Early every morning in the village of Vouno, Elisabeth (pictured above) rises and sorts through what looks, at a distance, like a pile of rocks and twigs. Working in a shed beside her village home, her deft hands, gnarled like the trunks of the trees from which she harvests her treasure, meticulously plucking the sticky resin that drips like angels’ tears from the other detritus that carpets the ground of Chios. Reputed to be the birthplace of Homer, Chios is largely overlooked by the hordes of tourists from continental Europe who descend upon Greece each year. But despite the island’s literary pedigree it is the Pistacia lentiscus variety of gum tree unique to Chios that makes the island famous.
After scraping and scoring the bark, the tree releases resin which subsequently falls to the levelled ground around the tree trunks and is collected by people such as Elisabeth. This local industry is an important part of Chios’ cultural heritage and helps supplement and support earnings. I was told that one kilo of the pure resin can fetch up to 80 Euros. Mastic is used in everything from Mastica liquor, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as well as instrument and furniture manufacture.
Mastic smuggling also features in Amin Maalouf’s entertaining and erudite novel, Balthasar’s Odyssey in which the “… Turkish authorities only allow it to be used in the Sultan’s harem, where it’s fashionable for the noble ladies to chew it from morn till night to whiten their teeth and perfume their breath. The farmers on the island who grow the precious tree (Pistachio lentiscus), which is very like the pistachio tree we have in Aleppo, have to hand the mastic over for a fixed price, but those who produce a surplus try to sell it on their own account, though if they’re found out they may spend a long time in prison or in the galleys or even be put to death.”
Thankfully for kind and generous Chians like Elisabeth, such penalties no longer exist and mastic can now be enjoyed by a much wider audience than the Sultan’s harem.
Open a newspaper or turn on the television and you’ll probably get a pretty troubling picture of things in Turkey these days. Sometimes it’s enough to make an outsider want to switch off entirely. Fortunately, peppered in amongst the drama, life still presents many moments of genuine hope here on a daily basis. One such was a couple of weekends ago in Yeniköy. Over the last couple of years I’ve been truly fortunate to attend and enjoy the welcome of the local Rum (Byzantine Greek) community at various events and ceremonies. It’s something that grounds you. And witnessing the baptism of one small but treasured member of their community was a highpoint in my nine years in Turkey, moreover since it was something my family was welcomed in to share.
Until a couple of Sundays ago, I had never been fortunate enough to attend such a ceremony. It was truly interesting to watch. Religion gets a lot of bad press these days, but when you are part of such an event, it’s much easier to understand the contribution that belief and spirituality makes for a community. Especially in such a small and tightly knit community. Read More…
Picked these branches up after a visit to Cup of Joy in Bebek today. My taxi driver asked if they were for him — Hadi Canim! Anyway these branches are kind of reminiscent of calligraphy to me, rather like a floral love note from a Geisha, or at the very least a dog-eared postcard from a long lost girlfriend in Japan in spring when the streets are carpeted with petals. Ahh … spring. Wish I could take you all there. In any case, think of this as an early Valentine to all of MYPHILOSOFIA’s faithful followers. Thank you for sticking with me over the last two years. You’re every bit as beautiful to me.
As a parent, few things give me the same pleasure as to see my daughter delight in the company of animals. Anyone who follows this page already knows that animals make regular appearances on this blog as I somehow have greater hope for humanity when I see acts of kindness towards pets, strays or beasts of burden. Perhaps it’s that small recognition of just how much more they add to our lives, and how bereft some of us would feel without them.
This might well be my favourite photo of the year. While there’s still time left to take more, I can’t help but enjoy this one which shows your more pensive, considered side, Sofia. There’s so much going on behind those big brown eyes of yours, and I like the fact that you aren’t afraid to take the time to consider things so deeply. Except, perhaps, the other day at the hotel swimming pool when you shouted out: “Daddy! Look at that man’s boobies!”
It’s hot. There’s no small amount of turmoil in the land and everybody I know is a little unsure of where they stand right at the moment. You probably won’t remember any of this by the time you can read it, but if it wasn’t for one three-year old person, called Sofia, I don’t know what I’d do. Your view of the world is the only thing keeping me sane, little girl. Thanks for being my reality check and giving me the time out I need from some very real darkness.
