Thursday, June 7, 2018

Ramazan, ID cards, and voting

            It’s Ramazan (Turkish for Ramadan), the Islamic month of day-time fasting.  I’m not Muslim, but even so, there are benefits. We eat Ramazan pide, the special bread of the season, and I enjoy güllaç, a glutinous milk-based dessert served only at this time.  Two Fridays ago we were invited by friends to a restaurant for iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast.  The restaurant specializes in döner, meat cooked on a vertical spit.  We arrived 20 minutes early, but the restaurant was already full with families, seated at tables provided with a plate of dates and olives – the first things a fast breaker eats – and bowls of chopped tomato and cucumber salad, and shredded onions with parsley and sumac.  Waiters took our orders, and brought over a trolley of drinks (non-alcoholic).  We were seated under a large TV screen, which duly noted the iftar times throughout Turkey. There is almost a one-hour time difference between the east and the west.  Eventually Ankara’s time came, 8:12 pm, heralded with the call to prayer, and everyone started eating.  The waiters quickly and adeptly brought food to the many tables; getting food to all in short order requires skillful organization on the part of the restaurant.  We had lentil soup, then our plates of döner, and, for dessert, kedayif, the restaurant’s specialty, all delicious.  The four of us chatted away, eating in leisurely fashion; by the time we finished, the restaurant was empty.  The evening was balmy, so a stroll through the neighborhood was in order.

            At a corner nut shop I bought small portions of mixed nuts and salted peanuts at a nut to take home.  Turkey is a “kuru yemiş” (“dried fruit and nuts”) country, where excellent nuts are sold everywhere: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, and peanuts, as well as leblebi (dried roasted chickpeas).  [France, in contrast, is not such a country.]  My non-Turkish appearance inspired the man at the cash register to speak to me in English. Because I have lived here so long, I don’t feel particularly foreign and have found it irritating when people speak to me in halting English.  Why are they singling me out?  Now, though, I’m less bothered.  If they want to practice English, why not? 

            In government offices, though, I would welcome attempts to speak English.  It might relieve the tension.  You wait and wait (these days with a printed number for your place in line, fortunately) and then you have to speak and reply with a certain precision.  You don’t want to blow it. 

A few weeks ago I was applying for a new ID card.  I came prepared with my biometric photo and, of course, my current ID card.  I arrived at the Public Registration Office (Nüfus Müdürlüğü) at 10:30 am and took my number. Fifty people were ahead of me.  I had nothing to read and, moreover, I had a lunch appointment.  I gave up and left. 

I discussed the matter with our secretary.  “You need to get there at 8:30 am, when the office opens,” she said.  “At the latest.”

Two days later, I got going early and arrived at 8:20 am.  This time I brought a folder of student papers to read.  Several people were already waiting, sitting in a long corridor outside the offices.  At 8:30 am, the office door opened and we filed in to get our automatic number.  Only 17 people were ahead of me.  Three counters were open, so the wait shouldn’t be too bad.  While I was perusing the announcements posted above the number machine, it suddenly hit me that I couldn’t pay the fee in cash.  It wasn’t much, only 18.5 liras (= $4), but I needed to pay it in advance, either on-line or at a bank.  I double-checked with the man ahead of me in line, no. 17. It’s true, he said.  Panic! Where would I find a bank?  I would lose my place in line and have to start all over! 

I remembered seeing a hotel just across the street. They would surely know where I could find a bank. Fortunately, banks were clustered nearby.  But the banks didn’t open til 9:00 am and it was only 8:45.  Nothing to be done; I had to wait.  Eventually, receipt in hand, I returned to the Public Registration Office where, miraculously, my number hadn’t yet been called. The man just ahead of me, no. 17, was at one of the counters.  I had to wait only five minutes and then it was my turn.  Registering fingerprints for all ten fingers took some time, as each finger had to be pressed and rolled onto a little machine at least three times, but the woman doing this, who was doing this all day long, was remarkably patient.  I told her so and she smiled.  The entire procedure was finished in 15 minutes, and early the following week my new biometric ID card was delivered to me in person, at home.

