İyi Bayramlar

Family has descended upon us for the week to celebrate the end of Ramazan known as Şeker Bayramı (Festival of Sweets). It’s usually a chaotic few days filled with visitors, food and way too many late nights but this year I also have a friend coming over from London for a visit which adds a particular element to the usual drama that seems to follow our family around.

I have requested that if one must sacrifice an animal could it be done at the butcher pretty please and brought back already prepped for cooking. As much as my urban friend would probably enjoy the party-like atmosphere that seems to go along with cooking the food (the consumption of your weight in cay, loads of laughter and the most scandalous gossip being the order of the evening) I genuinely don’t think she would be too impressed with the actual slaughter in our driveway (I still can’t quite get used to it).

The Turk was already in a bad mood when the family pulled up last night but ultimately lost it when he realised that not only was there a car full of humans but the car was also full of stray cats (including one very, VERY, pregnant one) from their home.
“But you love animals,” they cried.
“We have enough,” he shouted back at them.

He returned to his apartment, slammed his door and hasn’t been seen since. I felt for those in the family who were bunking at his place because personally, I would rather have slept in the garden than deal with that mood.

As usual, I get the kiddies. They all love my place because I only have three rules:

  1. No bright lights.
  2. Don’t get wet.
  3. No food after midnight.

Wait… that’s Gremlins… oops… although those rules also stand.

It’s going to be a very long, fabulous, fun week.

Bayramınız Kutlu/Mübarek Olsun (May your feast be blessed).

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One Finger Salute

I had a road rage incident here in Mersin a few months back. Full disclosure it was (kinda) my fault and I regret the whole incident but thankfully I lived to tell the tale to you guys now and, who knows, maybe my story will be a lesson on what not to do while on the roads here (or anywhere in the world these days for that matter).

Driving in Turkey can be a little *ahem* challenging at times but I can play Super Mario Kart as good as any nine year old so I feel I have the skills necessary to dodge bananas, shells or out of control turtles as I manoeuvre through the chaos of Mersin traffic.

Actual photo of driving in Mersin

So recently I was meeting a friend from Adana for lunch. Regrettably, we had chosen the weekend of the Portakal Festival which meant that everyone who had ever owned a car here in Mersin was out on the road and traffic was completely gridlocked. Neither of us minded too much as we weren’t in any great hurry, however and as usual, the impatient drivers of Mersin had all taken on their alter ego of Mario Andretti and believed that they were on the final straight at the Daytona 500.

Fast forward to 1 km from our destination… the train station in Çarşı and that’s when it happened.

We were stuck behind a car who was attempting to park on the busy road. Yes, the driver may not have had the best parking skills but as I said we weren’t in any great hurry so came to a stop behind him and waited. However, the wack job behind us in a banged-up white Fiat wasn’t as patient.

“HHOOOONNNKKKKKKKK!”

My reply (to myself mind you). “Dude, chill.”

“HHHHHOOOOOOOONNNNNNKKKKKKKK!”

Now (and mostly because my ears were actually bleeding at this point) I threw my hands up in the air very dramatically ensuring that the nut bar behind me could clearly see I was frustrated by his behaviour.

My reply (out loud but not out the window). “What the hell do you want me to do, ya bloody dickhead!”

It happened a third time.

“HHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!”

I moved forward slightly to enable the hot rod enough space to nudge into the traffic beside us. He passed. Slowly. And I did the unthinkable… I gave him the finger!

Yep, I flipped him off. I showed him the bird. I gave him the highway salute.

Hindsight and all that I knew I shouldn’t do it but on very rare occasions my Aussie-ness explodes out, and I’m drinking beer, calling people “flamin’ galah’s” and, well, giving people the finger. In Australia it’s endearing. That’s how we Aussies say hello. I swear! Okay maybe not.

Anyhow… Mad Max came to a screeching halt about thirty metres ahead, and he jumped out of his car and raced towards us like Usain Bolt while being chased by two other car occupants who were attempting to tackle him to the ground.

“Holy shit!” said I.

“Oh my!” said my more eloquent friend.

I became my very own version of Mario Andretti and floored it, swerving through the traffic in an effort to get as far away from this wack-job as possible. And then it happened.

Dude threw himself at my car, like his whole body, flying through the air at the passenger side of the car! I didn’t stop. I looked through my rear vision mirror and watched him roll neatly into the gutter, dust himself off and immediately give chase again. There was no stopping him! He was the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Holy shit!

