22 May, 2010


backdate: 20 May

Night in Kaş

backdate: 19 May

...is a photographer's white-balancing nightmare. The mixture of tungsten, fluorescent, and god-knows-what-else had me thouroughly baffled - until my batteries ran out. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy Kaş.

A little less than an hour west of Demre, Kaş is a remarkably different town. Smaller, and more resort-like, it draws international tourism to streets full of shops and cafes. The vibe here strangely reminds me of Bar Harbor, to be honest. If Bar Harbor had palm trees.

We arrived to the drums and brass of a school band: an evening parade to celebrate Youth and Sports Day. Then it was an evening of wandering the cobblestones: we ate pizza on the sidewalk, then moved to an open-air cafe for hot drinks - the evening was growing cool - and cheesecake. After tea, it was on to Queen Bar where we danced until three AM. In the nearly deserted bar, we essentially had a private DJ, who played about half of our fifteen or so requests. 

If you are heading to Kaş, i have one recommendation: don't plan to sleep on the in-town beach. It's rather narrow and rocky. Instead, we spread towels on a construction site - the only place we could find sand - and woke shivering an hour later. Exhausted, after an early breakfast of lentil soup, we took the 8AM bus back to Demre. 

A great couchsurfing host

21 May, 2010

Demre, day 3: Noel Baba, Myra

backdate: 19 May

You'd never guess that on this same gravel lane is my host's flat in a 4-story building. Would you be surprised that his colleague who lives upstairs has a chicken tractor out front? 


So what is there to see in Demre, you might be asking? As you might guess, i'm easy to please: just show me a bunch of greenhouses, some Mediterranean flora, and passive solar water heaters and i'm happy. But what of all the other tourists who visit Demre with carefully planned itineraries? And why are the signs on some gift shops written in Russian?

The answer lies at the center of town. A couple minutes' walk from the bare-bones bus station, past the short strip of souvenir sellers and the Santa Claus statue. Near the Noel Baba restaurant and the Noel Baba barber shop. Wait, you're saying, why is there a Santa Claus statue in a random tomato-growing town in Turkiye? The answer to all those questions is a small orthodox church.

Today it is partly obscured by a large awning, and undergoing renovations, but it is this church which draws people - particularly from Russia - to Demre. It was this church where, near the village of his birth (circa 270 C.E.), Nicholas of Myra served as an Orthodox bishop. And thus you have the answer, and the reason why Demre has seen a procession of Saint Nicholas statues - the controversial red bakelite one replaced in 2008 by a careful attempt to merge the various icons in a Turkish father Christmas. The recent statue is still a subject of controversy - and in this revisionist incarnation, without his orthodox garb, the current Nicholas of Myra seems to be missing something.


May 19 just happens to be a national holiday, Ataturk Youth and Sports Day. Thus my host Ertan was free, and we set out to see the sights of Demre. Having forgotten my museum card in Ankara, we skipped the church/museum in favor of Myra, an ancient Lycian site nestled into the hills behind town. The walk to Myra was a nice one; at ten AM the weather was mostly sunny and warm, not quite baking yet. Seeing workers standing in a greenhouse entrance, Ertan asked if i'd like to go inside, and a few minutes later we were shaking hands, taking pictures, and leaving with a handful of fresh cucumbers. For any sustainable ag enthusiasts out there, the greenhouse was much to my surprise a polyculture: several varieties of peppers alternated with the cucumbers, and parsley grew in shade along the drip irrigation lines. While cukes were there major product, i was surprised to see these and other plants - since the majority of the greenhouses i'd seen were wall-to-wall tomatoes.

At the pleasantly shaded entrance to Myra, next to the open-air tourist cafe, we met an old neighbor of Ertan's selling fresh-pressed juices - and found ourselves gifted with a glass of portakal suyu. This was another of the recurring examples of generosity. The night before, buying saladings for dinner at a small greengrocer (who sells nothing but produce, and of which there are two or three in Demre),  we realized after we paid we should buy an onion too. The onion was given to us. These, and other instances, made me wonder if Turkish collectivism is behind all this sharing - the idea that we're all in this together.

