Tag Archives: travels

Turkey Once More

Last week I met a woman in the Aegean Sea – we were staying near Alaçatı (about one hour’s drive from Izmir), a town on Turkey’s Çeşme Peninsula. She was wearing a little bikini like a flat-chested twelve-year old, big dark sunglasses, and a wonderful hat. Hanging around, she was, enjoying the water while her boyfriend was at meetings. She told me her name and we chatted a few minutes. I just loved the way she said “my boyfriend” – she must have been 75 if she was a day. Later I saw her doing some incredibly flexible yoga on the beach. Message to self: the age of your body is not always relevant to how you live your life. May the rest of your days be lived out in eternal youth, Lady With The Hat in the Aegean Sea!

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I have a new theory: Turkish carpet salesmen are like expert fishermen. The skill is in getting you interested in the lure, interested enough to take a further look. Once you’ve done that and you are actually inside the shop, you’re easy prey. I know. I took a tentative bite and was reeled in expertly by three of the most charming guys you could hope to sell you a carpet (Magic Carpet is the name of the store in Sultanahmet). Coffee, tea, water, baklava? Nothing was too much trouble. We bought a wonderful creation that I am now afraid to walk on (it gets rolled up when the senior dog painfully makes her way to our bedroom and her bed), while Sheridan and Annabelle completed the underfoot requirements for their new build.

But making carpets is no easy job and we saw a few women who spent their days working a loom in the window area of a carpet shop. Their weavings of hand-dyed silk and cotton are works of art but the women had arthritic fingers, painful backs, and failing eyesight from long hours of following a pattern so intricate as to defy description. Not surprisingly, this most ancient of art forms is dying out. Young people are not willing to endure the pain of a two-to-three-year stint producing one carpet. Granted that carpet will sell for upwards of fifteen thousand euros, but I suspect the carpet shop owner will snaffle the lion’s share of the proceeds. Computerised machines will do the job in the future and we, all of us, shall be the poorer for that loss of our common heritage.

I have another new theory: everyone who works anywhere in Turkey (shoeshine guys, street sellers, hotel porters, waiters, you name ’em) either sells carpets or has a brother/uncle/cousin who sells carpets, or knows someone who sells carpets “just around the corner, Lady”. We did indeed follow some fishermen to their employers’ places, and we enjoyed the whirling-carpet show they put on inside. I have quite a heap of business cards if anyone out there wants to buy a carpet!

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Back in Istanbul we carved out a path through the restaurants area near the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, and dutifully trod that path every evening in search of sustenance. Well, every restaurant has a fisherman outside, and his job (we only saw one woman on the pavement) is to get you to read the menu and then lure you inside. The menus themselves are simply genius, designed to have you salivating in five seconds or less. Each item is pictured in full colour just in case you cannot read the Turkish/English/German/French descriptions. I did indeed find myself drawn to the cholesterol-ridden dishes that depicted soft melting cheese oozing through crispy-on-the-top phyllo pastry on a bed of spinach or smoked asparagus or some other wonderful purée. And in every single case, the fisherman would ask “where do you come from?” Sometimes we pretended not to speak English, but then they switched to French/ Italian/German/Spanish (one guy, to my absolute astonishment said “Cad é mar atá tú?” – ‘how are you?’ in Irish!!). It was better to be honest. So when one evening a young guy asked the question, I simply said “near Malin Head” while continuing my brisk walk. Well, didn’t he run after me with: “my son lives in Limavady”. You could have knocked me over with a feather. While Limavady isn’t exactly on the way from Belfast to Inishowen it could be if you took the scenic route. I was intrigued. And of course now that a connection had been made, it was de rigueur for us to stop by his place on the next hunt for delicious food. We did. It was fine. But his story was a sad one of divorce with no visiting rights (even if he could afford the travel and get a visa). We left him a larger-than-usual tip after telling him a little bit about the Limavady he would never get to visit.

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Of course the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet Square, the Mosaic Museum and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, the Arasta Bazar, the Galata Tower (to be truthful the queue was too long to join), Taskim Square, the Grand Bazar, and all the other wonderful places of Istanbul were intriguing as usual. I will visit again – I think part of my soul has remained in Byzantium, this now sprawling city with so many layers of history, culture, and tradition.

