One for the road in Bogazici

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - I AN ROBERT SMITH

THE sky is big, the heat is dry and en­er­vat­ing and buz­zards are cir­cling. It sug­gests a scene in a western movie but the olive groves and grain fields, and the name on the gun­shot-ad­dled sign out­side the vil­lage, lo­cate me firmly in the Turk­ish heart­land.

I am in Bogazici, a sleepy waysta­tion on the Ly­cian Way longdis­tance walk­ing trail that un­furls around south­ern Tur­key’s mag­nif­i­cent Turquoise Coast.

One of the plea­sures of this trek is min­gling with the lo­cals. Viewed through weary eyes misted with sweat, the quar­tet seated be­neath a vine trel­lis out­side a rick­ety grey-tim­ber house looks a good place to start.

More­over, judg­ing from the cry that goes up, they seem pleased to see me. I watch in as­ton­ish­ment as a comely young woman dashes into the house, only to reap­pear bran­dish­ing a hand-painted sign read­ing ‘‘Pen­sion’’, which she promptly hangs over the gate.

I am soon es­tab­lished at a plas­tic-cov­ered ta­ble un­der the dis­con­cert­ing scru­tiny of four pairs of dark eyes. The woman’s hus­band re­gards me haugh­tily from be­hind the large sil­ver samovar over which he pre­sides. With round pro­tu­ber­ant eyes and a black tooth­brush of a mous­tache, the man bears an un­canny re­sem­blance to Gomez from The Ad­dams Fam­ily tele­vi­sion se­ries of the 1960s.

Seated be­side him is an el­derly woman with a chis­elled teak face who wears a faded print dress and an ex­pres­sion of puz­zled in­quiry. Next to her, and be­side me, perches a frail old man, a wiz­ened bird-like fig­ure with a va­cant gaze and an im­pres­sive ab­sence of teeth.

‘‘Boom!’’ he shouts as gun­fire erupts across the val­ley, slap­ping me firmly on the knee and wheezily laugh­ing.

Heat drips from the vines and hens peck in the dirt at my feet as the Gomez looka­like dis­penses tea, cock­ing an in­quir­ing eye in my di­rec­tion be­fore spik­ing my glass half-full of su­gar. His wife, who has van­ished again, reap­pears with a bowl of wa­tery yo­ghurt that she thrusts be­fore me, sprin­kling it with salt and crushed oregano.

Then the in­qui­si­tion be­gins. It is con­ducted in breath­less Turk­ish that sails well clear of my head. In vain I con­sult the glos­sary in my guide­book. Snatched from my hand by the young woman, the ven­er­a­ble tome is passed around the ta­ble.

She and the older woman con­verse in raised voices as if one, or both, is hard of hear­ing. As sweat trick­les from my armpits, I am re­minded of a pair of hys­ter­i­cal doc­tors dis­cussing an in­ter­est­ing, but pos­si­bly hope­less, case.

Neigh­bours ap­pear, a woman and her daugh­ter, to see what the fuss is about.

‘‘Boom!’’ shouts the old man as dis­tant gun­fire crack­les and pops.

I en­joy some suc­cess. Know­ing my name. Writ­ing my age and na­tion­al­ity on the guide­book cover, then cor­rectly in­ter­pret­ing the ges­ture of two fin­gers be­ing rubbed to­gether and declar­ing my un­mar­ried sta­tus. Fi­nally I pro­duce a pho­to­graph of my girl­friend, which raises smiles all round, seem­ing to prove that I am not, af­ter all, a to­tal idiot.

But my fame is fleet­ing. It is cur­tailed, pre­dictably, by the Gomez chap who, re­sent­ing the at­ten­tion I am re­ceiv­ing from his wife, poses a curly ques­tion. He seems to think the an­swer is im­por­tant. The oth­ers ap­pear to think so too, and all wait with bated breath.

But it soon be­comes ap­par­ent I have played my last ace. An air of de­flated ex­pec­ta­tion set­tles around the ta­ble as the neigh­bours de­part, Gomez gloats, and his wife, whose pretty eyes have re­flected such high hopes, sighs, as if she might have been mis­taken about me.

I rise and, feel­ing I have dis­ap­pointed my hosts, re­gret­fully de­part.

‘‘Boom!’’ I hear be­hind my re­treat­ing back.


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