I have withheld my documentary evidence of certain events that took place a couple of weeks ago in the midst of Turkey’s turmoil for fear that it was not the time for transparency. I apologize for my cowardice. However, I must now add my voice to those others claiming that there are international interests trying to steal Turkey’s beauty away from it. Two Saturdays ago I witnessed an Italian man marry a Turkish woman. To my shame, I stood by and enjoyed the spectacle of two people formalizing the decision to share their love, lives and differing cultures in order to join in a union that will echo through the years, influencing generations to come.
I’m sorry if I let you down, Turkey. In addition to taking one of your great beauties as my wife, years later I stood silent witness as another foreigner did the same. Yet I was not alone. In addition to being a foreign interest at this event, there were also bankers and financiers there too. In fact there were people from all sorts of backgrounds. How could I succumb? Quite simply, these people — Turks and Italians, Spanish, East Indian, Japanese and a host of other nationalities — were just too good looking and charming. They really knew how to party, too.
What’s worse? I would take part in such a plot all over again. Not only am I guilty, I am unrepentant. Foreigners like me have a desire to see Turkish people happy and successful both at home and abroad among all the other kind people and great cultures of the world. Why? Because it makes some of us happy too. That’s why I sincerely hope that this lovely couple, Asli and Nevio, enjoy the fruits of such a joyful conspiracy for two very long, very magical lives. It was beautiful.
This week Turkey and the world were inspired by one man’s silent, six-hour protest performed in Taksim Square. Standing Man was a truly beautiful statement made by choreographer Erdem Gunduz which went viral within hours of his performance. Better yet it has since inspired thousands of others around Turkey and the world like the woman above. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this protest resonated so powerfully, and I got my answer when I visited Taksim square the other day. Politics, especially in Turkey, is dominated by middle-aged, finger-pointing bullies. It’s less and less about the content of the argument, and more about how successfully you can shout down your opponent. This afternoon the Mayor of Ankara denounced a Turkish journalist working for the BBC as a spy and is attempting to conduct a Twitter campaign against her. One TV station composed a fake interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Closer to my home things took a violent turn on Thursday night when thugs attacked a peaceful meeting, mostly of women and children. Some reports claim that the mob had been whipped up into a frenzy by an elected official who made false allegations about blasphemous actions taken against Muslims. So why are all these people shouting? Probably because if they stopped to think about what they were saying and doing, they’d understood how ridiculous they appeared.
Still Erdem Gunduz silenced them for once. How could you shout down Standing Man? How can you denounce his actions? A counter protest in the following days by six men wearing “standing against standing man” t-shirts just looked feeble. Standing Man’s point was made, without threat, intimidation or disrespect for anyone else’s person, property or identity. He didn’t wave any flags or chant any alienating slogans. He simply stood his ground. Better yet he continues to inspire other people to demonstrate their disapproval in meaningful ways that don’t involve shouting or destroying public property. Unfortunately, the powers that be can’t “stand” to be opposed and show no signs that they will refrain from brutalizing their opponents with excessive police force and petty vendettas. Too bad they can’t learn to be a bit more stoic in the face of peaceful disobedience. Maybe if they did, they’d look a lot less old and tired.
One of the many things that has been remarkable about this uprising is its ability to unite people from different backgrounds, interests and needs. The aspect that seems to run across the board and unite them too is the humour and creativity that they use in order to rise up and fight back. It’s probably not what’s said about the Prime Minister that really gets to him, but the fact that despite being tear-gassed and water-cannoned, many still won’t take him seriously. His victims find new ways to celebrate and laugh, to take the sting out of his vindictive anger and then share it across the internet. True creativity depends upon finding new ways to express a universal truth. While the story presented may or may not be factually accurate, a successful joke or story gives us a new way to connect with people by allowing us to feel the storyteller in a way that seems genuine. While Mr. Erdogan and his camp get very ‘creative’ with the facts of this uprising, he spouts such obvious untruths — involving Jewish conspiracies and foreign agents, for starters — that he simply makes himself look all the more ridiculous. Everything from his descriptions of the people involved in the uprising, that they are çapulcu (bums/louts/pillagers) to the number of trees he’s planted while in office, and his ideas on democracy, creates more weapons that backfire on him and further damage his credibility. Everyday dozens of new songs, new pop-culture references (in Turkish, English and a variety of other languages) as well as performances and jokes are staged at the Prime Minister’s expense. The only person who certainly can’t be laughing or getting in on the fun is the Prime Minister. While he remains angry and defiant, the protestors stay good natured and friendly. While Erdogan insults them and their aims with stern warnings and grave disdain, they roll about on the grass laughing, finding new ways to channel the facts of their oppression into different forms of expression that resonate with the one thing he lacks: truth. Perhaps if Mr Erdogan understood the importance of creativity and fun, especially among the young, he wouldn’t have lost so many hearts in the first place.
