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In Cappadocia

See photos at Dick Osseman’s website:    


 The bus service in Turkey is widely respected as being efficient and cheap, which it is. The overnight bus service to
Kayseri features a smiling, handsome steward who insists on speaking German to us because there are also two German men on the bus. They are, in fact, sitting right in front of us.  The one in front of me was like a little blonde bullet, bouncing around, slamming his body against the seat, which slams the plastic seat back against my knees.  He’s oblivious. We have assigned seats, but since the long back bench seat is unclaimed, Alisa scores it, and can stretch out to sleep. I move my knees out of bullet range into Alisa’s vacated space and manage a bit of shut eye as well.

            The steward is now annoyed because he asked me something in German and I replied  ”anlamadim” which means ‘I don’t understand” He really, really wants me to be German. He wants, above all else, to practice speaking German, and it is plainly annoying to him that I insist on speaking, of all things, Turkish. Bitch. The Bullet pokes his head up and pipes in  – in English, to the steward – that he’d be happy to translate, but that goes nowhere, because the Bullet can’t understand a word of the steward’s butchered German. It takes me a while, but I finally remember how to say “German” in Turkish, which is, for reasons unknown and thus hard to remember “Almancı” So I say “Almancı degiliz” which means “we aren’t German” which finally shuts the steward up and sends him away. I wish I had thought of this beautifully terse reply instead: “Türkçe konuşuyor musunuz?” which means “do you speak Turkish?” On a Turkish bus headed to the Turkish hinterland it is an elegantly simple sentence, wrapped in an enigma, housing a retort.  But I only thought of it afterward. Sigh.

            In any case it was charming to watch the pretty boy sashaying up and down the aisle, swaying to the rhythm of the hurtling bus, topping off peoples’ cups of coffee, helping newcomers find their seats and pretending to be on an airplane.  


            We arrive in Göreme at around 9 a.m. and head into the coop office to find a place to stay. This village very wisely got together some years ago and formed a coop of all the pansiyons. Rather than competing with each other, they set rates for all the members. There is no haggling, and there is an office staffed by Ergün (I have a photo of him playing the saz) who answers your questions and arranges for a ride to the pansiyon of your choice. I let Alisa pick because she’s keen on staying in a cave. The rocky hillsides are dotted with cave-houses which have been carved out of the strangely friable stone which becomes hard after some exposure to oxygen. So you carve your cave and then it hardens up. Handy.

            Not ten minutes after arriving at the Keleş Cave Pansiyon the Katıpcı (proprietor) Yilmaz is offering to take us up to his family’s grape harvest which happens to be today. We understood it to be a sort of family or village affair, but it turned out to be us, a group of five Czechoslovakians and a young woman from California, along with three or four of Yilmaz’s friends, all picking grapes in the hot sun.  We had our curved, serrated knives for plucking the heavy, succulent bunches and the buckets to drop them in.  The soil was sandy volcanic duff that gave like beach sand (and looked like it, too) as we walked with our buckets to the spread-out newspapers where we dumped them to dry in the sun.  Yilmaz’s friends scurried about, leveling areas for drying, gathering wood for the barbeque and generally fussing whilst we the tourists wound up with a TON (exactly one ton, it turns out) of grapes.

            After the work was done the fire was lit- much to the consternation of all of us who live in fire-prone lands –  and shortly we were happily sipping rakı (the anise-flavored liquor) and chopping veggies for salad. We roasted eggplants, garlic and tomatoes whole in the coals, then chopped them for another salad. A heavy cauldron cooked the bulghar/ lamb stew. Then the saz (a guitar-like instrument) was brought out, along with a tabla. These Turks know how to throw  a picnic! In no time at all Turkish ballads were being belted out across the shimmering desert valley. Yilmaz played the spoons.

            As more rakı was brought by an ever-increasing stream of visitors, dancing commenced. The women were all charmed by the way the Turkish men volunteered un-self-consciously to sing, play and dance. The dance is done with arms loosely outstretched, fingers snapping , hips and shoulders bobbing and weaving around the stable center of the belly.  With bare feet in the soft, flowing soil,  the sun beating down and the olive-spattered desert valley stretching out, all wrapped in the warm anise glow of good food and rakı, it becomes a very sensual experience insofar as it is like growing a new sense: the sights, sounds and tangible elements combine with the knowledge, the appreciation of the specialness of the moment. It imprints like a negative film on memory. {Yoo hoo! Faulkner! Look at that!}

            Of course such niceties were galvanized into something else pretty quickly when Yilmaz took it into his head to soundly berate and castigate the musician for no reason anyone could fathom – even himself, as he reported later.  He just up and launched into a string of meaningless invective that brought the poor, confused young man to his mystified feet, which, of course, lured the mad dog of rakı-soaked Yilmaz to the chase just as the startled leap of a surprised gazelle will spur the instinct to chase in the hyena. So chase he did, and the lithe young man just leapt down the hill, across the wash and back up the other side before we had a chance to close our mouths, but not before Yilmaz took solid – if miscalculated – aim at the victim’s retreating back with a rakı bottle.

            He missed, as luck would have it, but he also managed to create even more havoc.  Yilmaz ran after the musician, who easily made it to his car and drove away.  But then Erhan ran after him, and upon reaching his car, had his own shouting match with Yilmaz. That match was apparently not settled to Erhan’s satisfaction, for he, in turn, leapt into HIS car and drove away.  Which left the rest of us not only agape but with only one motorcycle amongst us with which to make OUR getaway.  For my part, as soon as I found enough of my wits to shove my mouth closed, I realized that the only thing to do was to start walking.  So I did.  It wasn’t long before Yilmaz came roaring by on his motorcycle – with Alisa on the back.  Talk about throwing caution to the wind!  Had any one else witnessed a rakı-crazed individual hurl an empty bottle at the retreating back of a harmless songster, would they hop on the back of his motorcycle, helmet-less, bootless and witless for a 100kph tour of the valley? Well, Alisa isn’t anyone else.  She lived to tell the story, as did we all.  Next morning Yilmaz was very contrite; very ashamed of himself and liberal with the apologies.  And he swore that he would quit drinking.


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