The benign spring weather allowed us to take tea and tittle tattle on our balcony with a few Bodrum Belles. It’s a sunny spot, though we often have to yell above the din of the harried street. This is more than compensated by the chance to observe busy Bodrum life passing by below. I was being mother and, as I poured the coffee, I gazed momentary across at the flat roof of our single storey kitchen at the other end of the courtyard. It glistened in the bright sunlight. Tiny waves rippled in the gentle breeze. Had we installed a roof-top plunge pool? No such luck. A few weeks earlier, a beefy covered lady with Popeye biceps and sprouting underarms had collected the olive crop from the over-hanging tree. She had beat the bush with Amazonian gusto and left a shag-pile of twiggy debris in her wake. Come the next deluge, the leaf litter plugged the drainage hole and created the shallow lake.
After the Belles departed, I climbed onto the roof, waded through the water and unblocked the hole with the handle of a wooden spatula. The undammed waters spewed like a mini Niagara onto the turned dirt of our neighbour’s bald vegetable patch. Their chained up dog, so used to barking at the slightest flutter of the tiniest sparrow, was taken totally by surprise. Rover didn’t know how to react so decided not to react at all. Now there’s a first.
Liam and I were minding our own business in Tansaş. We were queuing up at the till, weighed down by a basket-full of cheap plonk. The lady in front of us turned towards me and smiled. “You’re Jack,” she said. “I love your book.” I blushed like a spotty teen and shifted uncomfortably from side to side. It was like being a z-list celeb, furtively emerging from a grubby massage parlour with my tail between my legs. Next time, I’ll don a floral headscarf and designer shades before I venture out.
I composed myself and we chatted over the veg and booze. It turns out that we’re near neighbours. My fellow shopper was a former Bodrum Belle of years long past and she recently returned to renew her club membership. As an old and new kid on the block, she has started her own blog, Back to Bodrum. The then and now observations offer a unique perspective of a town on the move. Take a look – fascinating stuff.
Our precious olive crop is bursting to be harvested. A huge, ancient double-trunked tree is the central exhibit in our shared garden and is dripping with heavy fruit like black baubles on a Christmas Fir. Olives have been dropping haphazardly for weeks, exploding over the patio and staining the paths. Our neighbours, Beril and Vadim have been collecting the debris, presumably for preparation and processing. I looked up the method online. It seems like a right faff to me. Our olives come in handy little jars from the supermarket. I intend to keep it that way.
A second olive tree from a neighbouring house overhangs our single storey kitchen. We were rudely awoken this morning by a heavy, thick-set covered lady in clashing florals and crocheted twinset (no pearls) who had climbed on top of the kitchen roof to beat the bounty out of the heavily laden tree. Olives rained down and danced around the tiles for a couple of hours. She went at it with great gusto, grunting like an East German shot putter until the entire crop had surrendered to her considerable force. I won’t be messing with her.
I see Abdullah Gül, the President of Turkey, has been on a three day state visit to Blighty. I’m glad to see that cordial diplomatic relations are being maintained between our two great nations. As is the custom, Her Maj greeted the President and the First Lady on the steps of Buck House. Bodrum Belle, Jessica, sent me a link to a Daily Mail piece about it. I don’t read the rag and would normally have missed out on seeing this fantastic photograph; it’s pure pleasure. I wonder what the usually inscrutable old Queen was thinking? Take a look:
We enjoyed mezes and drinks in Sofiye’s lush garden and we were in joyful, mellow mood. Towards the end of the evening Sofiye’s maid emerged from the kitchen having washed up and wiped down. She joined us at the table to eat a modest meal of pasta and salad. She asked Sofiye about Liam and me and Safiye asked us how she should reply. ‘Honestly,’ we said. We studied the maid’s mystified expression as she grappled for several minutes to make sense of the information. We thought it cruel to persevere so we settled on cousins, and she seemed calmed by the clarification since village people like to keep it in the family.
The teetotal maid became quite intoxicated by the laid back charm of the evening and, with reckless abandon and without warning, whipped off her head scarf to reveal dark, silky hair fashioned into a single squaw-like platted ponytail which she draped across her left shoulder. Excited but anxious, she looked to the assembly for approval. We gave her an ovation. Sadly, it was but a brief moment of sovereignty. She replaced the head scarf as we left to totter home down the lane.
Today’s guest is gorgeous Kym who is the author of Turkeywithstuffin’s Blog and the pretty brain behind On the Ege, the monthly online magazine about Turkey’s Aegean coast. Kym is married to dusky Murat, her hunky Turk. When veteran expat Kym wears a headscarf, she wants to look like Sophia Loren but thinks she looks more like Hilda Ogden. Personally, I think she resembles a darker version of Gynneth Paltrow in the Talented Mr Ripley.
It’s a Thursday in November 2008 and I am on my first road trip to Sanliurfa, my husband’s birth town. When we first arrived in Urfa late at night, the electricity was off and the city was in darkness. Perhaps because I was tired from the long journey, I felt uneasy and had commented more than once that I’d been kidnapped and taken to Beirut. I did for a moment consider taken a plane home the following day. As we stood in the dark alley I was moaning, but once the large iron gate opened things could not have looked more different. We walked into a beautiful stone courtyard with mosaic tiles, Ottoman seating, potted plants and a small fountain.
