See photos at Dick Osseman’s website:
Which he did. All the way to 8:15 a.m. at which time one of the Czech youngsters appeared with a bottle of home-made plum brandy called Slivovitça. He was leaving in a few minutes, but he insisted that we taste his brandy, swearing that Slivovitça commonly graces the breakfast tables of the Czech, especially when they have a cold. So he poured out a few fingers of the stuff for each of us, which we drank with our coffee. Unlike rakı, Slivovitça goes down a lot like battery acid. Or maybe a bit more like paint thinner. It’s hard to say which. It ain’t rakı, and it aint exactly a kick-starter for the day, but we had to be polite, didn’t we? And besides, who says we aren’t alcoholics?
When it comes to being polite no one can beat Erhan, Yilmaz’s partner in crime. Erhan speaks English better than Yilmaz, so he gets recruited to help with customer relations when Yilmaz has a party with his English-speaking customers. As with so many Turks, Erhan’s schedule seems to be indeterminate. He has a job in
Ankara, working in the cargo section of the airport. His English is good because his employer paid for him to study it. His family also owns a pansiyon in Avannos, a village ten kilometers from Göreme. In any case, his schedule allows him to drop everything and escort some tourists around the area for the day. For several days, as it happens.
First thing after the Slivovitça Erhan shows up in his battered old yellow Renault. He can only take two very small people with him because the suspension is shot. That and the motor. Its slow on hills. Aside from that, and the fact that the floor boards don’t exist by the back seat (he says its so we can do a “Flintstones” stop should the brakes fail); aside from that its fine. It got us to Avannos and a few other places. I even got to drive it, and it drives better than you’d expect after having experienced the less than indifferent driving technique of our gracious and patient host. But more on that later.
Erhan took Alisa and me to his hometown, where his brother Halis works in a rug company. My idea was to see a few rugs and move on, but that was not the idea of the tour guide we were handed over to. His idea involved two hours. We were shown a room full of women weaving rugs who would graciously and compliantly give a slow-mo demonstration of how to tie a knot, how to cut the pile, how to look demure and obedient at the same time as well-fed, unexploited and clean. We on our private tour were preceded by a troupe of French tourists and followed by Germans. After seeing how the silk cocoons were teased apart by the clever fingers of picturesque older woman, the fibers spun on an elaborate wheel involving 24 strands of silk, the tensile strength of which was aptly demonstrated by the smiling Typik bir Türk demonstrator. I can’t imagine how they, the Typik bir Türk worker/actors make it through the day, benignly performing again and again for the gangly hordes of strangely clad white people. Were it me, I’d be making murderous fun of the tourists in a way that only the other Türks would understand and thus keep them biting their knuckles and stifling their guffaws into fake sneezes with such regularity that my employers would be sure that an outbreak of influenza was eternally imminent. See how I am?
After these demonstrations we were given another, in which a slick salesman tried to act un-slick. His performance was not up to that of the Typik Türks, however. His blither, breezy, lightly London-accented English was facile yet futile in veneering over the greed beneath. He tried flattery, tried to create common ground through conspiratoriality, tried to loosen us up with Türk kahvesi and rakı (if we werent alcoholics before this day, I don’t know how we can dodge the label now….), and tried telling us that the “tourist price” was X but we’d pay much, much less. Slick, slick, slick. Today’s Turkish Factoid: Zıplamak **** to bounce up and downZıpladurmak ***** to keep on bouncıng up and down
Zıpladur! **** Keep on bouncıng up and down! (command)
Even better: Zampara is a lecherous, lubricious, debauchee, so zıpladur, zampara! Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Turkish is an interesting language.
Meanwhile Erhan waited patiently I guess, out in the garden. He knows everyone here. Everyone knows each other. The slick salesman went to school with Erhan. They probably spent quality time together plucking the wings off insects; as all boys are want to do. We didn’t buy any rugs, and escaped to take Erhan to lunch. But first he brought us to see his shirttail relative’s pottery shop. Carved into the friable stone, the shop is an actual cave. A huge one. It stretches from room to room, each with a use and its own Typik bir Türk there to give the same compliant demonstrations of wedging the clay, throwing a bowl, throwing a pot, painting the designs and etc. The cousin person was heir to the family pattern for bowls, and specialized in the Hittite pieces on red clay, dug from the
Red River just down the street.
Because we had consumed a whole tour, designed for a bus-load of tourists all by ourselves, we felt compelled to buy something. (I wonder if Erhan gets a kickback? I sort of doubt it. I think he’s really more in it for the women. He’s sweet on Alisa, as is most of the male population here. And he did have a girlfriend at one time, of the foreign persuasion. That might even be what happened to his marriage. But I digress) Even though all the pots were inescapably beautiful, buying a piece or two was problematic insofar as we’d have to carry the fragile things seven thousand miles in our packs, and the fact that they were grossly overpriced. We bought.
