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Monthly Archives: August 2011
The Great Game: Dispatch 4-Nemrut Dagi
The toast last night was “Here’s to bitumen! May it stay in its proper place!” And we raised a glass of fine Chablis, thoughtfully provided to us by Paul and Stuart Foley who, when not stocking our little car fridge with Snickers, Toblerone and Cuban cigars, take superb care of Brunhilde when she’s in dry dock.
The reason for the toast was an unfortunate strip of oozing, gooey black pitch newly laid on the dirt road which led to our modest lodge at 6,000 feet altitude on the windswept Turkish steppe. Poor Brunhilde’s nether regions are now coated with the black, sticky stuff and there’s nothing we can do about it. Except to drink wine, that is.
The road up till then had been an ideal sweep of tarmac over high, bare dry hills, through modest villages, with swatches of green now and then showing where a stream provided enough water along the valley bottom for fields and gardens to be planted. So it was a shame to end the drive feeling both relief that we’d finally arrived and dismay at the condition of our car.
The Great Game: Dispatch 3- Central Anatolia
Central Anatolia’s a pretty special place, and the area we’ve driven around is called Cappadocia, which is pronounced like this: Kapadokya. Among many marvels, Cappadocia is a wine region, with some delightful whites.
I will report back later on the whether there’s any truth in that. For now I can tell you that Raki is not a bad beverage, so long as you find liquid licorice appealing. And that there are various qualities of Raki, which I have only 3 days left to investigate. Travel’s a chore, but it’s one I happily shoulder.
If I were an early Christian living on lovely, grassy, rolling hills in Cappadocia, and needed a place to hide 5,000 of my family and best friends from the Mongol hordes invading from the East, where would I go? Downward, of course, into the soft limestone beneath my callused feet.
The Great Game: Dispatch 2- Istanbul
Others may be willing to stand in line for an hour or more to trudge through Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but if you rise before dawn as we did, you can get there with a silvery crescent moon still high in a deep blue sky. Removing your sandals on the marble steps outside, you would enter without a guard or cashier telling you where to go or what to pay/ Leaving those sandals on a varnished wood shelf, you would wander at will, your eyes drawn to a second story tiled in an exquisite variety of intricate woven patterns, or perhaps to the marvel of stained glass through which the light of a new day will soon send rays of blue and ruby, emerald and amber. Then, the blue and green tiles, which give this mosque its common name of Blue Mosque, will shimmer. The massive scalloped pillars will seem to lean toward you with the weight of the centuries. In the hush before the next call to prayer, you might detect a million whispered secrets floating in the 43-meter high dome. And you would be alone.
So, that was my morning.
But let us not forget that on our travels, we also investigate the uncommon sites. That’s why I can tell you a little bit about Alman Havanesi, otherwise known as German Hospital. It’s in none of the tourist guides, but thankfully it is on the maps. Since Bernard’s been sweating a fever for the past five days, we spent Wednesday there getting to know a friendly senior physician and an extraordinarily efficient lab staff who drew blood, tested it for all kinds of things, and pronounced Bernard somewhat under the weather with an indeterminate virus. Or possibly malaria. Whatever they did worked, because he hasn’t had any fever since. The hospital itself was more elegant than most hotels I’ve stayed in, with inlaid marble floors, gold filigreed scrollwork around all the desks and walls, tea service to all the doctors from the elegant cafeteria, and truly enviable efficiency.
We have also been doing our duty food-wise. I have sampled a garishly blue and green mango cocktail. Bernard has tested a number of different Turkish coffees and pronounced them excellent. Together we perused an alley sweet shop and selected a variety of things to try. I assured Bernard they were nougat, but they turned out to be something similar to stale marshmallow studded with green bits of pistachio. Bernard, all on his own, happily opened a tiny pot of what he assumed was plum jam, only to wind up dribbling what turned out to be molasses all across the breakfast table. The Turkish sour yogurt is fabulous, the various fetas salty and pungent with sheep flavor, the ripe green figs lush and richly sweet, and the softball-size peaches dripping with juice.
Although we are staying on the “modern” side of the Bosphorus, the area is as quaint and filled with car-free alleys and tiny shops as one could wish. We have been charmed by the quantity of cats that roam the streets, cared for by all. But that has naturally made us suspicious of the obvious dirth of street dogs. Where have the latter gone? And how is it that the former have come to, more or less, rule the roost here? Perhaps I can find the answer in Ankara, where we’re headed next.
We have met our comrades in the drive, shared drinks, mutually inspected cars and had a wonderful dinner preparatory to our departure for the Great Game Rally tomorrow morning. Everyone seems excited and ready for whatever the road may offer. Please remind me I said that should I start to whinge later on.
The Great Game: Dispatch 1-Istanbul Waking
Tuesday 8:00 a.m. Sitting on a plastic stool in a narrow alley still wet from a pre-dawn street cleaning, I sip strong sweet tea from a tiny curvaceous glass. I chose this place despite the cafes around because it is simply a 6×8 room with a young man standing at a 2-burner hotplate. On one burner is a tin kettle with heating water, on the other is a tin kettle with steeping leaves. The brew is so strong only half a glass is poured for me, with hot water topping it up and 2 lumps of sugar placed in the deep red and gold saucer that keeps the glass from sliding onto the cobbles. My first Turkish tea.
A leafy courtyard nearby smells rank from the urine of too many cats, who stalk, preen and lounge under the shade of an old tree. Begonias bloom in chipped garden pots. They are all well-fed. In Istanbul, felines rule. Only two street dogs seem to have escaped what must have been a general massacre some time ago.
Men, unshaven, sit on low stools, elbows resting on knees, in one hand may be a cigarette, in the other a small glass of tea or tiny cup of coffee. They stare at the ground, perhaps contemplating an upcoming visit with a razor. Cafes blink the night’s crust from their sleepy doorways. A faint whiff of salt air from the Bosphorus. I’ve found a modest grocery with one wall lined with deep bins of raw almonds, plump dried apricots and golden raisins the size of peanut M&Ms. They’ll make great road snacks.
Three days left before we take off for the east of Turkey. Brunhilde has arrived and is running well. Most important, for someone about to enter large expanses of desert in which she will have to wear long sleeves and cover her head with a scarf, Brunhilde’s air conditioning system purportedly has been fixed.
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Finding Scout-Part 3
Another cowboy hangs back at the door listening. As I move toward the door to go back outside and wait, the supervisor says “Hey, here’s Manuel now.” I look around, step outside the door, scan about and see nobody prisoner-like to walk toward. And then it strikes me that the clean cut, good-looking young cowboy next to me is my gang member, my horse trainer, Manuel. Embarrassed, I dodge back in and offer my hand. He takes it with a firm dry grasp and, looking me straight in the eyes, says “I’m pleased to meet you, ma’am. Did you see your horse?”
“Yes, I did. But he’s not at all what I was expecting.”
“Is something wrong with him?” he asks with concern, his eyebrows wrinkling in consternation.