BITS and PIECES # 49

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June 7, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 49

Hello again from Luquillo,

Well, here it is as promised — the final chapter of the Turkey Trot Chronicle, especially for those of you who have been avidly following this family adventure…

I Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed striving to accurately recall details that occurred fifty-odd years ago from the murky corners of my aging memory, and then compile them into a compelling narrative…

I’ll let you be the judge…

THE TURKEY TROT CHRONICLE – A FAMILY ODYSSEY – PART 3 – ATHENS TO ANKARA

The MV San Giorgio departed Athens late that afternoon to begin the 300 mile voyage to Istanbul — it would take approximately 20 hours as the ship ambled comfortably across the wine-dark Aegean Sea at an average speed of 15 knots…

The sun was already low on the horizon the following day as we entered the Bosporus, and it was completely dark by the time the ship finally transited the Golden Horn and docked at the Yolҫu Salonu passenger terminal on Istanbul’s bustling Karaköy waterfront. It took an hour for us to debark and another to clear Turkish customs and immigration, and yet another before our car was finally offloaded from the deck of the ship onto the pier. We were quickly cleared to drive in Turkey since our car had European (West German) tourist license plates and both my wife and I had obtained international driving licenses before leaving Los Angeles. Since we were in the part of Istanbul that is located on the European side of the Bosporus, our well-thumbed European ‘Guide Michelin’ gave us exact directions to Cumhuriyet ҫaddesi, a busy street in the city’s lively Harbiye neighborhood, and the location of the Istanbul Hilton, where we had booked reservations for the next few days. After loading luggage and ourselves back into the now familiar confines of our Volkswagen Variant, we headed off the pier and into the city’s boisterous traffic…

Arriving unscathed but stressful at the hotel, we checked-in and were given a room on the sixth floor. The room was lovely; two bedrooms and a sitting room, all with pastel tinted walls and floors carpeted with colorful oriental rugs, hand-woven in Turkey’s remote Konya province. To our extreme delight, we discovered that our room’s floor to ceiling windows looked out over a twinkling nighttime city vista. We could see the glittering domes of Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, and the majestic Topkapi Palace and in the distance, the colorful, multi-columned Basilca Cisterna, all laid out in dazzling panorama below us. We slept fitfully that evening, getting accustomed to being back on land (the room wasn’t rolling and pitching), as we dropped-off, we anticipated the exciting explorations of the old city that we would cram into the next few days before getting back on the road for the final 200 mile leg of our journey to Ankara, our ultimate destination…

The next morning we breakfasted on the hotel’s terrace, watching every type of seagoing vessel from tiny wooden feluccas with their colorful lateen sails, to huge tanker and container ships crisscrossing the Bosporus as we hungrily devoured fresh fruit with our ham and eggs, washed down with strong Turkish coffee for the adults and sweet cocoa for the children. We sped through our meal, anxious to begin our sightseeing day with a tram ride to the ancient Büyük Çarşı (the huge covered Grand Bazaar) followed by a tour of the shops surrounding Taksim Square. After touring a selection of the exotic stalls around the Grand Bazaar and picking-up a few trinkets along the way, we moved on to Taksim square, browsing the shops and pausing to eat lunch at a sidewalk café that had umbrella covered outdoor seating. We quickly ordered, and then gorged ourselves on Dolmuş (grape vine leaves stuffed with lamb and veggies) and slices of fresh goat cheese. It was an uncommonly sunny and warm November day, even for the normally pleasant Mediterranean coast, so we headed back to the hotel, so that the children could play in the kiddie-pool, while we people-watched for a while from pool-side lounge chairs, before retiring to the comforts of our sumptuous suite for afternoon naps…

That evening, Lisa came down with severe stomach cramps followed by diarrhea. She had apparently eaten something that disagreed with her on the ship, at breakfast in the hotel, or when we ate lunch in Taksim square. Worried as Lisa rapidly became dehydrated, Eileen suggested that I pick-up the phone and dial the sixth floor concierge, in hopes of finding a pharmacy where we could purchase medicine. Upon hearing my query, the concierge, a Mr. Orney, obligingly offered to go to the pharmacy, fetch the appropriate medication and bring it to our room. An hour later, he appeared bearing a small jar filled with a white powder. Checking the label, I saw that it was a bismuth mixture that was meant to be combined with water and administered by teaspoon. I thanked Mr. Orney and asked him for the bill. He said it had cost him the equivalent of thirty U.S. dollars in Turkish Lira. I paid him cheerfully, thanking him for his kindness, and added ten dollars to the total to compensate him for his troubles. Later, after scrutinizing the medicine jar more closely, I noticed the legend ‘FREE MEDICINE PROVIDED BY THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION’ inscribed in large red letters at the bottom of the label! Ah well, Live and learn…

Providentially, the medicine worked quite well. Lisa was fit as a fiddle by the next morning, so the money for the medicine was well spent, despite Mr. Orney’s apparent chicanery…