One reason I applied for a new ID card was because I read in “Hürriyet,” a major newspaper, that ID cards more than ten years old would not be accepted as proof of identity at voting stations on June 24.  The nation-wide elections for president and parliament taking place then are, needless to say, of major importance.  It would be a shame to be turned away because of an out-of-date ID card.

Two students who expected to be working at an excavation north of Rome just showed up at my office to say they couldn’t get an Italian visa. 

“What happened?” I asked. 

In order to vote in advance, before going to Italy, they applied at the Public  Registration Office for a dispensation. This was granted, and the two students went to Ankara’s Esenboğa airport and duly cast their absentee ballots.  However, the Public  Registration Office had changed their place of residence to Italy.  The Italian Embassy then said, We can’t give you a visa here, because you are not residing in Ankara but in Italy.  You will have to present your documents in Italy.  
A dilemma.  

“At least you have voted,” I said. 

“Yes,” they said.  “At least we have voted.”

Somehow I don’t think it was much of a consolation.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A mid-summer stroll in Ulus and a day trip to Kaman (Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

        August 1st, the midpoint of summer.  It has been hot here in Ankara, and despite a cooler weekend, the result of a huge storm in Istanbul last week, hot days are predicted to return.

A nap in Ulus

        I was in Ulus last Wednesday, in particular to pay the semi-annual car tax.  An electronic panel registered the noonday temperature as 38 C (= 100 F).  As my last stop I headed for the huge covered market, looking for vişne (sour cherries), to make vishnovka, a Russian sour cherry vodka. Vişne are hard to find at our local markets; they are not for eating like sweet cherries, but are used in cooking, for jams and for fruit juice, all fabulous.  I also bought one kilo of apricots from Iğdır (impossible to explain in English how this name is pronounced), a province in far eastern Turkey, famous for its apricots and for Mt. Ararat.  The greengrocer gave me one to try: sweet, succulent, sublime.

        The Ulus district is entirely different from Bilkent, where I live.  It’s traditional Turkey, for people with modest incomes and a conservative bent, with little shops of all sorts and the city’s religious epicenter, the 15th-century Hacı Bayram Mosque. 

Sign: "This street goes to the Hacı Bayram Mosque"

But Ulus has an interestingly complex texture.  As the heart of ancient, medieval, and pre-Republican Ankara, Ulus has Roman ruins (the Temple of Augustus and Roma),

Temple of Augustus and Roma

Seljuk mosques (of which the Arslanhane Mosque is the greatest),

Inside the Arslanhane Mosque

Ottoman buildings (the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is located in a restored han, or commercial building, of the 15th century), imposing government and bank buildings of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, the much-treasured early parliament buildings of the Republic, and now an impressive cluster of museums. 
Sign: "History comes alive again in Ankara!"

I bring my Byzantine & Islamic Art & Archaeology students here in November, for a half-day walking tour, in and around the medieval citadel, but that route has been set for years. Only if I am by myself can I see the city freshly.

Ankara citadel: Byzantine fortifications

        Is Ankara a great city?  I don’t usually think so, but walking around Ulus makes me wonder.  I’ll take up the issue with you later, after I finish reading Alexander Garvin’s recent book, What Makes a Great City.  Garvin doesn’t discuss examples from Turkey, though, not even Istanbul.  Instead, he concentrates on public spaces in European and North American cities.  Nonetheless, his insights deserve the attention of those interested in the pros and cons of Turkish cities. 

So-called Column of Julian (later 4th century), in Ulus

        Driving back from Kaman a few weeks ago, we noted that the posted population of Ankara is now just short of 5 ½ million.  That’s incredible.  I remember the city from the 1970s, with a population of a mere one and a half million.  The character of the city still seems to me pretty much the same, even with intense traffic, sprawl in all directions, sporadic clusters of high-rise office and apartment buildings, and a handsome airport.

        Kaman, a city of some 30,000 a two-hour drive southeast of Ankara, is notable in archaeological circles for the multi-period site of Kalehöyük (under excavation since 1985) and, nearby, the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology (founded in 1998), an archaeological museum, and a Japanese garden.  The museum and the garden are open to the public. 