Thankfully we lost him in the chaos that is every day Çarşı, and I dropped my shaken but not stirred friend at the train station. I drove home in a state of panic to update The Turk who immediately took me and the car to the polis merkezi to report the incident and to obtain paperwork for the insurance claim on the body-sized dent in our front passenger door.

Unfortunately, the polis was not as helpful as we had hoped and informed me I had “antagonised” the other driver so nothing could be done, in fact he had the right to make a complaint against ME! They also gave me a warning about driver safety and road rage because if you piss someone off here, the other driver could pull out a gun/axe/knife/pitchfork and really go to town.

Being a sensible kind of Aussie and wanting to learn my lesson I did a little research on road rage around the world and do you know what? In a recent report commissioned in Belgium, it seems that 77% of Australians have been subject to an “obscene gesture while driving”. Crikey! I wonder how many of them were me???

In Turkey, authorities are at constant loggerheads about how to control the trafik canavari (traffic monster) and road rage that seems to be an everyday occurrence.

The moral of my story is to never, ever give anybody the finger; you never know what type of looney tunes is in the car behind you, or beside you, or in front of you.

Lesson learned.

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Gülek Kalesi

Gülek Kalesi is a small castle between Tarsus and Pozantı , an easy drive of approximately 90km from Mersin. Visiting the castle is not the main reason people visit this little known ruin. The main reason anyone visits Gülek Kalesi is for the photograph. I mean just look!

Google Images

Definitely memorable.

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A little deli perhaps?

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I know!

It was decided we should visit Gülek Kalesi as one of our friends was relocating to Istanbul and we wanted one final group photograph together. We were a merry bunch as we left Mersin behind on our drive to the castle. It might have been slightly overcast but it was surprisingly warm with patches of blue sky. Winter seemed to be behind us and we were ready for the long, never-ending, fire ant on crack, summer to begin. I will admit to you, dear friends, that the weather app that I check so vigilantly every morning “might” have suggested storms were imminent and, yes, there “might have been” in the distance, the very far distance mind you, some menacing looking clouds that could “possibly” be moving in our direction, but all in all a pleasant day was expected for our drive into the mountains.

Well, possibly turned into probably which turned into holy hell we were all going to die and by the time we reached the lower hills of the Tarsus Mountains it was bucketing down but we’re a resilient bunch and wouldn’t be put off by a little itsy rain. We were making memories and the photograph would probably be amazing with the natural light and slightly grey backdrop.

We thought of ourselves as valiant explorers and pushed on through the rain, then the sleet … then the snow (a real WTF moment considering it was March), yavaş yavaş ever higher up the mountain on a road that slowly disintegrated into nothing more than a muddy death trap with potholes the size of small cities, sharp turns and deadly cliffs on either side. The only other car on the road flashed his high beams as he sped down the mountain, away from the once in a lifetime storm (a slight exaggeration on my part). I bet he checked the news that night to see if there was any information about the car filled with yabancıların that had disappeared Amelia Earhart style never to be seen again.

We finally made it to the top of the mountain and we all tumbled out of the car to take in the fabulous view.

Are you ready?

I mean it’s totally amazeballs.

Ugh!

I guess another trip up the mountain is in order and perhaps we might wait until summer really kicks in but most importantly perhaps we bloody well SHOULD pay attention to my weather app that never, ever seems to be wrong.

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My Father-In-Law

My father in law passed away recently. He might have been a colossal pain in my ass but he was also a big part of my life. I will miss him a lot.

There are so many fond memories of my father in law that I could mention but perhaps my earliest memory of him is the best as it sets the tone for our whole relationship.

It was back in the autumn of 2001. The world had gone to shit and I was in a Muslim country wondering whether I should high-tail it back to the relative normalcy of Australia. Instead, I travelled from Bodrum to the Village to meet The Turk’s extended family. It was a long twenty-four hours by bus and I was beyond exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was to be dragged into a room spilling over with people all staring and shouting and smiling, waiting to meet the yabancı gelin. I was so nervous that I nearly threw up (which is more likely because I was also pregnant at the time). There, in the centre of the room was a tall, thin and extremely loud man who was the spitting image of The Turk. Definitely his dad! The Turk introduced me. “This is Hurşit.”

Seriously?

“What did you say?”

“Hurşit.”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“Horseshit?”

Hayir, Hurşit”.

“That’s exactly what I said.”

Once The Turk translated my lousy attempt at his mother’s tongue for the rest of the family my father in law roared with laughter and pulled me in for a hug. The man definitely had an excellent sense of humour but sensibly it was suggested that from that moment on I should call him Dede.

