Tuscan Turkey

Charlotte and Alan fancied a day trip and invited us along for the ride. We decided on a pilgrimage to The Virgin Mary’s House (or Meryemana – Mother Mary, in Turkish), near Ephesus followed by excursion to nearby Şirence. We travelled the now familiar Izmir road arriving at Selçuk for a tasty and inexpensive pide lunch. Replenished, we ascended the mountains to Meryemana (or Mary-enema, as Alan calls it).

Completed in 1950 in neo-Byzantine style on 7th century foundations, Mary’s gaff is a cute, unassuming little bungalow, now a consecrated church but with the character of a shrine. It’s the centre piece of well-tended park overlooking a pretty wooded valley.  We entered the house reverentially and gazed upon the small effigy of Our Lady. It felt contrived to me. I have little time for religion and give more credence to the tooth fairy. Outside in the courtyard Liam lit a candle as is required of a fallen Catholic.

There is scant biblical evidence that Jesus’ mum found her last resting place there (before her Assumption, of course). This hasn’t stopped the place becoming a side show on the bible tours circuit or various popes cashing in on the act with papal sponsorship. Naturally, there’s the obligatory tacky gift shop selling Chinese made plaster figurines and vials of holy water. Liam procured a small woodblock icon of the Madonna and child that is now proudly displayed on a shelf in the loo.

Onwards to Şirence, a small village perched high on the hills above Selçuk. Surrounded by vineyards and orchards set within a serene Italianate  landscape, Şirence had been a Greek populated settlement until 1923. During the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey the inhabitants were told to pack their bags and leave for Athens. After being left to rot for decades, the village has re-emerged as a bolt hole for wealthy Turks attracted by the fine wood-framed stucco houses that clutch precariously to the hillside. Despite teeming hawkers serving the mob of tourists, both Turkish and foreign, the village retains a real appeal. We grazed at the stalls, drank beer, sampled wine and infused the charm.

We thought of  dropping in on fellow jobbing blogger and good egg Kirazli Karyn who lives only a spitting distance away but we didn’t want to descend unannounced and mob handed.

Three Dollies and a Donkey

After our false start with a near death experience, we finally managed to inspect Clement’s new mountain village gaff. It took us three dollies and a donkey ride to get there. Further visits by public transport are off the agenda. Lunch was nice and the house is lovely, elegantly proportioned and stylish. Clement has painted a simple white canvass superbly accented by flashes of subtle colour. It’s a pity his terrace overlooks an untidy scrub containing a couple of disused brick shit houses.

Birds Without Wings

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Award winning novelist Louise De Bernières is coming to town – well to Kayaköy a tumble down deserted former Greek village actually. Expect a civilised, sunny afternoon of recital, chat and nibbles to chew over his superb novel Birds Without Wings. If only I could write like him. Profits from the event will go to local children in need so it’s not yet another jamboree for street dogs.

Birds without Wings is a beautifully crafted, intensely human tale set in an imaginary Aegean village called Eskibahçe. Although fictional, the village is based on the hamlet of Kayaköy (Greek: Levissi) near Fethiye. The story unfolds against the backdrop of the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the Turkish Republic and the innocent sounding ‘population exchange’ that occurred in 1923. This cruel trade was a curious and unique episode in modern history as it was mutually agreed by both governments and sanctioned by the League of Nations. 1.5 million Greeks from Anatolia and 500,000 Turks from Greece were forcibly expelled from their centuries-old communities and ‘repatriated’ to their so-called homelands. It was religious rather than ethnic cleansing since ethnic Turks who were Christian were out and ethnic Greeks who were Moslem were in, and vice versa.

The expulsions were a harsh and deliberate plan by both adversaries to create states of religious and cultural homogeneity. This might be forgiven as the inevitable consequence of two paranoid, insecure nations attempting to foster a loyal citizenry but the fall out still resounds to this day both in the Aegean region and in the wider world.

Louise de Bernières is perhaps best known for his earlier book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which is set on the lush and verdant Greek Island of Kefalonia during World War Two. My very first holiday with Liam was to Kefalonia. Our debut jolly was marred by a manic Franco-Algerian woman, a bird with bingo wings. She took far too much of a frisky shine to Liam. She chased him around the pool like a bitch on heat and I had to tell her to keep her wandering lusty hands to herself.

The Hills Have Eyes

Clement has fled to the hills to his village bungalow. I must confess to a slight sense of ambiguity by his exodus. In many ways he’s been a gracious and kindly neighbour but his quaintly old-fashioned views are way out of kilter with the modern world, a bit like an eccentric maiden aunt. I shall not to miss his angry evening discourses – how dear old England has lost its moral compass and is going to Hell in a handcart. He is emotionally and spiritually drawn to the warmth of traditional Turkish family values. It reminds him of the Blighty of his youth where everyone knew their place and were happy with their lot. Those were the halcyon days of consumption, grinding poverty and backstreet abortions where the love that dares not speak its name would result in persecution and a stiff prison sentence. I wish him the best but fear for the worst.

Las Vegas-on-Sea

Vinnie in the Foliage

After a hearty brunch, Nick decided to initiate us into the ancient Ionian ritual of bush bashing to bring down the olive crop, a technique that has remained unaltered for countless millennia. Liam took to thrashing  a cane with great gusto donning a fetching floral headscarf for the occasion. I withdrew to the foliage to keep Vinnie company. Vinnie was distinctly nonplussed by all the fuss and took refuge in a sunny spot.

