Monday, October 31, 2005
I recovered pretty quickly from yesterday's long morning. I poked around the neighborhood to get my bearings, took a couple naps, and headed out to the clubs at midnight with Ekrem, the hotel manager, and a French guy.
The club was Standard Urban Gay, but with Turkish House. It was dark and crowded; everyone was pretty butch except for a few token twinks, a handful of guys were rolling but most were getting smashed on rakı and beer, and there couldn't have been more than three or four foreigners in the place. It was interesting to watch for awhile, then I got bored. I don't always do well in bars, but didn't want to go home early my only weekend here.
At some point I had had enough beers (two - it doesn't take much) & I decided to work it and see what happened. I stripped down to my tank and moved to the dance floor, and what a difference that made. The offers came pretty fast. Real fast: it was Hello, How are you? Where are you from? and Ok so we go have sex now? The first offer was from a 21 year old kid from Syria. I passed. Second was from a bigger older man. He blew it when he bit me. I now have teeth marks on my deltoids. I'm not really sure what that was about. I saw a straight (well, 'straight') Dutch guy I had met earlier, and moved in tight with him to get some breathing room.
So I was checking out the crowd, noticed a handsome guy looking back, and we stumbled through a few Turkish niceties. He tried some German, but no go. I tried some English ... and it turns out that he's American. He's been here five years, and he introduced me to some if his gang, and pretty soon it was 4am and time to go.
We hung out most of the day. He showed me aroud his neighborhood, then we crossed the Golden Horn to look for Camii Büçük Aya Sofia. Bob: This is the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus that you were looking for. It was converted to a mosque, and is actually quite well known (it was the model for the Hagia Sofya). It was just named a World Heritage Site and was undergoing renovations, so we could only look at the outside. I'll post some pictures tomorrow.
Afterwards we wandered around Sultahnmet, peeking inside the Blue Mosque and at the Gardens of Topkapı Palace. It was rainy and cold, and it's giving the city a moody air. I kind of like it. There are discoveries around every corner, and streets will open up to sudden and beautiful views of the Bosphorus, or the palaces, or the grand mosques. People I met who live here love this city completely, in the same way that others love New York or Mexico City or San Francisco. Yesterday I thought that a week was perhaps too long to spend here. Now I think it's not nearly long enough.
I haven't taken many photos. I met set aside a day later this week just to be a shutterbug.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
I knew a bad day had to come. That's just life on the road. Blue skies don't last forever.
The trip to İstanbul wasn't so bad (thanks, ambien!). It was raining when the bus crossed the Bosphorus into Europe, but it wasn't into any Europe that I recognized. The city has a large, forested greenbelt around it, but inside the forest was a seemingly endless plain of five-story cement walk ups. Trouble started at the otogar, the vast bus station on the outskirts of the city. 300 bus companies are based here, and hell (oops) if I could find a pattern to the chaos. You could lose the plot here, mate by seat mate commented. The connecting service intot he city had been cancelled, so we were left to our own devices. After eleven hours by bus I wanted to take the easy way out and charter a minivan. I coralled some Aussies and Japanese from the same bus and tried to bargain a group rate for us. The opening bid: 50 lira, or ten lira each. All of 7.50 US dollars for door to door service. Ten Lira! the lead Japanese exclaimed. Absolutely not! Then she marched off ... and the group followed.
There is safety in numbers, I wanted to explain, but it was too late. They disappeared into the madness, and were gone. I was on my own. I got the single fare bid down to twenty lira, and was on my way - into the surliest traffic I have ever seen. People drove like Romans on crystal meth. There seemed to be no rules. We drove the wrong way down freeway exits, jumped curbs, and cut other cars off (and were cut off in turn), all the while everyone honking and shouting at each other. I found the tension overwhelming, and soon it had worked it's way into the very fiber of my being. I really missed our little old ladies driving with aloha. Hell, I missed yellow lines on the road.
But twenty minutes and I'll be safe in my hotel, I thought. Relax. As if it could be that easy. Many of the routes into the city were closed, blocked by police and military vehicles. Bayram'a problem militair var, the driver explained, cussing and throwing up his hands. There are problems with the military. I wasn't sure how to translate Bayram - he either meant the Bayrampaşa neighborhood (a peasant uprising?) or the Bayram holiday (a coup to mark the end of Ramazan?).
What an ugly day for a coup, I thought. İstanbul was muddy and grey and there were soldiers on the streets and men in dirty ghetto lanes burning trash for warmth. I've read that even in Byzantine times, during the glory days of Justinian, visitors to this city were shocked at how the poor lived. The aristocracy had their palaces gilded with gold; the poor had rivers of mud and filth flowing through their streets.
We finally found a way into the city proper, and as we passed through the stone walls of one of the fallen empires the world went from dull and grey to pretty and light. Suddenly there were tree lined boulevards and smart shops and white and yellow lines on the street that the cars actually followed. I started to see hope for my week in İstanbul.
The taxi let me off by the side of the road, telling me that the main road was closed and that all I had to do was go up the hill and there was my hotel. I believed him. Bad mistake. I paid him, he headed off, and I trudged a road that was more mud than road. See İstanbul Pic 1, and begin inserting two cuss words per sentence.
I was a kilometer from the hotel. It rudged up to İstiklal Cadessi, the main pedestrian thoroughfare, and worked my way through the mud to the Galata Tower. See Pic 2. It wasn't pretty. But at Galata I couldn't find the hotel. I asked directions, and got different responses each time. I went up hill and down hill and in and out of every alley in the neighborhood. I finally bagged it and hailed a taxi to take me the rest of the way.
You are all cussing with me, right? Just making sure. The taxi drove a loop around Beyoğlu, and I knew he was driving in a big circle to drive the meter up but what could I do? Thirteen lira later he drops me off around the corner from the hotel (the main street was closed).
Only the hotel wasn't around the corner, and I was even further away than from when I started. I asked a nice man with a machine gun for directions, and he pointed in the exact same direction I had just walked an hour before. I wanted to cry. I wondered what would happen if I just sat down in the mud, right there in the middle of the street, and gave up. I was wet, tired, and hungry, and far from comfort.
I trudged on. I got back tot he Galata Tower. I began asking for directions. And everyone was very nice and helpful and completely useless. They would take me by the hand, point down a street, and assure me the hotel was right there. Down the hill. Or up around the bend. Or just behind that building there. And it had now been hours that I'd been walking, and I knew I was close, and yet I could not find the address. Mind you, I did have the address - it's ust that no one recognized the street name.
Since the 'avenue' turned out to be about 10 meters long I can't blame them. I finally went into a bakery and asked to use the phone. They were kind, and said they knew right where the hotel was, but before they could send me over the river and through the woods I started begging: Dignity exit, stage left.
So they called, and the hotel sent a kid to find me and walk me the rest of the way. And I would have never found it from their directions (most guests come from the airport and are picked up by the hotel). I was feeling pretty pathetic by then, and all I wanted was a hug. I had talked to the manager a few times online, and I built up a delightful little scenario on how I would walk into the hotel and I would be greated like lost family. And it was a nice fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. I walked into the lobby, mud splattered and tired and probably with a slightly crazy look in my eye. Translation: no hug. I was lucky to get a handshake.
They did feed me though, and that made me feel better. I'm easy that way. I walked around a bit after, and this city might not be so bad afterall. The sun came out for a bit, folks are crowding the streets, and I can start to picture how a week here could be alright. First, though, I'm going to take a long nap and then start this day over.
Oh - and there was no problem militaire. They had blocked the streets for a parade. In the words of the hotel manager: the taxi drivers here are all full of sh*t.
Friday, October 28, 2005
I've just been putzing around town wasting time; it really is to cold to wander very far. I went to the music store for awhile and picked up some cd's. I could've bought a dozen - there is some great music here. I enjoy the folk music enough, but can't imagine I'd listen to it much. Some of the modern Sufi and Anatolian jazz, however, is stunning - it's completely haunting and melancholic, and I am sure I will be subjecting all of you to it when I get home. A guy at the restaurant burned me some cd's, and I bought two more this morning.
Dawn / Ron / et al: Here are my travel basics for the next couple weeks:
- İstanbul Oc.t 29 - Nov. 3
- New York Nov. 4-7. I'll call from there.
- Michigan Nov. 8 - 15
- Nov. 16 Home!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
rather, Heaven is the place where we store our memories.
- Orhan Pamuk, Snow
I'm paraphrasing the line - I don't have the book on me. It was the first thing I read this morning. It was a great message to start the day with.
I posted more pics, but scaled down in size. I'm slowly learning the details of this camera.
Last night was a bit warmer than normal (I only needed two blankets), and the morning was bordering on hot. I got some good news from Hawai'i - I finally made the State Planner List, as a Level III and IV. The translation: I'm employable! It will still take me some months to score full time permanent work, but I'm one step closer.
Since it was shaping up to be such a beautiful day I decided to pamper myself, and headed to the barber for the full treatment: haircut, a shave, shampoo, and a massage. Now men: If you've never had an old-fashioned shave with a straight razor, you are missing out on one of life's true pleasures. I love every minute of it, from the feel of the razor against my skin to the burn of the cologne afterwards. And it's more then just sensual - it's also an act of faith, a test of our belief in brotherhood, to allow another man to handle an open blade that close to our neck. I know that our fathers and grandfathers enjoyed shaves; I'm not sure when the practice died out in the States. I used to get them in Indonesia, and even ten years down the road I can remember the luxury of spending a morning at the barbers. I was happy to see that the tradition is still alive in Turkey.
