20 May, 2010

Demre, day 2

backdate: 18 May

Fresh off the overnight from Ankara and another three-hour leg along the coast from Antalya, i watched tourists pour from a bus like so many sheep in sunglasses. Alright, that's perhaps unnecessarily harsh, but it's an accurate enough image. Traditional tourism can limit your gaze and ability to participate in exploration, and - in the words of an academic paper i'm reading on Ankara Kalesi - redefine places to suit the increasingly homogenized expectations of a global industry. Yet when you stay with someone who makes their life in a place, even a transplant, you enter the place and its rhythms with them. 


Demre really isn't that far from Antalya as the crow flies, but past Olympos the  road descends in a steep traverse to Kumluca, and then winds precipitously along the coast, tracing every indentation in the rocky hills with a sharp turn. The small bus rode rough and merciless, and though my sleepy head left a greasy patch on the window, each time it hit with a painful bump and jerked me back to half-consciousness. This morning i slept in. 

Ertan, my host, has a small flat near the edge of town, just a few hundred meters from the school where he works as a counselor. The location is perfect, actually. Ten minutes' run and you're in the rocky hills that rise on three sides of town; ten minutes in the other direction places you smack in the center. To me Demre seems a modest city, but in truth it's just a kasaba - a town, population roughly 15,000. The settlement pattern typical of developing Turkish towns makes it feel more dense; there are very few single-family homes here. Most of the residential buildings in Demre are three to five stories, though in some, especially around the outskirts, the top floor or two is unfinished save for a grape vine trained over the roof to shade the house. 

The place strikes me as an ironic sort of paradise. Earth is harsh here; rocky hills surrounding the city are covered in throny shrubs and Ilex (a holly for sure, though i'm not sure which - i really wish i'd bought a field guide or two, because trying to ID plants online after the fact can be daunting). Walking the gravel lane from Ertan's doorstep, the grasses are already brown in the early Mediterranean summer heat. Prickly pear cacti bloom among the roadside weeds and purple morning glories cascade from buildings; scent of mint and sage is on the air. Yet from the hot, dry ground springs a verdant abundance. Half-finished high-rises are surrounded by trees and shrubs, and almost all bear fruits: in a single yard you might see pomegranate, grape, olive, fig, and lemon. Dut trees (the Turkish white mulberry) are also common. Small gardens are hidden here and there: a small patch of peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes grow beside the Meteorological Station. I see a patch of onions in one; in another, corn is nearly waist-high. On the way to dinner last night, we tasted nearly-ripe dut from a roadside tree, and on the way home, bought fresh watermelon.

Next to tourism, greenhouse tomatoes are the backbone of the economy in Demre and nearby Kumluca. From the hills, the extent of cultivation is clear. Half the level land in Demre is under glass or plastic; built and owned independently, there are a wide range of greenhouse styles, from single-span traditional glass houses to plastic arc multi-spans. Next to every few greenhouses there might be a small single-family home, a porch draped in vines and edged with Ottoman cushions where a man rests from the midday heat. If no home, at least a shady roof to park the motorbike under.

another birds' eye view: 
note unfinished buildings and passive solar HW systems

The climate seems perfectly suited to sustainable lifestyles - since there's year-round agricultural production with minimal heating needs, and my host uses only a small space heater in his bed room for a few weeks out of the year. Passive solar hot water is the rule; almost every building has tanks atop the roof, and on the larger buildings systems can be quite extensive. Yet energy consumption for heating is not the only difference. Because it is an agricultural town, car ownership is very low here, and there might just be more bicycle mechanics than auto mechanics in Demre. The road is full of small motorcycles, the kind i've always wanted to drive, which cost between 1,500 and 3,000 lira. People zip by two, three - even four to a bike. Can you tell i've fallen in love?

Today we lunched at a small restaurant by the main highway - nothing to look at, but the food was delicious. New dish to rave about: kabak tatlısı. Pumpkin, boiled until tender-ish and then chilled, served with a sweet tahini sauce and ground walnuts on top. Çok lezzetli! (So good in fact, that though i didn't take a picture i need to share one. This looks about right - and if you can follow the recipe roughly translated, congratulations! If not, there are other recipes out there in English, missing the tahini.)