We both chose tear jars, which are reportedly employed by women whose men are off to war. They collect their tears of loneliness in the jars to show their men on return. Alisa chose a Hittite jar, decorated by the very man who showed us around the shop, to give to her boyfriend back home. She plans to fill the jar with saline solution instead of tears; an idea which, unsurprisingly, occurs to everyone who learns of the function of tear jars. I chose a whole selection of glazed tear jars, smaller than the painted ones, varying in size and shape just slightly. Its my new thing. I’ve thrown a gazillion pots that are the same but different, and I spend hours looking at them, arranging and re-arranging them to parse out what they have to say. Better watch it! It won’t be long before I become a cat lady.
We left the pots and headed for lunch, stopping at the bank, which is a long process due to the extensive amount of paper shuffling, stamping, discussions (arguments) among co-workers, smoking, practicing English and general officiousness that accompanies bank workers worldwide. Meanwhile, Erhan had tea with his old friend Yasin, a carpet seller next door. I finished at the bank before Alisa, so I also waited next door, but I refused to look at rugs. I had had enough looking at things. My head was spinning with the effort of receiving visual data: my rods and cones were all worn out.
Then Alisa came in, and not knowing of my stubborn intent, started unfurling rugs. The way it is done is you say what you are interested in: pile rugs or kilims, new, old, bright, dim, Persian, Anatolian or whatever, and a herd of clean, quiet, polite young men start flicking the rugs out in a well-oiled sort of way, spreading them out all over the spacious wood floor, then deftly rolling the ones you don’t care for buck up and diverting them back to their native piles of origin. One gets a sort of stabbing pain in the sacroiliac just watching. But it does conjure up delectable images of having a fleet of one’s own Turkish House Boys flitting about the house, furling, flicking and serving up steaming little cups of frothy Türk kahvesi every time the hands are clapped together just so. Lovely thought, that.
So the flicking and furling continued for a couple of hours sans lunch, and my miraculous body came up with a fresh supply of retinal resources and I found four wonderful rugs. Alisa found one small Balouch, after much flicking and comparison, but was loath to pay what was asked. When the time came to fixing on a price, and the haggling had gotten to the point where I knew he could or would not go down further and he knew that I had to have a sweetener, I said “throw in Alisa’s rug and we have a deal.” Handshakes ensued and all that was left was the ever-so-un-ceremonial sliding of the Visa through the machine. Unfortunately I paid more for Alisa’s rug through my little stratagem than she had wanted to pay, so we’re at a bit of an impasse there. It worked so well with the earrings in
But here in Avannos, we had not one impasse but two: my credit card had been denied. Over the next half hour mobile phones were produced in order to call the credit card company to find out why, and after much debate over whether it is possible or not to dial an American 800 number from a Turkish mobile phone to a call center in
India, I got through. I never did know if the call on Yasin Abi’s phone cost him extra because of the multi-national nature of the call, but if it did, it cost him plenty, since I had to navigate the Dante-istic hell of the automated telephone matrix that everyone knows and loathes, beginning with “If you are calling to blah, blah, blah, press one now”, leading to the exhaustion of all options and being punted summarily back to the main menu. It went on forever. The thing I learned is that even in Avannos, Turkey this ritual is recognized and derided, for I had the entire room (including the well-oiled boys) chortling with my rendition of it. In the end it was determined that my card had been blocked due to a fraud alert. Apparently I was supposed to have called the company before I left. Big Brother is watching!
After the rugs it was back to Erhan’s family’s pansiyon for the grand tour. The house was built in 1872 and housed quite a few Baltas before they abandoned it to disrepair, as each kid moved on and out. Thevillage of
Avannos is becoming a hot real estate market to foreigners, so they intend to sell. It’s a house with a lonely feel to it. No wonder Erhan spends his time in Göreme. Which is were we went next for a barbeque, compliments of our host. He roasted chicken, eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, green peppers and served up fresh bread and cheese. We stayed up late into the night, taking the occasional stroll to the top of the hill, where the nearly full moon illuminated the glowing white drifts of sand.
As one by one people drifted off to bed, Yilmaz declared that he and I would go for a walk. He declares a lot. Somehow its hard to not just go along with what he suggests, too, so I went. Inevitably, he ran into friends, family, business partners and, of course, and endless supply of friends he hasn’t met yet. They all buy him drinks, food, a game of backgammon, and he usually accepts. Its impossible to pay for anything when you’re with him. Everyone likes him, and he likes most people. It started to become clear as the night wore on that his liking of me was a bit more fervent than it really ought to be, given that he’s a married father of three and I was at least posing as a married woman, complete with a sham wedding ring. Its true that he and I got along pretty well – there are those people with whom one sort of instantly finds common ground, despite the language barriers, despite not knowing them well. And we were that. I’m sure everyone has experienced this at some point, and many people confuse that recognition for something more ardent.
