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  • It’s the biggest lie we’ve ever heard.

    “Very soon, very soon,” he says, ushering us into a double-parked van. Two British tourists are already inside, perspiring. “We’ll leave very soon.” The salesman slams the van door.

    Stagnant Istanbul air seeps in through two cracked windows. Very soon, we’ll be straddling two continents. Very soon, we’ll be cruising the Bosphorus.

    There are few waterways on the globe more important than the Bosphorus. Turks and tourists share shoddy ferries, commuting from Asia to Europe, adding to the nauseating blanket of smog. Rick Steves says the cruise will be the best 250 lira (100 dollars) we’ll spend all week.

    “Very soon.”

    A honeymooning Western couple stumbles in to take the last seats in the van. Right on cue, a Turkish boy, no more than 17, slides into the drivers seat and guides us through the anarchy of Istanbul traffic. Uneven roads eventually turn to dust, so we disembark with the odd assortment of tourists and shuffle towards the wharf. Finally, we climb on the boat we were beginning to doubt even existed.

    On the top of the small ship we find whitewashed benches and safety rails that seem to be installed by a plumber. A few grumpy travelers are already there, slumped in their seats. Who knows how long ago their salesman promised to depart?

    The captain herds a new cohort of tourists to the upper deck, promising that this is the last group. Among them are two Italian couples who seem unable to sit down.

    “If we can’t all sit together, we’ll take our money and go,” says one woman, her circumference straining the strap of her black purse.

    The Italians, each in their mid-fifties, could sit together without a fuss. But they want to sit by the railing, for the best view of the Russian tankers and smog. That’s what their salesman promised them.

    The captain certainly isn’t interested in giving refunds. He politely asks a couple to make room for the oversized woman and her compatriots -- but that’s not enough for the other Italian woman.

    “This is the spot we want,” she says, pointing at the honeymooning couple with one hand, her Gucci bag swaying in the other.

    The newlyweds stare helplessly at the captain and some of us chuckle in disbelief. But after waiting on the stagnant ship for 30 minutes, the young couple is ready to be done with this dingy cruise. After the feeblest of protests, they find new seats and the usurpers move in.

    I raise my lens to capture their smug victory.
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