Inside the Kaman-Kalehöyük Museum

Although Kaman is not far from Ankara, driving there gives you the feeling of going to a very remote place.  After turning east off the main north-south Ankara-Adana highway, the countryside starts to empty.  Towns, such as there are, are off the main road.  Indeed, our archaeobotanist colleague whom we would see at the Japanese Institute told us the land is not particularly fertile, accentuated by the deforestation of recent times (late Ottoman into the Republic).   For agriculture, government subsidies are needed.

        We did note a new feature as we drove along: at least three mescit, or Muslim chapels, next to the road.  In the old days, if someone wanted to pray in a remote spot, he stopped his car on the side of the road, got out, and prayed, using a little prayer rug if he happened to have one. 

One of the new mescit / chapels bore a prominent dedication to the martyrs of 15 July, those who died during the attempted coup d’état last year.  July 15, whose anniversary was recently commemorated, is being held up as the heroic moment in Turkey’s recent history.  The Atatürk Boulevard entrance to the Meclis in Ankara, the Parliament, is now marked by one-meter high blood-red blocks that say: 15 Temmuz Destanı (the July 15th Epic). 
A commemorative poster, 

which makes the art historian me think of:

        We crossed the Kızılırmak, the longest river in Central Anatolia, at a point used for centuries for fording the river.  Above a 13th-century Seljuk bridge is a promontory which the Hittites used as a fortress.  This is the site of Büklükale, under excavation by the Japanese Institute. 

View from Büklükale down toward the Kızılırmak River, with the

Seljuk (lower) and modern (upper) bridges

        I had forgotten to buy water before setting out from Ankara and before long I was getting thirsty.  There was nowhere to stop, though, without driving off the main road into one of the small towns in the area.  Eventually I saw a sign, Büfe/Market, and we pulled over.  I went in, took three small bottles of water from the refrigerator, and asked the older man on duty, “Ne kadar?”  (“How much?”).  He look at me ... paused ... then said, “Two liras.”  I paid, thanked him, went out.  I thought, that’s not right.  Two liras divided by three; what would the price per bottle be?  Normally, one pays 50 kuruş ( ½ lira) for a small bottle, or perhaps 75 kuruş or even one lira in the city.  But not two liras for three.  A tiny rip-off, but a rip-off nonetheless.  A suprise, for these days, now that the taxi stand at AŞTİ, Ankara’s central bus station, has cleaned up its act, the only place I might expect such behavior would be the top touristic districts in Istanbul.

        Eventually we reached Kaman, and soon after, the road for the Japanese Institute.  You can find the Institute's web site at:
The Institute is a magnificent facility, offering space for processing, conserving, analyzing, and storing finds from the three excavations and a surface survey that the Institute runs during the temperate months.  The projects are run in sequence: Büklükale first, Kaman-Kalehöyük second, third Yassıhöyük (located to the east, not far away), and, fourth and last, the regional survey.  Our visit fell between the first two projects, so there weren’t many people around.  But we had come to visit an Australian archaeobotanist who studies plant specimens from Kinet Höyük as well as from Kalehöyük, and we greeted Kimiyoshi Matsumura, the director of the Büklükale excavations, and two Bilkent MA students analyzing Iron Age ceramics from the excavations at Yassıhöyük. 
Autumn at the Japanese garden, Kaman

We had tea, and we visited the flotation machine (a series of large barrels with water and sieves, designed to recover seeds and other plant remains from soil samples) in the shelter of trees a few minutes’ walk away.  The lively conversation continued during a nice lunch.  After lunch, we were given a tour of the laboratories, study spaces, library, the grand lecture hall, and the storerooms.  It’s a place devoted to archaeology; clearly there is no time to do anything else.  And it’s a great testimony to the vision of the Institute director, Sachihiro Omura, and his wife and fellow archaeologist, Masako Omura.  May the Institute long prosper!


Monday, May 1, 2017

May Day: a holiday, cuisine, elections, proverbs, and homage to the late John Freely

           Today is Monday, May 1st, a national holiday in Turkey.  It’s pleasantly warm here in Ankara, but cloudy and rather muggy, and indeed the predicted thunderstorm has just burst forth.  For my university, this is the first break since classes began last February 6.  I felt a huge relief.  A three-day weekend, at last!  My fellow staff members, not to mention the students, surely feel the same.  

