Looking for Osman

I think a good book is part of any good trip. It gives you a chance to turn off the data-gathering sensors and and enjoy someone else’s journey. On my trip to the Gulf Coast I took along Looking for Osman by Eric Lawlor, about his travels in Turkey.

It’s a very enjoyable and informative book. Lawlor has that sense of balance that travel writers develop between talking about yourself and talking about the places you are visiting.

The idea is to tell the reader enough about yourself to enable them to understand your story, but not a lot more. You don’t want to ‘overshare.’ I hear that’s a real word now.

Lawlor shares, but doesn’t overshare, and he takes the time to really get to know at least one person in every place he visits. It’s a great way for an outsider to start to begin to understand Turkey.

He also quotes from nineteenth-century accounts of travel in the Ottoman Empire, and this helps the reader understand the history of the country, and of the cities and towns he writes about.

Then there are amusing stories about his fellow travelers, leather-clad German motorcyclists and kick-boxing Norwegian teenagers.

A storm comes up on the Black Sea while he’s taking a ferry to Trabzon and this woman in the next cabin is shrieking and her husband asks him to help calm her down:

“Her husband looked at me pleadingly. I was expected to offer solace, something I’m not very good at. I become deranged when people get upset. I never say the right thing.

I patted Mrs. Locke on the hand.

‘Oh, drowning’s not so bad,’ I said, trying to sound jolly. ‘I almost drown myself once, and believe me, I’ve never been so unmoved by anything. All that stuff about mortal dread and quaking with fear? Nonsense, all of it. Drowning is boring.’

Mrs. Locke gazed at me as if she couldn’t believe her ears. Still, she had stopped howling. Drawing encouragement from that, I pressed on.

‘But for some reason’ — and here I laughed lightly — ‘my parents could never be convinced of this, and for years afterwards the word water was banished from the family lexicon. No mention of water or water biscuits or watercolors or water beds. But that was just the start of it. In time the ban was extended to anything connoting water: Beaches, fish, irrigation, shampoo, umbrellas, dehydrated milk, tear ducts, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

‘I remember a friend of my father’s coming to dinner one evening, and he mentioned Jacques Cousteau. One casual reference. That’s all. But that was enough for my mother. He was never asked to the house again. A strange woman, my mother. I once saw her drown a cat. I was very young — no more than two or three — but I’ve never forgotten the noise it made.’

Mrs. Locke grabbed feebly for her husband’s hand and was struggling to say something. She looked utterly drained.

‘Get him out of here,’ she said in a whisper. ‘Get him out before he kills me.'”