The barber, Mehmet, was a big bear of a man. He had blue eyes, close cropped hair, and a short beard that was redder than mine, but with thick Turkish features. And his hands were huge. When he applied the lotions, or held my head to crack my neck, his palms almost covered my entire face. Combine that with furry Popeye-sized forearms, and the guy would have been King at IML.
Except that the ladies at IML would be screaming for unscented oils, and would probably melt if splashed with cologne. Ah well. We all have our own ideas of masculinity.
So, my brothers, if you ever find yourself in one of the old countries, you need to go. End of argument. I've asked around in the states, but fear of lawsuits, government regulation, and impossible insurance rates have KO'd the practice. A schoolmate from Nepal, Sagar, once told me that he thought that our endless regulations made it very difficult for the poor to survive in the US.
He had a solid point. Our health laws and licensing do help keep the middle class safe, and I know that that is good, but it's not until you travel outside the West that you see what was lost. We aren't taught that there was a tradeoff. Our professionals are all licensed, our cafes all DOH inspected, our apartments theoretically meet minimum standards - all things I agree with. But progress has destroyed the working class economy & we haven't really mitigated for that.
Enough of that. I had lunch with a Kiwi couple that I have been running into all over the place. After I tried to walk through Pigeon Valley to Uchisar, a small town about 3 km down the road. The directions were easy - follow the canal into the valley - and I set off ...
And anybody who has been reading this knows what happened. Yes, I lost the trail. Yes, I headed down many dead ends. Yes, I tried repeatedly to scale the cliffs and although I came close ... oh so close ... I did not make it to the top. But I saw some great sights. And the fall colors were brilliant. I haven't managed to time it right to see autumn in the states in years; I wasn't expecting to find it here.
I never did make it to Uchisar. By late afternoon I turned tail and headed back to Göreme, telling myself the journey is more important than the destination, the journey is more important than the destination, the journey is more important than the destination ...
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I spent the afternoon exploring Derinkuyu, a 4000 year old underground city. Hittite villages started building down as a defense against invaders. Later kingdoms kept up the practice, and soon the dwellings became massive underground cities, complete with granaries, wineries, corals for animals, and schools. Giant stone wheels could be rolled to block the entry to each deeper level. There are 36 underground cities known, and rumors of countless others. From the top they look like nothing more than a hole in the ground. Below, they could shelter thousands for up to six months. Seven stories have been excavated at Derinkuyu so far, to a depth of 60 meters.
It took awhile to get there. I got brave and left with no guidebook or phrasebook - I wanted to blend, and I wanted to test myself. I did alright. Outside the tourist areas people are very patient with my stumbling Turkish. Word order is my current problem - you throw all your nouns up front, tag on the proper ending, and save the verb for last. Any sentence longer than four or five words throws me completely.
The bus passed through some areas I want to explore later. I transferred in Nevşehir, which looked as non-descript as provincial capitals everywhere. Then we headed across the countryside to Derinkuyu. There were farms stretching to the horizon, which surprised me. The soil does not look capable of supporting life. It is all sand and dust, and I can't imagine it holding any water. There is not a trace of the rich humus we had in the Midwest. And yet the soil is rich - these farms produce eggplant, chiles, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, olives, beans, lentils, cucumbers, and citrus in abundance. Turkey is one of the few countries self-supporting in agriculture. And somewhere there must be miles of wheat. I've been eating about a loaf of bread a day.
Derinkuyu itself was a small desert town, hot, dry, and poor. The plazas were full of unemployed men in dusty sport coats fingering their prayer beads and watching the world pass by. I walked around for five minutes, then headed underground.
I spent about two hours exploring the city. There were plenty of unmarked and unlit passages heading off into the darkness. For once I followed the correct path.
Other, random notes:
- I have been emailing you all! I swear!
- What we call Korean Bars the Turks call Bars American. No one can explain to me why this is. The hostesses are all Russian; I say we petition for a name change.
- Turkey is far more secular than the US. People I've met are quite adamant that religion and politics don't mix, and that horrors always result when they are mixed. The threat here is not from Political Islam. It is from the Deep State - reactionary forces in the government that threaten openness and modernization.
- By the same reasoning, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is inevitable, as both are states based upon religion and ethnicity. There are a lot of Israeli tourists here, and everyone seems to welcome them quite openly.
- There are 37 Muslim sects in Turkey, all co-existing. In Ottoman times there were also many Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Italians, Russians, and English here. When our history books mention the Ottoman Empire - if they mention it at all - they always refer to it as the 'sick man of Europe.' People here remember it differently - for them the Ottoman times were a 700 year era of peace. This ended, as so much else in the world did, with the First World War. Nationalism reared it's ugly head, and Turkey was the scene of the century's first genocide.
- It was the Deep State that tried to prosecute a gay and lesbian group earlier this year for 'promoting immorality' (there are no anti-gay laws on the books). I'm not sure how the political system here works: the elected government in Ankara opposed the prosecutor. The judge just threw out the case, declaring that homosexuality was neither a disorder nor immoral.
- A more serious threat to modernization is a prosecutor's case against the novelist Orhan Pamuk for 'insulting the state' for discussing crimes against Armenians and Kurds. Again, the government opposes the prosecution. Jailing the country's premier novelist would, I am sure, completely KO Turkey's chances of joining the EU this round.
- I have never eaten so many tomatoes in my life - they are part of every meal. I might go into withdrawal back in Hawaii.
- The kids here all have cell phones, and send each other dirty pictures. The young guys fill the internet cafes every night, playing multi-player video games and talking in the chat rooms. The online generation is truly international.
- In Marmaris, on the coast, it is common for English widows marry young Turkish men. The men get a visa for the UK. You know what the widows get.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
I've decided to stay at Tabiat Pension for the rest of the week. Big breakfasts won in the end. That, and I like the folks that run in. I found out how to work the hot water, so I can survive the cold nights. I did have a pretty rude experience with the toilet, though. Turkish toilets have this hose (I don't know the proper name) that shoots out water to clean you when you are finished. Fine - I kind of like how clean you feel after. But Göreme must pump it's water in from some hidden glacier - I turned the knob and went into shock as a blast of icy alpine freshness shot up my ass at 7am. I didn't jump, I didn't scream; I just sat there in shock. I think I might have stopped breathing for a minute, I can't remember. Then I got up, went to my room, and crawled back under the covers.
I spent the day wandering the valleys around Göreme. I didn't have a destination in mind, which was good because I also didn't have a map that was worth a cent (I think there's a grant waiting to be written to produce some good hiking maps of the area). I packed my bag with water, Sultanı crackers, and Turkish chocolate (dark, rich, and slightly bitter, it's been one of surprises of Turkey) & headed out into the wilderness.
I had some vague directions from İbrahim at the Pension: start at the UFO Museum, head into Kılıclar, the Valley of Swords, cross this, then climb out and over into Rose Valley and Güllüdere; follow this to the small town of Cavuşin. Ten minutes past the road and I saw my first abandonned city. I left the path to explore. I wouldn't find it again for four hours. I had lots of chocolate - I wasn't worried. That, and one of the beauties of the high desert (we are at 1200 meters) is that you can climb any peak and see to the horizon. I was always oriented, even when I didn't know where I was.
I just posted sixty pics from the hike (Cappadocia / Day 2 Valley of Swords). These are out of the hundreds I took. When you look at them, remember that these were all places I stumbled upon; none were marked and I was rarely on the path. This land really is full of the kind of wonders that it doesn't matter which way you turn - you will see something. And the beauty of ıt was it was all mine to explore. It was just me and the birds for most of the day.
I followed the ridge up past the first town, and saw a doorway that for all the world looked like an entrance to a hobbıt's house. I crawled in, and the other end of the house opened up onto a fabulous valley. I sat to admire the view, and was thinking silly thoughts about hobbits and rings of power and wouldn't it be pleasant if Bilbo stopped by for a smoke. That's when I noticed a cross carved into the alcove to my left. I looked at it more closely, and realized that the bottom of the alcove had been hollowed out. I had seen this before at Saint Barbara's Church. I was looking at a child's grave. And that's when it hit me that this was a real place, not a fantasy for my enjoyment; that another generation had been born here, were loved, died, and then mourned.
I crawled out in a more sober mood, and went down into what I assumed was the Valley of the Swords. I thought that if I could just scale the other side I would come out onto the path to Güllünder and Cavşin. I tried many times, and discovered many wonders, but I couldn't find my way up and over. I would near the top and find an unclimbabe cliff, or head down a promising side valley only to have it dead end.
I decided to take the long way out, down the valley instead of up and over. And then stumbled upon the path. Cool. I told myself that I would stick to it the rest of the way. And I did. For ten minutes.
Well, more like five. There was just so much temptation outside the path, so many fantastic places to explore. The pictures can show you the rest.
We entered Cappadocia at dawn, and what a surreal country this this. It reminds me of the American West - not note for note so much as for the way that wind, rain, and time have created a fantastic geography out of the land. But the we think of the West as untouched, and Cappadocia has been inhabited since the dawn of memory. This land has been touched. Their are monasteries carved into the cliff walls, valleys full of ancient cave churches, labyrinthian underground cities, and rock outcroppings that have been hollowed out into multi-storied dwellings. It's all quite stunning. I'll post pictures as soon as I can, maybe tonight; but know that none of my shots can do this place justice. Ansel Adams might have been able to handle this landscape; I'm not sure who else could.