            I profited from the extra time by making a nice dinner yesterday evening.  Included was “siyez bulguru,” which I was preparing for the first time.  “Siyez bulguru” is “einkorn,” a very old form of domesticated wheat, dating even back to the Neolithic period thousands of years ago.  I bought some in Kastamonu, a city four hours by car north of Ankara, during a trip last November.  I was looking for wild mushrooms, a local delicacy, but a shopkeeper told me that because the autumn had been dry, mushrooms were scarce.  Would I not like to try this other local specialty?  I followed the recipe on the sack.  As for regular bulgur, you sauté an onion in butter and vegetable oil, add some tomato paste, water / bouillon, salt, red pepper, and the dark red-brown siyez grains, cook the mixture for 15-20 minutes until the water is absorbed, and then let the grains sit for 15 minutes.  Delicious: a chewy texture, but with a very nice flavor.  For an archaeologist, the chance to eat this grain which you usually only read about in textbooks was very exciting. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It has been quite a year for elections.  Brexit, Trump vs. Clinton, the Dutch elections in March, the referendum here in Turkey on April 16, and now the French elections (Round One over; Round Two this coming weekend).  It’s emotionally draining, even if you don’t have the right to vote in a particular country and are watching from over the fence.  If your side loses, it can be a shock.  Here in Turkey, the result of the referendum on proposed changes to the constitution was close: 51.4% for, 48.6% against.  The “no” position did very well, considering the restrictions its proponents encountered when they tried to explain their views.  Yes” took the conservative, pious, provincial heartland of the country, whereas “No” won in the biggest cities (Istanbul, Ankara, and, by a big margin, Izmir), the Mediterranean and Aegean coastal areas, Thrace, and in the southeast.  The Çankaya district in which I live, Ankara province’s largest with over 600,000 voters, went 78% “no.” 

The country is divided – but then so are the UK (with Brexit) and the US (with Trump) and, so it seems, France.  Reaching out to all, to losers as well as winners for national unity, seems not to be in the air these days.  It’s a winner-takes-all mentality.  Here, we are still living under Emergency Rule (recently renewed for another three months).  Yesterday, a new round of purges was announced: nearly 4,000 civil servants, including 400+ academics, were fired. That makes some 140,000 dismissed from state and private jobs since the attempted coup last July.  In addition, Wikipedia was blocked, because of (I am reading now in a report in today's “Hürriyet Daily News”) “two English language pages which claimed that Turkey channeled support to jihadists in Syria.”  The Turkish government has requested Wikipedia to remove these pages; until this is done, Wikipedia will remain blocked, even the Turkish-language version.  Wikipedia has been a godsend for teachers and students in particular.  How will we live without it?

One benefit from the referendum was a reacquaintance with the vast and colorful world of Turkish proverbs and sayings.  After complaints of irregularities in the referendum and cries for a recount, the president, refusing all protests, used the expression, “Atı alan Üsküdar’a geçti.” Literally “The one who took/stole the horse has already passed Üsküdar,” this means: “It is far too late now (to rectify it).”  This expression was new to me, but two Turkish friends with whom I was playing bridge the other day confirmed this was widely known. 

What other Turkish expressions use “at” (“horse”), I wondered?  I checked my Redhouse Turkish-English dictionary.  Lots, it turns out.  At random, I plucked out two, to test on my friends:

Atın bahtsızı arabaya düşer.”  Ah, yes, they liked that.  Lit: It is an unlucky horse that has to pull a wagon.  Meaning: Some people do not get work suitable to their talents.

And one more: “Ata nal çakıldığını görmüş, kurbağa ayaklarını uzatmış.”  Lit: A frog saw them shoeing a horse and he stuck out his feet.   Meaning: He/She wants things he/she has no right to expect.  My friends didn’t know this one, but they burst out laughing, enjoying it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was sad to read of the recent death of John Freely, on April 20.  Freely (1926-2017) was a professor of Physics at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University (aka Bosphorus University, formerly Robert College) and a prolific author of books on travel and history.  [Sadly, his biography on Wikipedia is blocked today in Turkey: “Hmm, we can’t reach this page.”]  I must have met him, at least in passing, although I don’t have a precise memory of having done so.  Nonetheless, he was a legend among Americans living in Turkey, for his long experience here and his love for the country, so I feel I knew him well.  When Marie-Henriette and I first spent a year in Istanbul, in 1974-75, Strolling through Istanbul, the guidebook he wrote together with Hilary Sumner-Boyd (orig. 1972, revised 2010), was our essential companion as we explored the old parts of the city.  I have just taken it off the shelf, and am leafing through it now.  What pleasure it gives!  The warm, friendly language; the level of detail; the privilege and joy of penetrating the secrets of this great city . . .  it’s still a truly marvelous book. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Extended break -- coming to an end?

