A Tale in Red – Silence of Winter

A Tale in Red is the result of spending a further nine months actually ‘living’ in Turkey – from January to September 2011.

Have you ever been taken with a desire to break your chains…to travel?

I had. My first step into the world beyond my neighbourhood was through the books I read. I’ll never forget when I saw for the first time black and white photographs of New York City and the Hoover Dam in the Colorado River. Though two-dimensional, monochromatic and flat on paper, both images were grandiose, challenging my imagination to enter their real depth, guiding my steps on a search for more. I was just 10 years old. After exploring all the images and entries in that encyclopaedia, the compulsion to experience for real, those places I had imagined in three dimensions, overwhelmed all my senses. I was seventeen when I first attempted to fulfil that dream. I competed for a scholarship in Italy, more precisely at the Milano Politecnico. I won, but, still a minor, my parents forbade me from attending. Frustration is too feeble a word to represent my feelings!

My first real experience with travel was in 1989, on honeymoon in Chile and Argentine. It wasn’t a fully-open door, though, more of a window ajar enough to tantalise me to see another culture, to talk with different people in a strange language – Brazilian Portuguese is my native tongue, but I had learned Spanish from my grandmother and mother, who had arrived in South America as immigrants in 1913 . Even so, the language they spoke had been changed by local embedding and there were differences in how these other countries had adapted the European language, making for some odd, but challenging difficulties in communication…I rose to that challenge! Where, before, I had simply been ‘eager’ to travel, this first experience opened my mind to the real possibilities that peregrination gives us – The forever incomplete purpose that drove Marco Polo, Livingstone and Cook…

My next experience was one-month spent travelling in the US. The year was 1993, and New York never looked more beautiful under the snow. Washington made me envy all the culture, museums, and beauty a capital city can hold. I have to admit that the child’s aspirations still held sway and Orlando and Disney World provided the resolution to the girlish thrill that still yearned in my heart. (I liked it)

Other excursions followed, but those first two were the ones that left the deepest impressions on my soul. Truthfully the real problem was: I was not alone. All the time, my husband was with me. I wanted more, to taste the option to travel by myself, challenging my fears limitations, making choices without interference from anyone else.
Though never forgotten, my dream to travel alone was buried under maternity and other personal issues. In 2009, I wrote my first semi-autobiographical novel in Portuguese – Asif. Then, in 2010, I made my first journey alone. It was as if one was dependent on the other. I needed to free that writer who I had hidden inside me since I was 15, to free the tireless traveller that I longed to be.

My destination of choice was Istanbul. Why? Because I needed something challenging. What better than a country with an unknown culture, religion and language. In most places you can get by if you ask ‘Do you speak English?’, but at that time my spoken English was equivalent to that of a 3 year old child. It was a babbling without any efficiency, communication was my first obstacle, and at the same time the very reason I chose a country where English wasn’t the first language.

During my visit there I confronted all my fears – to speak English at the hotel, to walk alone in the streets, to have conversations with strangers in a Coffee or museum. I have some suspicions it was cunning Hermes who guided me to that boat tour of the Bosphorus Strait. It was a sunny and hot day, and, after four days walking and visiting museums, a largely-sedentary break was more than welcome. The most curious thing about the tour was how I chose it. The concierge showed me a map with two options. The first was to take one of the big boats that navigated the strait, pay the ticket and enjoy the trip along with hundreds of other tourists. The second option, much more expensive, was a private tour for up to twenty people, but with a dedicated tour guide. Naturally I chose the second.

That day when the boat arrived, I was the only visitor on the tour. It was an opportunity to ask questions about life in Turkey, the economy, the politics, and education, and I grabbed it with both hands! The planned ninety minute tour extended by more half an hour. In the end, the tour guide offered me his card and volunteered to be my guide in the afternoons.

We spent four days together! When I returned to Brazil, after a stop in Zurich (where another challenge was waiting for me –to learn how to guide myself using google maps) I was ready to write another book. Not a novel, but something more real, I wanted unveil all the secrets Turkey was hiding beside its overt exoticism, religiosity, and mountains.
The book had to mirror my experiences in Turkey, not only as a tourist, but as a woman from a south-America country. A woman without pre-conceptions, eager to know more about the ancient civilisation that had inhabited those lands. More, I wanted to break free of the regurgitated stereotypes generated by years and years of static prose from tourists, journalists, and scholars visiting the country. My high expectations about the book took me back to Istanbul the initial point of my enlighten.

A Tale in Red is the result of spending a further nine months actually ‘living’ in Turkey – from January to September 2011. Most of those nine months were spent on the road, visiting cities, monuments and archaeological sites, but, most importantly, meeting every-day people. Through 27 thousand kilometres, I immersed myself in the Turkish culture, adapting my behaviour to their traditions. I involved myself in close contact with different people – teachers, doctors, farmers, public servants, authorities, artists – and what I listened to from them was a mix of pride and shame, belief and disbelief.

The ultimate experience was the fast of Ramadan, a challenge that I fulfilled with honours. All my hosts were impressed with my capacity to support more than 17 hours without food or water. Waking up at 3 am to the Sahur – the early morning meal consumed before the fasting – and then sharing with them the iftar, while seated in the gardens of Blue Mosque. It was an opportunity to feel the other side of Islam, the equivalent of what you see in a Christian Christmas, and the Jewish Hanukkah.
Now, I will be sharing soon all this with you in photographs and words.