Myra was, well, old. Carved into the steep hillside are a collection of elaborate graves, and beside them, the largest amphitheater in Lycia. Ironically, Ertan observes, present-day Demre has no cinema.

Ancient ruins, of course, you can read all about elsewhere; i'm a wanderer, not an archaeologist. The interesting things happen where the tourist buses don't go, which is where we're going next. Atop the hills behind Myra, a Turkish flag flies from an ancient Lycian fortification. Ertan had never climbed to it, so we asked his neighbor for directions and set off up the back streets. On a porch we saw several women and children sitting. I don't recall how the conversation began, but a moment later we learned that one of the women, who spoke clear English, had moved here from Germany with her husband. Whose father was our taxi driver two days ago. Small town.

Now, i've been curious for the longest time about carob. I knew the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean, but since i've been in Turkiye i have seen no references to carob. I noticed a common leguminous tree beside this porch and asked if i could take a picture of it. The oldest woman, who didn't realize what i was doing, said, no! They're fresh! Wait… and in a moment, someone had fetched a grocery bag full of the dried pods and everyone was chewing. A taste, spit out the seeds, and taste again - strengthened my suspicion, but all i got was the local name, keci boynuzu (goat horn).

Munching carob beans, we set off again up the narrow trail - which turned left at their doorstep, up past their cow shed, past other tiny homes, past a man carrying stovewood up the stone stairs. We ascended until, surrounded by sharp-edged holly, thistles, and brown grass, we could see the whole of Demre with its greenhouses and orange groves spread before us to the sea.

In the middle of the day, folks in Demre take a long break. At well over 75F outdoors, temperature in the greenhouses becomes unbearable by noon, and workers' schedules include about four hours of break. Midday the teahouses are full, and men sip cay on sidewalk tables shaded by grape vines. Despite the carob beans, by one we were quite hungry, so we descended and walked to Damla Restaurant for a feast of pide and soup. But the day was not over yet.


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.)

17 May, 2010

Demre, day 1

seen from the bus: woman in a skirt driving a motorcycle. goat staked to graze in the highway median strip. morning glories everywhere - but even the morning glories are outnumbered by tomato greehouses. Street vendors sell watermelons from a wagon. It's May 17.

Futbol, part 2 - and the winner is...

backdate: 16 May

preparing for the big day

Tonight was the long-anticipated match. Actually, there were two. Glorious Galatasaray, having dropped from any consideration for the champions league, was in town to play Ankara's Gençlerbirliği. Meanwhile, in distant Istanbul, Fener and Trabzon were battling it out in Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium.

I had been wandering the steep streets around Ankara Kalesi - alone, at night, against common sense - to gather information for one final paper on the site. It's actually not a threatening place at night, once you adjust, but perceptions about the low-income neighborhood are strong in people's minds. At any rate, as dusk fell i could hear the championship match blaring from a television in a side-street hotel. I was curious to find a place to watch it, and i descended the cobblestone streets toward the thoroughfares of Ulus. On Anafartalar Cad, two men stood leaning against a building. One held a pocket radio, and i asked him, Fener maç? He nodded.
      Kaç-kaç? i inquired.
      Bir-bir, he replied.
Ten minutes later i saw a waiter and two patrons at a sidewalk table, watching the match through restaurant windows. Kaç-kaç? i asked again.
      Still 1-1.

Speaking of beer, i was thirsty. Now, i don't drink often, but once in a long while the mood strikes, and no other beverage will do. So i stopped at a convenience store ("Kuruyemiş & Tekel", they're called here; the former means dried fruits and the latter refers to the state alcohol monopoly). Asked for bir bira, and gulped it down on a dark corner.

Didn't seem like there was any place to watch the match, aside from peering into a window here or there; there aren't really any pubs in Ulus to speak of. The street was pretty deserted, too, and i had two hours before boarding the midnight bus to Antalya. So i wandered to Gençlik Park. In January, i'd thought it must be enchanting on a warm summer night, and the thought wasn't too far off. The park was lit in a spray of color. Shfting lights suffused the fountains first red, then blue, green. The spreading trees and pavilions were all lit in their own unique way, and spotlights cast patches of primary color upon the pavement. Across the reflecting pool the rides at lunapark flashed eye-catching patterns; spotlights reached skyward, crossing beams with the floodlights of 19 Mayıs Stadium, and as i watched, Venus and a thin sliver of moon sank into the luminous fray.