Could this be the most civil of civil uprisings? Not that I have a great deal of experience with such happenings, but indulge me if I’m inclined to think so. With the exception of insults hurled at Turkey’s Prime Minister, everyone behind the Occupy Gezi Park movement is being remarkably kind and relaxed. Before entering the AKM Building (Atatürk Cultural Centre) through a break in the hoarding, a dangling cardboard sign warns that the structure is not strong and you might think twice about entering. Incidentally, this building was once used as a vantage point for snipers in the 1970s to target left-wing protestors and is now being used for this generation’s resistance to hang banners and host jazz performances aimed at uplifting today’s protestors — a nice bit of irony. Not that there’s much need. Nothing seems able to stop this jubilant crowd. All around Taksim their are people of every political stripe and ideology, along with the apolitical and simply fed-up, doing something remarkable. They’re sharing a space, and not grudgingly, but willingly.
Istanbul’s graffiti-splattered centre of Taksim is something to behold. Beside the insults aimed at Turkey’s Prime Minister, there is some praise. One message is a heartfelt thanks to the Prime Minister for giving the unsigned the time of her life. It’s entirely un-ironic, too, because this protest movement really has energized Turkey’s disparate and “wasted” youth like nothing before. Armed with smartphones and Twitter, which Turkey’s Prime Minister has denounced as a menace to society, 20-something hip-chicks stand tank-topped and bare-shoulder to shoulder with working class men with wife-beaters gleaming beneath their short sleeved dress shirts. People from all strata of society are celebrating, or participating somehow in the celebrations. A woman in an a-la-Turca headscarf vends Guy Fawkes masks while she sports one strapped to the back of her headdress. Hard hats are being sold for 10TL (approx. $6US). Fortunately last night the air was thick with köfte smoke, and not tear gas, until about 8:30PM when the troubles seemed to resume. From below the hillside of Gezi Park a great billowing of smoke issued and the assembled lounging on the grass suddenly leapt to their feet. However it was a false alarm and only a well timed prank by the only serious hooligans of this movement, Çarsı, the Beşiktaş football fan club, who have served as the front line soldiers of the real civil insurrection. Once it became clear that the cloud billowing toward the park was nothing more than smoke from their fireworks, they were greeted like victorious war heroes, and by many people with affiliations to rival football clubs such as Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray. I have never heard or seen anything like it. The mood was palpable. Perhaps in an unjust society, it’s only the outlaws who feel free to come to the rescue. In fact, one of the reasons for last night’s relative calm on the streets, one of the Gezi Park protest organizers told me, was that Çarsı and the police had made a gentleman’s agreement not to encroach on one another’s positions near the Prime Minister’s office.
At Gezi Park there’s a broad base of different people with widely varying ideals who are well organized and equipped. They are anything but a rag-tag group of looters as Mr Erdogan would have his voters believe. There are first-aid centres and people on megaphones keeping routes clear in the event of injuries. No rock concert was ever so well planned or so civil. People who bump into one another apologize and clap each other on the back. People clean up their own trash —even cigarette butts. People pass around savoury cookies. When I ask an exhausted looking man sitting in a chair by the makeshift Gümüşsuyu barricades if he minds me taking a picture which includes him, he says “No, no more, please.” When I respond, “Cover your eyes then,” he replies, “Okay.”
You could say that Mr Erdogan has made a lot of people’s day. He’s turned hundreds of thousands of people from the petty everyday grievances and the stresses of city living, and given them something they might not have felt they had in a long time, if ever: purpose. And with it, even better, perhaps, is the accompanying sense of hope, unity and kindness that’s made this movement so successful so far. So perhaps everyone should thank Mr Erdogan. He’s given a broad group of disenfranchised people their opportunity to earn something they didn’t feel before, from within and without. That’s respect.