I see with a shock that my last posting dates to August ... 2016.  An extended break, a hibernation longer than a bear would undertake in winter.  The result of priority given to other activities, many of them obligations (such as teaching)?  More likely, I just ran out of steam.

I now feel some stirrings.  Time to wake up, open the eyes, look around, watch, see; time to stretch and move.  Time to write again. 

It's spring, this first Sunday in April.  Spring has arrived early in Ankara this year, a surprise, considering how cold and snowy December and early January were.  Today the weather is glorious: sunny, not a cloud in the sky, a crystal clear view over the city to the mountains beyond, no haze whatsoever from dust or air pollution.  Temperature: a delightful 18 C / 65 F. 

Also encouraging: things accomplished recently, several at long last. I paid overdue car taxes at the tax office in Ulus.  No line, and a warm smile from the man behind the counter.  At the Kızılay metro station (now named the 15 Temmuz Kızılay Milli İrade İstasyonu / the "July 15th Kızılay National Will Station" -- honoring successful resistance to the attempted coup d'état of last July), I bought (for 5 TL / approx. US $1.50) my free pass for public transportation (buses and subways), a privilege Ankara offers its senior citizens.  My card, with photo, says in big letters: 65 YAŞ ("age 65").  A brutally frank reminder of passing years, but for free transportation, who's to complain?  And our ice box, which stopped cooling, is now repaired.  We have retrieved our frozen foods from a refrigerator in a guest apartment two floors down, and brought in everything else that we had temporarily stored on our balcony (nature's own refrigerator, at least in this season).

I have received my voter's card for the upcoming referendum on April 16, in which Turkish citizens will be asked to vote "Evet" ("Yes") or "Hayır" ("No") for changes to the constitution that strengthen substantially the powers of the president.  The push for Yes (the position of the president and of the ruling party) is seen in countless billboards across the city.  On my way to the Ulus tax office, I stopped counting at 30.  As for No, I saw nothing on my way to Ulus, but later, crossing the city, I noted one small bus parked boldly in the center of Kızılay, with a big Hayır ("No") on its side, and one banner hung between trees in Kuğulu Park, with the picture of a young girl and the slogan -- if I remember correctly -- "Geleceği için" ("For her future").  The publicity is definitely lopsided.  Does this mean a giant win for Yes on April 16?  Who knows?  We'll see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Larnaca to Limassol: Trip to Cyprus, part 2

        To see as many archaeological sites as possible, our aim for the five days before our return to Nicosia, we had to rent a car.  Driving in Cyprus is on the left, British-style.  Cheaper rates are given for renting a car with manual transmission rather than automatic.  Could I manage a stick shift?  My last foray into this was twenty years ago, during a trip to North Cyprus.  I survived then, so why not now?   Changing gears, if learned when young, is a skill that stays with you forever, like riding a bike.  Whether the gears are on the right or left of the driver’s seat matters little, and fortunately, whichever side, first gear is always upper left, second gear lower left, etc.  

The Lion of Venice lands in Larnaca

        We were soon on our way to Larnaca on an excellent highway, driving through an arid landscape studded with conical hilltops.  Larnaca is a good-sized city on the seacoast. 

The beach, extensive and well-tended, is lined by a strip of beach-style touristic hotels.   
 KFC and TGI Fridays along the beach at Larnaca
As soon as you penetrate the streets behind the waterfront, though, you leave the generic and enter a regular Cypriot town.  

At Metro, a large supermarket, I was happy, I must admit, to find two British staples, both favorites of mine: Marmite (a brown, yeast-flavored spread) and bitter orange marmalade (this last in both Cypriot and British brands), virtually impossible to buy in Ankara. Whether they result from the years of British control of the island (1878-1960) or a large number of British tourists and residents, I can’t say. 

