Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ezine, Turkey

Friends: This Aegean coastal weather remains in flux. Temperatures ought to be in the 50s. Yesterday morning it was 26 when I broke camp and didn't warm up enough until early afternoon to melt the patches of ice along the road. Usually I put on my booties to keep my feet dry.  Now I wear them to keep my feet warm.

The sun was not to be seen all day. At least there was no wind to speak of for a change until late in the afternoon when a breeze descended from the mountains to the east bringing with it a light sprinkling. Light or not, it was wet and about the last thing I needed. It is no fun setting up my tent in the rain and even less fun retreating into it for the night with wet clothes.

My candle was down to its last inch, probably not enough for the four hours I'd be sitting in my tent before sleep. I hadn't needed it for weeks until the night before and would certainly need its modicum of warmth this night when I was battling both wet and cold. The first store I tried didn't carry candles, but luckily the next one did.

Luck was with me again when I came upon a grove of big-trunked old olive trees with sprawling branches that provided some shelter, enabling me to erect my tent without more than a few drops wetting it. The candles didn't provide enough heat to much dry my gear, but they did make a welcome dent in the cold. At least the only thing wet I had to put on against my skin the next morning were my tights. It had warmed up to 42, not such an intolerably cold temperature. My body temperature soon had the tights relatively dry.

The sun had returned after a day's absence. The forecast calls for two sunny days and then more rain, just as I will be heading east along the bay to Istanbul for my final 200 miles after I cross the Dardanelles into Europe tomorrow.

For the third time in two weeks since leaving Adana I encountered cyclists heading southward to Syria and warmer temperatures. It was an English couple in their late 30s. They were the fourth husband and wife team I've met, all of different nationalities--Swiss, Polish, French and English. The only lone cyclist has been a German. The English were two-and-a-half months into their dream trip--England to South Africa. They were worried about their visa to Syria, as it had expired. They weren't able to renew it in Istanbul and were told they couldn't do it in Ankara, the capital, either. The wife was planning to fly back to England from Ankalya to take care of it at the Syrian embassy in London.

Last night for the first time in over two weeks since leaving Adana I was without a newspaper to read. It was back to Lucretius and "On the Nature of the Universe", the fifth of six books I brought with me. I welcomed the break from the Turkish newspapers, as they've finally become a bit repetitive with story after story about Turkey not being worthy of the EU and the upcoming elections and student unrest and Premier Erdoğan wanting to sue the US for the Wikileak's accusation that he has eight Swiss bank accounts. There are still the odd interesting stories such as a crack-down on institutes in Istanbul that guarantee that they can cure stuttering in a week and the big surge of knife orders for all the knife factories in Bursa, Turkey's knife manufacturing center, for the Feast of the Sacrifice holiday.

There have been two student demonstrations recently against the ruling AKP party and its Islamic slant. It has been in power since 2002 and will most likely win the upcoming elections. It will be the longest Turkey has been ruled by the same party since its inception in 1923. Even though the police reacted with violence to the students and their egg-throwing, AKP officials acknowledge that the students have a right to demonstrate. They all say Turkey is a democracy, a point they overly emphasize, as some doubt how much of a democracy it is.

The president commented, though, the eggs could have been put to better use in omelets. Omelets would not have brought the students all the attention they have gotten. Columnist after columnist has tried to fathom what has ticked the students off, as they don't seem to have anything specific to be riled about, unlike the students in Great Britain, upset that their fees are being tripled.

The unrest of the students is another symptom of the underlying divisions in the country.  The economy is thriving.  It is the fifteenth largest in the world, increasing at a rate only exceeded by China, but not everyone is benefiting. There are malls on the outskirts of the larger cities full of international companies from Nike to Dockers, but they are like ghost towns, built with anticipation for a demand that isn't quite there yet.

The EU issues an annual report on how Turkey is progressing towards qualifying for membership in the EU. Two prime areas where it still falls short are freedom of the press and women's rights. Turkey ranks 101st out of 109 countries on gender equality. Government officials profess to not care all that much about the EU issue, saying the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. Erdoğan says, "No matter what they say, Turkey is part of Europe." Still it has to disturb all to be continually rejected, to be considered not worthy. İn China last year a common refrain from government officials was their desire to meet "western standards," from the quality of its highways to encouraging people not to spit in public. The Turks refer to meeting "international standards."

The country doesn't seem overly Islamic other than the call to prayer five times a day, but there are fears that it is headed in that direction, what with scarves being allowed in the universities now and regular increases in taxes on alcohol and other subtle advances. But still there are billboards with women in bikinis that wouldn't be tolerated in a truly Islamic country.

Later, George

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