Turkish Meatballs, Reki and Phosphorescent phytoplankton: Our Last Night on the Gulet Oct 23

When we set sail from St. Nicholas Island I folded my legs underneath me, rested my arms on the rail of the stern of the boat and watched as the island shrank. When it was only a golden nugget in the sea I turned forward and went to the bow, determined to finish For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway absorbed me for the next hour, until my legs began to cramp from being folded for so long.
I wandered back, investigating what everyone else was up to. In the windows of the galley I saw Syrah and Swim Champ rolling meat balls while a football (soccer) game played on the small tv perched on a cabinet. Ali was piloting the gulet and I mean that in the loosest sense. The wheel was basically propping his body up and thus spinning every once in a while when he shifted his weight.
Kirsty and Mark lounged on cushions, sharing an ipod ear bud each. Mark had a can of Effes in his hand, not an unusual sight I was beginning to learn by now. Kirsty had a glass of chilled white wine.
"Look!" she exclaimed to me. "I can drink again."
I raised my eyebrow, expressing a modicum of uncertainty.
"I've decided," Kirsty confirmed. "It's been 24 hours since my last pill."
"OK," I answered. But all I could imagine was projectile vomit on a boat. "What are you listening to?" I changed the subject.
"Girlfriend," Kirsty said.
Mark took a swig from his drink and said, "Yeah, that is a pretty uplifting song."
"Mark has been telling me about this girl," Kirsty filled in the blanks.
"Ah," I replied.
"I think we should look at pictures of her dog again," Mark began fishing out his ipod.
"No," Kirsty gently pushed his hand away from his pocket. "I think we should listen to more music."
The sun was low in the sky, the gulet was bobbing over the water and from the galley the smell of spiced meat slinked forth. I was drawn below deck partly by the teasing fragrance and also because my legs had become quite cold and I wanted to trade my swimsuit and shorts for a t-shirt and pajama pants.
One of my favourite things in the world are those summer days when I'm at the beach and basically living in my swimsuit. I get up in the morning and reach for it, still damp from that last swim from the night before. Obviously October isn't summer, not even Turkey, but some nights on the Gulet it didn't seem even worth it to take it off. This evening it had earned a break.
The rest of the evening melted with the setting sun, a pastiche of limbs sprawled on the couches, languidly sipping various alcoholic beverages and me trying my hardest to avoid the ever-annoying duo of James and Catherine.
Since I had no working ipod and I had taken all I could of Hemingway (not that that would have mattered to them) I was at a bit of a loose end. James and Catherine's need for banal, mind-shattering dull conversation reminds me of the way nature abhor es a vacuum. It needs to be filled.
I had never been so agitated and thus so happy to hear the dinner bell in my life. I seized a chair on the end and recruited Syrah to sit next to me. If James or Catherine sat anywhere in my immediate vicinity there was a clear and present danger that I would vomit onto their laps.
Kirsty, toasting the air with her glass of wine, announced that she "would take one for the team." We all (with the exception, I hope, of James and Catherine) knew that to mean she would sit next to them. You might, Dear Reader, think that we are a bunch of vicious, heartless people akin to Heathers or any other ruthless stock character from a teen movie. BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA JUST HOW MUCH THIS COUPLE BOTHERED EVERYONE.
James, smacking his lips, and blinking his eyes like a turtle declared that Ataturk was the greatest leader that ever lived.
The table fell silent, stunned I think and completely at a loss for a response.
"Think about it," he went on. "Who has done more for their nation? Who has been more charismatic? There is no other leader in his class."
Slandering, or insulting Ataturk or Turkey in general, is actually illegal in Turkey making me realising just how wonderful the 1st Amendment on the American Bill of Rights is. Certain subjects, like Armenia or Crete or Kurdistan make people somewhat... well, it sort of makes any positive atmosphere on a gulet evaporate with the sea breeze.
"You can't tell me there is anyone with vision like his." James declared with an air of finality.
Oh, I don't know, I thought to myself, Hitler and Stalin came pretty close.
To James' credit, yes Ataturk, aka Mustafa Kemal, was definitely a driven visionary who did some pretty amazing things. Only there are a couple thousand Greeks and Armenians who don't view his accomplishments in such a positive light. The trifecta of subjects that can land one in jail, or at least with a hefty fine, are all pretty much associated with Mustafa. He unified and modernised Turkey by giving the boot to the Armenians and the Greeks that lived in the area. Every once in a while Armenia will work up the courage to demand that Turkey apologizes for the slaughter of thousands of their people and Turkey gets very tight-lipped and basically replies with "I don't know what you're talking about."
I understand the reluctance to 'fess up and admit that one's national God was, after all, only human. It took a decade for the Jefferson society to finally face the truth that Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States of America, fathered children with one of his slaves. Friends of mine still counter argue that there is room for error in the DNA test.
On the flip side, Ataturk had his nicer points. I would like to believe that he authorized the wholesale genocide of Armenians reluctantly and not with as much gusto as Hitler, or with such randomness as Stalin. The reason for this being... well... he LOOKS like a nice person:

