Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Back in Paradise - Our Return to Islamlar, Turkey - Part III

Our days have been quiet and relaxing. But with familiarity comes some contempt…or at least gossip…and that, to a degree, tends to spoil one’s experience. It may be a tendency, but it is not a hard and fast rule.

We have heard some not so nice things about the owner of Villa Xanthos (where we stayed last year) and his property minder, Harry. We, in fact, were quite put off by Harry and his involvement was a big factor in our decision to look for alternatives this summer. Even last summer we didn’t hear anyone say anything nice about Harry. But some of the other gossip may be interesting to some, but to me it is pretty irrelevant to my holiday; especially since I chose not to deal with the owner or Harry…hence, “so what”.

We also heard gossip about the owner of this restaurant, that person, etc. As I said, it can be off putting…until you remember that we are staying in a small, rural, mountain village and when there isn’t much to do, gossip can surely fill your day as you drink tea, have a chit-chat, etc.

So with that I started to get the feeling that our little bit of paradise maybe wasn’t so much so. And then I started to quietly wonder what the motivation is of the people around me and, thus, my inner skeptic started to come out.

But with a drive through the mountains, a visit to the local butcher, a dinner in a local restaurant, etc. and a story from my wife, the reality that I am actually in a paradise…if I let it be that. And, to be sure, I feel a bit of disappointment in myself that I almost let it slip away.

My wife ventured up the road the other day, securing the perfect walking stick along the way – necessary to be sure! She came upon a local woman rolling out the typical Turkish flatbreads and putting them in a wood fired open oven. They had a chat, in Turkish…and my wife had a new best friend. Later that day as we were driving out my wife insisted we stop and buy some of her bread. The woman and her husband were furious! How dare my wife offer to pay? Friends never do that. She ordered…and boy did she order…her husband to get a bag and we were given two kinds of flat bread: one “regular” and one doused in olive oil. My skepticism was waning.

The other day we mentioned to Huseyin, the owner of our favorite restaurant – remarkably named, “Place of Huseyin” that it was my mate’s wife’s birthday in two days and we would like a birthday cake (pasta). Such a thing is a rarity…a custom made delight, if you will…so it must be special ordered from Kalkan and delivered up the mountain. We remembered the shock of the price last year (remembering that it costs 7 Turkish lira, or about US$4.00 for a fresh trout dinner) so we eventually inquired of its cost, but by that time it would have been more of an embarrassment…and then thought, “You know we give this guy a lot of business and tip his well too, so couldn’t he throw in the cake?” So with that bit of sourness and skepticism we carried on.

The next day, Sunday, my mate and I went to the local market in Akbel where we purchased some fantastic local yogurt – once again out of large garbage bin – as well as some braided string cheese and veggies including some of the biggest mushrooms I have ever seen. (Never put Turkey and mushrooms together.) The vendors were friendly, but also anxious to make a deal as business is clearly slow.

Across the way was the weekly fish market, consisting of two vans parked on the side of the road: one with a “fancy” display of many kinds of local sea fish and one with nothing other than a couple of Styrofoam boxes and a tank of water. Checking the eyes and gills, we went with the simple van and picked up four beautiful sea bass from a very pleasant and smiling man, who cleaned and gutted them as well, for only 20 TL (US$12.00), tossing the innards to the local, mangy, cats waiting patiently on the other side of the wire fence. My skepticism was waning.

That evening, we had a fantastic barbecue with sea bass, lamb chops, mushrooms and peppers along with a nice salad and yogurt. I must say that the villa’s grill did clean up nicely, but when I opened the bag of charcoal and literally found the charred wood the locals use (of course, dummy!) I was a bit nervous if I could pull of this culinary challenge. But with “our” mountain as a backdrop and with the sun setting, I was more than willing to take it on…along with a few glasses of wine for courage!

Speaking of wine, we ran out. We forgot to buy more wine when we went to the market. It was 10:00 p.m. and driving to Akbel along those narrow, winding, mountain roads – even if the shop was open – was not an option. But Place of Huseyin’s was. Baba was outside with the quiet restaurant and he sold us two bottles…at the same price we would have bought it for in Akbel (which, of course, is slightly more expensive than in Kalkan). I thought that was a nice gesture and we were set for the evening. My skepticism was waning.

The next day was “Birthday Day”. After a strenuous morning of doing nothing (I got my emails and work done before anyone else was up), we decided to all drive into Kalkan. Other than buying my daughter a great pair of shoes from a local leather shop, we walked, sweated, sweated and walked, stopping for an Efes in the shade…only to be disappointed by the whole atmosphere in Kalkan and the absurd prices…designed to extract the maximum from the British tourists. (Americans are so rare that I was asked where I was from because my accent didn’t sound like one they were familiar with.) My skepticism was returning.

After a lunch of cicik, leftover lamb chops, and salad, Pat arrived and brought over a card and birthday cake. What a nice gesture! My skepticism was waning.

But now what to do? We already ordered a birthday cake from Place of Huseyin! We had to share our cake with Pat, but how do we now pull this off as we were going to Place of Huseyin’s for dinner and a cake would be waiting there? The last thing we want to do is offend Pat. We, temporarily, put it in the too hard pile.

We had our typical dinner at Place of Huseyin…except I asked if we could pick out our own trout. This was, to the family, amusing. So off we went down the hill to the trout pond where we were presented with two buckets: one with a bit of water and one without. Huh? Huseyin’s brother picks up the net and I, waiting to be handed it, see him deftly scoop up about two dozen trout which he dumps into the bucket with the water in it. It seems the catching of the trout my mate and I were going to be doing was picking them out of a bucket! Getting over the shock of how many trout were in that pond, we promptly got soaked trying to pick up this trout…being shown along the way how easy it really was. (Yeah, right.) After we triumphantly caught our trout…the brother dumped them back in and pick two others! It seems the concept of catching one’s dinner isn’t a Turkish tradition.

Back at the table, the youngest boy flashed me a homemade birthday card he had made on a scrap of paper and then he proudly presented it. Then the little girl came over with a bunch of freshly picked mountain flowers with a little note tucked inside. It was just so simple and sweet.

After dinner, in which we were a bit quiet because the day has been sooooo hot, our “other” birthday cake was presented with candles and sparklers. The whole family came to celebrate…except for the little boy who had fallen asleep. It was then up to the private sitting area filled with Turkish fabric covered pillows and cushions for cake. Everyone joined us as the cake was cut…and then in came Ali, the young boy, very upset he was missing the celebration…until he saw we saved him a big piece of cake.

After some talking, discussion of the 16 year old’s upcoming wedding, some wine…and more wine, some raki…and more raki, the two older women presented both of our wives with beautifully hand embroidered scarves for their heads and two more for their shoulders. They were told they are “family”…and you could tell they meant it.



Why was I skeptical? What was I thinking in the first place?

Feeling good, my mate and I ventured down into Kalkan today (before the heat) and did a proper shop. As we walked into the butcher shop, he recognized us and we were greeted as friends. He then proceeded to insist I order our kofte, lamb chops (pirzolasi) and chicken (tavuk) in Turkish.

Sometimes you just need to let things flow over you rather than judge them. Travel is good.