Thursday, May 24, 2007

Spring in Ankara

Just three days ago we had some friends visiting us from Canada. We took them to the castle at the top of Ulus and then to dinner in Kizilay and then to a little smoky bar to hear folk music. It was a warm spring night and for the first time Ankara actually seemed nice to me. My jaded perspective was jarred into seeing something different through the eyes of our guests. Not that Ankara has ever seemed so horrible to me but it is the biggest city I have ever lived in (population near 4 million) and is undergoing a kind of urban renewal so the abandoned sixties style soviet looking buildings that first greeted me here are being transformed with new facades and updates and the city is starting to look almost sleek and stylish in parts. And in other parts, I have seen a donkey pulling a cart, open fires on the sidewalk and all sorts of rubbish on the side of the road. But in the spring, when the trees are green, flowers are in bloom and the nights are warm, things look much more attractive and I can see the charm of the capital of Turkey.

Ankara is a livable city but not one people around the world want to visit. Which is a bit sad. I think it’s nicer than Istanbul, actually. Of course, its not Istanbul but I personally think Ankara is a bit classier and more manageable. It doesn’t have the Bosphorus or skyline of Istanbul but it’s got some nice broad boulevards for walking, a funky old district (Ulus), a stylish embassy area and adjacent shopping and a fun, comfortable, relaxed dinner/drinking district. So a few nights ago, even though being here in Turkey has been overall very stressful for me, I was enjoying Ankara and thinking that overall I am happy to have had this experience. I don’t want to challenge myself in this way ever again, especially with the reality of the bomb two days ago in Ulus, but I have gained perspective, confidence, compassion and understanding by being here.

Happiness is tricky and paradoxical, as it seems that hard work; challenges, discomfort and patience are necessary conditions for happiness. That happiness only emerges from these sources – surely, that is not the case, but it seems to me that happiness does require pushing the envelope in terms of what we expect from others and ourselves. And also, being willing to forgive and accept to a huge degree when these expectations fall short or are not met at all. I suppose it’s that idea of reaching for the moon so that even if you miss you will still be among the stars. Although, more accurately, given what we now know, is the idea that you should reach for the stars so that even if you miss you may be near the moon or Mars.

I just wonder, how come no one ever said: happiness isn’t easy? I think we all hope that it will be and is, and that when we have happiness, life will be easy. But happiness is more like a job than a beautifully wrapped gift under the tree; happiness needs to be nurtured, noticed and something that is consciously sought: like money. We try to accumulate money, we always think about money and we are always after money. Well, I think happiness needs the same constant attention – it’s just that it’s a different kind of currency. And my feeling is it’s a good idea to attempt to spend your happiness notes in places your might not at first think worthy of them, and to look for them in places you least expect!

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