Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lıvıng ın Bergama--Turkey

By Chuck

We had a lazy day, today, in Pergamum (aka Bergama.) This ancient Greek and Roman city is now a modern Turkish city. We had not decided, yesterday, exactly what we wanted to do, today. We ended up sitting and reading for a while. My only achievement for the morning was to dash across the highway to the small store for two loaves of bread – one for us and one for David and Susan.

David and Susan, the other couple in our campground, were doing their late fall cleaning, today. He invited me to join him in a game of boules; this was a first for me; I normally don't like to try new things; but, I actually enjoyed myself. We didn't keep score other than to see who was first for the next round.

We ate an early lunch of bread, cheese and salami and joined David and Susan at the end with our dessert of yogurt and honey and decided to go into town to use the Internet – the wireless is “kaput” here – and do some shopping. We walked across our divided highway to the store and bus stop and waited to flag down the next dolmus (mini-bus). We were hoping that we could pay on board, rather than having to buy a ticket at the Turkish equivalent of a Tabac. Sure enough, the 1.25 Turkish Lira (€.53) fare was listed on the front windshield; I waited until we stopped at a light and paid for Claire and myself. We became nervous when we turned off the main highway; we got up, David shouted to stop, the driver responded; and we all jumped off.

It is always a very different experience for me to go through a town in another vehicle or as a pedestrian, as I am unable to appreciate my surroundings when I am driving Homer. I was enjoying watching the people and the many shops, while I was looking for a pharmacy, a post office, an Internet cafe, a bookstore, a sundries store and a produce shop. We stopped at the Tourist Info center to ask where we could find Internet services; she directed us to the street behind the mosque. We found it with very little difficulty. David and Susan found a spot to read and send email; Claire managed to displace the manager and use our travel drive to upload the current blog and check and download our email. I offered to get postage stamps, since the post office was only a block away.

When I entered the post office I noticed that the hours were from 1:30pm and it was only 1:15. Also, there were no people in the lines, though they were scattered throughout the premises. Finally, the clerks were standing away from the counters, smoking and talking with each other. I decided to return, later.

I asked the Info center where I could find a folding knife – to replace the one that we used on picnics and that was stolen in Paestum. They asked where we were from; I told her “California, America”. She smiled and said, “All people coming here from America are from California.” They discussed where to direct me and then volunteered one of the staff to walk me over to the place. I had to ask for the knife, as I could only find kitchen utensils. It is not ideal – it is small and – I only discovered at home – it has a rivet missing on the handle. I have no receipt – they never offered one and I did not insist; so, it will be interesting to see if I am able to exchange it. I also found a pocket sized double notepad with a stiff paper cover; it has grid lines on one pad and normal lines on the other. I am delighted, never having found my plastic covered pad from the beginning of the trip.

The pharmacists are on strike, today; so, I was unable to complete that task. But, I did manage to find a store that sold Turkish-English dictionaries. I got one of those pocket sized editions with plastic covers for 6 TL (€2.58). We think we will get a lot of use from this; people are kind and well-intentioned; but, not many speak English in this town.

I returned to the Internet office, retrieved Claire. Her 45 minutes there had cost only €.21 (.50 TL). I explained about the post office; we needed to return. The post office serves two other functions – it is also a bank and I think it may provide unemployment checks – but we had to take a number (272) and wait our turn – we were only at 215. Only a few folks were in line; but the room was full of waiting people. There actually was an electronic screen to provide the interface to getting the ticket; a kindly lady showed us how to work it.

While we waited for our turn, we decided to be productive. We returned to the sundries store and purchased pens and a notepad for Claire. We then purchased tomatoes and bananas at one store, baklava at another, helva at another, olives and feta at another. The blue-eyed candy seller was a delight. “Can we get only part of your blocks of helva?” “Yes.” “Please give us one third of a block of each of those three blocks right here.” “This much?” “Yes.” This was strongly facilitated by mime and gesture on both his and our parts. What was so touching was that, after we paid and thanked him, he touched his hand to his heart and subtly bowed.

We returned to the post office; they were up to 250. It was hot so we decided to wait outside. We sat on the edge of the building. The shoeshine man next to us motioned for us to sit on the stools next to him. Thanking him, we declined, thinking we would only be a few minutes and did not want to preclude paying customers from sitting. Only later, did we question whether he might have been offended by our refusal.

I checked several times and finally our number was up. I waited until my turn – I was third in line – and explained that I wanted 14 stamps to send a letter to the USA. She understood and sent me to another line; fortunately, there was no one ahead of me. She also understood my request and resorted to the common trick of typing the cost on a calculator and showing it to me; you'd be surprised how many times we think they are saying “500” when they are intending (or perhaps really saying) “50”. So, we paid only 1 TL per stamp (€.43).

