Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Floating home

The sweet vanilla-and-fruit smell of cake just out of the oven fills the cabin. This morning I felt the urge to bake. It's been a while, but we're home now, our bags stowed, clothes back in their lockers, and books, trinkets and cheaper-from-America boat paraphernalia filed. There's fruit on the table and Diana Krall sings to me live from Paris - Alex woke early and spent a couple of hours transferring new music onto our iTunes library (thanks Bridget and Tony).

Outside a fresh south-easterly wind blusters and rain is falling in fits and starts, but down below we're snug and content. Friends who have spent the entire winter in Turkey and Europe are weary of damp cold and sun-less skies, and who can blame them, but late March is very early spring and we think it will be another month before we're out of here.

Others are sniffing the air, anxious to be gone. They'll take a chance with the April firtana (storms) predicted in Turkish annual storm table. Kevin and Mei, our Melbourne friends on Whisper HR, have a pick-up in Rhodes mid-April. Mei has been cooking for the freezer. The yard has a buzz about it. People are doing those boat jobs they've been talking about doing since November, and firming up on their cruising plans. Ed and Sue have Angel Louise out of the water, getting her ready for the long haul back to their beloved St Katherine's dock in London. They too have decided to delay their Atlantic crossing by a year. What's the hurry to get home? they asked themselves and decided there was none after all. It's a familiar story.

So many tulips to admire

The garden path leading to Topkapi palace

Fresco in the Chora church, Istanbul

Istanbul, with its heavenly tulip plantings and forests of minarets, heaving crowds and sleepless streets seems far away now. There's only a month before the first wave of holidaymakers from the north dumps on Marmaris and the town still looks like the backwater it is out of season. The main shopping street is a shambles, impassable by car. At every corner there's a road being pulled up.

The state of chandlery street
But this is a town which leans towards the water, and when the skies clear and the wind drops, as it did on the day we came back, there are a lot of Turks and ex-pats who will tell you that you can keep your Golden Horn and your glittery Byzantine mosaics. They'd rather be living on Marmaris Bay.

Chora church mosaics 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Change of season

The faith I spoke of, you know my line about giving our children the freedom to get on with their lives without us for a bit, well, that took a hammering as we took our leave from Sydney. It probably didn't help that I'd planned our departure for just after my birthday which we celebrated, without irony, at a Turkish restaurant. Feel the love, as they say. I did, and I do. As does Alex.

The  goodbyes are something you just have to get through in the belief that life is long, that it has its seasons and that for us, there will come a season when staying put while others come and go is a given. Now is our time to go.

Besides, how often can a person expect to be in Istanbul in the spring? Two months ago, in the cold half light of late January, we watched teams of men carefully digging tulip bulbs into garden beds in the parkland surrounding the Topkaki palace and I was excited for our return. Paris has its chestnut blossom, and London its daffodils but Istanbul's spring motif is the tulip.

But tulips in March? My mother (my gardening guru) wasn't hopeful. So when I saw shadowy thickets of buds on the side of the road on our way in from Ataturk airport to Cihangir, I was ecstatic. "The tulips are up!"

Yesterday we walked across the Galata bridge, where the fish must no longer be running becasue the crowds on the railings have thinned, and up to the glory which is the Suleymaniye mosque. Up the steep winding streets and past the sagging wooden Ottoman houses.

We walked past the tin merchants, the washing strung across the road between houses, past young men shovelling coal and toting trays, past old men shouldering and pushing great unwieldy loads - work is so visible in Turkey - and through the gate and into the tranquillity of the great mosque, the one less visited, and for that reason alone, the best to visit in Istanbul.

In that vast space, sitting on fine carpet, and looking up into the huge dome's salmon pink interior, painted with flowers, for the first time I felt at ease in a mosque. Perhaps it was the stained glass windows, which are unusual in a mosque and which reminded me of other places of worship, those I know better.

Then, because we could, we crossed the Bosphorous to Kadikoy for lunch at Ciya Sofrasi. In between the traffic and the parking lots, there they were again. Tulips. Squat red ones with saw-toothed petals, white ones on long stems. The early bloomers.

While we've been lolling in the summer sun on the other side of the world, they've have pushed their way through the hard earth, towards the light and the warmth. Not only tulips, but daffodils and hyacyinths, and grape hyacinths painting intense purple borders around the tulip beds. And irises amongst the gravestones in the locked cemetery at Suleymaniye mosque where Suleyman the Magnifcent and his wife Roxelanne are buried. Ataturk wanted modern Turks to forget the Ottomans, but their flowers come up every spring.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The kids are all right

Occasionally, people ask us 'what do your children think of what you're doing?', and we answer that we don't know, but that they all seem to be getting on just fine without us. Which isn't an answer at all, more an affirmation of faith.

