Tales from the Road - Lycia, Day 10 (Wednesday)
Ah, how time slips away...it's been four months since my last post -- can that be true?! I've felt too empty, tired and worn down to write anything for so long. It's a pity, though, that I stopped the tale of my trip before I got to the happier part of it. Although it has been quite a while, since I still have the draft I started all those moons ago, I thought I might as well finish the account of what happened. Read on...
Today will not be a waste. I'm going to get out, explore, talk to people (no psychos, please), enjoy. The day starts with a visit to Özsüt, Turkey's dessert chain that's about as ubiquitous as Bank of America but not quite as much so as Starbucks, and justifiably famous for their fabulous milk desserts. At this time of the morning, it's not the desserts I'm after, but the coffee. Not Nescafe ... real coffee, oddly difficult to find in the country that introduced the stuff to Europe. Served in a French press with a pitcher of cream on the side, it's a little taste of heaven. Further confirmation of my theory that the secret to happiness lies in having less of everything: when we do get whatever it is we want, we really appreciate it.Sipping my coffee on the wharf, I ponder the day ahead. What will it be...shopping? Exploring the Lycian tombs carved into the cliffs above the town? Back to Ölüdeniz for another day of self-pampering? I decide on shopping and beach, and start off with a trip through the pedestrian shopping area, as much to hunt for worldly delights as to say hello to the many shop-keepers and restaurateurs who have gradually become my friends.
A chat and a glass of tea at the rug shop with Mustafa, who is despondent at the lack of sales recently, and who isn't cheered by my 'look at the bright side' reflection that at least, in his line of work, no matter how bad business is, he will always have these glorious rugs to sit, sleep on and look at.
Then it's a walk past the open courtyard, where I once beat leather-shop-owner Mehmet at a game of backgammon (thereby earning his simultaneous ire and admiration), and past the hanging garden restaurant that serves mediocre food for high prices, but seems to be quite popular amongst the hefty, overtanned, over forty British ladies' set. I have to admit, it's a charming setting, and I've even frequented the place more than once for the atmosphere, despite knowing I'd be disappointed by the food.
At this particular restaurant the headwaiter, whom I've come to know, wishes me a good day and asks where I'm headed. When I mention my thoughts of revisiting Ölüdeniz, he concurs that while it's probably the most paradisical setting imaginable, at this time of day and year, Allah! Too crowded. Not nice. Why don't you go to Şövalye Island? he suggests. It's tiny and quiet, and there's good swimming to be had. I'm intrigued. I'd seen the signs for ferries to the island, but had never given much thought to where it was or what it might be like. Having seen pretty much all of Fethiye and its surrounds, isn't it time to hit somewhere new? And thus my plan is changed, and my life, in a minor way at least, is changed.
I'm waylaid on my search for the boat taxi by all the loitering boat trip touts who are bored silly at this time of day and eager to strike up a chat. One eccentric-seeming elderly fellow is particularly intriguing, and I wind up accepting an invitation onto his boat to partake of blood-red cherry juice pulled straight from the freezer. Marvelous in the heat.
Sufi is a self-employed yacht captain. Living on a wooden gulet that he owns himself, he makes his living by chatting up the spontaneous tourist and taking them wherever they are inclined to go. His boat is powered with solar panels, and he tells me that between this and the fish he catches daily, his living costs are next to nothing. And the money his passengers pay goes straight to him, not to a blood-sucking agency that does none of the work and gets most of the money. I tell him about my captain, about the way the agencies make him work like a dog all season long, and at the end make sorry excuses about why they cannot pay, tell him how it infuriates me that he is the one working so hard, having no privacy, getting little sleep, and getting nothing to show for it. Sufi concurs that the life of a commercial gulet captain is onerous, to put it mildly. During the season, he says, forget it. Someone in that line of work is a zombie; they have nothing to give to anyone. I find this admission amazingly comforting, having struggled so long with my own insecurities combined with M.'s reticence, wondering what I am doing wrong, why he isn't giving more of himself, his emotions, his time. Hearing from an independent source about the rigors of his job, I suddenly feel hugely relieved...it isn't me, after all, it's the grind, he means well, and in fact, to hear Sufi tell it, he's been doing pretty well by me.