The return trip by Dolmus was more interesting; we had to look out for one heading to the right destination; we flagged one down and asked the “conductor” if this bus was headed to our campground. “Yes.” We were almost here when the driver took a left hand turn away from Caravan Restaurant; oh-oh. But, he was only dropping off an old man and a young student; he quickly headed back to the highway and soon left us at our destination.

We agreed to meet David and Susan at our common picnic table in 10 minutes for a beer. We discussed families, hobbies and dancing for a bit and then went in for our customary Turkish salad; it's the same ingredients as those used in a nearby, unnamed country; they simply call it salad, here.

Tonight, for no apparent reason, the campground electricity was lost. I could see that the restaurant lights were on; but, David and Susan were in the dark, too. Homer automatically switched over to auxiliary battery; but, we never like to do this unless we have to – especially when we have paid for the power! I went over to some workmen, thinking that they were the cause. I tried to explain that we had lost power; they seemed to understand and flicked a switch in the control room and seemed to say that things should be fine now; I returned and checked: they were not. I went back to them and found the little old man. “Kaput.” But, as I tried to discover the status of things and ensure they were working on a fix, his smiles reassured me. Shortly thereafter, workmen were testing the lighting in the shower and WC blocks; they moved on to David and Susan's camper; then to ours. All was right with the world, again. It was clear they had no clue as to the cause; but, it was fixed for the time being, Inshallah (If Allah is willing.)

I'd like to comment on the caretaker of the grounds, here. I call him the little old man. He is about 5 feet tall – I don't do metric measurements well, yet. He always wears the same suit and hat; he smokes constantly; he is our friend. On the first day, you may recall, he interrupted me as I was about to shower to check and see if the pilot light was on to provide me with hot water. It was; but I appreciated the concern. This morning there was no hot water; I sought him out and tried to explain; he got it that there was no hot water; he went to the service room and flicked a switch; he walked across the yard to check that the pump was working and there was water pressure. He walked over to the shower to test it out. Claire undressed for the second time and re-entered the shower room.

I still find myself frequently wary when approaching a new person or situation, here. But, increasingly, it is clear that I am in a safe country among warm, friendly people who do not – if they are even aware of it – hold my nationality against me. We plan to stay in this town a little longer – to enjoy David and Susan's company, to see a few more sites and to savor this pleasant town.

This Saturday morning, after breakfast, I walked to the little store across the highway to find our bread for the day. “Merhaba.” I was sorry I waited so long, as the selection was limited; but, I found a lovely standard long loaf and paid my TL 1. The woman who waited on me was friendly, probably remembering me from two days before. As I was leaving, the gentleman who seems always to be there – husband, friend? - stopped me. “Turkish Gunayden.” He had to repeat himself, as I did not understand. He was greeting me and telling me how to say “Good Morning” in Turkish. Now that we have our dictionary, I don't have an excuse for not trying to say more in these common exchanges. I only hope they are open tomorrow – Sunday – since we did not get bread on our rounds, today.

Today was when David, Sue, Claire and I planned to visit the Red Basilica and the Acropolis. This was originally built in the second century AD as a temple dedicated to several Egyptian gods. We simply hopped on the Dolmus to get to town; it dropped us right at the site. It seemed closed, so we began to walk around it to take in as much as we could. Reaching the far side, we discovered that one of the two towers is currently a mosque. We finally discovered the official entrance and, after discussion, Claire and I decided to go inside: She wanted to see the hole in the podium that allowed a priest to hide and appear to speak from the 10 meter high cult statue. But, that part was closed, we later discovered; the entire place was posted with danger signs in Turkish and German. Germans did most of the excavations around here, in the 19th Century; most of the goodies ended up in Berlin, it seems. This church was cathedral size and was so large that rather than convert it, the Christians built a smaller basilica inside it. St. John The Divine said the(original) pagan basilica was one of the seven churches of the apocalypse and was the throne of the devil.

Foot washıng outsıde of mosque

David and Sue wanted to wait for us across the street in a rug shop, as they are trying to acquire a lot of information about them. When we finished, we waited for them inside the shop, admiring the displays.

Then it was time to go to the Acropolis; the rug dealer offered to call us a cab. We had been told that the rate was TL 15; but, we began to negotiate – that is, David did; I watched – but, the cabbie pointed to the meter: No deals; but no cheating.

The 5km ride up the curving mountain road was exciting; but, I was happy to land at the top. Once again, the site was far more vast than I anticipated. There were several temples and alters, a unique amphitheater and an ancient city half way down the hill. The theater was built into the hill and was designed higher and narrower than others in the Hellenistic style; it seated 10,000 and has remarkable acoustics: We could hear David talking to us from the bottom; we also heard someone hammering from way down the mountainside; and we heard the clip-clop of horse hooves from the highway down at the street level of modern Bergama.

