Friday, 23 November 2012

Before we go to Istanbul

We're going to Istanbul tomorrow, and I'm as excited as a kid the night before Christmas.  I love meeting new cities, but especially the big ones, the ones to which all roads lead - and in Turkey, all roads lead to Istanbul.

I'm glad we're going to Istanbul when the days are short and cold. Over the past two or three months, my mind has been thoroughly stained by Orhan Pamuk's trance-like fiction and I'm now reading his memoir Istanbul. I refer to the map I have in my head of Pamuk's melancholy city when I flick through the Lonely Planet. "(Melancholy) does not just paralsye the inhabitants of Istanbul: it also gives them poetic license to be paralysed" he writes. Going in summer just wouldn't feel right, not just because of the crowds and the heat, but because summer is colourful, and the Istanbul I'm expecting is black and white.
I've read every book in English about Turkey that's come my way from Irfan Orga's classic memoir of an Ottoman childhood to Elif Shafak's chick lit, and of course the travel writers - Eric Newby, Jeremy Seal, Philip Glazebrook.  But I keep coming back to Pamuk.

This is my first ever visit to Istanbul, but not Alex's. He was there in the late 1970s. He hasn't been reading as I have, but he has his own memories to refer back to. Between us, in the seven days we've allowed ourselves to wander the town, we'll create new ones.

Before we leave for the Big Smoke, I want to slip in a few "real life" pictures from our provincial life. We wake to cooler temperatures now - Alex turns on the diesel-fired heater when he gets up. He feels the cold. Our Australian friend Kevin however is made of sturdier stuff. I spotted him shirtless this morning while we eating breakfast  - next time, I tell him, I'll be shooting with the telephoto lens.

Breakfast is distinctly autumnal. The superb stone fruit of summer is long gone, and I'm buying quinces, persimmon, oranges, pomegranate, grapefruit, bananas (from Ecuador).

Alex is out and about on his bike now. He's just called me from Anfora, one of his favourite chandleries. The solar panels he ordered through Anfora have arrived from Istanbul, and Omer, who owns the shop, has offered to deliver them to Ergun, the stainless steel fabricator, out in Saniye, the industrial area of Marmaris. Men like Omer and Ergun, Ramazan the electrician and Rashit the canvas-maker are Alex's new "friends". Omer, like quite a few Turks we meet here, is originally from Istanbul. He is impeccably polite and helpful, speaks manageable English and, it seems to me, enjoys Alex's regular company, albeit on a strictly commercial basis. They all do, I think.

From Anfora, he's going on to North Sails (the Marmaris branch). I'm not quite sure what he's up to there - they have a half-price offer on all new sails, valid until December 31. That'll be difficult for him to pass up.

We were going to wait until next season to replace our sails, which are the original ones from 2005 i.e. they've been around the world already, but perhaps he'll weaken. He's got a quote for a new genoa...
Our sails are in their sail loft already, awaiting washing, repair and storage for the winter. You can see that Alex is in his element here in Marmaris which, though it's a small town, is Turkey's yachting capital.

Rashit, who came to fit our new winter "tent" yesterday, told us that there were 100 yacht upholstery businesses in town, with ten in the immediate vicinity of the shop he runs with his wife and son. We were recommended to use Rasit by Ramazan, who also recommended Ergun. All these men speak good English which makes dealing with them so much more straightforward - though as we discovered in Sicily, you can get by with Google translate if you have to. But more importantly, we think they're intelligent, and so far, they have all done what they've promised to do. They keep in touch with us, and they come to the boat when they say they're going to. They could teach the tradies at Port Napoleon (with the exception of Markus, of course) a thing or five. The traumas of that yard still rankle.

Here are Alex and Rashit working out how to install the winter tent, made by Hallberg Rassy.

At 4 pm, when the job was finished to their satisfaction and the sun was sinking quickly, Rashit accepted our offer of an Efes (the local beer). "What a good idea," he said. We weren't sure if he drank, although when Alex had indicated to him that he could use our aft cabin to pray (it has a perfect prayer-sized rug), he declined. Ramazan the electrician, on the other hand, had accepted gratefully, and ducked away for a few minutes at noon and at 3 pm. There's no knowing what the muzzein's call to prayer means to individuals here. You can make assumptions.

Marmaris, on the surface, is a thoroughly Westernised town and even more so within the marina where last night Pineapple restaurant put on a special Thanksgiving menu last night - we'll be having Christmas dinner there, I'm sure. But this is an Islamic country, and even the most cursory reading of the on-line English version of the daily paper Hurriyet reveals huge anxiety and tension about Islamisation (ugly word, ugly prospect). How far will Erodogan, the PM, go in pushing the constitution away from Ataturk's vision of Turkey as a secular state? Everyone's talking about it. In coastal towns like Marmaris and Bodrum, Turks like those we are getting to know have a lot to lose if Turkey goes the way of Iran.

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