Letter from Istanbul As always in a new place, confusion is followed by a gradual orientation. When you travel you are like a three year-old child. You must learn the names of things, the names of places. That big street is where the buses come. This place sells cigarettes. This is 5,000,000 lira, that is 1,000,000. They look exactly the same – an identical picture of Ataturk graces every bill, large or small. So put the big bills in your left front pocket, the small ones in the right.

The author in IstanbulGradually we learn to pronounce the name of our neighborhood. We begin to recognize the series of bridges we cross between Mecidiye Koy and Sultanahmet. We remember seeing that music store before. We recognize that alley. We can find our way on foot to that place by the train tracks where we had those meatballs. We understand that when a smiling man approaches us outside a monument, he is neither a pervert nor a kidnapper – he is simply hoping to lure us to his rug store. We learn to have the right amount of money ready when the cab nears our hotel. One day we even know when a cabbie is trying to hijack us. (Four million lira? That's a one-point-five million lira trip, buddy. Go find a tourist to pick on.)
       Perhaps this is the true appeal of all travel: the progression from humbling innocence to self-determination and knowledge. In a new place we are children (I don't know the language, I don't know the rules, I don't know where I am) who become adults again (I know how to say "thank you," I've learned something about the art here, I can find my way home). Perhaps this compressed reenactment of our life journey – from innocence to knowledge and power – is the reason old people love to travel. It gives them back their youth, and then it gives them back the first flush of adult knowledge and power.