Church of St. Lazarus (right)

        Across from our hotel was a handsome Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Lazarus – the very same Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead (Gospel of John).  According to Orthodox tradition, Lazarus left Palestine for Larnaca (= ancient Citium), became its first bishop, and ended his days here.  Signage is not only in Greek and English but also in Russian, reflecting the increased number of Russians now visiting Cyprus or even living there.   

In the outer precinct is a small English cemetery with ornate tombs for members of the English business community in the early nineteenth century.   

Nearby, on the seashore, is a fortress originally built medieval times. The British used it as a prison.  It’s now a museum.  

        Our main interest, though, was to see remains of the ancient city. Citium, or Kition, goes back to the Bronze Age. With French archaeologist Annie Caubet, we visited two main excavation sectors, Kathari (with temples to Astarte, from the Phoenician period) 

 Kathari: large ashlar blocks that surround the temple precinct
and Bamboula (with dry docks for ships, a very unusual find, dating from the Persian period). 

We also visited the local archaeological museum, at least the wing that was open, devoted mostly to ceramics of the Bronze and Iron Ages, and the Pierides Foundation, a private museum in a restored house of the early nineteenth century, with a fine collection of antiquities and early modern maps of the island. 
 Early 19th century house 
(the Pierides Foundation occupies a similar building) 
        After we left Larnaca, we headed for Hala Sultan Tekke, a mosque-mausoleum complex in a garden setting with palm trees on the edge of a large salt lake.   

Hala Sultan (as she is called in Turkish) was the foster mother of the Prophet Muhammad and, according to tradition, she is buried here. This mausoleum is the most important Muslim shrine on the island. A busload of tourists, or perhaps pilgrims, was cheerfully preparing a lunch in one of the common rooms available for visitors.
Near the tekke is a Late Bronze Age town, excavated since the 1970s by Swedish teams. A notice of the spectacular discovery this summer of a rich tomb has recently appeared in “Haaretz”:
        We didn’t find the site of current archaeological work, but did see some ancient wall fragments protected below an outlying building of the mausoleum complex.
        After a short stop at Kiti to see an early Byzantine apse mosaic, we drove to Khirokitia, a Neolithic settlement, seventh millennium BC, well-known for its round houses, made of stone, built on a steep slope.  

 But first, we needed lunch.  We missed the restaurant recommended by Annie Caubet, having arrived by a minor road from Kiti, not the main highway, and so ended in a bakery eating oversized rolls, one stuffed with pumpkin and raisins, the other with a bit of halloumi (hellim, in Turkish), a salty, rubbery white cheese beloved by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.         To drink, I picked airani, because it’s the same word as Turkish ayran, a diluted yogurt drink, slightly salty, of which I am very fond. This airani turned out to be sour sheep’s milk with lots of mint, not at all like the Turkish ayran.  I burped unpleasantly for several hours after.
        Our last visit of the day was Amathus, just east of Limassol. Phoenicians were there in the Iron Age, which is the main reason I wanted to see it. Moreover, Richard the Lionheart, king of England, passed through in 1191. He defeated the Byzantines to take possession of the island (soon passed on to Guy de Lusignan, a French crusader whose family would rule Cyprus for the next 300 years), and either in Amathus or nearby Limassol he married Berengaria of Navarre, whose family’s kingdom, Navarre, was adjacent to his own territory of Aquitaine.
We identified the location of this ancient city and obtained some idea of its topography, but the ruins of Amathus were a disappointment.  Stone foundations of Hellenistic and especially Roman imperial houses and other buildings spread monotonously across the lower hillside with few concessions for visitors: no paths indicated through the ruins and few signs to explain what we were looking at. 

The harbor was not at all evident, but coastlines do change over the centuries.  Above, a prominent hill was surely the location of the Temple of Aphrodite, the city’s most important cult, but no information about this hilltop or how to get there was posted
        We returned to the highway and drove on to Limassol (aka Lemesos, the Greek name used today) to our very attractive hotel, Nikis House, in an outlying district on the slopes above the city proper, with the sea visible in the distance. The owner had lived here as a young girl. The family kept the house after they moved downtown, and now it has been refurbished as a quiet, attractive guest house. 