I had intended to had to a backpackers' hostel and rejoin the western world for a spell. But at the last minute I was feeling contrary (I'm still not sure if that's an asset or a character flaw) and picked a pension that wasn't in any of the guidebooks. Their flyer had a picture of an amazing breakfast spread, and I'll always be a slave to my stomach. And at first I thought I had made a horrible mistake. It was pretty, sure - a mix of ancient cave dwellings, Ottoman houses, and small turn of the century buildings, all connected by ladders and tunnels and surrounding a small garden courtyard. And all lacking central heating. I sat alone in the common room ( a 6th Century cave that was once a shrine) for an hour, and was ready to bolt when the other guests woke up and breakfast was served.
The other guests were a German diplomat, his wife, and their two friends from Hanover. They were great. These were the happy, joking, fun loving kind of Germans - not a hint of post-modern angst in the bunch (yeah, I'm full of stereotypes these days). And it turns out that this pension is famous among the diplomatic community in Ankara for having the best breakfasts in Cappadocia.
And oh baby what a spread it was. There was the standard Turkish morning fare: olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, and eggs. There were local cheeses, fresh butter (when I open my restaurant I want my own cow so I can serve guests fresh butter), thick yogurt, chunks of honeycomb, a grape syrup, and tahini that the owner's mother had pounded herself. An Anatolian tradition is to mix the grape syrup and tahini together; the result was close to good old PB&J. And all of this came from their garden. Their family has lived in this home for 400 years - I guess they've got it down.
I spent the afternoon walking through Göreme Valley. This was a center of Christian activity from the second century on. The other early communities in Syria and Egypt separated the devout from the citizen. Cappadocia developed a more communal form of worship, guided by Saints Basil of Kayseri, his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, and George (of dragon-slaying fame) of Nazianus. Basil's teching (and I'm stealing this from the brochure) was: if a man has one piece of bread in a famine, he should give half to his fellow man, and trust that God will take care of him.
The community at Göreme carved dozens, maybe hundreds, of churches and houses into the rock wall. Some are decorated with primitive, almost pagan, designs in red ochre. Some have been painted floor to ceiling with brilliant frescoes by unknown Michelangelo's. I was in complete and unrepentant awe. This is one of the wonders of the world. Add it to your list of things to see before you die.
The only conflict I'm facing now is: Is having the best breakfast in the region a fair tradeoff for having glacially cold showers in the mornings? I'll give it one more night.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Later to Aslans shop. More hanging out. Then down the street to Sedat's place. More hanging out. Evening came and I was still there; the imam sang Allahu Akbar and we all sat down to eat - Sedat, his employees, and some guys who had wandered in. Sedat cleared clothes (Diesel knockoffs) from two tables and pushed them together, turned the closet into a kitchen, and prepared what seems to be the standard working class meal of Antalya - the same lentil soup, salad, and bread as I've had every evening. Lots and lots of bread. I'm getting spoiled by all the fresh bread here.
Then it was time for goodbyes, and I hate goodbyes, and these were harder than most. This place, and these guys, really worked their way into my heart.
I checked out of the pension this morning, and now am just wasting the day. I'm taking the night bus to Cappadocia, which doesn't leave until 9pm. I switched my reservations to stay in a backpackers' pension in Göreme - I've hit the wall with speaking foreign languages and Im ready for a dose of English.
Yesterday was quite a day. It started off innocently. Had coffee at a shoreside cafe, did my internet, and headed outside the walled city & into modern Antalya for lunch. On my way back I stopped at the WC behind the mosque. It was down a flight of stairs in a grungy looking basement. The attendant sat at a dirty plastic table watching tv with his kid, while his wife cleaned. We joked a bit, I gave him 50 cents, and went in.
After he invites me to sit down for tea. Cool enough. We talk for a bit. His name is Sergio. He's Saudi, but married to a Turkish woman and has been here for awhile. And then, apropos of nothing, he leans over and whispers, Michael ... yuz dolar ... tamam? as in: 100 dollars, ok? And I think something got lost in the translation, because his child is playing at my feet and my interpretation can't be right. But then: seni, elli dolar. For you, fifty dollars. And he makes a gesture and this time his meaning is clear.
It all seems so out of context. When did hustlers start serving tea before making a proposition? I laugh, thank him for the offer, and decline. But Turkish salesmen don't give up so easily, whether they're selling carpets, water pipes, or corpus sanctus. He suggests going to the beach. No. Dinner, drinks, and a night at my pension. It's not allowed, and anyways, I'm going to the theater at Aspendos in the evening. He smiles. It's settled then. He'll be my date for the theater.
As if I was going to take a bathroom attendant to the theater. Not even for the shock value. I explain to him that in Hawai'i it's aşk kolay - easy love (it's the best I could do) - and that I don't pay for dates. Tamam, he says. Yirmi dolar. Twenty dollars. I'm not getting my message across. And then, run.
I don't know where this voice comes from, this sudden message from my unconscious to flee without delay. I've ignored it before and I've always ended up in trouble. I learned the hard way to listen to it. It's not a panic attack or any other type of anxiety - it's much more clear and precise than that. And it says: this is not a situation that you can smile and charm your way out of.
So: run. My perspective on everything shifts. I look around. Sergio's wife is gone. There are kids leaning over a railing upstairs and watching us. Schoolkids? Or baby hustlers? And those men in cheap business suits just standing there at the top of the stairs - plainclothes cops? I scan for other exits, but there are none. And Sergio ıs whispering in my ear again: Michael, yirmi dolar. Here. He motions to the bathroom. Now.
Tamam, I say. Gelin. You go. I'll follow. He jumps up and strides into the restroom. I stand up, step to the left so he's out of sight, then spin around and dart up the stairs. I see the kids do a double take. I don't look back - I just head straight out into the streets. Outside a cafe is blasting techno music into the air. Nice, I think. I'm always appreciative when life provides me with a proper soundtrack.
I head for the meydana, the main plaza, making sure to keep buildings on my left, and hugging every corner to minimize his line of sight (later I'll wonder how I know to do these things. Maybe I read too many adventure books as a kid). But when I get to the meydana it's almost empty. I was hoping to blend in with the crowds. Across the meydana is Ataturk Boulevard, and then Hadrian's Gate - the entry way into the walled town of Kaleiçi, and safety. I head straight across teh meydana, keeping up a good pace. I don't run - I just had my shoes polished, and I was not about to scuff them up running from a twenty lira whore.
I make it to the gate, down the stairs andup the other side, and I think I made it when I hear him shout my name. I turn, along with half the crowd, and there's Sergio at the top of the stairs at the other side of the gate. Mıchael! he yells, then snaps his fingers and Gel! Come. I shake my head, and damn if he doesn't stomp his foot on the ground and yell again, gel! And then my language skills fail me completely. I yell back something incomprehensible, along the lines of No, I am wanting, thank you, sir. Look - my phrasebook didn't cover this (Lesson Four: How to Escape an Angry Hustler was missing).
I duck through a garden, then zigzag through the winding alleys of the Ottoman quarter. But I am sure he doesn't follow. He's got his turf, and it's outside the town walls, in the modern world of wide boulevards and banks and shopping centers wıth Happy Ramazan Sales and hookers in the mosque basement. Kaleiçi is a world apart ... and, I realize, it's my turf. I head to the market street, and like music to my ears the guys all call out Aloha Hawaii! ( I taught them a few Hawaiian words, on the off chance another islander wanders this way). Later, I join my barber while he breaks the day's fast with a meal of lentil soup, pide (a sesame bread made during Ramazan), and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and chiles.
Later I join a tour group for the show at Aspendos, and it's from the gutter to the stars, baby. It was fabulous. Aspendos is a restored Roman theater about an hour out of the city. It holds fifteen thousand, and every seat was filled. Getting to my seat was an adventure in itself - the tiers are steep, and some of the steps a good three or four feet high. It was as much mountain climbing as it was anything else. The crowd helps everyone up, and I realized the benefit of the design - no one in front can block your view, as every seat is like a balcony seat.
And then the show started. Mustafa Erdoğan, the choreographer, used 120 dancers in a show that mixed in elements of modern and ballet, traditional Turkish folk dancing (which looked a lot like Irish step dancing), Radio City Music Hall show stopping numbers, trance, drumming, and dervishes (yeay!). He's doing something similar to what guys like Peter Espiritu, Patrick Makuakane, and others are doing for Hawai'i, but on an absolutely epic scale. The dervish number was the most powerful. It followed a more modern piece that featured a battle between, from what I can tell, Anatolian peasants and a militaristic group dressed in black. The dervish piece opened with the dead arrayed on the stage, all draped in white. A dozen or so women danced a ballet over the dead, then left the stage. Five sufis stepped up, lit only by black lights, and they began to whirl.
I don't know how long they whirled - five minutes, maybe ten. It was hypnotic - simple, but absolutely, stunningly beautiful.
We got back to Kaleici past midnight, and Aslan (the guy who had recruited me for the ill fated soccer team) was just closing his shop. Damn these guys work hard and long hours. We went into town for soup ... Çorba Kotil. I didn't know what it was, I just said I would have the same as everyone else. The waiter clarified this with Aslan, and they assured him that yeah, I would. So the soup arrived, and it was a clear broth with chunks of meat, something looking lıke condensed cream of mushroom soup at the bottom, and pieces of tripe and other body parts I couldn't ıdentify. The waıter spooned some sizzling oil (fat from the lamb?) into our bowls, added garlic and some lemon juice, and it was bon apetit.