Nope, says Sufi, the only way to do this work is to own your own boat. Eliminate the middle man. I may not be rich, he says, but my working hours are humane, and I actually get to keep the money I work for. Visions begin to dance in my head of the boat I wish I could buy for M., the life I wish I could offer him. Whether we are together or not -- I just so want to help the man.
I bid a reluctant goodbye to Sufi, having thoroughly enjoyed his company and our conversation, but needing to get on with the business of discovering the island. The boat taxi is leaving just as I arrive at the dock, and only the shouts of the ticket-seller on land bring the boatsman back to the wharf to pick me up. It's a long, flat wooden fishing boat that takes the motley collection of eight or so of us to the island. The distance can't be much -- the island sits smack in the center of Fethiye bay, which is not enormous; but the putt-putt two-stroke motor of the boat moves us at a glacial pace across the bay, making the distance seem vast.
Finally we are deposited at a shabby-looking concrete pier jutting out from an unkempt-looking beach and some not-terribly-pristine looking water. A hill rises up from just behind the beach, with a narrow concrete stairway breaking a path through the tall grass. I set off up the hill, thinking the water on the other side might be clearer and more suitable for swimming.
It's a funny place, this island. There is no real street to speak of -- not that one is necessary, given that the place is the size of a postage stamp and there ae no cars. There is only a well-trodden path through the grass down the backbone of the island, and one transecting the island's narrow breadth. This is the one I follow, hoping to get to the side that faces the open sea and the sunsets, wishing for clear waters and a view of the passing pleasure boats in the distance.
The beach I find is an interesting place. Half pebbles, half shells. The water clear and calm. There isn't a soul on the beach; the only signs of life I see are a group of travelers on a gulet who have stopped at this cove for a swim. I stand on the beach and strip off my clothes, wading into the clear water with the rocky, seashelly bottom in my water shoes. Putting on my goggles and swimming a slow circle of the cove, I am astounded by the quantity of shells I see. They are not such a common thing in Turkey, at least not in the areas I have swum, and here they are by the thousand...I start scooping up handfuls, collecting them until they start to float through my fingers. As always, I am fascinated looking at these various and intricate homes, marveling yet again at the marvelous diversity and beauty of the universe. Another plunge in, and this time my focus is on the fish. Amazing creatures! Not the tiny silver small fry one sees everywhere, but large, meal-sized fish, a few as long as my forearm, feeding on microorganisms at the bottom of the sea. I am mesmerized by one long, fat fish that sports a bright spattering of red polka-dots, interrupted by a red line, followed again by red poka-dots, all on a dull silver background. What beauty!
After swimming, there is time for a bask in the sun, lying on my stomach, warmed by beach pebbles, sifting through the rocks with my fingers as I wait for my suit to dry, feeling utterly relaxed and content.
Then it's exploration time. Throwing on the sarong over the bikini, I flip-flop up the small grassy path to the wider grassy path that runs the long way on the island. The place cannot be described as charming or idyllic. There is an aura of gradual neglect that pervades it, a subtle sense of sadness that I feel but whose source I cannot pinpoint. The few houses I see are the usual concrete blocks so sadly prevalent in Turkey. As in the rest of the country, people sit on balconies and sip tea, some chat peaceably and some argue just like everywhere else. Some part of me wonders, you could easily have made this your paradise...why on earth didn't you? I wander on down the path, passing increasingly opulent-looking houses to my right -- the right side, the sunset side, the view-of-the-open-sea side. I stop when an elderly man, out trimming his rhododendron hedge in a painfully miniscule Speedo, greets me in perfect English. It would be perfect, of course -- because the man turns out to be English. A brawny, wild-grey-haired, Speedo-wearing, clipper-wielding Brit, who is, it is immeditely obvious, randier than a sailor on three-day leave, but is nonetheless entertaining to listen to. Still, I have certain objectives. I have to, for example, get to the end of the island, the rocky cliff past which all the gulets glide on the home stretch, the point upon which I, like an impatient Penelope, would await my captain, perhaps waving a handkerchief to draw his eye up to the top of the cliff.
