, there is no way she would allow me to play like this. She calls me back, waving at me because she knows I cannot hear her above the roar of the wind and waves. I run back to her, careful not to kick sand onto her towel. She asks me can we go now? I say five more minutes, just five more minutes, okay? as I kiss her forehead and run back out to the sea.