BITS and PIECES # 62

2

February 4, 2017 by palamow

 

Hello again from Luquillo,

I’m (hopefully) back in the groove, so to speak, applying myself assiduously (well, sort of) to scribbling memory dumps while they still flutter about in my aging octogenarian cranium …

Accordingly, I offer the following reminiscences about Turkey (the middle eastern country, not the ubiquitous avian comestible) that seems to consistently occupy front-page space in the news these days …

As you may recall (especially if you’ve perused BITS and PIECES # 17 and 21), in the early 1960s, I spent two years living in Ankara, the Turkish Capital, while assigned as a civilian consultant to the Turkish military as part of the Joint United States Military Assistance and Advisory Group (JUSMAAG). A few recollections of that half-century ago cultural adventure, some frivolous, others deceptively meaningful and ‘eye-opening’, are collected in this three-part narrative, as best as I can recall them …

I hope these simple, unsophisticated anecdotes serve to give you a ‘behind-the-curtain’ glimpse into Turkey’s intriguing, uniquely secular and multi-cultural complexity (as it was back then), and may even help you to unravel some of the current info-spew regarding the peoples of this largely mis-understood country …

So, here’s part one …

BIN BASHI HOT AND OTHER TURKEY TALES – PART ONE

My family and I arrived in Ankara in early December, 1964, after driving in our newly-acquired Volkswagen ‘Variant’ station wagon from Frankfurt, West Germany to Basel, Switzerland, up and over the Swiss/Italian Alps and then down the ‘boot’ of Italy, with stops-off in Milan and Rome, ending up in Naples …

From there, after our dusty, travel stained auto was hoisted aboard the M/V San Giorgio, we traveled by sea across the eastern Mediterranean to Athens and (finally) after transiting the Bosporus, arrived in Istanbul. After a few days rest and recuperation in Istanbul, we climbed back into our well-seasoned Volkswagen, to continue our journey across the sparsely populated Anatolian plateau, over serpentine, mostly unpaved roads to Ankara …

I had made hotel reservations for us at the Kent, a mid-city hostelry that was to become our home for the next few months as we searched for permanent accommodations while waiting for our household goods to arrive (a longshoreman’s strike in the port of Los Angeles had delayed shipment). The Kent’s suites were smallish, so the management obligingly suggested that we occupy two adjoining twin-bed rooms, so, 5 year old Michael and I shared one, while 3 year old Lisa bunked with her mom next door …

The Kent boasted a ground floor bar/restaurant that quickly became the focus of our social (and much of my professional) networking endeavors during the first few months of my assignment. The restaurant virtually reeked with atmosphere – the windows in its dark mahogany-paneled walls were sheathed with ornate, if somewhat threadbare draperies; some of the tables were placed at random, others in groups – still others were partially enclosed in secretive hideaways in the room’s far corners. The restaurant and bar were redolent with the acrid aroma of strong Turkish tobaccos, the licorice scent of Raki (Turkish anisette) and the compelling cooking perfumery of Dolmas (a bit more about this gastronomic delight presently) …

On most late afternoons and early evenings, foreign diplomats and international businessmen with liberal expense accounts rubbed elbows amiably with Turkish parliament legislators, well-heeled local gentry and deal makers of all sorts. A three-piece string ensemble whose aged members, clad in shiny, if somewhat shabby tuxedos, wandered among the tables, playing and singing plaintive middle-eastern selections …

The food and wines served at the Kent were excellent. I developed a liking for one particular local wine: Kavaklidere Kalečik Karesi –  a dry red, bottled at the Kavaklidere winery in Čankaya, (situated atop a steep hill on the southernmost rim of the capital, near where we would eventually settle in permanent quarters). It was prepared from grapes grown in an ancient vineyard in the Kalečik region of Central Anatolia that had been in existence since biblical times …

The Turkish word Dolma – literally ‘stuffed’, is used to describe a delicious concoction of ground lamb, onions, raisins and spices stuffed into rolled-up grapevine leaves boiled in a large pot. It was a particular favorite of our children (and me). On a whimsical note, a similar Turkish word – dolmuš, a derivative of dolma was used to describe an overcrowded (stuffed) form of Anatolian public transportation much like a jitney or mini-bus …