Freddy in his lunch break - young man about town
All through their schooling and into their university years, we told ourselves that our job as parents was to raise our kids so that they could leave the nest. If we had to nudge some of them towards the edge, it wasn't because they weren't fit or strong enough to fly, only that over time the nest became a pretty nice place to live. Convivial and comfortable, and why be free when you can be comfortable? I had those thoughts too as the deadline approached for us to pack up our house and go sailing. I was as wobbly as they were, though I tried not to show it.

How Pops saw me over lunch in Balmain
That was nearly a year ago, and here we are, back in Sydney, which is still their home town and where, for the moment, we are guests. We borrow their cars. We do lunch in the city, text them for a coffee, hang out in their back yards, eat from their fridges, sprawl on their couches, compare notes on movies and art exhibitions. They've got the apps but we're still not updated.  Dislocated, as Alex describes it. Somehow we know that this is how it's going to be from now on, if only we can get our heads around it.

We don't know what they think of us. We're here to satisfy our own needs more than theirs. That's what we tell ourselves. We also know that just as our opinion of the lives they are building doesn't and mustn't carry the same weight it did when they were children, so their opinion of what we are doing shouldn't and won't stop us from continuing what we've begun.

We are heading back to Turkey early next week, going home to the boat. We'd be over the moon if they - one or severally - visited us in the coming cruising season, but we're not counting on it. They've got the taste for freedom, and they'll go where they want and for reasons which make sense to them. Isn't that what we hoped for?

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Such a beautiful world

My view of contemporary New Zealand is wilfully distorted. I see it through summer-coloured glasses, and get most of my news the old-fashioned way, over the fence. The good old New Zealand Herald is no longer worth its cover price, I'm sorry to say, so we did without the paper. For some reason, our car radio didn't pick up National Radio, we hardly saw a television, and because 3G signal coming off Kawau Island is so hit and miss at the beach I hardly remembered to check with the BBC that the world was still turning.  Now that we're back in Sydney, I see that it is - we visit the accountant this morning - but for five weeks we've been in our South Sea bubble.  

We've been tuned into other things. Like fishing. Alex and I caught fish. Hallelujah! Like walking through the regenerating bush at Tawharanui where the song of bellbirds, tuis and other secretive little New Zealand birds rings as beautifully as church music. Like learning to bodysurf as well as Robyn does (I'm working on it). Like drinking Pimms on the verandah with Barb in the late afternoon sun. Like organising for the family to come to lunch on Mum's birthday. Now that makes catching fish look easy, but then again, whose family net does not have a few gaping holes which need mending?

The New Zealand I see is up close and very personal. The emotional undertow of the place is huge, and at some point each summer I get knocked off my feet by one rip or another. I never quite get used to that, I must say. This year I said goodbye to the farm, which Mum will put on the market in late autumn. My dad is buried there, under a kauri tree he planted. It's a beautiful resting place in the natives, as we call that part of the farm. When they came to the farm 25 years ago, it was just a swampy gully. Now it's a growing forest of kauris, rimu, totara, kaihikatea and other trees whose names I can't remember (or spell). Tuis and fantails, of course, have found the place but as yet, no bellbirds or wood pigeons. Give it time and one day, I'm sure, the whole choir will turn up. Another church is being born.

Pops and I walked across the paddocks, braving a stampeding herd of cows (or that's what we're saying) to get to Dad. He would have laughed. There I was, waving my arms and shouting Woah! woah! like a real farm girl, striding towards the gate with Pops in my wake. The girls scattered - the cows, I mean.

Ralph Hotere, a great New Zealand painter, died while we were in New Zealand. He was buried in the Hotere family plot at Mitimiti, near the Hokianga Harbour on the remote west coast of the North Island. I've been there twice, with Bridget and then with Pops last year - she took the photo above.

We said goodbye to another old friend whose time was up. Here he is on his last morning with Bridget and her mother Freddie. His eyes are telling Bridget that he will devote the rest of time to her. But Bo's body was filthy sick and exhausted. It was time to go. Like all we animals, he'd met his match in his flesh and blood. It was ever thus, as Alex so often says.