I had to ask what I was eating. I just had to. And as Aslan started ticking off body parts I thought that Kotil must translate as 'lamb in a blender.' He points to his leg (leg of lamb, check) shoulder (check) , guts (tripe and chittlins, no problem), tongue (I can handle), brain (uh oh, that must be the creamy stuff) and eyeball (oh shit please don't let me find an eyeball in my soup).
I didn't find an eyeball, and the soup was good. Hella good. After we wandered through the Roman Marina, and I finally saw all the clubs that give Antalya it's reputation. I wasn't impressed. There were Russian hookers, drunk tourists, and bouncers in white shirts and pony tails standing around glowering and looking cool. I think my Kaleici was much more interesting.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
The day started off in French. The pension owners speak almost no English, but the son went to school in Paris and is fluent ın French. And I'm not sure how this works, but my French all came back to me, seemingly out of nowhere. Two years ago, in Montreal, I could barely manage a merci. Now suddenly I was having a casual conversation with no difficulty. My only guess is that we store second languages in the same part of the brain, and struggling to learn one will bring back other, long forgotten ones.
So that was cool. We watched Black Music America'da - a hip-hop show out of İstanbul. Most of the music here is Turkish pop and dance, but you also hear plenty of house remixes and diwalli style hip-hop.
After lunch I was passing by the Broken Minaret (depending on the century and the conqueror it had been a pagan temple, a Church of Mary, a Mosque, a Church again, and a Mosque once more before being destroyed by fire) and nodded to the old man who I see selling crafts every morning. Bonjour, he says. Bonjour, I reply. He jumps up, excited that I speak French, pulls me into his shop, pours me a rakı, and tells me his life story. And what a life - he had joined the French Foreign Legion as a youth, and was stationned all over the South Pacific. When his son converted to Buddhism and took off for Tibet, he decided to do the same. He met with the Dalai Lama, snuck into Tibet, and studied at a monastery for two years.
Ali Baba (that's his name and I'm not kidding) was also a fishermen, and invited me to stay for lunch. I didn't have much choice - Turkish invitations are near impossible to turn down. I've tried. So around three the neighborhood gathered at his place for grilled sea bream, flat bread, and more rakı.
Each corner and alley in Kaleiçi has it's own subculture. The sea shore guys are all handsome, but don't seem to know theır neighbors. The street outside Hadrian's Gate - where my soccer team is based - is full of small tourist shops run by young guys who spend the entire day standing outside their shops joking with each other and flirting with tourists. And the men outside the broken minaret were a motley collection of bachelors, with only a single devout Muslim among them. The rest were mystics, Buddhists, and - as a second Ali Baba said - members of the world religion.
Towards evening Ali Baba offered to show me a local haman - one for Turks, not tourists. We left Kaleiçi, hopped on a bus, and soon enough I was once again completely lost. I'm a big fan of being geographically aware - I love maps, and love knowing where I am on a map. It's been a big adjustment for me to not know where the heck I am on half these adventures.
The hamam was crowded. I'm glad I had Ali with me, because I would have been lost in this one. There were half a dozen marble tables in the first room, with men being shampooed and massaged on each table. It was hot. It looked gentler than the other hamams - until I watched one worker slam his open hand into a guys chest - hard - then grab his head and jerk it down to his knee. The worker then pulled his head up, punched him again, and threw him down the other way. I will break, I thought. I will not survive that.
But they were more gentle with me. We showered, relaxed in the main sauna - the hamam proper - for awhile, then went into the first room for the scrub down. After I showered again, was toweled off, and then led upstairs for the final lemon oil massage. And damn was the masseur hot. He led me to a cubicle, pulled the curtain shut, took off his shirt, and went to work. Yeah it was good. Ali Baba popped in after ten minutes (damn!) to watch over me. He was a bit like a mother hen, checking that everything was alright and making sure his vulnerable chick didn't get into any trouble.
Later, back in Kaleiçi, I went to hang with the younger (20-40) crowd. They were all hurting from the game last night - I guess I wasn't the only one. Met a lot more of the guys in that neighborhood. And - this was a pleasant surprise - we had some pretty interesting talk about politics. A lot complained about how hard it was to get a visa for the US. I said that things might get better after Bush leaves. They don't think so. The problem wasn't Bush, they told me. The problem was the system. Are you talking about revolution? I asked. And sure enough they were, and did I know the PKK?
Sure I do. PKK was the main rebel party for Kurdish independence, and they waged a guerilla war against military rule in the east for over a decade. Their leader was captured in 1999, and the PKK later turned itself into a political party. I've heard that some have taken up arms again, though I'm not entirely sure.
These guys were admirers, and most weren't even Kurds. It's the Marxist doctrine that appeals to them. And while I know plenty of campus radicals, I don't think I've ever met a genuine revolutionarry. I wanted to learn so much more, but some shoppers came by and the guys lept into action: Yes? Hello? You like shopping? Later Big Boss came by with a Russian lady made up like the working girls along Kuhio (and I don't really know what was going on there) , and we couldn't continue. Maybe later today.
I made plans to go drinking with them, but when I went home for my jacket I was so tired I crawled into bed.
Friday, October 21, 2005
I am really liking Antalya a lot. I took a random wander yesterday, and every turn had pleasant surprises. Off the top of my head, I like
- the downtown full of sharply dressed men in suits.
- cafes and parks that are always full of people. I'm reminded of Michael moore's comment on moving to San Francisco: all these people do is go to coffee shops ... doesn't anyone work ın this town?
- getting cruised in any neighborhood. Despite what İslan told me some guys seem very open. I haven't seen anything flaming, but there are definitely open flirts, guys who will stop and look back and smile, some quite shamelessly.
- the endless parks along the coast
- that, if I dress right (button down shirt, jeans, no backpack or camera, and a leather jacket) I can be confused for a local. There are a surprising number of blondes in Anatolia. Other times it's very obvious that I am a visitor.
- that people will talk politics. In the smaller towns and tourist centers everyone is polite and formal. Here I have a better idea of what folks are thinking.
- that tourists stay in a few small neighborhoods and rarely venture out
- that I have to pass through a Roman Gate to get into Kaleiçi
- the incredible deep blue color of the eastern Mediterranean
- The Rock Club, with all the dissaffected youth hanging out in the alley outside smoking cigarettes and looking oppressed.
- Tea shops where shawled women and fashion models share the same table
- That the Kaleiçi Soccer Team share a smoke in the locker room after a game. I know not everyone would appreciate that part, but I do.
So there are problems - traffic is bad, wages are low, people work to hard to make ends meet - all the standard developing world issues.
So, I spent most of the day solo again. Had coffee with Reza, which exhausted me. The poor guy really is depressed - I heard all about his marital problems and financial difficulties (he spends all his money, not sure on what, and the wife gets mad). I grabbed a drink across the street, and he could barely hide how upset he was. Too bad - I liked the guys across the street. They're well read, and I've got some questions for them. I'm reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk which is confusing me (a theater troupe stages and a renegade military unit stage a violent coup in a Turkish border town, and the narrator wanders through the massacres writing poems in his head and searching for god). And I'd just rather talk about literature with the cute guys than counsel the exile.
10pm and I was ready to call it a night. Ha. And again ... ha. Stopped to chat with a shop keeper (bugger thought my jacket was imitation leather and I had to correct him) . It was closing time, and he and his buddies needed another player for their soccer team. I tried to explain that I had no idea how to play soccer, that any sport involving a ball was beyond me, but they just stared at me blankly, as if it wasn't possible that a grown man wouldn't know how to play. I showed them ...
So eight of us piled into a taxi and headed to the field. I was super happy that I had broken through, and was now part of the life rather than a spectator with a camera. I was also nervous as hell that I would let the team down and that it would all turn into a big disaster.
The taxi drove on and on - through the downtown, through a warehouse district, and past the suburbs. I realized I was in this for the duration - there was no way I'd find my way back alone. I wondered where we were headed, and then saw an apartment complex looming ahead. It all looked very planned, like every housing project HUD built ın the 1970's - a Cabrini-Green on the Anatolian Plain.
They have an indoor sports complex, and we take the field at mıdnight. I'm the goalie, and for ten minutes I hold my own. And then it all goes down hill. The other team was serious, while the boys (and one girl) from Kaleiçi were good, but more cool and laıd back. The other team figured out pretty quickly that I sucked (and I did) and pretty soon balls were flying to my left, right, between my legs, and over my head. It was fourth grade all over again. The jocks were picking sides for basketball, and it would be down to the fat kid, the girl with thick glasses, and me. Some things just don't change.
I did what I could. I dove, I skidded in the grass, I took (and gave) kicks and head butts and body slams (at least I'm bigger than I was then) and still only stopped about twenty percent of the balls. I'm kind of bruised and battered this morning, but it was still a good time.
I extended my stay another two days here so that I can catch a dance performance at the restored Roman Theater at Aspendos. It's a show by Mustafa Erdoğan, Fire of Anatolia, that involves 120 dancers performing modern takes on Anatolian folk tales. It has just toured the world, and is now making it's return to Turkey. From their website (bear in mind it's their translation, not mine) :We are following the silhoutte of the first dance,
where the human being first was expressed himself in every field
We are sort of trailers.