This particular journey takes approximately two minutes (The island itself is a paltry one kilometer long by .36 kilometers wide.) The path doesn't go quite to the edge where one can see the sea and the passing ships, and so,determined to get this view, I scramble around in the thorn thickets in bikini and flip-flops until I am successful. Scratched and bloodied, but successful.
On the return trip, having narrowly sidestepped a bees' nest and a nasty patch of thistles, I encounter the wild-haired British gardener, only this time he is wearing a decent pair of shorts. We chat for a while before I realize that this is not actually the same man -- I am at his neighbor's house! It only dawns on me when the first man -- the Brit -- appears from his house to deliver a bottle of wine to the man I am talking to.
The Brit -- let's call him Guy (since that's his name) -- seems horrified to see me chatting with his neighbor, who is now (if not before) officially 'The Enemy.' Encroaching on his territory. Talking to The Girl. There is an immediate mood shift. Guy turns sullen, muttering 'you still owe me for the last bottle of wine,' quickly handing it over and then facing me with charm turned up full blast: "I've got a great wine cellar in my basement. Would you care to come over and see it?" This is awkward. I have just been invited inside by my newest acquaintance, Hilmi, and although I don't owe any particular loyalty to either of them, on the other hand, I don't want to upset anyone, either. Gingerly I tell him that it would be lovely, time allowing, but that Hilmi has invited me to come in for wine and sunset and I've already agreed...(privately, I'm thinking that Hilmi seems like less of a potential pervert and wack job than Guy, anyway.) Acknowledging that he's lost this round, a crestfallen Guy turns and leaves the scene, throwing out one last appeal: "If you'd like to swim our side of the island, just come on over and use my stairs. I'll give you a towel and you can dive off of my private pier." (Note: there is a significant stretch of this tiny island to which access is limited to the people living there. This part of the island is effectly inaccessible cliffs -- the only access is via stairways descending from people's houses.) It sounds appealing, I have to admit, especially at this time of the day, when their side of the island is the sunny side. Thinking I can maybe appease both parties, I tell Hilmi that I'd really enjoy a dip prior to wine, and spend the next half hour bobbing in the dark blue water off of Guy's pier. I bring my own towel. No need for unnecessary complications!
The sun is hanging low in the sky as I climb out of the sea. It has been a beautiful day, and it seems that things are looking up for me on this trip. I sit on the pier for a while in the glow of the afternoon sun, drying myself and watching the boats come in from their day tours, like chickens to the roost.
Hilmi's house is gorgeous, all high ceilings and wood and terra-cotta, done shades of beige and cream. I use the shower to get the salt off (I don't know why this seems so comfortable -- perhaps I should be more cautious, but somehow it feels perfectly natural and safe.) Later we sit in the living room where Hilmi tells me about his work. He is, or was, a journalist. Now semi-retired, working on a comfortable two-piece per month agreement with a national newspaper, he covers topics like the Kurds and the religious right in Turkey. It is a delight to talk to him. Literate and well-spoken, he knows three languages and a great deal about the world. It has been a long time since I've been able to discuss important topics on a deep level in my own language. I dive in, and without my realizing it, the conversation stretches on and on. He shows me some of his writings, good by any account, but especially impressive since he writes in English and it is not his first language. Then, seeing that the sun is about to sink behind the island in front of us, he prepares some fresh fruit, pours cold glasses of white wine, and move to the balcony to better enjoy the view. They call the island Kiziladasi (Red Island) because of the particularly vibrant shade of red it takes on at sunset. Watch...