The Manager at the Beyzade Konak Hotel is Murat’s cousin’s husband, Omer. He shows us to our room and once I have the internet and some coffee (they have a generator), I’m quite happy to chuck Murat out for an hour or so to allow him to play with his cousin Mehmet. I have a boiling hot shower, get my pajamas on and send a few quick “I’ve landed” emails. Then it’s lights out and a sleep so deep I could be in the cemetery.
Day breaks and I realise the hotel is between two mosques. I open my eyes to the dual call to prayer, one a heartbeat behind the other. I doze for a bit then remember I’m actually on holiday and there are shops out there.
After breakfast, I nip back to our room and cover my locks with a headscarf. It’s a simple gesture of respect while I’m here and among the more traditional rellies. Well, that and I don’t really want to get stoned in the street! Mu of course thinks this is great and off we trot, out through the iron gate and onto the streets of Sanliurfa.
Once we leave the cobbled alley and get onto the main drag, its bustling; busses hog the road, cars fight for space beside them, scooters weave in and out of the traffic and pedestrians narrowly avoid being run over. The air is filled with BBQ spices, pungent & smoky and the smell is everywhere. Small eateries and kebab houses jostle for space alongside clothes shops and jewelers who have 24 karat rays shining from their windows.
There are a few glances my way naturally. It could be the pale skin and the green eyes, or it could be the flip flops and bright red toenails that don’t quite go with the rest of my ensemble. Still, that’s a great excuse to buy shoes isn’t it?
First things first, I need a new camera. We wander across to the maze of connecting alleyways that make up one of the eight covered bazars, to the collection of electronic shops. The salesman shows us his wares and converses with Murat: “Senin Esin mı?”(your wife), “Yabanci” (a foreigner), “Alman?” (German). Mu confirms the first two and I answer the last. “English” I say, not realising at the time that we will have this conversation many times during our stay. I guess it’s due to my height and build and of course, my great Grandparents, Mr & Mrs Shram!
I end up with an Olympus, a compact professional the man says. We will see.
Leaving the shop we are met by Cousin Mehmet and Hassan Amca. Their first words to me are “Kym, Beirut Nasil?” Very funny! The four of us then continue around the bazaar which contains a veritable Aladdin’s Cave full of treasure. There is even a street full of workshops where workmen batter copper and solder iron.
Heading into the Balikigol area toward the cay bache, we pass through the ‘Sipahi Bazar’ and the ‘Kazzaz Bazaar’, the oldest covered Bazaars of Urfa. These were built by the Ottoman Emperor, Suleiman the Magnificent in 1562. It really is like stepping back in time and I watch ancient shalvar wearing salesmen sitting cross legged in their little tented alcoves, bathed in rich colour and drinking tea while customers peruse their antique carpets, kilims and hand woven head dresses.
During our small shopping excursion, I’d picked up some elastic hair bands that I needed and watched as three pairs of hands reach into theirpockets to pay for them. Oooooo I like shopping here. I wonder if it works in shoe shops? A few minutes’ walk and we reach the cave of Abraham. Legend has it that the Babylonian King, Nemrud, had Abraham captured and thrown into fire. His crime? Calling upon the people to worship the real god and not the icons of celestial objects, as was the religion of the time. Of course, God was watching and on seeing this, he turned the fire into water, saving Abraham from certain death. Not content with that, he then turned the surrounding woods into the sacred fish, the ancestors of which we see today at the site of the “Halil ur Rahmen” Mosque in the centre of Urfa.
I buy a dish of fish pellets and watch the fat feisty fish fight each other for each tiny morsel, after which we take a rest in the cay bachesi. I sit sipping hot sweet tea and take a look at my photos so far. The photos are amazing; sneaky zoom shots of men at prayer and performing the abtest, plus the usual tourist shots of minarets and domes. It’s getting late now and as dusk settles over the city, we head back to the hotel.
So far so good, my first day in Urfa was wonderful and I am hungry for more. We have decided to use Urfa as a base for a few road trips. On my list are: Harran, Nemrut, and Hasenkeyf, then, a stop at Cappadocia on the way home. I had no idea at the time but this journey would also encompass, Mardin, Midyat, Batman & Siirt. My Anatolian adventure continues.
We watched the drama unfold in Egypt on BBC World. The dictator was finally toppled by the “…huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” to misquote the inscription on a bronze plaque mounted inside of the Statue of Liberty. History demonstrates that authoritarian regimes, whether left, right or theocratic that rule by fear eventually collapse under the weight of their own oppression. Egypt, the most ancient of nations, has no experience of democracy and I sincerely hope that the experiment will be real and lasting. Let’s wish for a pluralist, secular state that respects individual rights and not for a ‘one man, one vote, once’ process that might cast Egypt back to the Middle Ages and would make the Middle East an infinitely more dangerous place. That would be scary for everyone and Egyptians deserve better.
I also sense my foster land may be sliding imperceptibly backwards. The first sign of compulsory head-scarfs will see us booking the first available Easyjet flight back to flawed but free Blighty.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton (1834-1902)