Of Shoes

From 1966 to 1969 I taught English at Robert Academy, located on the Bosporus in a northern suburb of Istanbul. Clothing was a problem for us American faculty and our families. What was available in the Turkish marketplace was not of the high quality we were accustomed to in the States. We could not have any sort of objects processed to us because of Turkish customs charges. We all depended on friends and relatives visiting us from the western world and bringing us needed items of apparel.

Footwear was a particular problem for me. I took up tennis during my Istanbul years. My serving motion involved dragging my right foot along the court pavement, and I kept wearing out the toe of my right tennis shoe. I had a standing order for any visitors to please bring me a pair of Converse All Star Stan Smith model tennies. I searched in vain for a left-handed, large-footed tennis player with a similar problem and who might have a supply of serviceable right shoes that could make pairs with the few unworn left shoes stacked in my closet.

I also attempted some skiing on Turkey's Mt. Uludag, near Bursa. I had no equipment and depended on rents. On my first ski trip, I went to every rental place on the mountain in search of ski boots that would accommodate my size 13 feet. They had none. In desperation, I returned to the first rental place where I had tried on a right boot that was only mildly excruciating but better than any boot I had tried subsequently. The boot was still available, but when I asked for its mate, the rental person just shrugged and pointed at a large pile of boots that were not even in pairs and suggested that I searched on my own for the right boot's partner. I ended up skiing painfully in mismatched boots that were roughly the same size.

The next school vacation that came along, my wife and I traveled to Munich, where I was sure I would be able to buy comfortable ski boots. Germans, after all, are as large as Americans, I thought. I went to every store that sold ski equipment. Most salesmen just shook their heads when I told them what size I needed. They would be happy to build a custom-made pair for me, but that would be quite expensive and I did not have the time to wait for them. I ended up buying a ready-made pair that I thought would be uncomfortable but usable. I later sold them to another faculty member who wore a size 12 ..

I stand about 6ft. 3 ", and at the time weighed somewhere between 195 and 210. On a shopping trip to Athens I visited half a dozen clothing stores and got the same negative head shake when I asked about shirts and trousers. Purchases I could make were neckties, belts and handkerchiefs. Fortunately, parents and friends visited us from the States and were invaluable source of clothing and other supplies not available to us in Turkey. It's hard for me to remember, having lived the last 40- some years in California, how excited my wife Sally and I used to become at snacking on imported Fritos, bean dip, and Cheez Whiz, items unavailable in Turkish markets.

We had our first-born son during our stay in Istanbul. The birth took place at a maternity hospital named Güzel Bahçe. The Turkish nurseries were gushingly congratulatory. It is extremely important to Turks that the first child be a boy. Once our Brian's maleness was established, all the nurses and scrubwomen kept popping into the room with congratulations and mashallahs.

Sally was in the clinic for a week. There was a couch in her room on which I could stretch out and read or snooze. The nurses encouraged me to pop across the street and buy bottled Turkish beer to help Sally's milk production. Looking through the window at the half dozen newborns in their cribs, I saw that a changeling situation was nothing to worry about. Brian was the only infant with a hairless, Nordic-shaped head. All the others were dark-haired and round-headed Turkish babies.

Our Turkish landlord and his family were very excited to see us come home
with our baby boy, and they washed dishes of delectable food on us. I'll never forget one anonymous gift we found on our doorstep – probably from one of our neighbors. We returned from visiting friends to find a pair of little white leather baby shoes hanging from our doorknob by the laces. On our next outing with our ten-day-old infant, we decided his American tootsies would be shod a la Turca. But there was a problem. The shoes were too small.