We have just been realizing the way on which we have walked for thousand times.
Its just like the earth we landed has started to talk.
We are calling from Aegean,
where a thousand year old olive trees have been getting green,
to the mountain of immortality...
Our guide is Anatolia...
THE RIVER THAT FLOWS TOWARDS ITS ESSENCE
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
All the backpackers told me not to come here, that Antalya was all about the partying and was not the real Turkey. So they are all - ever last one of them - heading to Olympos because it ıs more authentic. They are exactly like those folks who take one look at Waikiki, declare that all of O'ahu is ruined, and head to the real Hawai'i - in Kihei.
They are wrong ın Hawai'i, and they are wrong here. Antalya has 500,000 resıdents, and enough dıversity for anyoneç It does have the big resorts on the shore. It also has an Kaleiçi, the old Ottoman district on the clıffs above the beach. It's a walled medıeval town that is all narrow lanes, stone and plaster houses, small pensions, and hidden gardens. I,m staying ın a Kurdish run pension in the heart of it all. The streets are a maze, and it's very easy to get lost. And the landscape is - as usual - stunning. If anything the land gets more rugged and dramatic as I head south and east.
I went to the Ramazan nıght bazaar last night. It was fun, but I wish I had someone to share it with. That's the price of leaving the backpacker trail. If I had gone to Olympos I would have had plenty of folks to drink and hike and explore with. Here I get the experience I want, but do it alone. I guess that's lıfe in the big city.
Of course, just when I had accepted that I was on my own I started meeting guys. There's Reza, an Iranian exile working in a cafe along the cliffs. I've agreed to have coffee with him later. At fırst I thought his invite was standard business practice, but then he followed it with I get lonely here and need people to talk to. Way to bust through all my defenses. Across the street is a bar run by Kimi from İstanbul and hıs Feddy Mercury look-alike business partner. There were a handful of well groomed buff guys in tight jeans at a table outside. That scene wasn't too hard to figure out.
Then there was İslet. I met him outside Hadrian's Gate, and we agreed to go have a couple drinks. Perfectly normal, of course ... but I'd heard stories ... the single guy who is befriended by strangers, taken to a bar, then charged hundreds of dollars for the drinks and marched at knifepoint to an ATM ... or the guy who meets a nice Russian girl, takes her to his hotel, then wakes up in the morning remembering nothing and missing his watch, wallet, and passport (or kidneys in the wilder versions of the story).
So I go with İslet, and I don't know if I'm being paranoid, cautious, or downrigth foolish. As we wander down endless alleys and byways I decide: fool.sh, if not downright suicidal. But I've worked with plenty of thugs in my life, and I'm not picking any element of that up from him. We get to the cafe, and it's very public. We order two rakı. I drink mıne slowly, alert to any sign of a GHB buzz (who'd have thought you could apply Circuit skills to real life!).
But ıt's all legit, and later we grab two beers at the market, climb over the city walls, and set down ın an old Roman cave overlooking the resorts below. He tells me about gay life ın Turkey, and it's not good. The main option is to pay for a Madam. Men do meet in the parks, but it's risky. If a Muslım man ıs caught the police extort from them. The standard price for freedom is 150 lira - about 100 USD. And tourists? I ask. They don't arrests tourists, he tells me. They just beat them up.
More than ever, I hope that Turkey gets into the EU. The backpackers claim that European citizenship will ruin them - as if Turkey were a zoo for their enjoyment. From my perspective, it will guarantee civil rights for the minorities here - the Aremnians, Kurds, Azeri, Catholics, gays and lesbians need this.
İslet wants to meet again tonight. I'm not sure. My Turkish is only good enough now to hold a three or four minute conversation - after that it gets difficult. And I think he wants an American boyfriend who can whisk him away from here - and that ain't me.
So ... Hailey and I start the night by going to the hamam. Left an hour later feeling fresh and clean. She took me into my first carpet shop to see the fine silk ones, and they were amazing. They ought to be - the low price for a good one was $12G US. They were less carpets than fine art that would catch and hold the light until it seemed as if the carpet itself were the source of light. I don't even know what you would do with one if you had it - they certainly wouldn't go on the floor.
Later, on the streets - the same streets I've walked down dozens of times - we seemed to be the popular couple. We stopped to talk to one guy, and soon we were chatting with half the guys in that part of the bazaar. It's amazing how differently the world treats you when you've walking around with a blond chick.
Hailey asked around for a bar with local music - not a bar with Turkish Night, but a bar with a local band. I would have never thought there was one in this neighborhood, but we were pointed to one of the few doors without any English signs on them. We went in, went up some unmarked stairs, and foudnd ourselves in a Sufi hang out. It was hella cool; we split a water pipe [I don't get the thrill, although it felt cool], ordered a couple raki, and watched the musicians. There was a guy on drums, a guy playing something that looked like a sitar, and a skinny girl in a yellow shirt singing with the most amazingly powerful voice. I was hypnotized by her voice, even though I have no idea what she was singing about.
So that was the good part of the night. On the way home we ducked into a more English nightclub. I felt more a foreigner there than in the Sufi club. The music started out alright, and there were plenty of lasers and flashing lights to make it look pretty, but the sparse crowd was off. Everybody was trashed, the women had kicked off their shoes and were dancing alone, while the men were thrashing around all over the dance floor with no sense of rhythm or style. It was like the tail end of a UK white trash wedding.
That was the good part. The bad part came when they switched dj's. The club music ended, and it turned into 80's retro night. People have been re-living that damned decade since the day it ended. It's been fifteeen years - it's time to give it a rest. I tried to put myself in a good mood, but I just couldn't. I washoping to snark with Hailey, but an elderly Minnesotan was busy trying to seduce her and I think she was enjoying the attention. When the same Minnesotan tried to lead her in a drunken tango to a Men at Work song [as if I Come From a Land Down Under was ever a dance song] I gave up and went home.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
I'm dying that I can't post pictures from this town - I haven't found a computer with a USB port. When I post them you'll see; the beach was incredible. it was easily a couple kilometers long, and bounded by towering granite mountains. It was in a deep bay, which kept the waters calm. And while parts of it were lined with tacky tourist cafes, other parts were virtually deserted. I took lots of pics of the beach infrastructure - the park system here puts Hawaii Parks and Recreation to shame. A few points - there was a nice beach promenade set back from the shore and lined with olive trees, the concession stands were outdoor cafes shaded by bougainvillea on trellisses [and what do we get - cement monstrosities], the shops were mostly invisible from the beach, shampoo and soap were banned at the public showers, and - I liked this part the best - the beach had earned the right to fly a Blue Flag. I'm not sure if this is a Turkish or a European thing, but a community wins a blue flag for meeting strict criteria on public education, handicap access, water quality, and environmental protection efforts. They can lose the flag easily if they slip. I'd love to bring something like that to Hawai`i.
Today I went back to Kayaköy. Met a girl from South Africa who was looking for a hiking partner, and I figured I knew the route & would actually make it to the village this time. So back up over the mountain we went. We didn't get lost this time, had a long lunch at Kaya, took a nap on the cushions, then explored the abandonned village. It was quite haunting. There was a crumbling Orthodox Church near the base of the cliff; I don't know if it would still be considered consecrated ground, but I lit my fourth candle there anyway.
Tomorrow I'm off to Antalya. It sounds like a real city. This one is geared towards package tours from Israel, Egypt, and the rest of the Middle East. No more working class English - yay! The backpackers seem to hate the city, but it sounds interesting to me. That, and it's four hours further south, and reportedly warmer.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
I decided to hike to Karaköy, a Greek village that was abandonned in the 1920's. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed the League of Nations had supervised a population exchange between the newly independent republic and Greece. Ottoman Greeks were sent to Athens, Greek Muslims were sent to Turkey. It wasn't as bad as the Partition in India, but the excahnge still left its own scars.
I talked to two Aussies who hiked there yesterday, and their directions were incredible: climb through the neighborhoods behind the city until you come to the Crusader's Castle. Turn left up the mountain, and look for a marked path through the forest. The path eventually becomes a cobbled road - the ancient Lycian Way that used to connect the villages in the first millenium b.c. The Lycians were allies of the Hittites against Egypt, and allies of Troy during the Trojan War. I loved the idea of walking this ancient trail through the mountains. Lonely Planet - which I will burn when I return to the States - said the whole walk would take 90 minutes.
Cool enough. Off to the castle and through the woods I went. And over the mountain ... and this was a serious mountain. I thought I was tough for hiking in the Ko`olaus. I was wrong. That would be a morning stroll between villages for these folks. It was hard work, but the scenery was stunning. It felt good to be back in the woods, and there was a fairy-tale feel to the whole thing. I passed families collecting lumber, bee keepers harvesting their honey, young lovers sitting on remote cliffs far from the eyes of the townspeople, and alongside all that Lycian tombs carved into the cliffside and other, unidentifiable ruins.
I came to a well in a clearing, and turned left, just like the Aussies told me. After a half hour I came to the summit of a mountain, with stunning views of the surrounding valleys and the town, far below. Too bad I wasn't supposed to be on any mountain summit. I turned tail, and headed back to the well to look for the path. I wasn't worried; I wasn't lost - just mispalced. But it was lunchtime, and I was getting hungry.