Sure enough, the sun is soon silhouetting the entire island in a fiery red that seems to grow increasingly more intense. I wonder what it would be like to witness this show of light and shadow every day at sunset. Would a person get bored? I have trouble imagining it. We continue our conversation with our gazes turned to the sun, talking mostly about his life experiences, about working as a journalist in Turkey. My imagination is sparked...what if? what if?? It is easy to fall into the belief that in order to live abroad, one has to teach English (unless, of course, one is sent somewhere by some multi-national corporation). It is something of an eye-opener to realize that there are other things one could do, that teaching is just one of many options. I do enjoy writing...maybe, I start to think, this journalism thing could be an option...?
We are interrupted by a voice from below us. A man is standing on his lawn, one house over, waving at us. Hilmi tells me that he is a wealthy Istanbul industrialist whose wife has just opened a modern art museum in Istanbul. Curiouser and curiouser, I think... Come on down, have a drink, the man urges. To Hilmi's inquiring what do you think? look, I reply in the enthusiastic affirmative. The theme of the day seems to be go with the flow and reap its rewards. How many more interesting people might I meet today? What other opportunities await?
I'm a little self-conscious about going over in a t-shirt, sarong and flip-flops, but then again, I think 'at least if they like me, it's for who I am, not what I look like.' And if they don't? Well, I'll probably never see them again, anyway. Mehmet Ali is a riot, cracking one joke after another, making me feel instantly at home. I can easily understand why he has been successful in the business world. He asks Hilmi and I what kind of cocktail we would like, and I suggest that he invent a 'cocktail du jour,' something really unique, and serve the same thing to everyone. He likes the idea, and disappears into the kitchen, coming back 10 minutes later with his first prototype for our testing: a fizzy mixture of truffle liqueur and champagne. Not bad at all! As we sip them on the revolving chaise lounges on the edge of the cliff over the sea, I think that I could maybe, possibly, get used to this lifestyle.
Mehmet Ali's wife, Şerife, appears on the scene along with the second cocktail. A robust and lively woman whose conversation sparkles with wit and humanity, I immediately like her. She opens her kitchen to Hilmi and me, offering us a range of gorgeous mezze, and encouraging us to stay for the main course, a whopping 9-kilogram Lagos fish that will be baked in the oven. Receiving this much unbridled hospitality is overwhelming. These people don't know the first thing about me, and yet they are opening their house to me, bringing me into their kitchen, feeding and engaging with me...
What makes the hospitality all the more marvelous is that at some point during the evening, the doorbell rings, and a well-dressed Turkish-American couple enter. I then learn that tonight is a special dinner party for the board members of Mehmet Ali's company, and that ultimately this is a business function. These people have flown in from all corners of the country, some perhaps even from out of the country. Even more amazing that they didn't look askance at my dropping by! As more and more guests arrive, I meet people of various nationalities in all ranges of work. It is again an eye-opener to see that there are foreigners living here in Turkey who are businessmen and women, journalists, lawyers, and many other things -- English teaching is not the only option.
I am happy, happier than I have felt in a long while. It seems as though my life is rich in good and interesting people from all walks of life. Doors of possibility that I had thought closed now appear wide open, requiring only my initiative to walk through them. I wish I could stay and talk to these people for hours, plumb their depths, remind myself of my own forgotten self -- but knowing when to say 'when' is important.
As the fish exits the oven and the guests -- including Hilmi and me -- are called to dinner, we make our polite excuses, expressing the wish that we will meet again. I really hope we do.
At this late hour, the taxi-boat service is no longer running. Come on, says Hilmi, I'll take you home in my boat. Better yet, you drive -- I'm tired. And so it is that we quietly motor back to the Fethiye harbor in the darkness, Hilmi asleep in the back, me at the helm. I am tired but elated by the whole wonderful, unexpected turn of events, convinced that I have made good on my promise to make the most of this day.