Then a great roar rose from the Stadium. I asked one of the park's plentiful security guards who had won the championship match. Bursa şampiyon, he replied. The Istanbul match had in fact ended a draw, and that was all Bursaspor needed to best Fenerbahce's record for the season. At least he too was disappointed - a fellow Fener fan. Others were not so inclined. Chanting rose as fans streamed out of the Ankara stadium, and soon car horns and sirens added to the celebratory din. About that time the beer, gulped down on an empty stomach, kicked in - and it was perhaps the best timed beer i've ever had. As chanting fans paraded down the street and others hung out car windows, streaming team scarves and banners behind them, whistling, i got caught up in the party atmosphere. I will forever be a Fenerbahçe fan, but the night had come alive.

This din of car horns did not die out in a few minutes. Instead of jumping the metro in Ulus and switching trains at Kızılay, i figured i had plenty of time; something drew me on foot towards Kızılay. I'm glad i stayed above ground! In Guvenlik park a crowd was gathering, and it grew bigger by the moment. People formed a mass rows deep towards the statue, and soon a few intrepid souls climbed it, waving flags and banners from the top. Ole, ole ole ole Bursa, Şampiyon!, they chanted. Television vans hugged the curb, and rooftop cameramen captured a birds-eye view over the crowd. Banners and chants flew for Bursa, Trabzon, and AnkaraGüçü. Men played traditional drums and folk instruments from the black sea region, and a line of dancers coalesced into a circle. Still the car horns wailed.

At last i had to leave. I penned the first draft of this post on an overnight bus to Antalya - when we got stuck in a traffic jam for nearly an hour. A jam of nothing but trucks and overnight buses, thanks to a rotary mysteriously closed by police. But that's another story.

16 May, 2010

Futbol, part 1

I might have mentioned before how passionate young Turkish men are about futbol; if they're not watching it, they're out on the grass pitch. Children kick futbols in the street - Istanbul, Ankara, Demre, wherever i go i see them - and my roommates spend countless hours with their thumbs glued to game controllers, playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2010.  Well, though i don't tend to be a sports fan, i enjoy playing  futbol - and soon i was sucked in. At first, roommate Oğuz convinced me to cheer for Galatasaray: "Cim Bom Bom", the maroon and gold, he pointed out, was the only Turkish team to take titles in the Europa League. Classmate Efe chided me that the world looks better in Beşiktaş' black and white. But when i saw Galatasaray play their arch-rivals Fenerbahçe, i knew i had found my team. Though it had little impact on the outcome of the season, that GS-Fener match was perhaps the biggest of the season, a rivalry as legendary as the Red Sox and Yankees. And that rivalry is everywhere. At midpoint waystations where the overnight buses stop at three AM, there are pillows for sale, two lira each, - sporting Fener's blue-and-yellow, or Galatasaray's red-and-gold. At the beach in Yeşilköy, Istanbul, i saw the colors in pinwheels. Not to mention black-and-white for Beşiktaş, and the Turkish flag for good measure.

So how do the Turkish teams stack up to each other? I began wondering. The rivalry between Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray was all the more heated, i discovered, because both teams held sixteen Turkish Cup titles each. As a committed Sox fan, the idea of the team that actually won more games but didn't already have it all (when pressed to say what's so much better about their team, GS fans like to bring up those two elusive UEFA Europa League titles) was appealing.   Beşiktaş, also hailing from Istanbul held twelve, and my friend Bayram's team Trabzonspor with five. Which leaves this year's surprise - Bursaspor - with only one, positioned to strike again. I'm not quite sure how this all works, because according to the standings Fenerbahçe had a strong lead in the league. But with just two losses (both matches against Trabzon), the Turkish Cup would go to Trabzonspor, and the championship to Bursa. (On 5 May, Trabzon won the first of those matches 3-1 to claim this year's Turkish Cup title.) 

Bilkent's Fener fans getting psyched