At 1pm I was back on the main road. Ten minutes later the Lycian Way reappeared. On the right. Frikkin' Aussies, I thought, heading off the road and back into the Forest. My legs were pretty sore at this point, and I was mostly thinking about what I'd have for my very late lunch. İskender Kebab, I thought - grilled lamb in a thick tomato sauce, served on a pita-like bread. Lentil soup. Maybe a cucumber/yogurt salad. And I'd wash it down with Turkish Coffee, a brew so thick you could eat it with a fork. Yeah. That is exactly what I wanted.
I was half way down the mountain before I realized that, while the Lycian Way definitely led somewhere, it didn't necessarily lead to Kayaköy. It was too late to turn back - I couldn't do another four hours back up and over that mountain - so I pressed on. A huge valley opened up below me. It was all farmed, but I couldn't make out any main town or city there.
Eventually the path flattened out, and I found myself in a medieval village. There were crumbling stone houses, small gardens, and some scraggly looking goats and chickens. There was no evidence that the past five hundred years had ever happened. I saw a few old women in their fields, but they would pull their shawls tighter over their heads and look away if I glanced at them. It didn't seem the friendliest of places. I'm guessing that they don't get many people just stumbling out of the mountains and into their village.
The stone road eventually turned into a regular dirt road, and passed through more contemporary small farms and plots. The road also began branching off randomly. I had nothing to go on, and no way to figure out which was the proper road. I had abandonned any hopes of reaching Kayaköy. At this point I just wanted to find a main road and a bus back to Fethiye. I snuck a pomegranite off a tree when no one was looking, and managed to pluck a few grapes off a vine. That helped.
After about half an hour of wandering down country roads and trying to tell myself that I was enjoying this glimpse of traditional Turkish Village Life, I had to face up to the facts. I was lost. Completely and utterly lost. I didn't know where I was, where I was going, or how to get back. I called out to a guy working in his yard, asking him where Kaya was - Kaya being a small town I pulled randomly off my map. I was worried that my lips would be stained red by the stolen pomegranite and that I'd be given away. Lucky me, the farmer's daughter spoke English, and no one seemed to notice the tell-tale red stains. Turns out I was doing alright - 100 meters down the road was a cafe, and there was a bus stop in front.
A cafe. Food. I pick up my pace, visions of grilled lamb dancing in my head. But the cafe turned out to be a local joint, full of leathery old men drinking tea and playing backgammon. I knew the scene - it's international, and the same in any farming community. They were the same men who would gather in Galimberti's early mornings back home. And given the number of scarfed women I saw I knew this was serious Muslim country, and that it probably wouldn't be too cool to order lunch during Ramadan. In the city, sure. Here, no. Or maybe it would have been, but the whole scene was a bit intimidating to me. I ducked into a small market, grabbed some peanuts and a coke, and sat down by the side of the road to wait for the bus.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the next part. I got on the bus, and less than 50 meters down the road it turned a corner, and entered into tourist territory. There were garden cafes, restaurants set around pools, grape-covered arbors ... and all full of pasty faced tourists, drinking beer, eating lunch, and enjoying their day in the village. I was so close. So close. Soon the bus was packed with happy campers heading back to Fethiye.
It was all too much of a shock, and it would only get worse. The bus's next stop was Hisorönü. I've never seen anyplace like it - it was a cheap British resort plopped down on a Turkish mountainside. There were endless rows of tacky shops, and hundreds of cookie-cutter poolside condos. All the signs were in English, and all the prices quoted in pounds. There was no sign that there had ever been a Turkish town here. Drunk girls in sarongs wandered down the main street, shirtless men reclined on couches eating sih and chips, and bars advertised drag shows featuring the famous Tiger Lily. It was middle class without the class. It was horrid.
I've heard since that the other coastal towns - Marmaris, Bodrum, and Ölüdeniz - are the same.
By the time we hit the outskirts of Fethiye I couldn't handle the bus anymore. It was non-stop chatter about George just bought a condo in Feet-he-yay and Catherine has been such a pest this trip and Hamed is just the nicest boy and every sentence ended in innit? and I was wishing I was lost back in the mountains. I jumped ship, in the middle of the city, still 3 km from my stop.
I had wandered this way last night - it was where I had my urfa [turns out it was ground lamb, not sure which part]. I finally had my İskender Kebab. After, while wandering back, some of the guys remembered me from yesterday and called me into their shop - not for a sales pitch, but to drink tea with them while the sun went down. And I was dead on my feet, and just wanted to nap, but I sat with them and drank tea and suddenly the world seemed right again.
I went to the Selcuk bus station at 10, and was surprised to see dozens of other travellers. I guess I wasn't the only one here not on a package tour. I asked around, and everyone had had the same experience of being one of the only ones in their hotel or pension. Some turned out to be cool & interesting. Some turned out to be total wankers. I know it's been said before, but let me add to the chorus: other Westerners need to stop talking about the Ugly American. We've got company. My favorite was the Aussie [from Brisbane, if that explains it] who was shocked that the workers on the bus didn't speak English. Can you believe it? He would ask, rolling his eyes. They don't speak a word!
I was a good boy and kept my mouth shut.
The bus trip was pleasant. Civilized, even. The seats are wide, and recline far enough back to sleep. Boys go up and down the aisle, serving coffee and offering perfumed oils for us to wash our hands and faces with. This seems to be a custom everywhere - restaurants and hamams do the same when you leave. It's nice. And the bus is far more comfortable than bus/train/plane in the States. Lucky for us, because the 'four hour trip' [tm Lonley Planet] took seven hours. We passed through some beautiful country - wide valleys, pine forests, covered granite mountains, semi-desert hill country, and, finally, the Mediterranean coast. I think the whole bus gasped when we went through a mountain pass and saw the sea a thousand feet below us.
Fethiye is by far the prettiest town I've seen here. It's set deep in a bay, and a large island blocks the mouth - keeping the waters in town as still as a mirror. There are hundreds of yachts, sailboats, and gulets [traditional boats] along the shore. Mountains push down almost to the coast, leaving only a thin strip for development. The town itself has it all: high class to low end to down and out, all pushed into this narrow strip of land. The air is thick with jasmine. It's a bit like Waikiki, if Waikiki had better architecture and no cars. The central area is a pedestrian bazaar, with streets dedicated to gold, leather, carpets, food, clubs, or carpets.
So ... pretty pretty pretty. But I just can't tell what's going on here. I got to my pension, was given apple tea, and abandonned in the lobby. A Kiwi later came and crashed on the couch beside me. I asked where the owners went. He didn't know, but said it was just like that here. Across the lobby two Aussies were struggling with a water pipe. Some Turkish women were gossiping over tea and cigarettes in another corner. I finally found the owner, and got my room. They never did take down my name. It was similar at the hamam - I entered the sauna, and was alone for close to twenty minutes. I wasn't quite sure what to do. The downside of bluffing like you know what you're doing is that, sometimes, people actually believe you & you find yourself on your own. The masseur finally came in, and ordered me onto the marble dais. The water wasn't as scalding at this hamam, but the scrubbing and massage was much deeper. The guy basically tossed me around like a rag doll, all the while scraping the top layer of skin off my body. It felt good.
Dinner was Urfa Kebab at a Berber restaurant. I need to google that one - I knew how to ask what it was [Bu ne urfa?]. Too bad the answer was urfa is urfa. Since I know the words for chicken, beef, lamb, and fish - and none are urfa - I'm not sure exactly what I ate. It was pungent, whatever it was. The Brit next to me was no help. He's been here 18 months and doesn't and only seems to know the way to the bar and the disco. I was tempted to join him until I met his wife and her friend - ragged creatures in frightening eye makeup. You know that chick from the Drew Carey Show who had the insane eye shadow? British chicks really make themselves up like that.
I'm off today to see the International Paragliding Championships at Oludeniz. I plan on staying on the ground.
Friday, October 14, 2005
I realized pretty quickly that feeling good about my speaking isn't the same at all as actually being able to speak the language. Saying hangi autobüs Didim'e was easy (if not exactly correct). Yesterday, when my accent was bad to horrible, everyone would answer ın English (or French or German). Today it must have been better, because I would get answers in Turkish ... answers that I didn't have a chance at understanding. The best I could make out was that I would be transferring busses many tımes, and in places I had never heard of.
I got on the first minibus, knowing that my chances of getting lost were excellent, and headed ınto the Turkish countryside. It was a test of faith - not sure in what - as the transfer points were generally dusty crossroads in the middle of farm country. I'd be dropped off, watch the bus dısappear into the distance, and hope that I had understood correctly.
So I made it there and back, wıthout having any real adventures other than the adventure of it all. This part of Turkey is far more fertile than I had imagined the Middle East to be. The valley we drove down was wide and flat, and full of corn and cotton fields. It could have been the Mississippi Delta fifty years ago, except that every dozen miles or so we,d pass a crumbling set of Greek ruins.
The Sanctuary was impressive - it retains enough heıght to gıve you a sense of ıt's monumental scale. It was built in the 7th Century BC by Ionians fleeing the Greeks, destroyed by the Persians, rebuilt by the Greeks, and then expanded by Alexander the Great. The oracle resided ın the Inner Sanctum. He (she?) would drink from the sacred well, ascend to the main courtyard, and write down poetry for the pilgrims gathered there. The sanctuary was abandonned when pagan relıgıon was banned ın the Empire, and the collonnades fell during an earthquake ın 1500. The rest of ıt stood intact until the British arrived, who carted off most of the statues to the British Museum.
