29 June, 2010

Hopa 2: hidden roads

I woke in what seemed more like a living room than a hotel room. Three of last night's companions were sprawled on couches; a glass-fronted cabinet displayed a brass demlik and tea set, and above that i saw a bağlama hanging beside the mirror. Outside the open balcony door, Hopa went noisily about its morning business. When at last my chance roommates rubbed the sleep from their eyes, we made our way to a restaurant courtyard and drank tea and more tea and nescafe and… more tea. I watched as my friends played a few heated games of tavla (the Turkish name for backgammon, a national pastime i have yet to learn to play). Later, over at Huseyin's barber shop we read newspapers and Sinan, always the errand boy, fetched pide (Turkish pizza) for everyone. I've eaten a good share of pide in Turkiye but this was the best - topped with a mixture of vegetables, sucuk, and diced meat, and in the center, an over-easy egg.

The morning in Hopa passed in a sort of limbo, for the moment no longer a traveler, just one of the guys. At first i had no idea why i was hanging around, but new friend Fevzi found out i was interested in seeing the local agricultural villages - and this guy knows his way around. With Niyazi and Mehmet we piled into the car, cleaned up the party spot, and then turned onto a rough dirt road.

The landscape along Turkiye's eastern Black Sea coast is hardly visible from the lone highway that snakes along the shoreline. The hills climb too steeply away from the sea to notice the houses tucked among the trees. But from the main route, nondescript, easy-to-miss turn-offs turn into dirt roads climbing high into the hills. At times cresting the outer rank of hills, at others just inside them, old Russian roads parallel the coast highway with spectacular views into hidden valleys: a landscape of precipitously sloping tea fields, tiny vegetable polycultures in every flat place. The sky was choked with grey, low clouds wisping over the hill-tops.

Camelia sinensis - once unheard of in this region - is probably the most-consumed liquid in Turkiye after water. Die-hard Turks drink a few glasses after nearly every meal, and even i've become so accustomed to the custom that a meal seems to be incomplete without it. Legend has it that Ataturk, familiar with the Karadeniz climate and searching for ways to build the new Republic's economy, hit on tea as the perfect crop. True or otherwise, tea is king here. No other crop would be appropriate for such slopes. The result is a landscape ribbed along the contours like bright viridian corduroy fabric with rows of shrubs.

I want to close this post with deepest gratitude to Kazim Koyuncu's family and friends, and to Fevzi, a willing chauffer thanks to whom i saw more than i could have hoped.