Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor
New York City
"Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to be free... I lift my lamp above the golden sky." I first sang that song in high school chorus. It gave me goosebumps then, and today, coming into Manhattan, humming it quietly as we landed, it gave me goosebumps again.
Yesterday, I left Crete, flew to Athens, then on to Istanbul to overnight. A long day.
I overnighted at the Istanbul International Airport Hotel that is squeeky clean with lots of white, glass and modern fixtures. Somewhat daunting, the hotel is secure, so there is a metal detector at the entrance of the hotel. And there's no sound anywhere except for the muzak piped into the lobby. Everyone smiles as you approach the desk. Guess I'm a cynic because I always wonder when that happens if the desk staff are in training or the hotel just had some bad press!
The bellcap took me to my room ( only one floor divided into two separate, secure parts depending on whether you are flying internationally or in country ). I walked in and thought something seemed wrong. Then I realized there was no window in the room. NO WINDOW. In its place, there was a wall of clear rectangular blocks with a light source behind it. I thought I was in an episode of Star Trek.
Trying not to overreact, I told the bellman that I'd need a room with a window. "Only ten rooms in hotel with window, Madame," he said, his eyes looking weary. "But I call desk". He talked to the desk clerk in Turkish for a few minutes, then handed the phone to me. "Miss, we have one room with window but more charge for that. Is it OK?" I would have paid him $100 more for that room at this point--just to see the tarmac or catering trucks meandering to deliver supplies to the jets.
Finally settled in my room with a window, it overlooked the Emirate Airlines gates, and since it was east, I had the sunrise.
I packed up for the last time, trying to remember what I'd need on the 11 hour flight back to JFK in my backpack. At the airport, I began what turned out to be a full hour check in process. There were four checkpoints for this flight, all with metal detectors. In fact, the last checkpoint was set apart from the other international departures with a sign reading: check in for passengers for New York, Chicago and Tel Aviv. That says it all. Incidentally, I was questioned twice, and both body searched and my hand luggage thoroughly searched twice in the process. Was it something I said?
The plane was only half full. Turkish Airlines, the carrier, has to have been hurt by the Middle East situation since 9/11. I can imagine many folks fly to Athens on Olympic or an American airline to avoid what they might consider risk flying directly into and out of Istanbul. But I have to say, I felt the security was pretty thorough--albeit unnerving.
When I arrived, I looked for Francisco, the driver who had taken me out to JFK on May 12. I had called him from Istanbul to check that he was still planning on being there, but you never know. There is something really comforting about coming home after a long trip and having someone meet you and spirit you out of the chaos.
There he was with a hand written sign some of the letters crossed out in his attempt to get my name right.
We drove into Manhattan past the globe from the 1960 World's Fair, past Shea Stadium, across the Triborough Bridge, across Central Park. Up to my building where I was welcomed home by a smiling doorman.
My son, Benjamin, used to ask me (rather critically) after a trip to China soon after the Tienamen Square incident, why I traveled so far away and to such remote places? I told him that every time I came home from a trip that taught me more about the bigger world around me, read the international press, listened and talked to people with other viewpoints/ worldviews, I reached a deeper understanding of who I was and what I was supposed to be doing in my life. That was certainly true of this trip where I was face to face with middle eastern tensions not to mention the 1000 year battle between Greece and Turkey over boundaries, cultures, old unhealed wounds.
The shrinking globe is impossible to miss when you stand at the port in Istanbul and look at twenty of thirty huge freighters waiting to go through the isthmus, you realize that it is indeed the gate from east to west-- remarkably unchanged from the beginning of civilization. And certainly between the middle east, the Balkans, etc., there is much to worry about from a security standpoint. It would stop a lot of things if that port were crippled. No wonder the U.S. is trying to see Turkey through the process of joining the E.U. ( a plan the Greeks I spoke to were not in favor of ).
I will miss the minarets dotting the landscape, the beautiful Turkish landscape, the mizzans calling Muslims to prayer with their beautiful chants, and the serentiy of the Mediterranean's blue-ness.
But coming home. It doesn't get any better than that.