This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Dede was a constant source of entertainment (and more often than not bewilderment) for me. He was crabby and very bloody opinionated, but he could be swayed pretty easily with a glass of wine or slipping him a few lira so he could have a flutter on the horses. He was practically deaf and spent his days shouting at the television or yelling at the family (or at anyone who happened to pass by for that matter) but when he wasn’t bellowing about the state of the world he would be singing and loved nothing more than an appreciative audience as he sang Turkish love songs in an effort to make us smile. Time passed and dementia reared its ugly head but that didn’t sway Dede’s smile or laughter, although now he spoke mostly in Arabic which made it impossible for me to understand him or to tend to his needs. Dede hated my cooking but he still ate with gusto. He could swear like a sailor and very much appreciated when I swore back at him because it meant that at least I was practising my abysmal Turkish. He was at his happiest sitting beside a mangal (bbq) in the sunshine surrounded by his family.

Over the years we had all been on the receiving end of Dede’s scathing humour. I never really mind because most of the time I totally deserved it, in fact one of my final memories was of him making me look like a bit of a galah … again.

On a recent shopping trip I had totally splurged and brought myself the most fabulous leopard print jacket along with a pair of knee-high boots. After an outing wearing my spiffy new outfit (and feeling like bir milyar dollar I might add), I returned home to find The Turk and Dede partaking in a glass of çay at my front door. He took one look at me and nearly busted a gut laughing. I knew I was just about to become the butt of one of his jokes.

“Neye gülüyorsun?” (“What are you laughing at?”)

He pointed at me. “Salak!” (“Idiot!”)

I gave him the finger. “Sen salaksin”. (You’re the idiot.”)

He laughed even harder and hit me with his cane as I passed. “Siktir git ya!” (“Fuck off!”).

The Turk watched on with glee before he too started laughing. I stormed off tossing swear words back at them as I left (mostly in English but with a few choice Turkish words thrown in for good measure). I could still hear Dede’s raucous laughter as I stomped off up the stairs.

Yep, I am really going to miss that man!

Başiniz sağ olsun (Let health be on your head)

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Breakfast at Melemez

Anyone who has visited Turkey has no doubt indulged in an authentic Turkish kahvaltı (breakfast). Tables of food filled with kőy (village) grown or locally sourced products lovingly prepared by your Turkish host.

Here in Mersin, there are many, MANY places to get a Turkish breakfast but, like most things, the challenge is finding the best spot to indulge. One such spot I got to experience recently is Giritli Cemilenin Yeri Kahvalti. This lokanta is in Melemez, a village not too far from my home, and is unlike anything I had ever visited before in Mersin because Melemez is, in fact, a Greek village.

Settled in the late 1800s by Muslim Cretans, they brought with them their Greek colours, Greek lifestyle and even, bless them, their Greek wine-making skills.

Following the distinctive Greek signage into the small village the lokanta succeeded in whisking me away to my distant memories of Crete with its eclectic style but, as usual, I thought only with my stomach and what excited me the most was our breakfast table literally groaning under the weight of all our breakfast choices.

Along with a variety of cheeses, crisp cucumbers and baskets of freshly baked bread there was green and black olives, village eggs cooked to perfection, sun-ripened tomatoes, home-made fig and apricot preserves, pekmez (grape molasses), creamy yogurt and more borek (cheese pastries) that you could possibly consume. We were welcomed like family and the owner even suggested we finish off our breakfast with a sampling of his home-made wine (a breakfast tradition that this token Aussie could totally get behind!).

Weekends get busy in Melemez with visitors coming from all around to enjoy the unique village and their weekend market, where the locals sell their products including şarap (wine), zeytin yağlı (olive oil), salca (tomato paste) yumurtular (eggs) and turşusu (pickled vegetables), is usually teeming with people. The roads can also be busy, but this is probably due to the four feet kind of traffic rather than a four-wheel kind.

Credit: Moe

A Turkish breakfast is meant to be savoured and time will slip away from you but before you leave Melemez behind take the opportunity to wander around this picturesque village. Being with two photographers (who are prepared to get down and dirty when they need to) we got to meet quite a few of the locals who were glad to show us their homes, their gardens and even their ovens (as you do).

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Under The Radar

I’m trying to sneak back into writing again rather than making a big announcement about it (mainly if I can’t keep up a momentum). So right now I’m hoping for a new post every month and if that co-operates I will try for once a week.

Some of you may have noticed I did a blog last month about plastic bags (yes I know scintillating) but I intend on preparing something a little more interesting by the end of the week.

Where have I been? Lots of places but nowhere really. I just haven’t been particularly motivated to write, but I’m hoping that February just might be my month.

Wish me luck.