Later in the trip, over an overdose of Turkish coffee and baklava, Kirsty read aloud one of his quotes and it actually brought tears to my eyes:

"Those heroes that shed their blood
and lost their lives;
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
and the Mehemets to us where they lie side by side
here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
who sent their sons from far away countries,
wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom
and are at peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have
become our sons as well."

But that doesn't change certain facts...
Thankfully, Swim Champ gave us a perfect opportunity to keep our mouths shut: food. He set before us a veritable Turkish feast of the spiced meat balls, baba ganoush and other dishes. As James and Catherine piled their plates high I leaned to the others and suggested a game:
"Every time James says 'honey' or says something completely outrageous we take a drink."
Syrah nearly turned red from trying to hold in her giggles. The rest of us nearly saturated our livers trying to keep up with James. The supply of white wine was quickly exhausted, so we had to turn to Reki. Dear Reader, do not ever turn to Reki in a frivolous mood, it is a potent and tempestuous bitch that answers to no one, much like tequila. Unlike tequila, however, it tastes quite nice; like liquorice.
Of course, the side effect of getting drunk off the rude duo's antics is that the filter and self-constraint was also evaporating. I felt like I was one "honey" away from saying something completely inappropriate and uncalled for when Chef brought our desert, alight with candles. It was fruit, not cake, just to make that clear and it was the perfect ending.
James cast an eye at his wife and suggested they go to bed. Swim Champ set on some hip shaking Turkish music and snuggled next to Syrah on the cushions. Kirsty put on the coined scarf tied around the mast and the rest of us passed around the bottle of Reki.
We Americans decided within fifteen minutes that we needed to have a dance party. The captain had abandoned ship for a conjugal visit of his own when we laid anchor in this particular cove and we felt something like kids left home alone without a babysitter. It was our last night and clearly Swim Champ's collection of cd's was not up to the occasion. Mark's ipod came to the rescue.
The combination of Reki, AC/DC and the gentle sway of a boat on water is an unholy one. Especially when one is shredding away on an air guitar to AC/DC's "Back in Black," and tossing one's hair.
Jonah and Mark crooned along to "Friends in Low Places." Mark hammed it up as only the most cheesey actor could, while Jonah kept his face completely deadpan. Marcus recorded the entire performance on his camera.
Journey's "Don't Stop (Believing)" came up next on the ipod and Mark and I went wild, casting our arms wide, jumping up and down and clutching each other's hands and shoulders just so we both knew how sincere and important the message was.

The segued immediately to a ska recording of "Come On Eileen." I brushed my hair out of my eyes, breathing hard from my early exertions and found Mark holding out his hand to me.
"Come on," he said, "Ska with me, baby."
To Ska is to engage in a style of dancing in which one kicks out one's legs, sort of a loping, skater-esque cancan. It's actually really hard work and when you do it for three minutes straight you get red in the face and a bit sweaty. I was quite glad when Jonah switched to his ipod and put on Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)". I leaned against the rail next to Marcus, trying to catch my breath.
"Wow, Rosie," Kirsty just shook her head at me. "Just, wow."
I think going absolutely nuts to music is a singular North American thing. Letting it have a completely transformative effect on a person doesn't seem to apply to Turks or Australians because both Syrah and Marcus and Swim Champ were looking at us completely mystified. There may have been an iota of fear in their eyes also; not that I blame them. We must have looked absolutely psychotic all of a sudden.

Rocking Out like you do.

