"When are you coming for lunch, my dear!?"
My head whirled around at the sound of that familiar voice.
It was Nuri...again! Nuri, aka John Travolta, was leaning out of his fine black Mercedes and grinning ear to ear. It was my last day in Istanbul and I was racing around the city for one last round of errands before my evening flight. This was the 4th time that afternoon that he turned up...each time in a different part of the vast sprawl of Istanbul.
He was irresistible in his enthusiasm. "You must have lunch with me before you leave!"
"Nuri! How do you do this?!"
"I have a clean heart!" he cried. I was beginning to believe it!
At first light that morning, I headed out into the winding alleyways of the old part of Istanbul. I love a city waking up...rousing itself for the day, fresh and full of energy, leaving its cloak of quiet behind with the 1st call to prayer. It wasn't long before I rounded a corner into an alleyway I'd somehow missed before. There was a fresco of quaint tiny shops that caught my eye. I slowed down to appreciate the artwork. A shopkeeper had been observing me. He greeted me with equal curiosity. "American?" I nodded. "Let me guess... you are from California!" "Originally, yes," I smiled He grinned triumphantly. A small signal was given and within moments 2 chairs and an antique leather table were produced and arrayed on the narrow sidewalk. "Please! Be my guest for tea! I am Nuri!" When he found out where I was staying, he broke into a a broad smile. He told me how he'd come to Istanbul as a penniless Lebanese migrant 15 years before. The woman that owned the pension I was lodging at had taken him in. She then proceeded to take him under her wing and was instrumental in helping him get his start. He would be eternally grateful to his 'second mother'! Nuri had worked hard and now he had a fantastically successful shop in this beautiful part of the city. He really had a remarkable story!
Nuri began to regale me with stories of all the famous people who had graced his entrance...Hollywood types, politicians, authors, correspondents and more. It sounded too good to be true, but he was most sincere. His assistant brought his phone to him and he started to show me photos of these famous people posing with him. Then he scrolled through and showed me their personal phone numbers. "They call me the Turkish John Travolta!" In the next moment he produced a photo of he and John Travolta taken just 2 weeks before. Quite amazing! I shook my head in amazement. We both marveled at all his good fortune in life. He declared in an unaffected way "I have a clean heart."
Nuri's energy was infectious... So many great stories and insightful comments! Our conversation was mingled with Nuri's greetings to the various tourists that were now beginning to venture into the alley. He quickly observed them and called out pleasantries in a variety of languages. He could exchange banter with Armenians, Portuguese, Japanese, Danes, Poles...so many. And though he hesitated one time, he was never wrong! The tourists were delighted by his thoughtful repartee. I stopped counting after 15 languages. We sipped tea which soon turned into Turkish breakfast...fresh bread, cheeses, olives, soft-boiled eggs. Nuri shared more of his personal story...the war, his parents and younger siblings that he now provided for. Though he had seen difficulties, nothing weighed him down. He was industrious, buoyant, grateful, engaged to the full...
Then in his characteristically candid way, he turned a flirtatious eye on me to ask if I was married. "No...but I am engaged to a good man back home." With a gallant flourish, he gave way, looking disappointed, yet happy for me. "Ah! He is a lucky man! If you were single, I would invite you to stay as my guest, but now you are my Sister!" The morning was nearly gone and there was much to do, so I had to say goodbye. It had been a wonderful last morning in Istanbul...a fortuitous meeting! "Please join me for lunch when you finish your errands. I am here!"