Salsa Night in Anatolia

IZMIR, TURKEY—It is Ramadan. I awake some mornings early to the call for prayer from the minarets, which are lit green at night over the sprawling skyline and the hazy coast, like traffic lights between us and the divine. We stay home in the sleepy heat of midday and go out as the air cools in the evening to buy Ramadan pita, eating it before it gets humidity-sweaty, not waiting for Iftar, butter on our hands.

I am in staying with my Turkish sister, Dicle, who spent her exchange year living with my family in New Jersey. When I enter her grandmother Anneanne’s apartment a torrent of emotional Turkish descends upon me. I have never been kissed this enthusiastically, not even in eleventh grade spin the bottle with the sexually confused theater kids: Anneanne releasing a shower of kisses, left cheek right cheek left cheek right cheek and on and on, shouting, “Canim benim, canim benim, ben seni yerim yerim yerim,” “Sweetheart, sweetheart, I will eat eat eat you,” as only a grandmother can. She squeezes my hand, pats my chest, shoulders, crying, telling me (Dicle translates energetically) how happy she is that I am there, how much she loves me and my family. “Çok güzelsin,” she repeats: “So beautiful, so beautiful.”

We go to seaside towns over impossibly windy roads, pass tombs and relics. We eat intestines hot on bread and ice cream that tastes fresh from the cow. Some men on the street have the same beautiful, sad faces I’ve seen decorating Etruscan tombs.

Anne, Dicle’s mother, has been taking salsa lessons. One night, the three of us go dancing in the park, where women in tight dresses whirl under the hands of men who are a little less sexy than they are. Dicle and I try to keep time with the music and end up dipping and whirling, tripping over giggles and our own feet. Anne returns to the car with us with an arm on each of our backs. The minarets spire into the skyline. Our skin is sweating in the dark heat. “Çok güzel,”—“so beautiful,” she says.