As much as I love the Mediterranean coast, it’s hard to beat the Aegean in July and August. Here’s a handful of highlights from the sun-drenched, salt-splashed days of a summer I won’t soon forget. Endless blue. Endless beauty. Endless days would have been nice too. I think I’ve found my favourite escape. Thank you. Oh … did I mention the wine?
This week the Marmaray Project opened. While I was away, I missed a chance to do a BBC radio interview and publish a photograph in the Globe and Mail. Must admit there’s a side of me which is inclined to curse. Another part of me, instead, looks back at the good people, good food and lengthy dose of extended summer I found in the Aegean region. Mercury is in retrograde.
Down a village alley, pumpkins stacked in a barrow. With bowed heads the wayfarers pass through the gate. They raise their faces to the shelter of a fig tree swelling with fruit which filters the last hot light of a dying day. The crunch of white gravel underfoot, the skitter of stones. A cat watches, superior, slanty-eyed from its vantage up on the surrounding stone walls. Blue chairs, baby tubs bursting with pink flowers. Candles being lit. They are greeted by a woman in black, her face as warm as the late day sun. Platters crowd the long table. Gleaming white counters. Pots hanging from hooks. A village woman works the stove. Another stands just back waiting to plate the wayfarer’s food. The day’s menu is displayed, artichokes with lentils, nettle salad, marinated beets, minced meat in vine leaves, stuffed courgette flowers … everything crisp, and vibrant as if the Aegean soil has just been brushed away. A young man, the son of the beaming woman, uncorks a Sultaniye, places it a vintage cooking pot crackling with ice. Back at the table the wayfarer’s clinking glasses catch the day’s final, glinting light. More guests duck under the gateway. A perfect evening has just begun.
Saturday morning. The sun burns white above, bleaches the earth below white. A man with a resplendent white moustache and an immaculately pressed shirt weighs and sorts piles of fresh catch under a covered structure. On the long glistening marble table hundreds of fish of numerous shapes and hues, lobsters, prawns, shimmer in numbered lots. Craggy faced men, and sunglass-wearing women crowd around the table and ready themselves for the first bid. Mustafa Kemal’s steely blue eyes overlook the gathering from a large wall hanging. It’s 11:00 AM. The man in the striped shirt, the auctioneer, now holds a metre stick with which taps the table immediately below his nose. The first bid is for over 100 TL for a pile of fish. It being the weekend, a woman who runs one of the local restaurants or hotels motions and no one challenges. The fish are immediately bagged and the sale recorded. Apparently the local men seldom, if ever, challenge a woman’s bid. During the next hour over a hundred lots will be auctioned off, the first, best lots going to the restaurant and hotel owners and local gentry, then gradually decreasing in price and quality for the less well healed among the crowd. A day before, before the weekend population surge, towards the end of the proceedings, a man storms off after a vociferous outburst which seemed to end and then abruptly resume at 10-metre intervals. “Yeter, Agabey!” (Enough, brother!) is shouted back at him several times. He doesn’t quiet so much as allow his increasing distance to swallow his uncontainable surges of annoyance. There is some laughter. Today there are no disputes, but there is plenty of excitement, some mild confusion, as the fish is snapped up. After about an hour and a half the lots that will sell have been sold. The morning’s excitement is over. Village life, the large bazaar, and the beach all beckon.
I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who looks forward to breakfast before I’ve started my supper. And for me the acid test of any hotel is its breakfast. Now I’ve had some pretty fine breakfasts in Alaçatı, but the last two mornings have been so good that I’m not sure I’m ever going to want to stay anywhere else. That’s if I can still get a reservation. Top marks to Morro. Think farm fresh eggs. An array of homemade jams. Tapenade and spicy pastes. Like cheese? Let’s just say, wow for now. Nutty good gevrek — what we less well fed Istanbullu call simit — all washed down with some black coffee. I’m seriously considering migration.
White washed walls bright as heaven. Air clean enough to drink in gulps. Slow midday streets. Olives glistening like jewels. The sky a deep kind of blue that the winter made you forget … I’m seriously busy escaping an Istanbul kind of mood for an Aegean kind of feelin’. More later on life with a different kind of texture.