Friday, March 22, 2013

L'Alliance Francaise-Izmir

The test message read, "We're meeting on Thursday at 7pm at le Cigal for XXXXX's good bye dinner. It's in the garden of the L'Alliance Francaise (French Cultural Center). Can you come?"

My brain raced ahead...after-school meeting will end at 6:30ish...30 minute bus ride to ferry...20 minute ferry ride...15 minute walk....20 minutes for missed connections...35 of the 95 report card comments to finish writing...sleep deprived...

But, the message was from my new German friend and her gatherings are always very international with very enjoyable conversations.

I texted back, "Can I come late? like 8ish."

And things couldn't have worked out better. Yesterday, when I hopped on the school bus service, I noticed my favorite biology teacher (she and I are the same age AND she speaks English) was on the bus. I also happened to remember that she lives in Alsancak, probably near the L'Alliance Francaise, so I asked it it would be possible to stay on the bus to the city center rather than hopping off early to catch the ferry across the bay.

"No problem," she replied.

We talked and laughed the entire ride. She has to clean for Passover and I told her I "should" clean. (notice I'm avoiding cleaning even now to write this post.) Just before she got off, she asked the bus driver to drop me front of my destination. Arriving only 15 minutes late, I was actually "on-time".

As I walked up the steps to the information desk I remembered my college French teacher explaining how most great cities have a L'Alliance Francaise and they are great places to meet people from all over the world and to speak French. I was finally going to take advantage of her advice.

Actually, I'd walked by this building many times but had been so wrapped up in trying to speak Turkish that I hadn't taken the time to step inside and have a look around. Last night, however, I needed directions to the cafe Le Cigale, located somewhere on this property.

Approaching the information desk, I wasn't sure what language to use but it seemed logical to try French. Sure enough, the cute, young receptionist, (without batting an eye or saying she didn't understand) replied in perfect French. It was so simple. My brain registered her response on a deeper level and, without even thinking, my feet took me in the correct direction. At that moment, I realized that I still cannot have a simple encounter like that in Turkish. I either have to repeat myself, draw a picture, or panic at the really long response to my limited Turkish.

Anyway, my feet took me around the corner, through a long corridor, and down some dark stairs. I was wondering why the group had chosen this location when there are so many other places in Izmir with a bustling atmosphere to celebrate a friendship. In other words, this was a bland, government-type office space. But, my question was soon answered. At the bottom of the stairs, I pushed through a dark doorway and was immediately transported to a French garden bar/cafe. The bar with packed with a young "happy-hour" crowd, standing around tiny,standing-height tables sipping wine and cocktails. Beyond the glass windows and glass door was a courtyard covered with trees and vines beyond which was the white table-clothed, candle-lit atmosphere of a French cafe. How had I missed this for the past 8 months?

I found my friends, exchanged a combination of Turkish hugs and kisses and handshakes, and was introduced to a couple of new friends. We enjoyed a delicious meal and interesting conversation...A Brit who started as an English teacher but is making more money in 1/3 of the time tuning and voicing pianos for concerts, teaching piano lessons, and playing at some of the local clubs (I'm sure there is a shortage of his profession here in Turkey)...A German police office who provides security for the German consulate (He gets the opportunity to work on three overseas rotations) ...A Turkish stockbroker married to the piano man (she likes hiking and camping all over Turkey)... a Turkish airline pilot (I asked why they land the planes so fast here and he just laughed) German motorcycle friend (She's ridden on Route 66 and in one of the 9/11 Fundraising rides in the US)...and the guest of honor who is headed back to Copenhagen this weekend (gosh I hope I get to visit her some day.)

My French professor (I can still see her big mouth and teeth as she tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to say "oui" correctly) was correct about one thing. The L'Alliance Francaise is a great place to meet people!

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