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Friends or strangers?

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog returns -

Now that there is some time and distance between us and our Istanbul jaunt, we’re beginning to analyze our experiences. Although we greatly enjoyed many things there were a few bumps along the road as well and that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Coming from a very small town to spend 12 days in one of the biggest cities in the world was always going to be a bit of a shock to the system and there’s no doubt that was a contributory factor, however there’s something else at play, I think. As tourists staying in a busy up-market hotel in the middle of a historic part of Istanbul surrounded by tourist oriented shops we were very conscious of being just part of a ‘passing trade’ and easily categorized as ‘rich pickings’. However we didn’t consider ourselves so easily pigeon-holed. We are ourselves shop-keepers who deal daily with customers (some of whom are tourists) and we like to think we treat them all as individuals and interesting people in their own right.

All of this got me thinking about the times we felt most comfortable during our Turkish adventure. Not surprisingly it was when we felt we were interacting with people as fellow human beings, talking about shared concerns. Mustafa the carpet seller in his shop across the street from our hotel; Okay and Samet who worked in our hotel; the manager of the tour office at Ephesus; the yarn shop owner who invited us in for tea after we’d bought from him and it didn’t matter anymore. Mustafa chatted happily with us about his family, hometown and world travels; Okay laughed when we named the local cats we’d photographed after hotel employees and took our concerns on board when we were fleeced by a restaurant; Samet talked of his ambition to study Sociology in the US; the office manager went from bland indifference when we arrived in the morning to real genuine concern when Wendy arrived back in the afternoon feeling unwell. It must be very hard to relate to strangers who cross your path fleetingly as customers when you are so dependent on them and very tempting to see them as ‘cash-cows’ to be milked and then forgotten about.

Maybe it’s because we live above the shop and the line between our personal lives and our business lives is fairly blurred, or maybe it’s because in a small town many of our customers are also personal friends, but we really appreciated those times when we seemed to emerge from the masses and be recognized as ourselves in the frenetic surroundings of Istanbul.

In the end these are the memories that will outweigh the blips – the counterfeit 100 Lira bill, the wayward hand in Wendy’s pocket in the Grand Bazaar, the heaving crowds and bizarre fashion show at Ephesus and the missed briefing when we arrived at the hotel – they will recede while the good bits remain.

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The Stories between the Shelves

Jack is away leading his annual tour to Scotland and Ireland. Every year he takes 10 people (max) to the Isles for a guided tour with ceilidhs and creekside walks and other not-seen-by-bus activities. He loves it, the people who go love it, and …. well, I love it.

Because while Jack is away, I hold minor revolutions in the bookstore. The first year he went, I demolished our downstairs kitchen so we could use it for books. (We live in a 1903 house, and it had an upstairs kitchen too. Since we live upstairs and the books live downstairs, it made sense. It’s not like the books cook for themselves.) Another year I moved our bedroom. A third year, I gave away some furniture.

Jack doesn’t mind. He gets two weeks conducting people around his homeland, telling stories and singing songs, and I get to organize, regroup, rethink how we do things and where we put stuff. It plays to both our strengths. It is An Arrangement.

So far this year nothing major has occurred to me. The walls are the same color. No furniture is missing–if you don’t count those ugly old end tables that have really needed to go for ages. And the changes I’ve made in where the shelves are located, and which genres are on them, well, trust me, they’re for the best.

As I’ve been cleaning and pushing and thinking and measuring, I keep encountering little items that have fallen amongst cracks and crevices,  into corners where only dust goes. In our bathroom, I found a plush frog from my friend Anne, pushed back against the Danielle Steel shelf and surrounded by books. (The fact that we keep Ms. Steel in the bathroom is not so much an editorial comment as a necessity born of space limitation.)

On the side of a shelf that other shelves had encroached against, I discovered the pewter angel my friend Cami gave me the year both our books were accepted for publication. She hung there, ignored and overlooked, still cheerfully blessing the house. I gave her a good shining before suspending her above “paranormal romances.”

Behind a classics shelf that we finally had to let cover a window, I discovered on the long-lost ledge a small resin cat, black with an elongated neck and a curious smile, that Teri brought me from a trip to Ireland some time back. It was during a troubled time for our shop, and the figure came with a small card which explained that, according to folklore, this little grinning cat had escaped many troubles and retained her lives through her own wit and ingenuity–and she would elude many more troubles yet.

On the card, Teri wrote, “Like someone else I know.”

It’s amazing, the stories we find buried between the shelves, forgotten bits of our own lives, when we stir up a little dust. And it’s lovely, absolutely, to have friends who marked those moments with artifacts, trinkets, little pieces of memory that tell the stories, not in the books, but of the humans who run the shop.

Thanks Teri. Thanks Cami. Thanks Paxton for the dancing lady and Heather for the feather thing and Jane for the ivy teapot and all the other people whose artifacts have brightened my cleaning. You make life sweeter.

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