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.

Straight to Voicemail

Chrissy calls three or four times a day for no particular reason, liberally dispensing unsolicited wisdom on all matters Turkish. She assumes we sailed up the Meander on a banana boat. This is even more galling since she thinks ‘Anatolia’ is a city in Southern Turkey.

Communal Crapping

Image: Thomas Depenbusch

Selçuk is a handsome town, host to a fine museum and spitting distance from the wonder that is Ephesus: world heritage site nominee and arguably one of the most impressive open air museums anywhere. And, since we were in the vicinity anyway, it would have been rude not have a look around the imposing ruins. Ephesus (or Efes to give the place its Turkish name which is also happens to be the name of Turkey’s favourite ale), was one of the most sophisticated cities of antiquity, adorned with grand civic buildings, marble-clad pavements, street lighting and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, just one lonely, forlorn re-assembled pillar remains of Artemis’ once vast shrine rising up precariously from a mosquito-infested bog. What a lunatic hadn’t destroyed by torching the place, the Christians had finished off. The rest of the city is a magnificent affair and in impressively good shape after decades of excavation and partial reconstruction. We had decided to drop in at just the right time of the year. As Turkey’s second most visited attraction (after Sultanahmet – the old city – in Istanbul), Ephesus is best avoided at the height of summer when the unforgiving sun and the rag-tag of camera-toting tourists conspire to make the place Hell on Earth.

The city was of immense significance to the early Christian Church. St Paul wrote his Epistles to the Ephesians (to damn them for their debauched ways I suppose, having never read them) and the Virgin Mary is reputed to have lived out her dotage nearby. It can be reasonably argued that Christianity, as an organised religion, was born in Ephesus. Not a lot of people know that.

We hired a guide but soon wished we hadn’t. A serious academic type, he droned on about the fine and upstanding Ephesians: civilised, cultured, always kind to their slaves. We fancied the alternative history, the salacious version, where the same fine and upstanding Ephesians visited the hungry whores via the secret tunnel connecting the great library to the brothel. After the sombre tour, we paid off the guide and re-roamed the ruins unescorted. Something not to be missed is the public latrine. The Romans were particularly fond of communal crapping, artfully combining conversation with evacuation.

Having had our fill, we returned to the car and journeyed back south but were unable to resist another detour, this time to Priene. Built on a natural escarpment high above the Meander River flood plain, Priene is the most complete Hellenistic site in Turkey. Whereas Ephesus overawes with its monumental scale, Priene seduces with its intimacy and superb aspect. We loitered a while as the sun began to set over the Ege bathing the ruins in a soft warm light.

It was time to top up the tank, so we pulled into a service station. Such establishments in Turkey are a joy, belonging to a gentler age, with staff on hand to fill your tank and sponge down your dusty windows. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when a friendly chap with a cheesy smile and handlebar moustache would fill your car as a lit fag dangled from his gob.