 We opted to stay within the opulent confines of the hotel to relax and store-up our energy in preparation for the next day’s 200 mile trek over unfamiar (and most probably winding, marginally paved) roads to Ankara. We ordered mild and bland room-service dinners for us all that evening, and retired early…

We arose before dawn the next morning, bathed, finished packing and (somewhat reluctantly) checked-out of the Hilton’s posh surroundings to once again strap our luggage onto the Volkswagen’s baggage rack, and fold ourselves into its minimal, albeit familiar and comfortable interior. We crossed the bridge over the Bosporus from Europe to Asia as the sun came up, and were soon slowly threading our way through the city’s outskirts. After stopping a few times to ask directions (we had purchased an invaluable Turkish phrase-book from a shop in Taksim square) we finally exited the city, headed due-east toward the mountains…    

  Soon after leaving the city, we stumbled onto what we believed must be the proper road. It turned-out to be a dusty, mostly rutted and often potholed, two-lane affair, that was, in fact, the main artery between Istanbul and Ankara in those pre-superhighway days. After having climbed up lush valleys near the coast, we passed the crest of the mountains and found ourselves on the Anatolian plateau in an arid landscape that reminded us of our beloved Mojave Desert in southern California. Although desolate, the scenery was very intriguing, as the road wound up and down and up and down endlessly without ever adding up to much more than an occasional herd of goats crossing the road for many miles…

Around midday, when we estimated that we had covered about half the distance to our destination according to the Volkswagen’s odometer, we came upon a rustic, windswept gas station at the side of the road on the outskirts of a small village,.. While the raggedly clad attendant filled the tank with ‘Benzin’ (the local aphorism for gasoline) we got out to stretch our legs. Lisa needed to relieve herself, so I looked-up the appropriate expression in our aforementioned Turkish phrase-book in order to query the attendant. He used a grimy thumb to indicate a rudimentary shack directly behind the station. Before leaving our Los Angeles home, Eileen’s mother Ruth had thoughtfully procured packages of paper toilet seat covers for us to use in just such doubtfully sanitary circumstances. I led my unconvinced daughter back to the indicated facility, opened the door, handed her one of the toilet covers,  and shooed her in, promising to guard the door. In a moment, she was back by my side, exclaiming “daddy, it’s very different – I don’t know what to do”. Reacting to her bemusement, I opened the door to discover that the ‘convenience’ consisted of nothing more than a noisome hole in the floor with tiles on either side to place one’s feet, and a wooden bucket of suspiciously viscous water with which to wash ones hands.  It was our first encounter with that typical middle-eastern device, euphemistally referred to as a ‘Bomsight Toilet’ by expatriate Americans. We certainly weren’t ‘In Kansas anymore’.

I explained to her how I thought she could best accomplish her needs, given the circumstances, recovered the unnecessary toilet seat cover, replacing it with a handful of tissues, and hoped for the best. Moments later, Lisa emerged triumphant, proudly hitching-up her undergarments while declaring sotto voce; “OK, daddy, I’m done”…

A group of villagers, including a number of goatherds and their noisy flocks, had come to see the strange foreigners who were driving past their village. These swarthy, dark haired folks quickly assumed a state of worshipful awe upon beholding Lisa; gesturing and smiling at her fair skin and silky blond hair while almost reverentially repeating the word ‘Melek’ among themselves, which our trusty Turkish phrase-book translated as ‘Angel’. We were offered fresh goat’s milk, still warm from the udder and chunks of wonderfully crumbly goat cheese and long loaves of freshly baked bread that looked like French bread but was softer inside the crust and tasted sweet. After we had filled-up the VW with ‘Benzin’, wiped the road dust from the windscreen and side windows, we paid the attendant, I peeled a few more notes from our rapidly dwindling cache of Turkish Lira to buy some more of the mouthwatering bread and cheese from the goatherds to see us through the afternoon. We waved goodbye to the assembled villagers as we swung back onto the road, encouraged by their wide smiles and waving hands…

The final 100 miles passed swiftly and uneventfully. About ten miles from our destination we were surprised when the road suddenly improved from a rutted, potholed track, to a smoothly paved, four lane highway. This unexpected bonus lasted for less than a mile before resuming its former unimproved status. We found out later that this small stretch of paved highway had been laid down in front of the Mustapha Kemal Ataturk mausoleum and museum, a revered Turkish national monument…

By late afternoon we were descending through the sparsely forested hills surrounding Ankara, and were soon in that bustling city atop the Anatolian plain. We eventually found our way through the traffic clogging Ataturk Bulvari, the city’s main north-south artery, to the recently inaugurated, modern, nine storied Kent Ötel, and a short block away from Ataturk Bulvari, which would become our residence for the next month or two, while we awaited the arrival of our furniture and household goods (including the children’s Christmas presents). The shipment had been delayed indefinitely by a longshoreman’s strike on the Wilmington waterfront in California…

So, we settled in, and soon were comfortably ensconced in our temporary lodgings, while we searched for a suitable permanent address, but that is a chapter that is yet to be written about our family’s long ago Middle Eastern odyssey…

© 2014 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

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