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Published: August 29th 2014
“Zen teaches vigilant carelessness and detached involvement. In a more high-sounding phrase, it teaches transcendental ordinariness. In a simpler, more sympathetic phrase, it teaches nothing but ordinariness” Yoel Hoffman, The sound of the one hand
I was back in Ayvalik again, the port of departure for Lesvos a week earlier, when I had reconnoitred this quaint old town as a place I would not mind spending some down time in. 'Down time' means just lolling around a place, getting a feel for it, getting to know where the best places to hang are (not too many and not too far from where one is staying), and becoming familiar with at least a few locals.
That week before I had just spent one night on my way through to Lesvos, and couchsurfed with a lovely young musician named Anil. He was now on a trip with his family so that option was not available (nor would I want to 'couchsurf' for more than a few days, following the wisdom about 'fish and guests'). I had checked out a pansiyon
that time in the backstreets
of the old part of town and believed I had been quoted 25 lire a night. So, returning from Lesvos, that's where I headed straight off the ferrybot
after clearing customs and passport control at 8.30 pm. It was a great little place and the room was just perfect. All was well with the world as I spent a leisurely morning next day checking out the neighbourhood, spending time catching up on emails, doing my 'stuff', having a nap and so on. I decided to pay Atilla (the landlord) two nights board for starters (not yet sure just how long I would stay in Ayvalik). I went downstairs, handed over 50 lire, and got a blank look. “25 euro a night” he said. It had happened again (see Kappadochia blog). I made some case to Atilla that we were after all in Turkey, and that despite my tendency to not listen, it might make sense to quote local prices in local currency in future. He looked on disinterested but was gracious enough to later allow me a check out time of 3.30 pm (when the pansiyon
policy was 10 am).
Two hours later I was re-settled in the most
Business as usual
One of the many backstreet shaded courtyards where business is conducted at a lazy pace
amazing little old pansiyon
called 'Chez Beliz' (see previous blog). This place has to be the cutest digs I had ever found in Turkey. I negotiated a price of 40 lire a night if I stayed at least 5 nights. Fair enough.
Ayvalik was known as Kydonies when it was predominantly a Greek town before the separation of Greeks and Turks nearly a hundred years ago. Its surrounding areas were inhabited in prehistoric times (Bronze and Iron Ages). It became part of the Ottoman Empire and was well known for production of high quality olive oil (but this suffered after the deportation of the Greeks). The town's largest two mosques are converted Greek churches.
As with many places, there is an Ayvalik on the surface and then another Ayvalik when you scratch a bit and discover the back-streets of the old town. There is a 'cay
price demography test' that applies in Turkey. Here in Ayvalik, on the waterfront with the more modern shops and the tourist boats and associated fanfare, a cay
in one of the more classy cafes will cost 1.5 lire. Three or four blocks into the old town, a cay evi
will charge 0.5
Market Day covered street
Open air street converted to covered plaza every Thursday
lire for the same cay
I walk around the back-streets of Ayvalik with a smile on my face, every day. Every corner I turn along the ancient rough surfaced cobble stoned lane-ways shows another treasure of amazing stone and brick work, old wooden doors, windows and Ottoman-period overhanging second stories, vine-shaded cay evis
, and street life that beats the drum of relaxed Turkish time. On my first morning out, I was faced with the weekly 'market' day. It's hard to describe this: every street for maybe 10 square blocks, including a huge square, was transformed with tarpaulin covers into a shaded busy Mecca, trading all manner of items. It felt like the whole of the region had descended on Ayvalik (and it had) – both sellers and buyers. I am told many Greeks make a day trip from Lesvos to shop here. The streets, devoid of vehicles (no way for them to go) was a palette of colour and action.
I was determined to make the most of being by the sea. I walked north out of town and found a decent enough entry point to swim each day, albeit the water was not the crystal clear and
clean Molymos experience (Lesvos). But it's wet and refreshing none-the-less, and a good workout. On other days I venture further (to Budavut, 20 minutes north by bus) and find clear blue waters (but not too much shade).
Second morning I decide to get out for an early cay
(it being just after 6 am). My usual haunt is still closed. And so too is everything until I spy the inevitable early opener down a little alley. Mehmet is the proprietor of the small Secin Lokantasi
and he is sitting with two others having his morning corbas merkimet
(lentil soup). This is not a cay evi
but Mehmet makes cay
at this hour and just supplies it complimentary to his punters. He gets me a cay
and it's one of those classic 'no English' but meaningful encounters. How he knows is beyond me (we are blocks away) but he says “you stay Beliz pansiyon” …. Two cays
later I leave and of course Mehmet refuses any payment. I love it (not the no payment... the connection). I visit Mehmet's again and again over the next days and just observe the social capital of this meeting place – the nature of
the camaraderie and connection between the men (mostly men but later in the morning women congregate too) who come every day for their corbas
and other meals, and the way the whole lane seems at one time or another to be intricately involved with whatever Mehmet has going. It's the sort of place where all the customers seem to be well-known regulars, and while Mehmet is dishing up, they themselves go to the bread sideboard and slice their own basket of bread to bring back to the table, and where after eating they bring their used plates and cups and utensils in and place them on the sink.
