Istanbul, 2007
by Kevin Risner

The plane landed smoothly.

As I walked through customs, the lighting overhead felt less clinical than in other airports. It was almost soothing as I waited for a visa and for my lone suitcase.

And there was my name in black block letters! Someone from my future place of employment picked me up. He knew English, but his words were a mumble. I tried to strain my ears to catch his narrative, but soon a brick wall rose high between us in that van as we leapt across the Bosphorus, highway lines invisible.

All I saw around me was a sea of red: Turkish flags flying out of every window, draped across alleyways, fluttering from the flagpoles at every Atatürk statue, at every intersection. The following day was a national holiday.

My new apartment sat surrounded by other identical buildings: offices and high-rises. The sky was gray that day. It mirrored the concrete endlessness of Hasanpaşa. My landlord took the reins. He said hello to me, spoke one of the few words I knew, Merhaba, led me past the grilled front doors, showed me around the entire place, pointed out the various rooms and different objects, named their Turkish equivalent. I would nod each time he said a word, and I would say another word I already knew, tamam. Okay.

I lay down that night, staring at the ceiling of my new bed but not really my bed.

I read Orhan Pamuk’s Snow — a going-away gift from a friend. It was a book I did not fully appreciate until much later, when I knew more about the city and the country where I would live for two years, when I found out much more than I ever thought I would.

Snow held a double meaning. Like most things here.

PHOTO: The author standing in front of Hagia Sophia, day two in Istanbul (2007).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is just a small snapshot of a few of the things I remember on my first day in Istanbul nine years ago. As I sat down to recall that day in its entirety, I feel as if I could fill an entire ream of paper about my interactions, surprises, misgivings, and anticipations! And that day was only a tiny sliver of the memorable moments I had there. This exercise has made me want to return and re-experience some of those moments, in Istanbul or even elsewhere. I hope that can happen soon.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kevin Risner is a product of Ohio and has lived there for most of his life, except for brief stints in England and Turkey. At the present, he resides in the Cleveland area, where he is ESL Coordinator at the Cleveland Institute of Art. His poetry and nonfiction have been published The Mill (University of Toledo), Red Paint Hill, Red Flag Poetry, and Litterbox Magazine.