. . telling stories from 25+ 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: bofs.blog email@example.com
Yesterday, during a break in the rain, I grabbed my hobbling stick, picked up my camera and stuck in what I thought was a clean compact flash card, and wandered off to commune with nature.
As I write this my mind is wandering about and also reversing back to less technologically complex days. Days when floppy discs with 1 Megabyte capacity ruled the storage roost! Remember these:
I still have a bunch of these together with the drive to read/write them. J is always asking questions that begin with – ‘When was the last time you used it?’ I mean, what’s that got to do with it? It works, so I’m not getting rid of it! The fact that my camera couldn’t take a single digital image that would fit on a minimum of four floppy discs is neither here nor there.
Anyway, back to relative modernity – the compact flash card I’d put in has 16 Gigabytes (16 thousand Megabytes) capacity (they go up to 1 Terabyte, 1 trillion bytes, these days) which is plenty for an amateur like me.
If you recall a blog post from years ago, ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop!‘ you’ll know that I probably get more fun out of messing about with/modifying stuff than actually using it to take photos. This actually accounts for the abysmal quality of the finished products which involve some grasp of exposure, shutter speed, etc! It also means that after taking some photos I generally forget about them until I stumble upon them a few years later, which is what had happened when, after yesterday’s wander, I actually got around to taking a peek at what was on the card – what a surprise (or not)!
In these dire times as such freedoms as we might have thought we had disappear down the Covid black hole here are some images that just might brighten your day. There is no particular theme or time of year, they range from dragonflies to orchids to Gülay, Suat and their family on holiday with us at the cabin to our neighbour building her summer shelter – anemone blanda to anemone coronaria to a beautiful endemic iris whose name I forget. If any of them lighten your day then job done!
J was very kind me today (as she is most days, I hasten to add) and, with the sun shining on the dew and ‘jewels’ of light clinging to the tips of leaves and branches, she agreed to join me on one of my short staggers in the forest.
Not far from the house there lies one of Okçular’s hidden valleys. A narrow cut, carved by torrents of water that once-upon-a-time flowed from here, it remains largely undisturbed by human activity. In times past there was a working water reservoir or sarniç which has now almost disappeared back into the earth from which it was hewn. The image below will give you an inkling of what it would once have looked like.
As one walks into the valley the rock ‘walls’ rear above until the sky is little more than a blue brush stroke. The sun barely penetrates the deep shadows and that provides a near-perfect environment for one of nature’s little gems – Cyclamen alpinus (formally known as C. trochoperanthum). Although prolific in our beautiful Kocadere Valley for example it is not a widely distributed species. In its natural environment its overall distribution is confined to Muğla, Denizli and parts of NW Antalya provinces, a relatively small geographic area in SW Turkey. However, in its unnatural environment, it swarms the garden centres and gardens of northern Europe.
Its original Latin name C. trochoperanthum is, I believe, linked to the way the petals reflex only about 90* instead of 180* and then twisting slightly. This gives the flower a propeller-like or windmill-like appearance.
The flowers range in colour from purest white to deep pink/purple and, as with most cyclamen, the plants are most easily identified by the markings on their leaves – which is about all there is to see at this time of year. Mind you, give it a few weeks and they’ll be peeking out at you from under shrubs and from crevices all around this area.
So, there you have it – an invitation to wander in our forests in a few weeks time with an air of great expectation that you will be able to admire (I know you would never dream of collecting them for your garden) these retiring little beauts.
Alfred Edward Housman is, without doubt, my most cherished poet. He published only two books of poems, ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and ‘Last Poems’ and yet many of us know his beautiful, balanced, evocative verse without knowing anything about him. Here his words that could apply to Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq or a child in Yemen or anywhere else that the powerful are raining death, destruction or famine on the weak whilst we are safe in our illusions:
They say my verse is sad: no wonder; Its narrow measure spans Tears of eternity, and sorrow, Not mine, but man’s. …………. This is for all ill-treated fellows Unborn and unbegot, For them to read when they are in trouble And I am not.
. . and here on the beauty that surrounds us that we so often take for granted:
Loveliest of Trees Loveliest of trees, the cherry now Is hung with bloom along the bough, And stands about the woodland ride Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my three score years and ten, Twenty will not come again, And take from seventy springs a score, It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom Fifty springs are little room, About the woodlands I will go To see the cherry hung with snow.
(disclosure) I’m a WASA – a White, Anglo-Saxon, Atheist, as opposed to a WASP – a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant!
‘So what!’ I hear you say (or not). ‘What point are you trying to make?’