Acropolis theatre

Claire was disappointed that we could not find anything distinctive in the area know as the library. As you may recall from grade school, the library at Alexandria in Egypt was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; well, this site was its Avis: They tried harder and became second only to that wondrous spot. Maybe Berlin has the library books, too.

We broke around noon for lunch on the ruins of the Temple of Trajan. This was built during his time and that of Hadrian; at this time they were worshiped as gods, along with a host of other deities.

We wandered among the ruins for some time. Then David began exploring lower down the hill and we began to follow; in our effort to find him, we got separated from Sue. They found each other at the building with the mosaics; but, Claire and I managed to miss that. We finally gave up looking for them and headed back to the parking lot, many feet above us by now, hoping to find a ride back to town – which was 5km away; it was all downhill; but, we had finished with hiking for the day.

A rug dealer was waiting for David and Sue but remembered us being with them. He asked about them and offered to drive us back to town. “We were delighted.” I offered to pay; but, he was clear: It would be his pleasure to drive us. He had two friends who were traveling with us. No problem; but, about a third of the way down, David and Sue were waiting for us on a turn in the road. They had walked down the side of the mountain and climbed through a fence, taking a shortcut home. The driver and friends debated whether there was room for them; it was decided that David could ride in the trunk and Sue could ride – cozily – in the front bucket seat with one of the friends. It worked well and we soon arrived back in Bergama.

We all had our errands to run and we went our separate ways – Claire to the Internet store, Dave and Sue to the carry bag shop, Chuck to the store to exchange the defective knife. It turns out that they didn't have another like the one I bought; after some discussion in Turkish among the staff, they sent one of them off with my knife – I supposed they planned to replace the screw that was missing from the handle; a few minutes later, he returned and they explained that I could have this new larger knife for TL 10 plus my knife; I didn't feel I had many options; this was a better knife than the one they sold me and was more like what I wanted. I decided to go for it and accepted the deal. When I got home I realized that the knife was made in the USA!

Claire was tiring by now; I was already tired; so, we decided to do some essential shopping and grab the Dolmus back to the campground. We ate an early, easy dinner of juice, bread, olives and cheese; for dessert we polished off the baklava we purchased yesterday. Now, that's a real fast meal. It's not quite 1900 hours and we have had our meds and are ready to call it a night.

We have tried the helva dessert and have difficulty describing its flavor. It is made of semolina, somewhat smoky; it almost melts in your mouth. It looks like fudge but has a different taste and texture. One tastes like pistachio nuts, another is like chocolate, the third (marbled) is like peanut butter.

Sunday, we were delighted to find that the store across the street was open. We get very grouchy without our fresh bread. She greets me like a long lost cousin at this point; but, my meager vocabulary escapes me after “Merhaba” and we simply smile a lot. Gotta remember that dictionary when I leave Homer.

This is a lazy day of cleaning, eating and reading. We washed our clothes by hand – the machine here takes a long time to complete a cycle; also, the hot water has been unreliable for the past two days. They are currently drying in the sun and wind. I am relying mostly on the wind, as the clouds continually obscure the sun. We had noticed a lot of grime on our bikes since arriving here; today was the ideal time to wash them off; they are currently drying in the wind, too.

We had eaten an early breakfast this morning and so were famished by this time. We had our customary, bread (torn by hand of course), cheese and olives. We had helva for dessert.

About 11am in the middle of lunch, we heard a sound that could only have been Turkish or Klezmer music from a house next to Caravan Camping. It sounds a little bit like a cat in heat until you warm up to it. The main distracting element is the loud drum accompaniment. David and Sue may have enjoyed it less – they left for a bike ride in the middle of it. We are not sure if this is a local garage band or not; but, people in the group began dancing shortly after they began playing.

Note from Claire: When we had to make the decision to go to Turkey for 2 months because of the Schengen agreement, I wasn’t worried. I know lots of people were shocked at the idea of TWO MONTHS in this country but I remember how much I loved it. Turkey is just so comfortable. The people are beyond kind. We are constantly impressed at how they will go out of their way to help us.

You’ll never be disappointed if you travel. ~ Chuck Yannacone


Paul King said...

Really great. Enjoying Turkey as much as you guys!
I had a Turkish friend and neighbor when I loved at Muir Commons co-housing. Zapher was his name. A good buddy.

Now, I love eating Halva (with an a) made from ground sesame seeds (the base component). Is that what you are eating? A gritty mouth-feel. But marvelous.

I also read the "bath" post.
Very cool. And very adventurous. Good for you both.


Chuck and Claire said...

Ours was spelled Helva, at least that was what was on the paper it was wrapped in. Someone told us they use semolina in it which gives it the grainy texture. It was quite smooth with just a faint graininess. We really loved it.

Glad you're enjoying the blogs. I'm so glad we tried the baths. Sometimes it's hard to put yourself out there and this was one of them. So worth it.