Friday, July 13, 2012

Day Thirteen: All Inclusive, Wi-Fi Extra. The Amazing Awesome Anatolian Road Trip Diary

This is day thirteen of the Amazing Awesome Anatolian Road Trip Diary.

We checked into the hotel, and after collecting our money and passports and handing out keycards, the receptionist wrapped orange plastic bands around our wrists with small ceremony.  That was our initiation, even if we failed to realize it.  By virtue of those orange pieces of plastic, we has the right to all the pleasures and indulgences on offer.

The hundreds of people packed into the towering seven-story hotel buildings and the 354 hotel rooms, all were initiates like us, and all were devoted to the simple pleasures of open bars, buffet meals and swimming.  There were five restaurants, snacks in the afternoons from two cafe, a bar where drinks were free until midnight, and a nightclub which we never dared enter.

Our room looked out at the Aegean sea, which lapped hungrily at the 300 meter long strand of private beach bounded by the hotel.  The beds were large and comfy, and beside it next to the button for the beside reading light was a button which cycled through mood lighting:  red, blue, white, green.

Our first night there we spoke with a middle-aged British man at the bar.  It was obvious that he had spent the entire five days of his holiday trying to get the bartender’s attention, loading up on one free drink after another while his wife nervously laughed beside him.  We asked him if he had visited Ephesus, the ancient Greek city not more than ten minutes drive away.  He frowned and said no.  It turned out that he hadn’t left the hotel at all since he got there.  “I travel a lot for my job,” he explained.  “I’m just here to relax.”  I’ll admit it.  I scoffed at him.  Getting trapped here seemed like a moral failing, one that we would be immune to.

People asked us how many weeks we were staying and when we explained that we were only here for a day we got odd looks, like a day wasn’t even a unit of time—like we were mere fever dreams, to pass by harmlessly in the well-slept night.

The first thing we did was get massages.  At this point, it was already noon.  My masseuse covered me with a towel, folding it over piece by piece to lay bare whatever region of my body he was working on.  And it was work that the man was doing.  His forehead glistened with sweat.  He grunted softly with effort as his fingers pressed into the knotted meat of my back, and sighed as he rubbed oil into my sun-dried skin.

The most I moved was to flip over so he could get at my front.  I felt like a commodity, a lifeless, intentionless lump of relaxed material.  I had no will and no responsibilities.  It felt good.

After he finished, I was told to relax.  No problem.  I lay face down on the massage table, my breath slightly choked by the towel plugging up the face hole, but not choked enough to make me worry about it.  My thoughts stilled.  I stayed like that for an indefinite amount of time.

We ate at the buffet, loading our plates too high with salad greens, fried whiting, sardines, olives, curried turkey, pide, cheese, fruit, and cake.  We ate not because we were hungry, but because it was time to eat.  And eating wasn’t exactly a pleasure, it was an oblivion.  We shoveled food into our mouths, not talking, looking at nothing, pausing only to order another beer or refill our water glasses.

Then it was to the swimming pool.  We played in the water, diving down to the bottom of the pool where there were windows looking out on the cafe below and waving at the people.  Time passed in the water.  Then we laid in the shade, reading.  Time passed in the hot shade.

I drank.  It was free, so I drank.  I drank a lot.  I drank more than I had all year.  I drank so much that I couldn’t hope to count how much I drank.  I started at eleven with a beer, and by two I had reached a nervous tipsiness with helps of generous glasses of raki, gin and tonics, and something I ordered by just slurring ‘green drink’ at the bartender.  I managed to maintain this tipsiness until a little bit after dinner, ducking away from my friends to order whiskey and cokes and sucking them down to the ice by the poolside.

Everything was catered to us.  When you left the bar, two staff members stood politely at the door to pour the drink from your glass into a plastic cup so that if in your drunken stupor you dropped your drink, your glass wouldn’t break.  Nothing was denied you.  Extra food, more alcohol in your cocktails, a game of darts, a pillow for the sun-chair.  A tribe of orange-shirted staff called animators prowled the pools and the bar-area throughout the day, rounding people up for games of volleyball and bocce ball, always smiling, always leading people in chants, their eyes glinting with unnatural enthusiasm.

Two things were refused:  time, and the rest of the world.  And these were refused with an evangelical insistence.  There were no clocks anywhere, and the sun hung high and bright in the sky, giving the resort the look of an eternal afternoon.  We had no idea what time it was, how long we had been at the poolside for, how long it was until dinner and then sleep.  And since everything was provided for you at the hotel, why would you need to go anywhere else?  Why would you need to visit the supermarket?  There was a convenience store in the shopping arcade strung between the reception and the main dining room.  Why would you need to see the ruins of the great city of Ephesus down the road?  They were just stones, and here there was life and young women in bikinis.  Why would you need to talk to your friends?  Fun was here, joy was here, contentment was here.

The only thing that you needed to pay for was wifi, and that was only available on the first floor lobby with a pitifully weak signal.  A few men opened black IBM laptops at the circular tables, struggling for a connection.  We told ourselves we would get the internet, check our e-mails, ponder the next leg of our journey.

But we never got around to it.  Wifi would connect us to the outside world, where we could read e-mails from work and talk to our families.  As we settled into our sleepy acceptance of food and drinks and sunlight, the desire we had to talk to anyone else dwindled, flickered, and died.

Like that, we were overcome with the time-blind hedonism of the resort.  It felt like we had been there a week and that we would be there forever—or at least until the end of summer—but we had only been there for eighteen hours, and we would leave the next morning.


At night, my friend was chosen for a competition.  Boys against girls.  Five a side.  They sat on the stage of the theater, young men and women from all different countries.  The men were drink-worn, wearing sporty clothes and competitive faces.  The girls were in high heels and dresses.  They played a series of games.  A drinking race.  A paper airplane competition.  A game where they raced to blow up balloons and then sit on the balloons to pop them.  A game where they tried to get as many people as possible to stand in a small space.  The games were impossible and absurd, but as soon as the competition started, I was fired up.  I wanted my friend to win.  I cheered.  I sipped from my drink.  The Fabio-haired Animator clapped his hands and chanted “Tempo!  Tempo!” as if it was a magic word, and it felt like a magic word.

The staff would ask me how I was doing and all I could do was shrug.  Of course I was doing good.  I wasn’t working.  I had all my needs catered for me.  How could I suffer from anything?

And when I said this, they would nod like they understood.

But they were at work.  And their work was to cater to the grotesqueries of my pleasure.

There were swarms of waiters in white and black button-up shirts and bow-ties manning the buffets, refilling drinks, cleaning the filthy tablecloths, trying to keep proud expressions on their faces.  There were bartenders forever rushing from one drunk man to another, getting them slowly and profoundly drunk.  There were the Animators, organizing their seven hundredth game of bocce ball, calling out to everyone to have a good time.  This was their work, and I felt like it was awful.  But then my sleepy hunger would lap ay my mind, and I would just lift myself up, hulk myself over to the bar, and order another free drink.  Like that I achieved freedom from worry.

The Amazing Awesome Anatolian Road Trip Diary continues...

You can also get the whole series as an e-book.

1 comment:

Harun Ember said...

I love those animator games. They are totaly absurd but still fun to watch.