The room was equipped with a stove and refrigerator, so, although the guest house did not offer breakfast, with a short walk to a local bakery and market, we were ready with instant coffee, milk, and a tahin böreği (Turkish for a large sweet roll with tahini and sugar) for the next morning.

(to be continued)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Brexit, Trentry, and Cyprus (Part 1: Nicosia)

        So many things have happened recently, it’s hard to keep your compass steady. The Brexit vote. Relations between Turkey and Israel re-established, relations with Russia reset. The Istanbul airport blasts, followed by murderous attacks in Dhaka, Baghdad, and Saudi Arabia. And now it’s the Ramazan Bayramı, the holiday at the end of Ramadan.  Crowds have headed for the seashore, leaving Ankara calm and quiet.
        The day after the British voted, I was in a taxi heading into the city for a medical check-up.  The radio was on top volume, with news about the vote.
        “The English are going to leave the EU, can you believe it?” shouted the heavy-set driver. I had trouble understanding him – he wasn’t articulating clearly like a language teacher, but I got the gist. I wondered what he was thinking. Turkey has been trying to enter the EU for decades, continually blocked, and here was a major country in the EU voting to get out.

        “We should never join the EU,” he continued. “I’ve been to Switzerland and I’ve been to Dortmund.  Six times!  At 7 pm the place shuts down. People there, their life is work. Turks coming from Germany are astonished to see Kızılay alive in the evening! Besides, the climate is rainy and cloudy. Here we have sun!”
        I agreed.  Turkey doesn’t need to enter the EU.  On the other hand, EU-type reforms would be welcome, especially for human rights.  Now the conversation risked getting complicated as well as delicate, depending on the political leanings of the driver, and I didn’t think my vocabulary and syntax would rise to the occasion (and I didn’t want to bellow out my answers), so I let it pass.  In any case, I was soon at my stop.

        I had been thinking about the futility of “Trentry” (= Turkish entry into the EU) a few weeks before, during a trip to Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus has been a major opponent of Trentry, even blocking the opening of “chapters” that would lead to EU-style reforms. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus in order to protect Turkish Cypriots following a pro-Enosis (union with Greece) coup d’etat engineered by the dictatorship then ruling Greece.  Ever since, attempts to reunify the island have failed, and the island remains divided between the Turkish north (the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of North Cyprus) and the Greek south (the Republic of Cyprus).  Greek Cypriots, resenting the Turkish presence (military and other), claim the north of their country is illegally occupied. The resentment is mutual: Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus as the legitimate government of all Cypriots.  Despite this impasse, the EU allowed the Republic of Cyprus to join in 2004.  A foolish decision: incentives for compromise were reduced, and the north remains internationally marginalized (even though Turkish Cypriots voted 65% in favor of the 2004 Annan Plan for reunification). 
Despite the “de iure” differences, in daily life relations between the two sectors have softened somewhat.  Marie-Henriette and I were traveling to south Cyprus to visit archaeological sites and museums.  I had been once before, in 1981, M-H never.  For Ankariots, getting to Cyprus is easy: a 50-minute plane ride to the Ercan Airport on the Turkish side of the island.  For almost 30 years, that was it.  Crossing to the Greek side, the south, was impossible.  Indeed, arriving in the north was considered illegal entry onto the island.  You would have to travel from Ankara to Istanbul to Athens to Larnaca, to arrive legally in the south. Today, crossing in Nicosia is accepted, and easy – at least if you are Cypriot (Turkish or Greek) or have a passport other than Turkish (Turkish passport holders must obtain a visa at the Cypriot Embassy in Athens, a cumbersome process).
        The central Cypriot plain in late May looked bone-dry, a contrast with Ankara, green after spring rainfall. It was sunny, dry,  and hot, but nothing in comparison with temperatures in August, I would be told.  Because the airport bus would not be leaving for Lefkoşe (Nicosia) for another hour, information extracted with the greatest difficulty from an utterly bored young woman working for the bus company, we took a taxi to the center of the city: 30 minutes, 60 TL. Then a short distance by foot on a pedestrian-only street, first to the Turkish Cypriot crossing point, then on to the Greek Cypriot check point, and there we were, in the European Union, on Ledra Street in south Nicosia. 
 Ledra Street

We walked to our hotel, not far away.  I took a nap. After a coffee, we set out to locate the Cyprus Museum, our top destination. Although the museum had closed for the day, we intended to visit first thing in the morning.  It was close by, but not easy to find. The old city of Nicosia, south and north, is still enclosed in fortifications built by the Venetians in 1567. They form a star-shaped circle, studded with 11 bastions.   