On Sunday, Mehmet sleeps in rather than his usual 4.30 am start (I know his start time only because he walks past the front of my pansiyon
on his way to the lokantasi
, and on one occasion when I woke very early I was out in the front courtyard at 4.30, where the wi-fi works, sending some emails. It dawns on me how he knows I am at this pansiyon
... he has spied me there previously on his way home). So on Sunday he has a leisurely afternoon at the lokantasi
Old rock wall
The backstreets have many old dilapidated buildings... which just give an amazing feel to the Ayvalik
cleaning and preparing a few things for the coming week. On this day, the scene is even more congenial than usual, as Mehmet is much more relaxed. Friends come and go. I take over the peeling of Mehmet's potatoes from the woman whose son runs what I assume to be an 'under the counter' cigarette trade in the small shop next door. He (Haran) brings over a melon which Mehmet cuts and we all (plus those wondering through the lane) partake.
Mehmet tells me (in Turkish but somehow I get it) that he used to work as a cook in a restaurant in Ayvalik. He hated working to a boss, and now loves his life where he is in control. He is very confident that his food is the best quality in town.
I call myself vegetarian but aspire to 'all things in moderation'. And so I describe myself as '98%!v(MISSING)egetarian' which is about right. Being vegetarian in Turkey is no mean feat. Hence I usually prefer to prepare my own salads in my room. I returned to Mehmet's around 1 pm on the day of our first meeting thinking I would have some of his corbas
merkimet. Before I could say 'lentil' and with hardly a whisper of objection on my part, and after he had proudly shown me the array of lunch dishes on display (not a sign of corbas
to be seen), Mehmet has decided that what I need and want in fact is a smattering of every dish.... goulash, chicken, kebab... the works. He dishes all this out on a bed of rice cooked with pine nuts, some beans and a dish of cucumber and yoghurt (not unlike a Greek tzatziki
). It is all served with fresh bread (every meal in Turkey is served with fresh bread). While delicious, next time I will specify just the rice, lentils, beans and yoghurt dish, thanks Mehmet.
There was a Mevlana (Rumi the sufi saint) quote in Turkish on a cartoon hanging on the wall of the lokantasi
… something to do with the food of life being love is as much as I could work out. In response ,I show Mehmet my phone video of the Mevlevi doing their swirling dance, which I had attended in Konya, and before I knew it he was passing it around the dozen or so patrons, who are all
in awe and appreciation (and envy).
I was planning to leave Ayvalik after 6 days (Tuesday). I had a friend I had met in Sanlurfa but lives in Istanbul who invited me to stay whenever I came there. He messages me to say he has decided now to go on a short holiday until Saturday. On Monday, Beliz and her grandson (who is staying with her) go on their holiday to Lesvos. She lets me know she is happy for me to stay in her absence (the access to my room being quite separate from the main house). They will be back on Friday.
I decide to stay in Ayvalik. I muse about being in a country with a zillion sites of antiquity (many in close proximity to Ayvalik) but staying put in a small coastal town instead of trying to see more. I am happy with this decision. I decide I am going to slow it right down... a kind of meditative practice.... just wile away my hours and days one step at at time, at a leisurely pace, mixing it up with doing my 'stuff' and contemplating life and the universe. Such a luxury... I am
lucky. I decide to really get into this 'down time'. Or it really gets into me - my days blend into a blissful 'no time' space of ordinariness.... Things become of no consequence and true consequence, but with no time constraint to attain or complete. Things become very comfortable. What looked like possibly a challenge of spending many days in Ayvalik blends into a feeling of constant 'now'. In no time, time has gone and I am into my last day. It has only been 9 days to be sure, and I must go to Istanbul for some purposeful tasks (like organising my India visa).
Ah yes. The visa imperative. It occurs to me the floating space I now find myself in is that same space that I tell everyone I am so looking forward to in India... to get back to the Himalayas and peace. I consider how really I don't need to go anywhere.... except that we live in a world that puts barriers up to nomads and travelers. By leaving Turkey when I have planned to, I will be just days short of my 3 month visa limit.
Otherwise, all roads lead to where I
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