Next on the packed agenda was a whistle-stop tour of the dubious daytime delights of Kuşadası, the Aegean gateway to the splendours of some of Asia Minor’s best preserved historical sites. Having read the ‘Rough Guide’ which uncompromisingly describes the resort as “a brash, mercenary and unpleasant Las Vegas-on-Sea…” my expectations were rock bottom. In fact, I thought the epitaph more than a little harsh. The town is a touch rough around some of its sprawling edges and not as classically attractive as Bodrum, but it does convey a vital urban buzz which I found appealing. I was unpredictably impressed by the busy throng of real people, the boulevards of real shops and the sprinkling of smart bistros. And Kuşadası does provide one important facility that sets it above the rest – a proper, bone fide gay bar that entices an eclectic mix of trannies, dancing queens, sugar daddies, gays for pay, hairy marys and the odd bemused bi-curious northerner in search of furtive titillation.

Sunset Behind the Marina

We stopped off for coffee at a trendy café along the neat promenade and watched the sun set over the marina. We contemplated the stark contrast to our cute but comatosed little town of Yalıkavak where nights are spent holding hands and contacting the living. Where’s Doris Stokes when you need her?

Karyn dished up a gastronomic triumph for the evening’s victuals, serving duck terrine which she fretted over all week according to ‘The Competitive World of Expat Cooking‘. She needn’t have worried. The reclaimed brick had done the trick, and the terrine was superb. Karyn invited a few old fairy friends along for the slicing ceremony. We were particularly amused by senior citizen, Peter, a dedicated Friend of Dorothy and philanderer extraordinaire who is an accomplished, competitive cook and keeps a Turk in the basement for afters.

The next day we took homespun kahvaltı in the local soba-warmed lokanta, escaping the crisp mountain air. Popular with both the Chelsea tractor brigade and villagers alike, the rustic eatery served up a plentiful plate of traditional fare. We hit the road after breakfast, waving farewell to our generous comperes and their tender menagerie. I had utterly enjoyed sparring with an intellectual thoroughbred. We shall return.

Boutique Living in the Heart of Ionia

The Artist's House

Charismatic Vetpat and ex-biker babe, Kirazli Karyn, has fashioned a unique Anatolian Arcadia at the beating heart of old Ionia. Authentic thick stone walls embrace chic but unpretentious modern living within a neo-biblical eco-setting. The enchanting private courtyard garden comes with a pretty plunge pool and a handy vaulted roof extension for flexible hire. Karyn began her bold and ambitious build with her late husband, Phil. Tragically, Phil died before the dream was realised though his signature is inscribed on every stone. Karyn’s heartbreak adds to the poignant poetry of their beguiling labour of love.

Karyn and instantly likeable, soulful Nick were warm and liberal hosts. I sensed wise young owls of depth and sincerity. Unlike the Bodrum ‘Come Dine with Me‘ set, Karyn’s scrumptious spreads require no fuss or fanfare to big them up. We effortlessly nattered for endless hours as if we were rediscovered old friends lamenting lost years. I completely forgot about my cunning stunt to sabotage my superior rival. I was far too busy gassing and guzzling.

Poisoned by the Pansies

I was casually surfing around Perking the Pansies. I often review older posts and add a word here, change a word there. I do it purely out of personal pickiness as once a post is read it’s dead. I clicked on the ‘Go! Overseas’ badge and, to my horror, found ‘Being Koy’ top of the blogs in their Turkey chart. ‘Perking’ is inexplicably second. Enraged by irrational envy, I hatched a dastardly plot to knock ‘Being Koy’ off the top spot by fair means or foul. Veteran author Kirazli Köy Karyn and I correspond regularly and have made a guest appearance on each other’s blog. Keep your friends close but keep your rivals closer, I say.

Lulling Karyn into a false sense of security with phoney flattery, she was cleverly duped into inviting us to stay for the weekend. This was to be my one chance to dis the idyll, spike Karyn’s cocoa and ‘accidently’ spill my wine into her laptop. Just a dribble though; I am not one to waste even a poor vintage.

Saddled with yet another underperforming hire car, we set out at first light taking the usual Izmir route past dreary Milas, sweeping along the shores of the perpetually pretty Lake Bafa and descending into the Meander basin towards Söke. After a naughty McDonald’s burger break, we pushed on to agro-town, Ortaklar, where we took the Selçuk road. Leaving the impressively dull agrarian plain behind, we climbed into verdant Tuscanesque hills replenished by the recent rains. As we snaked through the forested slopes my resolve to nobble began to wither. Perhaps this is the Eden that Karyn exalts.

Kirazli Eco-Koy

We rendezvoused with our host on the wrong side of the railway tracks in Çamlık. Karyn shepherded us into the hills along an uncharted way towards her high hamlet where I expected the men to be men and the goats to be nervous. Nestling in a natural caldron, Kirazli is a visual treat of higgledy-piggledy dwellings with pitched terracotta roofs and gently billowing chimney stacks that warm the cool air with aromatic wood smoke. I’m afraid to admit that this particular working köy does exactly what it says on the tin.