After we had settled-in at the Kent, I ‘made my manners’, so to speak, at the JUSMAAG office located at Turkish military headquarters across from the parliament buildings in central Ankara. While there, I was assigned a project officer (a Turkish Air Force major) whom, I was told would call upon me at the hotel the next afternoon. Binbashi (the Turkish word for major) Tayip Kaya arrived at the Kent late the following afternoon, just as we were finishing an early dinner with the children. The Binbashi was an imposing figure in his tailored, sky-blue, Air Force uniform, colorfully accented with fire-engine red shoulder tabs, indicating his rank, his handsome, hawk-nosed visage set-off by steel gray hair and a clipped ‘military’ moustache. As I was introducing him to my family, Lisa, our irrepressibly gregarious three year old took in his title, smiled angelically, and sang-out “Binbashi hot, Binbashi cold, Binbashi in the pot, nine days old”, much to his confusion (and our chagrin)—however, when I quickly explained how she had transposed the lyric of a favorite nursery rhyme to fit-in the curious (to her) sound of his rank, he was enchanted, bowing and kissing Lisa’s tiny hand. The bond was sealed – Lisa and ‘her Binbashi’ had instantly forged a friendship that continued to blossom for the remainder of our sojourn in Turkey …

Two other lasting friendships we were fortunate to have made while living at the Kent flourished during our stay and thus stand-out in my memory, along with Binbashi Tayip Kaya – one a Turk, the other a Russian. Guney Sporel and Boris Rostov became irreplaceable additions to our tiny family, both for their indefatigable friendship and their sage guidance, as we struggled to unravel and assimilate the complexities of this fascinating multi-cultural nation and its people …

Mr. Sporel and I first met one evening at the hotel bar – I had engaged the services of a real estate agent to aid in our search for permanent quarters. The agent, an odious little man named Ordogan had shown me a few woefully inadequate domiciles that he ‘represented’, which I had turned down flatly, much to Ordogan’s annoyance. That evening, when I had informed him that I no longer required his services, he glared at me and retreated to sulk at the other end of the bar …

Mr. Sporel, a trim, handsome man about my age, (he looked to me like a Turkish version of Cary Grant) clad in tailored, European-cut tweeds, impeccable linens and a ‘school tie’, suddenly appeared at my side. He introduced himself, and after the usual pleasantries were exchanged, informed me, without further preamble, that Ordogan was well known locally as a “scurrilous and untrustworthy scoundrel”. He then quietly advised me not to have any business dealings with him. Just then, Ordogan stormed back over to where we were seated, shaking a clenched fist in my face, and shouting “you owe me 500 TL (Turkish Lira) for my services” (this was nonsense – our agreement specified that I would pay him a commission, only if and when he found us suitable accommodations), threatening me with physical harm if I failed to pay-up immediately. As I began to rise to confront him, my newfound acquaintance, Mr. Sporel grasped my arm and whispered that I should “sit still” as this was a “local Turkish matter”. He then grasped Ordogan firmly by his wrists, escorting him swiftly away from the bar, through the restaurant’s revolving door, and unceremoniously deposited him onto the sidewalk …

Upon his return, Mr. Sporel informed me that, “as a foreign national, it was best that I didn’t involve myself and my family in this kind of thing”. I thanked him profusely for his timely assistance, and after we had shared a few drinks, and we were on a first name basis, I discovered that he had been educated in Great Britain (public school and then Cambridge), and had completed two years of compulsory service in the Turkish army upon his return home. After military service he was employed for a brief time in government, and presently owned and operated a highly successful travel agency in the capital city. Our nascent friendship was further cemented when we discovered that we had served our respective countries in 1953, during the Korean War …

I invited Guney to meet my family and join us for an early dinner the following night. After dinner he quickly endeared himself to Michael and Lisa by challenging them to a snowball fight (it had been snowing heavily all day) on the sidewalk in front of the hotel …

If you are sufficiently motivated to read-through the next two installments of this narrative (coming along soon, Lord willing), it should become abundantly clear that Guney Sporel (happily for us) became intricately interwoven in the fabric of our daily lives during our always intriguing Turkish interlude …

But for a moment, allow me to switch gears, so to speak, and describe how I became acquainted with the aforementioned Russian gentleman. Mr. Boris Rostov, a slim, balding, florid-faced individual in his thirties, always impeccably dressed in expensive, European-cut, three-piece suits, was the Third Secretary (‘Troisieme Secretaire’ was how it was elegantly stated in diplomatic argot on his, stylish, cream-colored calling-card) at the Soviet embassy in Ankara. As such, he was in charge of diplomatic affairs at the commercial desk (and, I suspected at the time, some additional clandestine duties as well) …