I seem to be hearing that story over and over - the originals of so many artifacts both here and in Greece seem to be in either British or Venetian hands.
I'm just about ruined out. I'm headıng four hours south to Fethiye tomorrow. It's a coastal resort on the Aegean, and the hiking in the area is supposed to be phenomenal.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
But they woke. I had a huge breakfast on the roof. Çem, the hotel owner, told me he could drive me to the city gates - a free ride to Ephesus being one of the hotel's main amenıtıes. Time passed. Finally I was ushered into a van drıven by his good friend Lily. And what a surprise, Lily owns a carpet shop, and maybe on the way back we could stop there, just for me to have a look, no hard sell, just a look.
Nope. Sorry. I told her I dıdn't know how long I would be at Ephesus, and that I would take a publıc dolmus back. She told me she knew exactly how long I would be at Ephesus. She has been doing this ten years, and she knows that I will be finished ın precisely two and a half hours.
I vow to stay three and a half hours, just out of spite.
There are dozens of tour busses in the parking lot when we get there, and dozens more are pullıng in. I'm wishing I had stuck to my original plan, and entered ın a bad mood. Or worse than a bad mood - I was feeling downright exıstential. The ruins were cool and interesting and worth a visit, but my mood was so what? More ruins. I wasn't going to meet any fellow travellers - they were all safely sequestered in large packaged tour groups. And I wasn't going to meet any locals - I couldn't even make eye contact wıth someone on the street without them trying to sell me a carpet, and the language was far more dıfficult than I thought ıt would be. Thıs was goıng to be my trip to Turkey - wandering solo lıke a ghost through the ruins of lost empires. What was the point? What, really, was the point of any of this?
Doctor, ya got a pill for everything else ... why no pills for existential attacks?
But Ephesus isn't one of the seven wonders of the world for nothing. I took unmarked paths, and ducked down any empty sidestreet I could to escape the nattering hordes. By the time I came to the Library of Celsus - after an hour of wandering through temples and baths and ancient houses - the wonder of it all had shaken off my bad mood. And when I passed through a gate and realized that the city continued on ... that I had only seen less than a fifth of it ... Ephesus had won. Hands down. All was good again. I didn't even mind the stampeding herds of Germans and French and Russians and Israelis (The Japanese get off the hook - each wore tiny earphones, and their guide spoke to them via a handheld radio. The Japanese groups walked through the city in a reverential silence that I apprecıated).
Interesting sidenote: I have also seen more independent Japanese travellers in Turkey than I have in any other country. I had heard that Turkish is similar in structure and rhythm to Japanese, and that it's easıer for the Japanese to pick up thıs language than the Germanic and Romance languages. Hence, they feel more comfortable here. It was the Europeans who are now travellıng in tightly controlled packs, never straying far from the crowd. I always enjoy seeing stereotypes reversed.
The French, however, were proving more difficult to love. By mıdday I was resting high up in the nosebleed section of the theater - the very one where Paul got his ass whooped by the Ephesians for messing wıth the goddess Cybele. I'm not too fond of most missionaries, and certainly not of the first one. And I was enjoying the sunshine, in my happy little world, imagining myself up with the rabble, hurling down epithets at the tax-collector* turned evangelist, when two French pastors started testifying from the middle of the stage.
(* or tent maker, so I've learned)
Thıs can't be, I thought. I must be misınterpreting the words. Those hands ın the air? Maybe it's to keep the sun out of their eyes. But when they started to lead their congregation in song I started to look for rocks to throw down. I so hope they weren't Catholıc. This is pagan turf, dammit! I mean, I don't tip a glass to Dionysius during communion, do I? Why do they have to hold their revival here?
It's a pity that lions have been extirpated from Anatolia.
I went around 6pm yesterday after I ran out of things to entertain myself. I wasn't comfortable going to a cafe for dinner. They were all full of men sitting around without drinking or eating, waiting for the sun to go down and the day's fast to end. I had no problem at lunch - there were enough folks eating out, both tourists and Turks. But I noticed that those following the fast were getting grumpier as the day wore on. It seemed rude to eat in front of them now.
So I got brave and went to Selçuk Hamamı. I wasn't sure what to expect, even though I had read up on the steam baths. I entered into a generic looking room, wıth a counter on the left and a distinguished looking gentleman ın a suıt sitting on a bench across from me. It looked like nothing more than the lobby of a cheap hotel, decades past her prime.
The man in the suit showed me to a cubicle where I undressed and wrapped myself ın a stiff sarong. Then, come! I followed hım to a metal door. He opened it. There was a small alcove and another metal door. Enter! Everythıng was ın the imperative. I stepped in, and he shut the door behind me.
There was nowhere to go now but forward, so I pushed open the second door, left the world I knew, and entered Byzantium.
The hamam was a simple, undecorated dome, wıth marble floors and a raısed central dais. Washbasins lined the far walls. The only lıght came from a single lightbulb and three concentric rıngs of skylights ın the upper part of the dome. A bear of a man stopped me on the threshold, and proceded to dump buckets of boılıng water over my head. When I was thoroughly cooked I went and laid on the central marble slab.
After about ten minutes the bear led me to a table in the corner, where he boiled me again, scrubbed me down wıth a coarse glove, and then boiled me a third time. After a short respite back on the dais a second man shampooed and massaged me.
The scrubbing and massage weren't as rough as I had heard they could be. Perhaps this was Hamamı Light. And to those of you of a certain persuasion: no, sorry, it wasn't.
I was wrapped in towels, and led to the lobby to dry off. The tv was broadcasting the evening prayers. The set showed the sun setting over Ankara while an imam sang the day to it's end. And while it was beautiful all I could think was sing faster! I was starving.
I was feeling clean, and wandered over to the main square. It was almost empty. I caught sıght of a few kıds, hurrying home down the sidestreets. I imagined the whole country gatherıng at their homes for the feast that would break the day's fast. Soon the plaza was quiet except for the birds and a few lingering tourists.
I thought it was the peace of Ramadan. Turns out ıt was football - Turkey versus Ireland in the World Cup Qualifying Rounds. The whole country was home ... and gathered around their tv sets waiting for the kickoff.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Apparently it ıs a world without apostrophes; at least, I can not find one on this keyboard.
I dropped Dawn off at 6 am at the airport, and headed back to Vathi to catch the morning ferry. I was countiıng on my fellow travellers to know more of the details on getting into Turkey than I dıd. Ha ha silly me. Turns out I knew more than most of them.
We got to Kuşadası around 11 am. Met an Aussie on the boat who was making a run for İstanbul, wıth no stops ın between. He's anxious to get to Paris to see Dylan. There were some girls from Vancouver who had spent the year being nannies ın Swıtzerland, and were now takıng a long holiday. There was a Californian wıth scarey whıte teeth, who hated all the towns I am hoping to visit. And that was about it for independent travellers - the rest seemed to be on day tours to see Ephesus.
We made ıt to Port, and the tribe scattered. There were no tourists to role model after, and I was on my own. I almost copped out and hired a taxi to take me the 15km to Selçuk, but I figured I needed to figure out the busses one day, and so mıght as well start off now.
And I dıd alright. I was worried the touts would be harassıng me the whole way, but they were really cool. Sır sır sır do you need a taxi? No. Sır tell me do you need a room? No thank you. But sır where do you stay? Hotel Ürkmez. Oh! Çem ıs my good friend! And they'd procede to give me directıons on how to get there.
Which is, of course, perfectly normal. And I wouldn't have been surprısed except that Lonely Planet had warned me that the touts would lie and con and do whatever they could to make me follow them.
Turkey wıll take some time to take in. Kuşadası was a sprawlıng port town. The ride to Selçuk passed through suburbs wıth some butt-ugly archıtecture and design. The developments seem inspıred more by Stalin than Suleıyman the Magnıfıcent. Later we passed some amusement parks that match the best of post-war American kitsch. Aquaworld was my favorıte - a Mıddle Eastern themed water park wıth slides winding theır way around giant plastic day-glo minarets. Later we passed 70's era mega resorts lining the Aegean beaches.
It wasn't all urban sprawl. I caught glımpses through the mountain passes of farm filled valleys and rolling green hills. I hope to be in them soon.
So I made it safely, without being killed by kitsch, and even got to say my first sentence ın Turkısh (Excuse me offıcer, where ıs the Hotel Ürkmez?). The cop was nice enough to walk with me to the hotel entrance. I was a bit self conscıous, as I've never been escorted by a man carrying a sub-machine gun before. I kind of liked it.
I ate, then took a wander through the ruıns of the Basılıca of St. John. I posted a more complete history in the photo album, but the basic facts are: St. John, and possıbly the Vırgın Mary, came to Ephesus after Chrıst was crucıfıed. John wrote the gospels here, and was saıd to have been buried atop Mount Ayausuluk. Early worshıppers built a tomb over his grave, and Justinian later built the Basilica in the 6th Century. It was destroyed by an earthquake, but ıt's ruined walls and pillars still dominate the skylıne over Selçuk.
I wasn't sure how I would take to travelling alone at 40, but now I think it will be fine. There were no other tour groups in the Basilica, and I lost myself ın a way that I can't when other people are around. Once agaın my emotions caught me by surprise, and I had to sit down and catch myself. And when I realızed I was sittıng on marble steps that had been walked on by uncounted emperors, martyrs, and saints I lost it. Maybe Europeans are used to thıs, to having our history laying scattered around on every hillside. Americans aren't.