A Turkish man who does nothing by halves, probably including the mid-life crisis he was undoubtedly having, and definitely including drinking; that is precisely the type of man one does not want to have a crush on one. Yilmaz is a very intense person. He loves life, he loves big gestures, dancing, singing, laughing, fighting. His big heartedness, focus, intensity and passion have earned him that astonishing range and volume of friends as well as the title Major General – for the way he likes to direct the festivities. Having all that pointed straight at me as he asked me to stay, to live there, to marry him and gawd knows what else he had in mind, what with the garbling of two perfectly good languages , but the gist was clear as a mountain spring glistening in the sun. Oh, and having to beat him off me with a stick was another indication of what he had in mind. Actually, I didn’t use a stick, only my knuckles, applied sharply and forcefully to his adam’s apple.
Next day he was, true to form, contrite. We all took a trip to the nearby hills, where Alisa was intent on riding a camel. Which she did. On a camel owned by one of Yilmaz’s friends, of course, so he wouldn’t accept money for the ride. After that we took a half hour drive to a reservoir , where we could catch fish, or at least let someone else catch them and grill them, after which we’d eat them. Mika and Alisa were to ride with Erhan in his rickety Renault, while I was either condemned or privileged – depending who you ask – to ride behind Yilmaz on his motorbike. Before we left he asked me sotto voce if I remembered what happened last night. I curled my fingers in, pointing the knuckles at this throat, and we understood each other. Then he put his arm up on the table in the internationally recognized symbol for an arm wrestle, so we wrestled that way, and I again won. It is true that he could possibly have let me win in an effort to appear chivalrous, and thus a potential mate, but I did win. That didn’t stop him from continuing to try to woo me in ways that were a consternating blend of sophomoric, charming, exasperating, earnest and maddening.
Enough so for me to suggest that Mika ride on the back of the bike and I ride in the Flintstones Renault. Simple enough, but then all hell broke loose. Mika refused, saying that he drives too fast (he does), he’s been drinking (he had), she won’t, won’t, won’t! This even after she had my reasons explained to her. Yilmaz is now in a tizzy, declaiming himself to be a good man, not drunk. And he employs the Big Brown Eye Treatment as masterfully as any Saint Bernard being left behind while the family loads into the car for a picnic. Alisa steps in with her two cents, Erhan joins the fray, and now not even my saying all right! Fine! I’ll ride with the Zampara! stops the jousting. Eventually Alisa rides back with Yilmaz, but when we get back I wished I had just ridden with him, for it would be less work than the hours of speaking soothing words in Pidgin about feelings to a Turk who throws bottles at unsuspecting musicians. It was just exhausting.
So we decide to leave. This is a vacation fer crissakes, and I’m not anyone’s girlfriend, and I shouldn’t have to put up with it. We pack up, troop downstairs, and the REST of all hell breaks loose. Between Yilmaz and Erhan, and having Yilmaz’s son come kiss me on both cheeks like I’m an auntie he’s particularly fond of, we are persuaded to stay. Bad idea. We went to see some whirling dervishes, which was fine, and we spent some time at Erhan’s in Avannos, and then went back to the pansiyon, where Yilmaz seemed to have calmed down. Tomorrow morning either Erhan would drive us to
Kayseri in his Flintstones car, or Yilmaz would borrow a car from a friend to drive us in. Not trusting this arrangement completely, I got the key to Erhan’s car. Good idea.
Come two a.m., bang, bang, bang! on the door. Yılmaz is freaking out again, not wanting Erhan to stay in the pansiyon. Erhan wants his key back. Well, that doesn’t bode well for getting to the Kayseri airport by 8 a.m., so we decide we’ll go right now, and Jasmine is driving. Pack up again, troop outside like the scattered remains of a ragtag army unit in desperate retreat from a far more powerful victor, and off we go to the house of one of Yılmaz’s myriad friends, so he can pound on THAT door, wake the owner and borrow his car. In no time we’re off like a bride’s pajamas to
Kayseri, with Jasmine at the wheel.
Which is how I got my hands on the prize: the Boli Boli music. Any of you who have spoken with me since my return have heard of the Boli Boli music, and many of you have heard it (I still can’t understand why you were so underwhelmed. Don’t you appreciate high art?). Boli Boli is the title of this one tape I wheedled out of Yılmaz, since he had been playing it for us a lot while we were there, and I really liked it. The artist is Güdüllü Ergün, and he plays traditional folk music, slightly updated. After I got home, I listened to it pretty much non-stop for quite some time, and managed to make out some of the lyrics. Quite fittingly, Mr. Ergün’s theme is the Zampara. He sings about his obsession with women, food and song. At first it was hard to make out the words, and those that I could make out often were not found in the online dictionaries I found. Then I found one that specializes in off-color Turkish, and bingo! I mentioned that Turkish is a rich language, didn’t I? Well, its even richer than that, let me tell you.