Mark looked out to the dark water, and turned to us. "You know what we should do?"
"We should go skinny dipping."
Jonah and Marcus quirked an eyebrow at me and Kirsty. We smirked back.
"Yeah, I don't think so," Kirsty said.
Mark went on to explain that there were no sneaky intentions with this suggestion and that there wasn't any thought of taking advantage of anyone. "It's just a really nice, liberating night time activity."
"Oh, I'm not worried about any of you." Kirsty replied. She leaned closer. "It's the crew on the boat."
Mark shrugged and put on the Bloodhound Gang's "The Bad Touch." Most people know it as the Discovery Chanel song.
"This is not getting me in the mood to skinny dip," I told him.
But as more reki was poured Kirsty seemed to be considering the possibility.
"What if I go in with my underwear on?" she asked.
"You'd have to take it off," Mark replied.
"Oh, of course. Once I was in the water."
This was deemed acceptable and Kirsty went to the cabin to fetch our towels. Jonah and Mark were completely naked 0.8 seconds later. Chef came up to find out what the hell was going on.
"We're just going for a swim," Mark told him.
"Uh, I don't know if that's a good idea," Chef had the worried look of a babysitter who is vaguely aware that he's outsmarted by the children.
"Why not?"Mark asked.
"Well, it's dark, it could be dangerous."
"We'll stick close to the boat," I assured him.
"Oh, so you are going with us," Jonah quirked his eyebrow.
I consider myself something of an expert on being nude as I moonlight, occasionally, as an artists model. Taking one's clothes off will always be provoking, that initial revelation just has something about it that excites. Because I'm aware of this, I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. So I whipped off my t-shirt and pants and without a second look launched myself into the water. A second splash heralded Kirsty's entry into the water.
We wiped the water out of eyes and look expectantly at the boat. Mark, Jonah and Marcus were leaning against the rail, grinning (as well they should).
"OK," Mark called down. "You have fun in there."
"Come on you pansies!" I hollered. "Get down here!" We were treading water just outside the glow of light cast by the boat lights, trying to prevent Chef or Ali from leering at us. The boys jumped in the water and we all swam closer to the cove.
That proved to be a mistake.
Chef, when we first told him of our plan, had wanted to use the spotlight to make it "safer" for us. Mark had convinced him that lights really weren't appropriate for night time skinny dipping. Chef agreed to not use it as long as we stayed near the boat.
Now that he could tell we were moving away he switched on the light, bathing us all in a harsh glow that made us all uncomfortable.
"Turn it off!" a chorus shouted at him. When he did we noticed something incredible. Every time our arms and legs swept or churned in the water a spray of light particles would swish through the water.
"Oh my God!" Jonah exclaimed. "This is phosphorescent plankton!"
"Woah," we agreed.
"This is amazing!" he went on, "I've only seen this, like, once before."
"Really?" Kirsty asked. "'cause I've seen it a couple of times, like in Mexico."
"No no!" Jonah insisted. "This is really rare."
"Wow, that is pretty cool," Marcus said.
"Huh," contributed Mark.
"Do you see it, Rosie?" Jonah asked me.
"Yeah, of course I see it, kinda hard to miss it, Jonah."
Apparently we weren't awed enough for Jonah and he silently slunk off in the water. It was quite easy to locate him though, trailing stardust as we all were.
"Where's he going?" I asked.
"Probably to sulk that we weren't finding it cool enough," Mark answered.
"Screw you guys," Jonah's voice carried over the water. "This is really rare!"
Then the spotlight came back on. We noted with interest that, even though Jonah, Mark and Marcus were a good few feet away from Kirsty and I, we seemed to the most illuminated.
"Where are you guys?" Chef called out. "I need to make sure you're all OK."
"We're fine!" we roared back at him. The light went out.
"Hey," Kirsty whispered to all of us. "You know what we should do? We should hide behind the back of the boat."
"That's awesome!"
"OK, be as quiet as possible!"
I've never swam with smoother strokes. There wasn't a single ripple coming from any of us. We were so silent we glided through the water, reaching the small boat tied behind the gulet and stifling the laughter. Then a booming voice rang out in the night:
"You guys look awesome! It's like you're on fire!"
Damn. We forgot about the trails of light swirling around our bodies and giving us away.
"You're on fire from the inside!" Chef continued, "It's the passion within you!"


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