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The Great Plastic Bag Debate

From 1 January 2019 grocery stores in Turkey are required to charge customers 0.25 Turkish lira (US$0.04) for a single-use plastic bag under new regulations and the Turks have lost their flipping mind over it.

I for one am issuing the seldom given (by me anyway) high five to the Turkish government. It’s the little things that mark the beginning of change unless you are under the gross misunderstanding that climate change is “false news” (insert eye roll here). I personally ditched the single-use plastic bags a long time ago and instead, I seem to have accrued literally hundreds of canvas bags. They’re in the car, in my handbag, under the sink, in the laundry and in Daughter’s school bag. They are in the garden, at my SIL’s and I even have three bags at the local market so they are available for my use (much to the shopkeeper’s mirth but who’s laughing now Mehmet? Huh? Not me, baby!).

recycling 1

Social media has been buzzing (and by social media I mean me because I thought it was hilarious) with photos of genius consumers wheeling wheelbarrows into A101, Teyzeleri washing and reusing their plastic bags, amcaları selling their wife’s mountain-load of bags that she has been saving since 1982 and in an effort to win the Great Plastic Bag War of 2019 one dede even brought his fecking donkey into BIM (which made little sense to me because I usually use the shopping cart when I’m wandering down the aisles). Yes, its all very amusing and even I grasp that we are having a bit of a laugh but the fact is that this regulation is a good thing (despite The Turk having a meltdown when he had to purchase four plastic bags at Migros yesterday – he has never really understood my love of the cloth bag).

Turkey has the abysmal rank of 108 in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), produced by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy, that analyses the environmental performance of 180 nations so every little step forward does make a difference. Istanbul now has vending machines at metro stations where you can recycle plastic bottles for transport credit. I love this! Here in Mersin, you can recycle your old bottles and every bottle that you recycle will drop pet food into a bowl for the stray dogs and cats in the city. Another great example!

I think the Turks just need a little push in the right direction and I can help with that. See exhibit below.

turkish actor 1

This is Kivanc Tatlitug. He is sizzling hot. If he told me to recycle I would. Plastic bags? Gone. Bottles and cartons? Definitely in the correct bin. Husband? Kicked to the kerb if this is what I could find on my sofa.

So to all the poo-pooing to the single-use plastic bag ban just know that we will adapt. Remember when they banned smoking in restaurants … oh, wait…

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Taksim Metro Cat

Over the past few days a video has gone viral (link to the video at the end of this story), showing up on newsfeed on my various social media more than a few times.  That video is the latest kitty internet sensation – Taksim Metro Cat.  A cat that gives no shits about you… or you… or even you!

Taksim kedi

Anyone who has ever visited Istanbul (or Turkey for that matter) knows how much Turkish people just love their kediler.  They are everywhere and they are treated with a lot of love and respect despite the fact that they can go from zero to grade A jerks in a heartbeat.  One of the most famous Türk kedileri is the Hagia Sophia Kedi, a little cross-eyed tabby who is so beloved that he has fan sites where people can upload photos of him.  Now there is another famous kedi here in Turkey.  Introducing Taksim Metro Cat and I had the great pleasure of bumping into her a few times during my week in Istanbul.

She favours two spots.  Both of them extremely inconvenient for the commuter as they are both on upward riding escalators.  Our first encounter was as we stopped to visit the Republic Monument at Taksim Square. There she was, this pretty little calico chilling by the Metro exit, just as she was in that video.  People dodged her as she lay stretched out giving silent, judgmental stares to those who nearly tripped over her. At first, I was worried that she would be trampled but, again as you see in the video, she is totally relaxed and loving the chaos she was causing.

The next time we crossed paths she was inside, again chilling on the upward riding escalator but at least indoors (it was the one day it snowed for a full minute while we were there).  Taksim Metro Cat knew the weather outside was frightful and was very content to sit and be petted as we passed.

The final time we saw Taksim Metro Cat she was doing the lazy cat equivalent of hunting.  You know how they go.  They make a little effort, they do the crazy cry, and then they roll over and let the pigeon continue on its way, oblivious to its close demise.

For those of you who are concerned about her welfare, she is one very happy little cat. A stray animal here in Turkey is not the same as a stray anywhere else.  Here they are loved.  Taksim Metro Cat is very well looked after. Her fur is soft and clean.  Her eyes are bright.  She is quite a tubby girl and I’m pretty sure she has been desexed as her ear was clipped.  On researching Taksim Metro Cat I found there are lots of people who feed her and many photos of her chilling out welcoming the commuters and tourists each day and even you guys are adding photos of her on my FB page.  Okay, maybe she’s not welcoming, rather she is just making a kitty nuisance of herself and having kitty fun tripping unsuspecting people up as they pass. Why does she love the escalator so much?  I’m guessing that grate is warm from the engine underneath. She is quite content.

