. . telling stories from 20+ years of living and travelling in Turkey; some are informative, some cautionary and some are downright hilarious - all of them are interesting. There's never a dull moment.
Alan is the founder of the Okçular Book Project and author of 2 outstanding and best-selling books about Okçular Village; 'Okçular Village - a Guide' and 'Backways and Trackways' a walking and cycling guide to the area including Kösten and Ölemez Mountains. All of the money raised by the project helps his village community. More info: http://archersofokcular.com/okcular-book-bazaar/
‘Blimey!’ I hear some of you exclaim. ‘I thought you’d blogged-off this mortal coil like that William Barker fellow who has ‘gone for the long rest’.’ Not just yet, mate – there’s life in the old blog yet!
A little while back (OK, OK, it was October last year) I wrote about Ali the zurna maker who intrigued and then delighted us with his enthusiasm for his craft. Well, J and I decided that we’d buy one of his beautiful creations to send as a gift to renowned saxophonist John Surman. John had seen the original post and had commented how much he appreciated craftsmen-performers like Ali who were indeed a dying breed. Some of you will know from previous postings that JS is family.
Anyway, in the end we bought two of Ali’s zurnas, which delighted him no end. It also delighted us because we know how much these things cost in places like Istanbul and Ali’s ‘country craftsman’ asking price was the reason we settled for two. J explained to Ali that his masterpieces were to be shipped to Norway where JS lives. A fair degree of lip-pursing and teeth-sucking ensued. ‘Well,’ exclaimed Ali, ‘hmm! I won’t be able to go there to fix up his reeds when he needs new ones.’ And he started to rummage about in his bags and tins of bits and bobs. He made up a kit of parts and spares (even down to little squares of sandpaper) that was to be sent with the zurnas. Then there followed a master class in reed making for us so that we could enclose written instruction to complete the kit.
Everything was packaged and eventually arrived, intact, with JS in Norway. To say he was delighted would be an understatement. So delighted, in fact, that he promised to write and play a piece with the zurna dedicated to Ali and all that he represents.
Below is that piece, played by John on one of Ali’s zurnas. He called it ‘A Song for Ali’s Zurna’. It is beautiful, haunting and very John Surman.
When lock-down here in Turkey is eased we’ll make sure that Ali gets copies of this and more information about who JS is and his standing in the musical world. Ali’s world is centred around a few villages up here in the mountains so I think he’s going to be amazed and delighted – how about you?
A few days ago a mysterious car parked at the bottom of our cabin ‘drive’ and a somewhat furtive individual got out. He asked us mysterious questions about ‘a man on the beach’ all the time glancing about and gazing towards the horizon and never quite meeting our eye before he went shuffling off along the track.
J and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and carried on with our hoeing and pruning. Shortly there came the sounds of a chain saw and then this shifty individual came scurrying back clutching smallish logs of tree trunk. He called us over to his car where he recovered a log from its hiding place under a rug and proceeded to apply a tape measure to it whilst rabbiting on at pace as he continued to peer around in his shifty, furtive manner.
Eventually he sussed that we were perplexed and ferreted out a shopping bag that had half a dozen zournas in it. From here on our interest mounted and once he slowed down his garbled delivery we realised that he actually made these instruments at his home in our local village.
We explained to him that we loved the raucous sound of these primitive, double reeded, instruments. They have a sound that you can actually feel in your gut and in the hands of a master they can carry you to mysterious, wild, unimagined places.
Zournas are spread across North Africa, Eurasia and as far as China, Korea and Japan. Wherever is found the common reed (as here at Salda) you will find the zourna or a variation of it. It is the double reed that produces the powerful, gut-rumbling sound that is so evocative.
As folk instruments they have been around for a very long time – here’s one from the museum at Persepolis that’s dated from about five thousand years BCE.
Anyway, Ali (for that was his name) began to feel more relaxed with us and became less furtive. As he was leaving he said something that sort-of translated to ‘you are invisible’! What he wanted to say was that, as cutting trees is illegal even for making zournas, that we hadn’t seen him. We, being natural-born anarchists/rebels against petty ‘jobsworths‘ and their ilk, readily agreed.
What was really nice was that this morning Ali turned up to show us what he had made from the wood he’d garnered the day we didn’t see him. He also delivered an impromptu demo as he explained the different keys, different parts and different woods – how nice was that!
So, here he is – our mysterious and furtive visitor:
A dying breed? Yes, because traditional craftsmen like Ali, who create whatever it is they make for their own pleasure or the pleasure of other locals and not for some pseudo-authentic tourism market or to decorate the wall of some moneyed townie looking for plastic connections to a lost past, are fast fading away.
Power to your elbow Ali – if we both live long enough then I’m bequeathing my, by then, ancient fruit trees to you so that you can breathe new life into them and they can continue to rumble many a gut!