My point is this; as I grew up I was imbued with a sense of superiority over everything and everyone else on the planet. After all, hadn’t we spread civilising, Christian values across the globe? Our empire, although rapidly dissolving, was benign and one upon which ‘the sun never set’. I mean, how great is (or was) that!
The fact that the country was bankrupted by war and the fact that the bloody Americans refused to forgive, let alone re-schedule, our debts from ‘Lease-lend’ whilst pumping money hand over fist into Germany, through the ‘Marshall Plan’ made not a jot of difference to my, or many others’ delusions. It was we after all, the British, and in particular the English who had stood alone against the darkest evil the world had ever known – and triumphed! Hurrah! God save the king/queen (who are actually German Saxe-Coburg Gothas (do look up the family tree))! Rule Britannia! Flags and bunting, speeches and cucumber sandwiches! We are a ‘Light unto nations’, the ‘New Jerusalem’! ‘The Shining City on the Hill’ (of which, more later – or not).
Suffice to say that after early indoctrination and time spent serving ‘Queen and Country’ I grew up and started to educate myself about the history and politics of ‘my’ country – this country that had ‘God on it’s side’.
It has been and continues to be a revelation. A revelation that, for me, led to a total re-evaluation of what is real and what is fake, propaganda and downright lies! And to where I stand in relation to all of the rest of humanity, this planet and all that is part of it.
In short, Anglo-Saxons are the single most malign influence on the face of the earth and you may well ask ‘why?’ Well, they dominate it militarily and economically through a system that commodifies and exploits everything including people! Although, with the rise of Russia and China and the decline and fall of the ‘Five Eyes’ (those ‘watchers-of-the-world’ – US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand (Anglo-Saxon to the core)) and Western Europe/EU maybe not for much longer. Then, of course, there are consequences of that commodification of the planet – Our Planet – Our Home! Eco-systems are collapsing, the global climate is rebelling and when you add in destructive forces of the largely Anglo-Saxon led and directed war machine acting under the threadbare umbrella of ‘humanitarian intervention’ around the world then none of us should be surprised at the social collapse that goes hand-in-hand with the systemic greed of the few who lead and the many who buy into the system of exploitation.
The militaries of this planet are not benign! They are, in every way, the most comprehensively destructive industry imaginable. Don’t take my word for it, go check out the fuel bill alone of the US military. Even a tin-pot little country like the Disunited Kingdom has had its armed forces, permanently on active service interfering around the world, propping up ‘our tyrants’ since 1939!
How many refugees flooding into Europe would there be if NATO, the Anglo-Saxon war machine, stopped its kinetic wars for the resources of weaker countries and the London-New York banking/business clique stopped their economic wars and illegal sanctions? You don’t need me to answer that!
Knowing now what I didn’t know before really pisses me off! Because as an individual there is nothing I can do about it. Collecting up rubbish, recycling plastic or planting more trees won’t have any impact at all. Even collectively we are impotent – millions, yes, millions demonstrated against the war criminal Tony Bliar’s (sic) illegal war on Iraq. Did it make any difference? In Glasgow thousands of activists were kept outside of the COP26 farce whilst the fossil fuel industry had more that 500 lobbyists inside! Are you surprised that it’s going to be ‘business as usual’?
So, what of the future? Good question!
For a start the planet is not dying. But before you raise a collective cheer or sigh of relief you need to know that Mother Nature is evolving and adapting. Very soon much of the planet will be untenable for countless species and in particular the human species.
They Are Coming
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War; Famine; Pestilence; (actually Conquest but I prefer Pestilence) and Death! Why ‘Pestilence’? Well, just consider this; before the Covid 19 pandemic the US was funding, get this, – ‘gain-of-function’ research on the corona virus at the Wuhan bio-lab in China. What does that mean? It means that so-called responsible people were enhancing the lethality/effectiveness of the wide-ranging corona virus family! It’s a way of waging surreptitious war because if they use weaponised botulism, for example, the target would know and retaliate. By weaponising the common corona (flu family) virus they can undermine or destroy whole countries and their economies with a good chance that they will not be held to account. Yes, there really are people who think like this! There’s plenty of information available about Ft. Detrick in Maryland or Fauci and the National Institute for Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
So, will humanity survive? A few will, most will not. A bit of light relief as you wait for the inevitable can be had by reading the 1989 novel ‘Stark’ by comedian Ben Elton. ‘Stark’ stands for ‘Star Ark’ which brings me on to the antics of the wealthiest robber-baron on the planet, Elon Musk, and his plans to colonise Mars asap. When you’ve helped screw-up this planet why not make a start on the next!
When I started this rant (weeks ago actually) I’d planned to talk about the milk of human kindness that flows from those who have little but share what they have with those who have less. So often what we hear parroted from MSM is cold, heartlessness of the Priti Patels of this world – lack of any humanity or empathy oozes from every word uttered.
Nearly two hundred years ago the predominantly Anglo-Saxons who colonised and now rule the US decided that there was not enough land to be shared with the native population. So it was that the Indian Removal Act was written into ‘law’ and those known as the ‘Five Civilised Tribes’, the Creek, the Chickasaw, Seminole and others, who had lived at peace with their white neighbours for 200 years, were given three years to get out. Under threat from the army, many in chains they were forced out along what became known as the Trail of Tears from their homes in Alabama and Mississippi westwards across the Mississippi River and on to what is now southern Oklahoma – around 600 miles. Bitter cold, starvation, cholera and sheer hopelessness decimated the people. Amongst these tribes were approx 15000 Choctaw. A third of the tribe died en-route. The survivors were destitute, forced out by the threat and the reality of violence – refugees left to fend for themselves and live as best they could in what was then called ‘Indian Territory’ by their Anglo-Saxon persecutors, a country alien to them. But survive they did, as a people and as a nation. Oklahoma is actually a Choctaw word meaning ‘Our People’.
Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxon English and their Scots allies were busy persecuting and suppressing the Gaels/Celts of Ireland. Between 1845 and 1851 the staple potato crop was devastated by blight. The English occupiers continued to export food and agricultural products as they stood by and watched native Celts die of starvation and its related diseases.
In 1847, just 17 years after the ‘Trail of Tears’ or ‘The Removal’ as the Choctaw call it, these survivors heard about the plight of the starving Irish. They understood deprivation, violence, hunger and desperation. They felt the pain of the persecuted for other persecuted and they did more than feel – they acted. Despite their own poverty-stricken circumstances they raised $170 (by some estimates approx $5000+ at today’s rates) and sent it to the relief fund. Empathy – the greatest of human virtues. The very opposite of Priti Patel and those of her ilk.
The moralising of the god-fearing, money-worshiping Anglo-Saxon supremacists is best summed up in this gut-churning editorial from the Arkansas Intelligencer newspaper of the time; “What an agreeable reflection it must give to the Christian and the philanthropist to witness this evidence of civilization and Christian spirit existing among our red neighbours. They are repaying the Christian world a consideration for bringing them out from benighted ignorance and heathen barbarism. Not only by contributing a few dollars, but by affording evidence that the labours of the Christian missionary have not been in vain.” Makes you want to puke!
Today there is a memorial in County Cork to this act of humanity and a scholarship has been set up for Choctaw students to study at universities in Ireland. The Choctaw Nation is vibrant and thriving and the Irish stand at the top of the class for their generosity towards the desperate and down-trodden peoples of this benighted planet.
Being human or inhuman is a choice – think about that when you see the next hysterical headline or news report, I know I will.
. . is a quote that is often attributed to the period during the First World War and in particular to the slaughter suffered by British infantry at the Battle of the Somme. However, it’s origins are much older with variants back to Greco-Roman times.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used the phrase on 27 September 1855, in an article published in Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 457 (1 October 1855), on the British military’s strategic mistakes and failings during the fall of Sevastopol (Crimean War), and particularly General James Simpson’s military leadership of the assault on the Great Redan. The joke making the rounds of the Russian army, that “L’armée anglaise est une armée de lions, commandée par des ânes” (The English army is an army of lions led by asses) has been thoroughly vindicated by the assault on Redan.
They say that ‘old soldiers never die, they just fade away’. That may be true, but young soldiers certainly do – consider the following: On 1 July 1916, the British Army attacked the German front line on the Somme in an ill-planned and over-ambitious offensive. Advancing soldiers were slaughtered by machine guns and artillery fire as they tried to struggle through unbroken barbed wire. The battle was to go on for 141 days, but on the first day alone the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead! The first day!
The great military tactician (very much) behind this carnage – General Sir Douglas Haig, whose over-optimistic planning under-estimating enemy strength and ignored lessons to be drawn from failures in earlier battles. Inspired by wishful thinking, Haig assured sceptical subordinates that the British would soon break the German line and he had five cavalry divisions waiting to exploit their victory. Born in 1861, in the age of entrenched machine gun regiments Haig still believed in cavalry! How apt were the nicknames bestowed on him by British ‘Tommies’: ‘The Butcher of the Somme’ and ‘Butcher Haig’!
So, why this and why now?
Two things, really – a poem and a picture. The picture, an original etching by official war artist James McBey titled ‘Albert 1st July 1917’ hangs on the wall at my home. It depicts British ‘Toms’ near the cathedral church at Albert, Northern France (the Somme). The statue of the Virgin Mary on the spire was hit by a shell and left hanging. The Germans believed that whoever caused the statue to fall would lose the war. When Albert fell to the German army they used the tower as a look-out post and a British shell did cause the statue to fall along with the German prophesy.
The poem I ‘discovered’ this morning and it moved me deeply;
Dana Burnet Christmas in the Trenches (An incident)
Still the guns! There’s a ragged music on the air, A priest has climbed the ruined temple’s stair, Ah, still the guns! It’s Christmas morning. Had ye all forgot? Peace for a little while, ye battle-scarred – Or do ye fear to cool those minds grown hot? Up the great lovely tower, wracked and marred, An old priest toils – Men of the scattered soils, Men of the British mists, Men of France! Put by the lance. Men of Irish fists, Men of heather, Kneel together – Men of Prussia, Great dark men of Russia, Kneel, kneel! Hark how the slow bells peal. A thousand leagues the faltered music runs, Ah, still the wasting thunder of the guns, Still the guns!
Out of the trenches lifts a half-shamed song, “Holy Night!” Here, where the sappers burrowed all night long To bring the trench up for the morrow’s fight, A British lad, with face unwonted white, Looks at the sky and sings a carol through, “God rest you merry, gentlemen!” It was the only Christmas thing he knew. And there were tears wrung out of hard-lipped men, Tears in the strangest places, Tears on troopers’ faces!
They had forgotten what a life was for, They had been long at suffering and war, They had forgot old visions, one by one, But now they heard the tolling bell of Rheims, Tolling bell of Rheims; They saw the bent priest, white-haired in the sun, Climb to the hazard of the weakened spire, They saw, and in them stirred their hearts’ desire For Streets and Cities, Shops and Homes and Farms, They only wanted space to love and live; They felt warm arms about them – women’s arms, And such caresses as a child might give Coming all rosy in the early day To kiss his world awake…. The British lad Broke off his carol with a sob. The play Of churchly musics, solemn, strange, and sad, Fluttered in silver tatters down the wind, Flung from the tower where the guns had sinned Across the black and wounded fields….The bell Sang on – a feeble protest to the skies, Until the world stood like a halted hell, And men with their dead brothers at their feet Drew dirty sleeves across their tired eyes, Finding the cracked chimes overwhelming sweet.
Aye, still the guns! And heed the Christmas bell, Ye who have done Death’s work so well, Ye worn embattled ones, Kneel, kneel! Put by the blood-stained steel, Men from the far soils and the scattered seas, Go down upon your knees, While there is one with faith enough to dare The wracked cathedral’s crumbled broken stair – While there lives one with peace upon his eyes, While hope’s faint song is fluttered to the skies, In that brief space between the Christmas suns, Still the guns!
‘Lions led by Donkeys’ and not just British Lions and British Donkeys – Donkeys from the US, UK, France, Russia, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, et al continue to ‘lead’ Lions to their slaughter along with countless, un-named and usually unrecorded/unsung civilian Sheep. All in the name of hegemony – or, as it is better named – profit!
They are the stuff of myths and legends. Their god is Anubis – or perhaps they are Anubis’ gods! Who knows . .
Creatures of the shadows and dark places. They move like mist sliding, gliding silently over the ground, they are there – and then they are not . .
Anubis, the old Egyptian god of death, the afterlife, mummification and the patron god of lost souls was ‘created’ in their likeness. They are amongst the most ancient of gods. Some 6-8000 years ago they birthed Wepwawet who begat Anubis in 3150 BCE. Those two immortals withered and faded to little more than shadows on the walls of musty burial chambers. Canis aureus however have proved to have everlasting life – they are made of tougher stuff than the gods of old!
A short while ago I told you about a visit from a mysterious ‘guest’ who tried to pinch one of our rubbish bags but was enticed to stay for a few photos by a few crumbs from our table. Last night, as dusk was falling, I spied two adult interlopers near the compost bins. Unfortunately they spotted me and took off. Non-the-less I set up the night camera and below is part of what it captured – a lactating female.
The Golden Jackal – Canis aureus ssp moreoticus weighs in as follows: The largest golden jackal subspecies, animals of both sexes average 120–125 cm (47–49 in) in total length and 10–15 kg (22–33 lb) in body weight. The fur is coarse, and is generally brightly coloured with blackish tones on the back. The thighs, upper legs, ears and forehead are bright-reddish chestnut. This will help as you view by infrared image.
Coming from England and being an ex-squaddie I’ve never had a problem understanding this very direct form of communication. Living here in Turkey I find, when watching President Damn Turd Pol (it’s an anagram – you can work it out), that his repeated use of the ‘A-OK’ gesture is very disconcerting. Here in Turkey (and one or two other countries) this is such an insulting gesture as to warrant some severe retribution from the recipient. Why? Because it insinuates that the person is a homosexual and in this macho-culture there are few greater insults.
So, is it any wonder that here, and other places, Herr Adolf Twitler aka Agent Orange is such a figure of derision. As an aside, way back when, President ‘Tricky Dicky’ Nixon arrived on a state visit to Brazil. He burst out the door of Air Force 1 onto the top of the steps gesturing ‘A-OK’ enthusiastically with both hands towards the crowds who were stunned. In Brazil, you see, this gesture is the equivalent of that notorious middle-finger salute. Good start then President ‘Pricky Dicky’!
But, where was I? Oh, yes! Getting stuffed.
Up here at the cabin the young vine leaves are succulent and plentiful so what to do to make good use of them. Right – dolma or stuffed vine leaves. Now, I want to get something straight right from the start – whilst I do the picking of the leaves and happen to be the maestro of the stuffing and rolling, it is J who does the hard and tricky stuff. She produces the delicious stuffing and prepares the leaves to the perfect texture for rolling.
Behind every great thigh-rolling dolma stuffer there toils an unsung hero!
It is the custom here in Turkey when a young man takes a fancy to a young lady for the girl’s parents to invite the groom with his mum and dad to assess the suitability of the gelin (bride). She is expected to serve up perfect Turkish coffee and perfectly formed, tasty dolma made by her own fair hand. On such things the future of the world hangs!
Although this seems arse-about-face, J and I have long thought that it would be very nice to have a housewife (or house husband) to do the chores and ready the Ovaltine!
Wishful thinking aside, I really must disabuse you of the idea that free-hand is my thing because a couple of years ago I acquired this very useful gadget:
So, that’s it then – I’m off with J to see Ché and Fidel for a rum, a cigar and a good stuffing!
ps No harm in showing the view from the rolling table:
So, yesterday evening J and I were enjoying a home showing of the movie ‘John Wick‘, well I was enjoying it – J was cringing and passing frequent disgusted comments on what is, I have to admit, one of the most gratuitously violent, story line lacking films I’ve ever seen. That said, bad taste has never been too much of a barrier for me to enjoy a good hoot!
Anyway, in the midst of a particularly violent, far-fetched brawl scene in which a couple of war dogs were taking the ‘bad-guys’ down, quite literally, by the short-and-curlies, the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. Outside the cabin, in the pitch-dark, something was scraping and banging and bumping on the steps! It was spooky! Being an old, very creaky and long-retired ‘roughie-toughie’ I got up slowly to investigate.
What I expected to find was one of the feral cats that live around the area having a go at the rubbish bag I’d left invitingly on the veranda. What confronted me was the rubbish bag at the bottom of the steps (a couple of wine bottles were the cause of the banging) and this fellow trying to front me down . .
This creature, whilst cautious, was not much bothered by J and me being around and talking to it. I asked for it to hang around whilst I fetched my phone and a couple of slices of bread and it duly obliged. I sat at the bottom of the steps and threw a piece of bread towards it and it showed its appreciation by drawing closer. Now, I know that bread is not ideal but it was J’s home-baked so plenty of roughage! All dogs are opportunist scavengers and Golden Jackals are particularly well adapted and can thrive by raiding maize, grape and watermelon when meat is hard to come by. If they must they will even survive on grasses at a pinch! J and I are also both aware that breaking down a wild animals mistrust of humans is a bad idea – lives get lost that way. So, our wild neighbours are welcome to scavenge the compost bins but there will be no regular encouragement to fraternise.
Meanwhile, here’re some more photos – not brilliant but then there was not much light to be had . . and ‘yes’ it really did come that close! There was no ‘social-distancing’ last night!
This was such a delightful, special interlude. I’m sure this creature will be back from time to time. We know from their howling that they are great wanderers covering a large territory – sometimes barely heard and others right outside. I’ve said many a time on social media that ‘there they go again enhancing the ezan’ (call to prayer). Some have asked if I could record it but it’s either been too distant or I’ve been unprepared. Attached below is a link to a recording of Golden Jackals in full voice by someone better prepared. It really captures eerie quality. There is also a mass of information, photos and videos available online if the fancy takes you – and it should.
‘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!