I remember flying over the city in the summer of 1969, en route from Beirut to Istanbul, amazed at the sight of these fortifications.  However imposing they may appear, they proved ineffective when put to the test.  The Ottomans invaded the island in 1570, and captured Nicosia after a 40-day siege. 
 Dogs and dog lovers by the city walls
We walked outside the walls, and after a wrong turn or two we eventually found the museum. On our return to the hotel, we walked by a Roman Catholic church (of 1902; not an architectural masterpiece) and the Maronite Cathedral, next to a Lebanese coffee house with older men playing cards.
        We then embarked on a touristic walk across the old city, a route found in a guidebook. Nicosia within the Venetian walls is a curious mix of attractively restored older buildings, generic modern, and derelict. 

House of the Dragoman Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios
(early 19th century)

The Leventis Municipal Museum, to take one example, occupies a restored late 19th-century mansion. This museum presents the history of Nicosia from earliest times to the present, with outstanding displays. There is no museum like this in either Ankara or Istanbul – a big gap that needs filling.  Anastasios Leventis (1902-1978), who established the foundation that supports this museum, was a Cypriot businessman who made a fortune in Ghana and Nigeria.  He might be surprised at the ethnic diversity of today’s Nicosia. 

In addition to Filipinos seen in the Catholic church, we passed by Sri Lankan markets and Arab (Syrian, Egyptian) shops, including a barbershop. 

        Further along, we reached the large Omeriye Mosque, originally a Catholic church, converted during Ottoman times. Beyond lies the Archbishop’s Palace, a grandiose building in Neo-Byzantine style constructed in 1956-60. 
 Side entrance, Archbishop's Palace
The first president of the Republic of Cyprus was, in fact, an archbishop, Makarios III, and a large statue of him stands in the front garden.
        Across the street is the Pancyprian Gymnasium, the oldest high school on the island, with Makarios III, Glafkos Clerides, and Tassos Papadopoulous, all former presidents of Cyprus, among its alumni. Lawrence Durrell taught English there in the mid-1950s.   

Founded in 1812, the school was rebuilt in 1920, following a fire, in the Neo-Classical style. The Neo-Classical style was a favorite in 19th and 20th century Greece, and in the Greek neighborhoods of pre-World War I Istanbul, but here on Cyprus, it’s not as frequently seen.
        We ended the walk with dinner at Zanettos, a taverna near the Omeriye Mosque. Inside, simple tables, lots of them, and the walls covered with photos of the owner with, I assume, Cypriot celebrities. The restaurant offers for 21 € a set meal of “meze.” This sounded fine. Meze are a Turkish staple; a tray is typically brought to the table and you pick the dishes  you want. In Greek Cyprus, at least in this taverna, it doesn’t work this way. The meze meal is a stream of dishes, no choice at all, from olives and salads and vegetables to meats of various sorts, most quite familiar from Turkey (well, not the snails or the pork).  Although each dish was small, we were given far more food than we could possibly eat.
“Delicious” I cried, “but enough!”
The waitresses simply smiled and continued to bring more dishes, ending with robust portions of fruit and pastry.  What a shame not to be able to finish it all!  But this was not unexpected, I think.  The walk back to the hotel was definitely needed.

        The next morning, after an abundant breakfast buffet, we headed off to the Cyprus Museum. The Neo-Classical facade is modest, and gives no clue about the size of the museum. This is the island’s principal archaeological museum, founded in 1882, early in the British period. Until the opening of regional museums in recent years, this museum housed everything. The collections are comprehensive, from Neolithic to medieval, with famous pieces. 
 The "ingot god" from Enkomi
Some galleries have been redone recently, with attractive, instructive panels, while other displays are in serious need of updating. 
 The face of the "ingot god" from Enkomi
        After the museum, we returned to the hotel and took a taxi to the Hertz office in the outlying district of Strovolos, to pick up our rental car.  Then off to Larnaca. 
        (to be continued)