Funny old word – ‘Worth‘! Or ‘wurff’ as in ‘Nah, mate. ‘Snot wurffit!’ as we old Sheppey ‘Swampies’ were wont to say. And ‘were’ because for several decades J has consistently and persistently stepped in with the appropriate, gentle correction à la all those years as a special needs teacher. These days my enunciation has to be impeccable if I expect to manage to string more than two sentences together without a gentle interruption. Sorry, correction.
(For Mainlanders Sheppey has always been the stuff of nightmares and the butt of jokes – ‘Population never changes – every time a child is born, a man leaves.’ That sort of stuff.)
But I digress. These days ‘worth’ seems centred around money value and yet when you check with a dictionary, even in these mercenary times, ‘money worth’ is preceeded by ‘a person of worth’ as in ‘excellence of character or quality as commanding esteem’. Or, ‘your/its worth to the world is inestimable‘ as in ‘usefulness or importance, as to the world, to a person, or for a purpose’.
And it’s ‘worth for a purpose’ that this post is about. Up here at the cabin our life is gentle, simple and we like it that way. Not a lot changes apart from the cloud formations, the patterns of the seasons and light on the lake. Suits us but boring as hell for you lot. I mean, who wants to read about how the cold snap buggered up the fruit trees this year? Or how well the grape vines are doing? Once maybe, but after that you’d be better employed watching paint dry!
‘So, get on with it!’ I hear you groan. ‘What’s ‘worth for purpose’?’ ‘My pond,’ I shout. ‘My wonderful, life-giving pond!’ This year has seen dragonflies and damselflies in their hundreds emerging and going off and doing whatever these beautiful, amazing creatures do when they change from being a real version of ‘Alien‘ into glittering jewels of light.
Crocathemis scitulum – Dainty Bluet ovipositing
Finally, because not everyone loves what I love, I have a prince for you;
Alan, enjoying a quiet life (with gentle and worthwhile corrections)
As I sit here nursing a swollen and throbbing digit I’m trying to remind myself that not everything in nature is a nasty, aggressive little piece of shite! I’m talking about wood wasps of which there are many and varied types. All of them, in my opinion, serve vitally useful functions and have their place in the grand scheme of things which does not happen to include inside any place I happen to be! J calls my passion for ‘getting’ them obsessive-compulsive behavior, I call it pay-back time for the bugger that thought my bed was a good place to rest up!
Anyway, some of you will know that my well-worn knee joints have curtailed my walking this past year and a half. Lately the creaking and grinding has been less pronounced (I recommend juniper oil for lubrication) so it seemed like a great idea to join J on one of her country jaunts. She kindly agreed to travel at the pace of my knees and I also wanted to catch up on my ‘wandering about’ photography.
What follows is a small selection of what Mother Nature has to offer above 1200 metres:
from our teeming garden pond:
and wandering the trackways:
meanwhile, back at the pond:
So, life is beautiful and full of wonderful nooks, crannies and creatures to smile at and enjoy – apart from politicians, money-changers, haters and those nasty little yellow and black buggers that is – for all of those there’ll be no more jam jars, tissue papers and no more ‘Mister Nice-Guy’!
J and I have just enjoyed the pleasure of an episode from the on-going mini-drama series called ‘Dealing With A Turkish Usta and/or Patron In Respect To An Appointed Day and/or Time’ (usta = craftsman). Don’t worry, it wasn’t a painful experience and, in fact, it resurrected many other fond memories from the exponential learning curve that is dealing with these real-time Harry Houdini‘s.
Anyway, let’s go back more than twenty years to the time when the paint was still wet on our new home in Okçular. We had just bought a new washing machine, a Beko-Arçelik. ‘So,’ we asked the vendor, ‘when will it be delivered?’ ‘Thursday.’ he said, ‘no problem!’
We were so excited! ‘Great,’ we said, ‘we’ll wait in!’
And we did. 5.30pm rolled around and no sign of a delivery so we called the vendor who reassurred us that it was coming. Time moved on with another phone call and another jolly reassurance.
By 10.30pm we’d had enough – we were fed-up and it was bloody hot! Whilst I lay naked on top of the bed sheet, J had dragged out a bit of spare bedding and was laying naked on the front balcony. Before you start gasping at her wrecklessness, there are no street lights and we have no neighbours.
At fifteen minutes to the ‘witching hour’, having both managed to drop off, we were startled into adrenelin-fueled alertness by a great flashing of lights and trumpeting of a demented ice cream van on meth and a cheerful chappie bellowing ‘Mr Alan, Mr Alan, Arçelik!’ The promised delivery had arrived – and on the day promised! The sight of J naked and crawling backwards off the front balcony is one that haunts me to this day!