This is one cool cat people and if any of you happen to be visiting Istanbul go up and introduce yourself.  She might ignore you but at least you can say you had a brush with fame while on your travels!

And today Taksim Metro Cat got her very own report on Anadolu Kedisi.  Click on the link and see all the fabulous photos and the actual video at the bottom.  Like me you will no doubt laugh at the reaction of the woman in the pink joggers “Bu kadar?” Hahaha!

Have you seen the Turkish documentary “Kedi”?  If not, you should grab a copy today –

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My Inspiration

Sunrise is my favourite time of day.  I am definitely a morning person and am usually pretty knackered and ready for bed and a good book quite early in the evening.  I take a photo of the sunrise from the terrace most mornings.  I don’t know why.  I guess seeing Mother Nature using her colour palette always amazes me.  She brings all variations of pink, blue, orange and yellow to the early morning. I can sit back and watch the village begin its day in peace and quiet.  Looking at the sky I can guess that it will probably be warm again.  Winter has gone bye-bye and it’s already starting to heat up.  No snow on the mountains behind me either so I’m guessing it’s going be a long, hot summer.  Again.

sunrise

My Istanbul posts are still brewing and I’ve been busy editing the first few chapters of Salep and Ginger in an effort to get it out before summer and can I just say … editing is awful, fecking awful. I mean don’t get me wrong my editor is great and really supportive but when you get down to the nitty-gritty of writing it’s not just me typing whatever comes into my head anymore its punctuation and grammar and consistency.  Sentence structure, story structure.  The rhythm of the story.  Even the font and spacing.  All of it matters.  And I am glad.  I want my manuscript to be the best that it can be.  So now I have to think!  God forbid!!

Time to jump to it … before real life catches up. If you are thinking of visiting Turkey this summer why not grab a travel book to give you some inspiration


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Museum of Innocence

“It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it.”

I first read the Orhan Pamuk’s novel the Museum of Innocence in 2011.  It is the tale of Kemal, the son of one of Istanbul’s richest families and his bordering on creepy love of Furun, who is, of course, from the wrong side of the tracks.  I admit it’s not my favourite Pamuk novel, I mean Kemal is nothing short of a stalker (and a thief) as pathetically mopes around collecting (thieving) Furun’s used cigarette butts but Furun is no better with her desperation and sulking throughout most of the novel but regardless Pamuk’s writing is still a poetic, hypnotic story which draws you in (even if, like me, you had to put the book aside for a while).  I’m moving on for those who have not yet read it so no spoilers here people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While I was recently in Istanbul I wandered into the antique district of Çukurcuma where I inadvertently happened onto the actual “Museum of Innocence”.  This interesting museum was conceived by Pamuk who collected items over the period of writing his novel to go hand in hand with his story.

Entering the three-storey building is like seeing fiction turned into reality.  From the mesmerising installation of Furun’s cigarette butts to clothes and pieces of daily life from the 1950’s through to modern Istanbul it was an interesting reminder of a period that has been left behind.

Museum of Innocence 4

It was a fascinating stop on my meandering through Çukurcuma but it was also a stop that made me feel infinitely sad.  Sad for Kemal and I guess in some way sad for myself as well.  We all have that lost love (well maybe not everyone) but for many of us, we had a Mr (or Miss) Big.  I called mine Mr Mediocre (it took me years to realise that he wasn’t all that) and somewhere in the back of my wardrobe I do in fact still have a movie ticket from the first movie we went to (Dirty Dancing) and hidden in a book somewhere on my bookshelf (and no I don’t remember which book) is my only photo of him and I, circa 1993.  A total of 12 years of my life for a love that is only a memory now.  I don’t regret the way my life turned out but I do in some small way understand how the pathetic Kemal became so infatuated and destroyed his life over his love for Furun.

To anyone who is a fan of Orhun Pamuk and gets the opportunity to visit his museum, do yourself a favour.  It is only small but it is truly charming and well worth getting lost in Çukurcuma with the intention of finding yourself here.

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Çukurcuma also has so many tiny antique shops which, although out of my price range, were still fascinating to rummage through (and the Turkish tea that is offered as soon as you walk through the door was a blessing on that freezing January morning that I visited the area).

The future of museums is inside our own houses.

And if you haven’t read The Museum of Innocence grab a copy now from Amazon

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