Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday, March 07, 2009 - 4 comments

Chinese Trickery, Snowdrops and Other Curious Discoveries

Saturday morning, time for a road trip. For me it was something of a research trip for a project I am working on, and for my roommate/chauffer, it was simply a chance to "get outta Dodge." Armed with granola bars, spare memory cards and our sense of adventure, we hopped in the car and took off. And not a moment too soon. The jackhammer guys had already begun their lovely work outside our window again early this morning. Between their shake-the-house racket and the ever-present campaign-mobiles that have for weeks been circling the neighbourhood like musical "vote-for-me-vultures," it is hard to concentrate on anything these days. That and the Prime Minister is coming for a rally tomorrow so the whole city is in a bit of an excited frenzy. All that said, it was a good day to skip town.

The iPod adaptor thingy was in rare form today - we had everyone from Louis Armstrong to our favourite Turkish pop guys along for the ride. Only trouble was, the thing would only seem to stay connected to the cigarette lighter when I propped it up with my knee. Made for an interesting ride. :)

Our intended target was Akseki, a town way up in the mountains that is home to the snowdrop - a hearty little flower that pushes its way up through the snow each year to signify the coming of spring. Being in no hurry, however, we made several stops along the way. Road trips in Turkey are great cuz you get to hit up all the little roadside stands and buy homegrown stuff for much cheaper than you find it in the city. Thus, by the end of the day, we had accumulated two bags of oranges, a jar of honey (with the honeycomb still in it), some unidentifiable (and rather smelly) dried fruit that the honey lady insisted would help circulation, some famous Trabzon bread and several bottles of olive oil. (We also passed several lawn decoration shops on the side of the highway. I now know where you can get life-sized statues of zebras, Roman soldiers and Shrek if you are ever in the market.)

We also happened upon an interesting little plaza with statues of the founders of all the great rulers of the empires of Central Asia from the Khans to the Ottomans. I now know what Atilla the Hun looks like up close! :) The translations beneath each statue were highly amusing - it seems as though many of the empires fell as a result of "Chinese tricks and brother fights." Curious.

Akseki proved to be just as charming as I'd hoped. We started off with some pide (flatbread with ground meat and spices) at a little hole-in-the-wall joint with a great view of the snowy mountains. The first thing I noticed about the restaurant's decor was that on the wall there were 8 or 9 of the little calendars that you tear off each day - here they always show the times of the call to prayer for each part of the country, based on sunrise and sunset. Anyways, they all seemed to be stuck on the 13th - of what month, I couldn't see. Intrigued, we asked the waiter if something important had happened on the 13th. He laughed and sheepishly told us that that was when he'd gotten lazy and stopped flipping them. Again, curious.

After lunch we set out to explore the town. It is set on a hillside with winding paths meandering through rows of these really unique stone houses. It seemed the style was to have lots of pieces of wood poking out from amidst the stones in the walls. Not sure as to the purpose of this, but I am sure there is one. Once you got off the main road, the whole place was eerily quiet. We learned later that this is because many people only live up there in the summer, and they work down on the coast the rest of the year. (I'm more convinced that it's because no one wants to climb up and down those hills!) Still, there were a few cozy homes with smoke curling out of their chimneys, and that comforting wintry woodstove smell.

Thankfully, as I was roaming around dreamily, letting my camera drink in the cuteness of the stone houses, my partner in crime had her eyes pealed for the object of our quest: the snowdrops. And lo and behold, we found some. Granted, the snow had already melted and they were now set in patches of grass amid discarded trash, but they were still worth every bit of the two hour trip. Snowdrops symbolize hope - the assurance that winter's bleakness won't last forever, that's spring's beauty is on its way. Welcoming that sense of hope for my own life, I picked several of the tiny white flowers to save for later. Then, at the urging of some sweet ladies that we met, ten dirty fingernails and a whole lot of broken sticks later, I dug up one of the bulbs to take home and plant in our garden. (Rather, my roommate will plant it - the only thing I know how to do with flowers is kill them.) :)

On the way home, I was starting to hit that "afternoon fuzzy brain time" and I knew it could only be cured by a good cup of coffee. My roommate, being of the compassionate nature and very aware of the seriousness of my need for caffeine, humoured me and pulled off at the town of Manavgat. We drove around for a bit, looking for a female friendly cafe (most are more like "man houses" where men sit around playing cards while their wives are at home with their seven kids) and finally found one. And when I stepped out of the car, a glorious thing happened.

For you to appreciate it, I have to give you a little background info first. Last fall, my two roommates and I started a little competition. Each of the 81 provinces in Turkey have a different number on their license plate (i.e. Antalya is 07, Istanbul is 34) and the object of the game is to find (as in personally see) all 81 of the plates. Living in a city where people come from all over the country on vacation, we have all found most of the plates, but the last ten or so (mainly poor provinces in the east) have been pretty hard to come by. Roommate #1 was leaving in December to go home and get married, so we set a cutoff date before she left and awarded her the prize (a Mexican dinner which the other two paid for), since she was the closest to winning. However, Roommate #2 and I are still vying for second place, and the competition is fierce. But today was my lucky day. There is one particular plate number - 30, Hakkari, a province on the Iraqi border - that I thought would be the very hardest to find, so my eyes are always scanning for it. One day last fall, as Roommate #2 and I were driving, she saw a 30 a split second before me and I was so bummed. But today, who was parked beside us at the Manavgat cafe but some guy a long long way from his Hakkari home. Woohoo! I still have seven more plates left to find, but that 30 was a goofy little treasure for me. And thus that cup of Turkish coffee did more than just perk me up. It inadvertently brought me that much closer to the sweet taste of victory. :)


Delightful, James! As soon as you started talking about snowdrops, I started thinking about your heart...Love you!

that was a fun read, for words and photos! I'm hoping for lots of snowdrops for you in this next season :)


i love your words... and i almost cried when i saw the snowdrop. beautiful.

I love your blog is so you! I can hear you saying it all as I read it.