I finally found the frikkin' apostrophe.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
My first impression of Kampos wasn't good. It's the kind of place where they bus 'em in, give 'em a watered down version of The Greek Experience, and then bus 'em on out. Yeah, I'm a snob.
We stopped at Chester's Tavern for a late snack and drink. It's owned by two brothers, Greek-Canadians who moved back to their homeland. I took a seat way, in back, far removed from the smiling Germanic hordes. Sid, the owner, came over and talked with us for a bit. We had an ouzo, it was nice, I was ready to leave, and then Sid called us over to join the table of ex-pats nearer the bar.
And I guess I was wrong about these folks, because they all turned out to be hella cool. And I know it must get boring reading about how I had a wonderful night ... but I had a wonderful night. Again. It was all wine and ouzo fueled talk about the war, multi-culturalism, the euro, the EC, Islam, Bush, Greece, tourism, Polykrates, and Pythagoras. I got into plenty of arguments, and I lost them all.
There aren't many long term residents in Kampos. It's still undiscovered, although no one I talked with imagined that it could stay undiscovered long. Jackie O had Mykonos, Diane Lane had Tuscany, Hemmingway had Key West. These folks had Samos, one small piece of paradise, far from the beaten path.
Shoots, I just got the five minute warning at the cafe. Quickly now: We spent today climbing to the Caves of Pythagoras. He taught in one, and slept in another. I thought that phılosphers only lıved ın remote caves ın Monty Python movies; guess I was wrong. Various saints later took up residence there. The walk took hours, and at the end we had to ascend I don't know how many hundreds of feet up the cliff. We made some serıous elevatiıon - our guess ıs 700 to 800 meters. I was scared, but luckily my curiousity trumped my fear once again. It was amazing. I have half the pics posted, I'll post the rest tomorrow in Turkey.
Because tomorrow I take the ferry to Kusadasi, and a new adventure begins.
So ... Samos was stunning. I finally had gyros in Greece, I drank the sweet Samena vin doux [it tastes like it was brewed with honey], and never once set foot in any place named after Zorba. Not so bad, eh?
First, though, we had to escape Vathi. The hotel was fine for the first day, when all we did was sleep & recover from Mykonos. By the second morning we both realized that it would not work at all for another day. The problem was, we had paid for two days and promised for two more - and had gotten a discounted rate because of it. Dawn was adamant that we confront the owners and get our money back. I was more hoping to avoid confrontation, and slip out in the morning & just eat the 40 Euro. Appeasement, baby, that was my motto. Add an umbrella and I'd be Neville Chamberlain.
Dawn wouldn't have it; she wanted to tell the owner exactly why we didn't like her hotel. So we woke up the mom & told her we were leaving. She speaks almost no English, and so called her son Demetrius on the phone and put me on with him. Great. Get a conflict between two women, and it's the men gotta fight. History of the world, right there. I tell Demetrius we're checking out. He gasps. Sorry, I tell him. We want to go to the countryside. What countryside? he demands. What is in this countryside? Why don't you like my mom's hotel? I hold my ground, he gives in, and I give the phone to his mom.
Mom was not going to be easy. She talks to Demetrius, puts the phone down, and then fixes me with her best Catholic martyr's stare. I already think I'm doomed ... and then she starts working the hands. She drops her shoulders, turns up her palms to heaven, and whispers why do you want to leave? There are problems here? I open my hands up too. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. I'm almost begging. And then she clutches her hands to her chest. She doesn't say anything, just stares. She doesn't have to speak. I get the message. It's International Babushka for all my sons have let me down and now you ... you too must break my heart ...
I try and counter with my best Irish / Hawaiian smile. For a few moments time stops. It's old world martyrdom versus the spirit of aloha. I can't imagine I have a chance. But shoots if I don't think I drew her into a tie, because after a few seconds she dropped her hands, said ok, and gave us 20 euro back. Good enough for me. I kissed her on both cheeks, and then Dawn and I hit the road.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Samos is a complete change. Vathi, the port, is a real city. It's built for the locals, not the tourists, so it feels as if we are finally in a foreign country. My ten words of Greek are finally coming in handy. I can't do much beyond say hello, please, and thank you, and I can order dinner and coffee - it's enough to get by.
Vathi is spread out around a deep bay, and full of narrow streets, hidden plazas, and Orthodox churches. The cafes were full of people by 9am; this is one of those European cities where people seem to hang out more than work.
Our hotel is passable. It's run by a grey-haired woman and her brow-beaten children. I think we could have done better, but I felt bad for her son. He's a full grown adult, at least 30, but he looked so scared when we tried to bargain & he had to call his mom to get permission to drop the rates. I'm useless at bargainning at the best of times; I had no chance with this one.
Dawn and I are renting a car to explore the mountains villages this afternoon. The mountains are covered in old forests, with tiny villages, monasteries, and vineyards hanging onto the slopes. It's beautiful, far more so than Mykonos. It's also much more sane. We can actually sleep and wake up at normal hours. I had a full nights sleep last night for the first time in a week.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
I like to think we sent the island out in style. Last night ranks as one of the best parties I have been part of, ever.
The night started off innocently enough. We hooked up with UV and Kevin [from Iraq], and headed back to Niko's Taverna to gorge ourselves. And we did - I could barely move when we finished. Sumner, Dawn, and I went to bid aloha to Ionnis at Kastro; Joseph, UV, and Kevin went out in search of presents for the folks at home. We stumbled upon a Roman Catholic Church that was still open. I lit a candle and said a prayer for you, baby.
If I knew what the night had in store I might have said a short one for myself while I was at it.
There won't be many pics of the night, for obvious reasons, although I did post a few.
We all reconnected and headed to the Porta nightclub. It was small; it couldn't have held more than 75 or 80 people, max. It didn't look promising. The music was great, but the guys there were a strange bunch. I felt like I was on the catwalk walking in - everyone watched us file down the stairs and into the main bar. Sure we might have been a sight, but damn. And while everyone would stare, if we tried to make eye contact back most would quickly glance away. Only one guy was dancing, but he was by himself, doing little samba steps and slowly spinning in circles. For hours. Everyone else was moving one - and only one - body part to the music. Guys at the bar were tapping their legs to the music while the rest of their bodies remained perfectly still. Some guys bobbed their heads, and I think I even saw some hips moving by the back wall.
Sumner and Dawn bagged on us, and I would've joined them except for I have little resistance to peer pressure; one look by UV flashing you better not go too and I stayed. I'm hella glad I did. Because suddenly the DJ began messing with the music. He gave us Earth Kitt, and we started to pay attention. A Ziggy Marley remix got our little corner moving [I think it was Ziggy - Love Generation. I need to look it up]. And then he put on a Euro-pop version of Tom Jones' Delilah. It was strange and weird and catchy, but got us dancing a little harder.
Note to Joseph: I have the CD; I'll get it back to you when I return to the states.
And once again, we had the critical mass to draw people in. One by one people got drawn into our orbit. Joseph pulled a lot in. The DJ put in some Chicago House, and UV announced that we were going to show them how it was done. That's all I needed to hear - my shirt was off and I went into Circuit mode. And oh yeah we showed them how it was done. Soon our whole side of the bar was was getting down.
The party spilled into the alley. I met a guy from Germany, and things were going good until I accidently set my shirt on fire.
It's not a party unless someone gets tragic. I took one for the team.
I stayed in tragic mode for a bit - my flirting got me in a touch of trouble. Joseph mentionned later that Latins and some Americans can do that - flirt, dance, and move on. And I guess I've dated enough Latin boys that I've picked up some of the habit. Europeans don't get it. The German turned out to be ten kinds of messy, and I couldn't shake him. We had an altercation in the bathroom [he blocked the door, saying something about I am not sexy for you and I think you trade me for another and ... more things that don't go into print].
I escaped, and slunk back into our corner - to discover that things had gotten much more wild in my absence. My crew knows how to party. UV and Kevin urged us to join them in Den Hague and Amsterdam, and at one point Kevin even told me that I had to come to Baghdad. And I was tempted - his stories are unreal - and it wasn't the ouzo talking.
It was the gin and tonics. We had a few rounds, all of them more gin than tonic. The DJ/Bartender poured us a few. Nikko [of Nikko's Taverna] came in and gave us a shout.
The party went on, and on ... house then disco then Latin then modern soul then an unreal hour of Greek and Arabian dance music ... they finally closed the bar at 5am. We thanked the DJ; the DJ put his hand over his heart and thanked us for bringing in the energy.
In February we bring the party to Honolulu. Joseph will be in to celebrate his birthday, and UV and Kevin promised to fly in. Mark your calendars; there will be nights to remember.
Fantastico Internet Cafe, on the road to Platis Gialos. Its run by a super hard working couple with five children.
Rendez-Vous / Maria's Kitchen, north end of Mykonos Town. Maria cooks fresh, homemade food to order. Her olive bread and friend calamari are sublime, and she made the best taramasalata I had.
Nikko's Taverna, Mykonos Town. This one is in the tour books. It's big and full of local folks and tourists until late at night. A perfect place for midnight grinds.
Club Porta, down an alley from Nikko's. The crowd is reserved; it's up to you to jump start the party.
Kastro Bar, Little Venice, Mykonos Town. The in-place for sunset cocktails. It's in all the tourist books, so grab a seat early. I am absolutely sure that they will remember the crew from Hawai`i.