Like most other foreign diplomats, Rostov frequented the bar and restaurant at the Kent. Like his multi-national diplomatic confederates, I’m sure he found the Kent’s genial atmosphere collegial and professionally rewarding …

I first became acquainted with Mr. Rostov early one morning, at the hotel’s main entrance – he had overheard my struggles with the few words of Turkish I had learned by then, as I unsuccessfully tried to communicate my need for a taxi to the hotel’s kapaji (doorman) – my Volkswagen auto was in the shop having its carburetor and cylinder heads modified to operate on Turkish ‘Benzin’ (low-octane fuel) …

Sensing my plight, Mr. Rostov paused politely to enquire whether he could be of assistance. Introducing himself, he obligingly offered to give me a lift to my destination. After I had politely turned-down his kind offer, he translated my taxi requisition to the kapaji. While I waited, we struck-up a desultory conversation. As often happens, our idle exchange uncovered a mutual interest – the game of tennis. Mr. Rostov revealed that his embassy boasted a “very nice” indoor clay court, and promptly invited me to participate as his partner in a game of doubles against two Soviet colleagues, on the following Saturday – when I regretfully demurred, stating that I had plans to take my children sledding that morning, he smilingly replied that “by far the finest sledding hill in Ankara” was located just in front of his embassy’s gate, and if I was agreeable, he would have his driver, Kerensky, pick us up and bring us to the embassy – disarmed by his courtesy, I readily accepted to his kind offer …

Suspicious by nature. I had second thoughts – as I sped away in the taxi, I wondered if I was being manipulated in an attempt at compromise; after all, the ‘cold war’ between the USSR and the west was very much in evidence, and the project to which I had been assigned was deemed ‘classified’, requiring me to possess a ‘top secret’ security clearance in order to work on it. When I reached my office, I called my friend John Shipe for advice – he was the assistant air attaché at the U.S. Embassy. Major Shipe (whom I had known since assigned on a similar project in the Philippines), suggested that I continue my ‘tennis/sledding’ relationship with Rostov, but be cautious and keep a record of our conversations …

As it turned out, my trepidations were unfounded – Boris Rostov was merely an extremely lonely family man – for some obscure Soviet bureaucratic reason, his wife and two small daughters had been prevented from accompanying him to Ankara, and thus had been required to remain in Moscow during his tour in Turkey. As a consequence, he swiftly developed an appreciation for the close relationship he developed with our family – he was overcome by the exuberant thanks that the children gave him for affording them such an excellent sledding opportunity – Michael somberly shook his hand, while tiny, irrepressible Lisa grinned widely and hugged his leg …

Suffice it to say, than Boris Rostov soon became a beloved and vital addition to our family during our time in Turkey. Aside from our bi-weekly tennis matches, he became a welcome weekend dinner and balcony hamburger barbeque guest when we had found a permanent home in Čankaya. There was never a hint of ‘subversion’ on either part (although, I retained a certain degree of distrust for Rostov’s ‘driver – although he purportedly spoke no English, Mr. Kerensky took every opportunity to scribble details of our conversations and activities into his ever-present notebook …

And so it went – as we reluctantly left behind our now familiar lodgings at the Kent, to move into new quarters atop Čankaya hill, conveniently located next to the British embassy (they showed vintage English and Hollywood films in their comfortable library on Saturday evenings!), we began another exciting chapter, filled with adventures, misadventures, and a host of new characters, male and female, to populate our ongoing Turkish drama …

Regrettably, since I’ve far exceeded my self-imposed 2,000 word limit for a BITS and PIECES posting, further details must necessarily await completion of Parts 2 and 3, which are currently ‘works-in-process’ …

Until then, thanks for reading my ‘stuff’, and please accept my heartfelt appreciation for your patience …

I’ll be scribbling again soon!

© 2017 Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “BITS and PIECES # 62

  1. Rose says:

    Always great to read a Bits and Pieces from you Alan. Keep them coming I enjoyed this one immensely.

  2. mkhulu says:

    Makes me wish to share rice and beans con pan de aqua with my old pard. Even would enjoy a round of dolma and fine Turkish wine! Miss you both. Keep writing.

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