Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Turkish Independence and Tennis Fundraiser

Last night I had the unique opportunity to attend a cocktail hour at the large tennis center in the culture park in Izmir's city center. It was a last minute invite by a neighbor whom I'd only just met in passing, but who remembered that I was interested in getting involved in the tennis community. I was imagining a small gathering of a few tennis women sipping cocktails in their tennis clothes after playing a few matches and I enthusiastically accepted her invitation.

Nothing had prepared me for the size and mixture of the crowd, the patriotic decorations, center court nestled in an amphitheater with 100's of chairs surrounding the court, the quantity and quality of food, and the live music greeting me when I arrived. Luckily I had come straight from work wearing a dress and heels albeit wearing my purple backpack. This was a "posh" event. I wasn't even sure I could recognize the woman who had invited me, but luckily, as I was scanning the crowd, she turned her head at the same time and recognized me. She immediately invited me to join her group and proceeded to introduce me to an American woman who has been living here in Izmir with her American husband for 23 years. Feeling a little bit sad myself after having just returned from the States and England, I was intrigued about "why and how" this couple (my age, I think) could have lived here for so long. But, that story is later...

I was eager to chat with the American woman and see if I could set up a tennis match. She asked where I played and we exchanged phone numbers and then she excused herself because she "needed to mingle". Those words should have been my first clue, but I dismissed them and rejoined the discussion with my neighbor. We were sipping red wine, eating light snacks, and watching the men's final match of the Independence Day Tennis Tournament. Competitive tennis matches share similarities no matter what country. One player was definitely more aggressive, high strung, and showy. I witnessed some new Turkish profanity delivered complete with spit flying from his mouth. The other player was more defensive but like a backboard, getting everything back. He was annoying to "aggressive man" but highly entertaining to the crowd for obvious reasons.

In the middle of the match, the microphones began...and just in case you haven't read my blogs for the past year...Turkish microphones are generally turned up as loud as they can go, generally just at the "feedback" stage. The crowd of several hundred people quit watching the match and turned their attention to the stage. I can't imagine this kind noise and distraction at a USTA match of which this tournament was probably the same caliber of competitiveness. But, the contrast between competitive and social is one of the things that made this such an interesting experience.

After a long list of "thank you's" by the announcer,  the crowd was introduced to several VIP's like the city Mayor. Next was a fashion show of woman dressed like they were from the 1920's in beautiful long dresses, with "flapper hair" and carrying picnic baskets. I think the fashion show was a fundraiser for the disabled tennis program but the crowd had not been told "what to do" and this was a new type of fundraiser for them. After the matches were finished big, tall trophies were awarded to the winners of the tennis tournament. I know all of this because I was standing next to the American husband and he was explaining.

Now, back to the American couple....It turns out she is a really good tennis player (she won the over 35 women's division in the tournament)....she's way above my level I think..(I was learning all of this from her husband so I was now feeling pretty stupid) ...She was a college basketball player, I think at UCLA, way back when Title 9 had just started. She is the National Team Coach for the Turkish disabled tennis program. (One of the team's female players is #2 or 3 in the world.) He is a emergency room doctor and was brought to Turkey years ago to start the EMT program and train doctors in emergency medicine. Needless to say..they are very interesting people.

As the night progressed and the wine kept coming, I got to know my neighbor better. She works for Slovakian/Polish consulate here in town. She's also really nice and my age. Bingo...I've wanted a friend my age since I arrived in Turkey. The consulate's primary responsibilities are social and cultural events. So I was able to snag an invite to the symphony orchestra this Friday night featuring a Polish pianist...(I know this is a stereotype but based on the movie "The Pianist", Polish piano players are good!) I'm so excited. I just hope I can have something appropriate to wear...

The program concluded with a fantastic live band singing and playing some great jazz and Frank Sinatra type songs intermingled with the Izmir Turkish National Anthem march which the crowd sang while waving little Turkish Flags. (Playing this song and singing it is important statement of freedom,I think, because there were some problems on the 29th of October, the actual Independence Day when the riot police attacked a crowd and prohibited a march/gathering in Ankara because it wasn't the "official" march by the more conservative party.)

Anyway, the night was a fun experience...I made a new friend. I'm thinking of a way to suggest a tennis match with this good player...maybe a donation to the disabled team...and I've got a classical music concert to attend. OK, I think I can hang on here in Turkey a little longer.

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