I relate the above by way of a counterbalance to the innumerable times we have been told by the smiling usta ‘Yarın’ (tomorrow), when we pressed for a date/time to deliver or look at a job that needed doing. It took years before we cottoned-on that ‘tomorrow’ here in Turkey does not equate with tomorrow anywhere else on the planet. ‘Tomorrow’ here means ‘you’ll never see me again if I can help it’!
And so, bringing this ramble up to date, let me tell you about this latest episode. J and I are up at our cabin in the mountains and we decided that we really needed to do something about insect screens that I’d lashed-up three years ago from some old mosquito netting and some lengths of elastic. They were not only filthy, they were rotting!
We found a guy who perported to make and fit windows and the associated bits and bobs. As we tried to discuss our requirements and hand over measurements he stared at us foreigners open-mouthed – it’s very rural here and he may have never seen one, let-alone two, in the same place at the same time! He then began to rush around tidying things up before rushing off to the kitchen. ‘I do believe he’s doing the washing-up’, whispered J just before he re-emerged with two glasses of tea. Now we could talk about what we wanted.
As we explained our requirements, mostly to his arse as he rummaged about in and on top of cupboards and drawers, he made frantic phone calls before rushing out of the office. When he returned he was blowing dust and debris from a sample model of what was a very posh version of a screen from what we had originally envisioned. It must have been something in the tea because we were a pair of pushovers as he opened and shut the screen accompanied by a cloud of dust and the odd dead fly!
We agreed on colour and price. ‘And delivery?’ we asked it being Monday. Thursday being market day we were assured that the job would be complete before then and we could collect the screens on that day as I was doing the fitting (a decision based on many experiences). We paid a small deposit to show good faith and went on our way. Thursday morning arrived and so did we. No screens! There was a long, rambling explanation that involved a brother, Denizli and Germany amongst other things. We were assured that they would be ready and delivered to our cabin tomorrow (‘yarın’ again). We sighed and left, our expectations minimal.
Next day came and our lack of expectations appeared to have been on the money. Oh, ye of little faith! At 9.15pm there was a great revving of engine and scrabbling of tyres outside and there they were. No ladder, no lamps, electric drill to hand and two screens short of a full set! Another long, rambling explanation and a promise that the other two screens would be ready and delivered ‘yarın’. Oh, and a request for a bit more money to see them over till then! Twenty plus years and the pair of us still suckers for the big brown eyes and the sheepish smile. We gave them a bit extra, what else could we do?
Anyway, to put this ramble to bed, suffice to say that they were good for their word and they even turned up before it got dark and we were stuck into an episode of ‘Breaking Bad‘! We are very pleased with our hi-tech screens and just as delighted with yet another episode of dealing with the usta aka ‘I Should Co-Co!’
By way of an afterthought to my last bit of waffle, and it being too cold to do more than a couple of hours of meaningful toil outside, I thought I’d bore and disappoint you a bit further. Especially if you too are stuck indoors by the weather or ‘man-flu’ and were feeling in need of some excitement in your life!
The job of taming the rampant hedgerows results in plenty of poles, stakes, peasticks and countless scratches, thorns and bruises! That which remains will be turned into potash for the garden.
The last blurb was all about making you green with envy at these beautiful surroundings. This one is about making you green with envy that your allotment has only got a view of Arthur ‘Two Sheds’ Jackson’s plot. I do encourage you to wander off to the link I’ve offered you to the official ‘Monty Python’ (or ‘Monty Pie-THON‘ as they say in the good old dis-United States of part of North America) script site.
Our fruit trees are in flower or bud and the duck is enjoying the pond so all seems well with our narrow view of the world.
Finally, a photo of the rhubarb we sowed as seeds last year. At this rate it will be worth stowing a couple of packets of Bird’s Custard Powder in the baggage if we ever travel back to the UK for a visit.
We arrived back up here at the cabin a couple of days ago. There’s always stuff to do but this time of year is special with buds and blossoms bursting out all over the place. Spring is wiggling her toes and stretching.
Of course we are keen to see how the fruit and nut trees are doing; how the onions and garlic has fared through the often sub-zero months of winter. And can you imagine our delight that seven crowns of rhubarb have survived from the seeds we planted last year.
J has been busy planting and hoeing and I had repairs to make to the watering system after the Rock Martens decided to indulge in a bit of guerilla warfare whilst we were away in the low-lands. All-in-all everything has passed muster.
Now, this area is known to the locals as ‘Payamlı’ which is the old name for badem in Turkish or almonds in English. There are only a couple of almond orchards here because the locals all forage the hedgerows which are awash with these beautiful and bountiful trees and now is the time when they are in full blossom.
So, here’s just a couple of reasons why we love being here: