Peace and Prosperity…
…how deep does either concept run in Turkey today? That’s a hard question to answer.
Luckily, I’m on the spot to find out what’s really going on here, flip-flops on the ground if you will, accompanied by my bravery contingent: Bernard, Brunhilda (recovered from her month driving in Myanmar and now happily living in Provence) and our new mascot, Batistou, a donkey from the Pyrenees who volunteered to ride shotgun on Brunhilda’s stout front grill all the way to the Strait of Hormuz.
We’re embarking on another rally of the sociable sort, with 8 other cars, zipping across Turkey to enter Iran north of Kapikoy Checkpoint, thence south from Tabriz through Esfahan and Shiraz to the Strait of Hornuz, from where we will gaze across to the Musandam Governate of Oman where we were last winter! It’ll be a busy 5 days in Turkey, as we bisect the country laterally, heading south of Ankara and onward via Cappadoccia and Nemrut to Lake Van and our crossing into Iran.
We drove a similar path 5 years ago, when we embarked on the 45-day scamper to Calcutta. Since that time there’s been a major natural disaster in Van (earthquake) and, most recently, a major manmade disaster with the Turkish government (almost coup followed immediately by a de-coup).
Anxious though I am what with police with semi-automatics and riot shields being so readily deployed around here, now, as then, I know Turkey is not a country to be rushed through. There are too many things to see, too much Ottoman history to comprehend and too many eggplant dishes to eat. So I’m a tad ashamed to cross so much country in so short a time. Still, I’m eager to talk to people when I can, to get their views of the past half year.
Quite unexpectedly we were able to locate the little cafe where we had a dinner last time here. It’s on a narrow side street in Beyoglu district, a steep hill north of the Golden Horn populated by foreigners from the Ottoman period onward. On weekends, Beyoglu’s wide pedestrian main street draws masses of people for a family shop ‘n’ stroll outing. To nourish these crowds, the thready alleys weaving out and around the boulevard are lined with cafes, tea shops and taverns.
We happily took a small table at ‘our’ place, packed tightly next to six young Turkish men engrossed in avid conversation around a rapidly emptying bottle of Raki. Turkish is a hard language and I don’t understand a word of it other than memorizing Evet (yes) and Hayer (no), along with Tessekur Ederim (thank you). Still, it didn’t take any of my finely honed eaves-dropping skills to pick out a distinctly non-Turkish sound in their conversation: Donald Trump. And some syllables after: Erdogan.
I nearly jumped in the fellow’s lap, so eager was I to understand what they were saying. “Donald Trump?!” I said to him, rather loudly, to draw his attention my way. “What do you think of him?” This neighbor of mine was a tall, burly guy of perhaps 35, in a white Tshirt, black stubble bristling on his cheeks, his skull barely covered by a thin felty skiff of black curls. He turned a big smile toward me, revealing the spot where he’d lost a side tooth and said, “He’s not such a good man.” Well, phew. I’d have been put right off my eggplant had he said anything else.
There then ensued a brief heart-to-heart about maniacs and dictators, with Turkey being troubled by the latter and the US dabbling too closely with the former. Just as swiftly we each returned to present concerns, me to the mezzeh on my plate, he to his Raki and buddies.
Istanbul is exactly the contradition you’d expect of a major cosmopolis with a foot in the west and a foot in the east. It’s common to see women in full burqa next to women in silk headscarfs and tight jeans, arm in arm with fashionable women boldly made up and coiffed.
This particuclar neighborhood is rich with cafes and tea parlors, each with a set of tiny low tables and stools crammed along the alley walls. From some comes a rattle followed by rapid fire clack-clack-clack, indicating an avid game of backgammon underway. We’ve taken over a backgammon set ourselves, nursing a deep amber Turkish tea as we play.
On a quiet Sunday morning, well-fed stray cats and street dogs lounge about, having feasted on the cast-offs from those hundreds of cafes. I’m told a veteranrian team comes from time to time to doctor as many of the animals as possible, each then tagged with a number entered into a program, noting what the animal was treated for and when.
We find our little sector of Istanbul a strange mix of prosperity and poverty, with students filming a spoof of recent disappearances right next to an actual demonstration with speeches by relatives of the disappeared.
For now, Bernard reminds me that we have many miles to go and many things to see in the next few weeks.
While I keep looking for more opportunities to ask questions, Bernard will be hoping our GPS continues to display roads that look like this: