Sunday, November 24, 2013

and the land burned orange

On our way back to Çanakkale for the night, we took an unplanned wander off the highway towards the Ancient Greek town of Assos (now Behramkale). The sun was slipping away quickly, and though we were in an ever-so-slight hurry to find a place to sleep before nightfall, the hills were ablaze in all shades of marigold, pulling us out of the car to explore the ruins on the side of the hilltop.

I felt a sadness creep into me as I walked through what was once the agora of a bustling town. Someday our own towns and cities will lie empty and crumbled, and we will become nameless too, lost to time. My mind was full of useless questions about the people whose feet moved in step with mine, who leaned against these columns, who dreamed and loved and fought here.

I learned that Aristotle came to Assos at one point in his life and married the king's daughter before moving to Macedonia, where he would teach none other than Alexander the Great. Surely Aristotle stared across at Lesbos and watched the land burn orange too.

I think it's wise to remind ourselves every now and then of how small we really are— even if you are an Aristotle. What feels massive and overwhelming, is very often a mosquito's hum in the grand scheme of things.

a nuthatch, and the altar of zeus

In an attempt to find a Krüper's Nuthatch, we followed a little brown sign that pointed up a pine dotted hill, that read "Zeus Altar". Sometimes you spend hours looking for a bird (or in Pedro's case, sometimes days— I don't have the patience yet), and then there are those marvellous times when what you are looking for is gently screeching in the tree you just parked your car under. Here's our busy little nuthatch:


It's funny how a small feathered creature can bring so much joy. We watched it for a little while, following it from tree to tree, occasionally being stared at by people heading to the mysterious Zeus Altar, which we eventually decided to hike up to. The path took us past an old stone village, which according to a friendly passerby, used to be home to both Turks and Greeks until the population exchange in 1923. Unlike the ghost village of Kayaköy, people still live here.

The actual altar wasn't much to look at and was littered with tissues and plastic, but the view was breathtaking.

When we came down the hill we were seduced by a charming café shaded by olive trees, which boasted gözleme and homemade mantı— meat-filled raviolis drowned in yoghurt and pepper oil. Meanwhile, our little nuthatch shamelessly paraded on a fence.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

the olive man

I bought a two-and-a-half kilo can of black olives and that large jar of amber-coloured thyme honey from this man, on the side of a winding road between Ayvalık and Troy. His stand was in a string of corrugated metal shacks which offered all sorts of other delights— pomegranate molasses, jams, pickles, and of course, Ayvalık olive oil. I'm a sucker for a smiling face, and it was his grin which made me his customer.

After the briefest of chats in my best Tarzanca (Turkish slang for broken Turkish), he gave me a little pochette of dried thyme.

aegean yellow


Monday, November 18, 2013

breakfast bunny bread

We drove until Ayvalık, which happened to come upon us as the sun excused itself, weaving up and down narrow, crooked roads in search of a place to stay that we could afford. Eventually we found a bed in a restored cottage that I cannot remember the name of, and settled in.

As it was an old house, there were drafts which seemed hell-bent on interrupting our sleep, but we were soon revived by one of the best free breakfasts I have ever had in Turkey. What pushed this one past the warm feeling I still have from last year's Ayder breakfast, was a thyme omelette and a pool of Ayvalık's famous olive oil— perfect for drowning that ubiquitous, bland bunny bread in.

We set out for a little wander, content and warmed by several glasses of çay, squinting under the Aegean sun.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


April 25th is Anzac Day, a day which honours all the Australians and New Zealanders who have fought and lost their lives in war, though the day specifically marks the landing of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces in Gallipoli. This cove, renamed ANZAC Cove in 1985, is where thousands of Australians and New Zealanders travel to each April for commemorative services on the 25th.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who became a national hero during the Gallipoli Campaign and eventually founded the Turkish Republic, offered these words to the ANZACs:
"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

The first time I heard this song, I was nine. We were living in Istanbul then, and a teacher played it during a history class— I don't know which version it was, but the effect it had on me was powerful to say the least. It still brings tears to my eyes.

silhouettes on the dardanelles

When you have a long weekend handed to you, you must take advantage of that extra day and do something worthwhile like taking road trip. As soon as I got home from work, the car was packed with spare clothes, sketching materials, binoculars, a telescope and a tripod— I also threw in a copy of Letters of Vincent Van Gogh for good measure. We headed west towards the Dardanelles.

After spending the night in Eceabat, we drove along the coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula, curious about this narrow piece of land where more than 130,000 soldiers lost their lives during World War I. The bloody, eight-month Gallipoli Campaign began in 1915 as the British Empire attacked the peninsula with the hopes of capturing the strategic city of Constantinople, landing thousands of Australian, New Zealand, Indian, and French soldiers on Gallipoli's shores.

Remnants of bunkers and forts like Fort Namazgâh (pictured here), still dot the countryside. It's hard to imagine the violence in this serene landscape, under such a blue sky, but among the olive trees, thousands of gleaming white headstones stand to remind. This land is a graveyard.

The advancing Allied battleships entering the Dardanelles must have looked much like the silhouettes of benign cargo ships on the horizon today. What did the Turks feel upon seeing those dark shapes? And the men on the ships— what ran through their heads?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

pumpkins and thyme honey

As this corner of the world at last greys and begins to chill, getting out of a warm snuggly bed in the morning feels like the least appealing thing to do in the world— especially on a Saturday. But naturally, someone somewhere outside my window had no problem getting out of bed to drill concrete at eight in the morning. Suspended between a foggy dream and awake, my mind wandered to the large pumpkin in my fridge, which I bought from a charming woman on the side of the road last week. I stood up on stiff legs and shuffled to the kitchen, the plan for pumpkin pancakes unfolding. This was a fine excuse to dip into the jar of thyme honey (bought from the side of another road)...

Is there anything that celebrates autumn more than a pumpkin? Pomegranates and persimmons perhaps, but there's nothing like a hearty pumpkin soup or the intoxicating flavour of its orange flesh blended with cinnamon and nutmeg.

As the dropping temperatures will soon keep me indoors, I suspect my posts will become even more sporadic than they have already been, since there won't be much to share. I hope I can use this time at home to get back to drawing and painting, as I have neglected my artwork for far too long. I'm not sure why I can't seem to create anything.

So while the sky looses its colour, I'm going to remind you of warmer times with a series of posts from a little adventure I took at the end of October. There will be blue seas and olive trees, a wooden horse, and thyme honey.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

the bridge and the sky

Büyükçekmece has a beautiful little secret— well, secret to most foreigners. Undulating across a little neck of water between the Marmara Sea and Büyükçekmece lake is a 16th century stone bridge, built by the Michelangelo of the Ottoman Empire: Mimar Sinan. As the vast Empire stretched from Eastern Europe to the Middle East and North Africa, the work of Mimar Sinan can be seen not only in Turkey, but in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Syria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is said that his approach to architecture was an inspiration to the architects of the Taj Mahal.

Over the course of an hour the sky and light changed so many times, illuminating the stone into a gold, or fading it to grey.