Cigars

1:04 pm

Istanbul International Airport

Istanbul, Turkey

This morning I woke up to a cockroach shamelessly trekking over my sandal as I washed up and prepared to head to the airport. I recalled how two years earlier I’d volunteered at an orphanage in Chitwan, half convinced I wouldn’t last the 3 weeks I was scheduled to stay because of the challenging living quarters. A few nights later despite the merciless heat and mosquitoes I was sleeping like a log. It's interesting how quickly one can get acclimated to their surroundings. I'm convinced in order to be an open-minded and good traveler one make a real effort.

Getting through security at Ben Gurion this morning makes all other airports look like a subway turnstile. The agents ask you questions, which on paper seem standard enough. But for some reason the interrogation feels more personal here. “Who packed your bags for you?” has the undertone of “Have you had your heart broken?” or “Do you ever feel lonely?” The inquiries are accompanied by a long stoic glance that makes you wonder if they’re looking through your soul. But given Israel's unique and sometimes tumultuous relationship with other parts of the world, I understand the protocol and am happy to oblige.

I’m off to see my friend Anka in Romania. Getting to Egypt proved far more complicated that it ought to have been, at least from where I was standing. I think Romania will also provide a nice change of pace and scenery.

I was sad to leave to Tel Aviv, but part of me was ready to push off to the next adventure. I’d sauntered down all the streets I felt compelled to and felt the surge of accompanying thoughts and doubts in tow each time.

I stopped by Rony’s home unannounced. The way I saw it, I really didn’t have a choice. Communication was contingent on blind luck since my phone didn’t work. By the last day, I knew the way to his apartment like I knew how to get to my best friend Dominic’s house at the end of the street I grew up on in Oakland.

I knocked on the door to Rony’s apartment and he invited me in, insisting I join him and Ella for lunch. The marital bliss I’d expected to find was more casual than I thought. I don't know what I expected really. They were just there like they had been two days earlier, but now committed to one another under God, doctrine, and love for the rest of their lives. Nothing to get too worked up about, I guess.

As I waited for Rony to get ready I spoke with Ella at the kitchen table. I asked her about love and how she knew Rony was the one. I’d shared how I hadn’t been in love with another woman for nearly 8 years and it had recently dawned on me I may never feel the same. “I’ve been in love two times,” I told her. “I feel pretty lucky. I suppose that’s two more times than a lot of people.”

As we delved deeper into the conversation she talked about “grown up” love. “What we have is not fireworks or crazy intense, but it’s genuine and real.” It seemed appealing but my adolescent self in my now grown-up being still yearned for that lightning bolt, knock you on your ass kind of euphoria. Perhaps, I was being unrealistic about the whole matter, but figured relationships are challenging enough. Not being in love with your life partner from the outset seemed to me like starting at a deficit. Still, I continued to take note of her advice realizing somehow it was important I take note. Our conversation no longer felt like it was by chance.

Rony and I met at 8:30 pm later the same evening to smoke cigars, a tradition now set for each time we parted ways for a long time. We strolled down to Gordon Beach and talked about love, careers, the past, and what was in store. He made the observation that every five years we smoke a cigar together, but at markedly different times of our lives. “We should make a movie about this,” he said. It wasn’t a half bad idea.

We ended the evening at a diner reminiscing about our school days. The inevitability of both having to wake up with less than adequate rest for an early flight and saying goodbye set in as I picked away at my salad. I wondered when I’d see my friend again.

He walked me about half way home before saying he needed to turn back. Our goodbye was surprisingly casual. We parted ways as if he was running an errand or heading to the market for some milk. I thought briefly how nice it’d be to see him next week at a Wednesday softball game, or upcoming gathering with friends. But this wasn't my home and that seemed like another life.

I don’t know what it is about travel. Time isn’t so much sped up as it’s contracted, making each minute seem delicate and worthy. Perhaps my relationship to time has also shifted with age as with all things. Yet, there is lots more to see, lots of life still to live. I’ll see you in Bucharest.

Rony’s wife, Ella, 37, an urban planner originally from Tel Aviv told me the best piece of advice she ever received was, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If someone is offering don’t hesitate the offer. Also, don’t try to guess what the other person is thinking because you’re probably wrong. If you want to know, just ask.”

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