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Dive Inn, Doctors, and Dodgy Donations

Spotted yesterday evening on the tedious drive from Entebbe to Kampala: “Dive Inn” – not a mis-spelling but the unfortunate name of a local “lodge” in one of the shanty-like suburbs on a dirt road near Kampala. You wouldn’t dive in, not in a million years, except you were a client needing a mattress for an hour or two of a lonely evening. After the affluence of Johannesburg (admittedly I had been holed up in an up-market hotel), Kampala seemed dingy, tired, and down at heel. Three hours it took to cover the forty-odd kilometres from airport to our capital city. And when you are recovering from a bad bout of food poisoning, three hours is a mite too long to be away from the big white telephone.

A word of advice? Never get sick in a classy hotel in South Africa. Never! Faint requests to the Front Desk for medical assistance result in a brisk visit from a house-call doctor who sizes you up in about two minutes flat, then quickly dispenses the necessary medications to get you up and running again. Needle in the rump, potions against the dreaded runs, white pills for bacteria, and green pills for pain. He was very kind and sympathetic; he even emptied the rehydration salts into a glass and poured water on them. Great, I hear you say, wonderful service. Yes indeed, wonderful service. Until you get the bill. Well I didn’t actually get the bill because I was on the great white telephone, but the lady at reception got it and presented it to me upon check out. The light nearly left my eyes. Total due to him for about four minutes with me, three minutes to do his sums, whatever time it took to get him there, and the medications: 280 US dollars (that’s about £220). Afterwards I did a quick calculation on the medical costs and I could have bought this:

ipador this:  huawei
for around the same price.

I also found out that this sum was slightly more than the monthly salary of the maid who was assigned to the rooms on my floor. “We blacks don’t love each other”, she told me gravely, “and we don’t get paid enough money either,” she added rather too quickly. “Three thousand Rand a month and I pay one thousand for transport”. Talk about adding to my misery! Since I didn’t actually have any Rand or other useful currency, I gave her some clothes. And because she couldn’t leave the hotel with them, I had to write a note and sign it saying I had gifted them to her. I was aware that she was tapping me for “odds” as they would say in Belfast, but was too sick to care.

An official porter at O.R. Tambo airport, the only other service person I really interacted with, also tapped me without shame and with a mouthful of lies. He was polite, he showed me where the self-check-in was, and he guided me to the security gate, all the way proudly announcing his faith in Jesus Christ and how he spent his days praying and helping people for the love of his Maker, oh, and yes, how the airport authorities did not pay him for his work even though he had a security pass around his neck and a bunch of keys dangling from his belt. Again, because of the no-Rand situation which I explained, I offered to pray for him very specially before I went to bed. “Haven’t you got any Uganda money?” I did dig out a twenty thousand shilling note and most ungenerously offered it to him. “I don’t know if I can change that”, says he despondently, “what’s it worth?” I can’t repeat my answer. I know that people hustle all over the world – Uganda is probably best at it – but it left a rather sour taste in my mouth on top of the already sour taste that had accumulated there.

All in all, travelling on a Wednesday, getting sick on a Thursday, spending Friday in bed, and returning home on a Saturday leaves one rather exhausted in body if not in spirit. And so I want to leave you with a poem I re-read yesterday for the first time in ages. I wish I could evoke the mundane journey from Entebbe to Kampala with such mastery, but then I am not a wordsmith, activist, and brave tearer-up of green cards like Wole Soyinka.

wole

IN THE SMALL HOURS
Blue diaphane, tobacco smoke
Serpentine on wet film and wood glaze,
Mutes chrome, wreathes velvet drapes,
Dims the cave of mirrors. Ghost fingers
Comb seaweed hair, stroke aquamarine veins
Of marooned mariners, captives
Of Circe’s sultry notes. The barman
Dispenses igneous potions ?
Somnabulist, the band plays on.

Cocktail mixer, silvery fish
Dances for limpet clients.
Applause is steeped in lassitude,
Tangled in webs of lovers’ whispers
And artful eyelash of the androgynous.
The hovering notes caress the night
Mellowed deep indigo still they play.

Departures linger. Absences do not
Deplete the tavern. They hang over the haze
As exhalations from receded shores. Soon,
Night repossesses the silence, but till dawn
The notes hold sway, smoky
Epiphanies, possessive of the hours.

This music’s plaint forgives, redeems
The deafness of the world. Night turns
Homewards, sheathed in notes of solace, pleats
The broken silence of the heart.