Sunday, November 7, 2010

Solvan, Turkey

Friends: As we pedaled through Elaziğ two days ago, we were on the alert for a bike shop, as David needed to replace a fraying derailleur cable. Though it is rare to see a bicycle ın Turkey, we were confident we'd find a shop in this prosperous city of 300,000, as we'd seen an occasional cyclist on a quality bike when we came to similar such westernizing cities.

In the even larger city of Malayta a couple days earlier we saw an impressive multiple-speed bike and we saw another as we entered Elaziğ, as we cycled past rows and rows of new 20-story apartment buildings, each painted a muted pastel green or rose or yellow or turquoise, though not as many ın turquoise as one mıght imagine, since at one tıme it was a color so synonymous wıth Turkey that the French coined the word turquoise to describe the lavender Turkish color.

Every apartment in these high rises has a balcony, many draped with drying laundry. We have seen such apartment complexes on the outskirts of most of the large cıtıes we have passed through, with many more under construction. They stood at attention for over a mıle as we entered Elaziğ.

Shortly after we passed a round-about with a fountain, that may have been the center of the newer portıon of the cıty, David spotted a store wıth bıkes out front. They were mostly chıldren's bıkes, but we stopped any way. We weren't surprised ıt didn't do repairs or have spare parts, but the non-English speakıng owner was able to somewhat direct us towards a shop that did repairs. When ıt became clear it was a bit complicated, two twelve-year old boys, who had just sold us a couple of simits (sesame seed rolls) they were carryıng on trays on top of theır heads, volunteered to lead us there.

It was well that they did, as it was nearly a mile walk down a few side streets and back alleys. As we walked along I scanned the road for cigarette packs hoping to find a grisly anti-smoking photo that I didn't have in my collection, kickıng over those that were face down. I discovered a new one of a guy on an Exercycle wıth a face mask feedıng him oxygen. After fınding one, I saw several more. Though there were a scattering of others I was familiar with, a specific photo seems to predominate in some regions of Turkey.

When the boys noticed my interest in cigarette packs, they assumed I was a smoker and might have cigarettes on me. They both excitedly put two fıngers to their mouths and inhaled and gestured that they would like a cigarette. A couple of days ago we passed a scatterıng of cigarettes that had fallen out of a pack on the roadside. I had thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to gather them up as an offering to people who did us a favor, but we were on a descent and I didn't care to slam on the brakes to pick up stray cigarettes. If I had, I'm not sure if my scruples would have allowed me to offer them to these boys.

Instead, when we reached the bike shop, David gave each boy a lira, 65 cents, as much as we paid for two of the simits they were selling. They were quite pleased and followed me to an Internet cafe just around the corner and spent on hour each playing video games. Here, as in China, teen-aged boys are the chief clientele of the Internet cafes.

This is David's first visit to Europe in ten years, since the advent of the Internet age. He wasn't prepared for its ubiquity. At the first town where I went in search of Internet, David thought it would be a fruitless mission, as it was a dusty, out-of-the-way town that tourists don't frequent. But the Internet is not for tourists, but for the locals. Just about anyone we ask can direct us towards an Internet cafe. It many not be nearby, but we don't have to worry about finding someone else after a couple of blocks that can give us further directions as we close in on it.

The bike shop was mostly a shoe shop that also did bike repairs. They had no bikes, or even tires, for sale, only a few spare parts, but they did have the derailleur cable David needed and a second that he bought as a spare. The two cables and the labor to replace it came to five lira, just about the price of a cable back home. David filmed the operation for his movie.

We are well into the eastern Kurdish sector of Turkey, less than 100 miles now from Lake Van, the largest lake ın Turkey, a salt water body of water formed by a volcano at an elevation of over a mile. We have had sunny days ever since our two days of rain before Konya, making the cycling as pleasant as we could hope for, even though the days start in the 30s and don't get much warmer than the mid 50s. Its been fairly windless, so we can stop anywhere for a snack and be perfectly comfortable, not needing shelter from a wind or the warmth of a cafe.

Back in the '80 and '90s, when the Kurdish resistance was much stronger and violent than it is now, Elaziğ was a danger zone wıth heavy security. We saw no evidence of that whatsoever. We did notice on the outskirts of Malayta a couple days before, however, an upside down American flag. It was part of a string of national flags forming an arch over the entry to a hotel. There were flags from France, Holland, Italy, Greece and a few other countries, but oddly enough not one from Germany, despite the huge number of Turks that go to Germany for work.

We encounter many, many more Turks who speak a smattering of German, than English. That doesn't mean though that the Turks are particularly German-friendly. Some say the Turks are just the opposite, antagonized by the poor treatment of Turkish workers in Germany. That may explain the lack of German flags at tourist sites and malls when there is a string of other national flags, implying they are not welcome.

While I keep an eye out for cigarette packs, David is attuned to baseball hats. He is never without his, shielding his bald pate from the sun. It is such an essential part of his wardrobe that he carries a spare, despite his near neurotic bent to keep the weight he is carrying to a minimum. He doesn't even carry a towel, preferring to use his shirt to dry himself.

His alertness to baseball hats along the road isn't because he's interested in adding a Turkish representative to his collection, but just that he he finds it curious that he regularly spots them along the road but rarely on the head of a Turk. We'd been in the country over a week before we saw a Turk wearing a baseball cap--at the huge tourist site of Mevlana's tomb in Konya.  Only one other time in the nearly three weeks we have been in Turkey have we seen a Turk wearing a baseball hat.  That was at Malayta.

Head gear is an important part of Turkey's history and culture. For over a century beginning in 1820 every Turk male wore a fez, mandated by a sultan who banned the turban, trying to eliminate the religious divisions in the country.  Muslims wore the turban.  He wished Christians, Jews and Muslims not to be identified by their headgear.  In 1925 Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, Ataturk, banned the fez when he was trying to westernize the country, considering it an emblem of backwardness.  He had felt foolish wearing a fez when he attended conferences in Europe, and had in fact been told by a diplomat that it was hard to take anyone seriously who wore a fez. Ataturk made it a crime to wear a fez.  One could be sentenced to three months in prison for wearing one. When that wasn't enough to curb fez-wearers, there were those who were actually executed for wearing one.

Perhaps the best travel book on Turkey, "A Fez of the Heart," is by an Englishman who toured the country in 1992 in search of a fez. He found them in museums and for sale to tourists, but not on the heads of any rebellious Turks, though they did make a brief comeback in 1980 when a religious political party had success in that year's election.

Later, George

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