No room at the inn, by George
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
THE man is bald and missing one hand. His female companion, wearing a headscarf and tinted spectacles, resembles a renegade Catholic nun. Both glare at me. All I’ve asked for is a room.
‘‘Full!’’ shouts the man, whom I assume to be George, eponymous owner of Faralya’s George House pension.
Full? Faralya is a sleepy farming village on southern Turkey’s spectacular Turquoise Coast, a congenial overnight stop on the Lycian Way long-distance walking trail but hardly a tourism hot spot. The man shouts again, this time for Eric, who appears, looking like a character from a 19th-century Russian novel, with ascetic features and goatee, pressed trousers and white linen shirt.
Eric, I discover, is not Russian but Belgian. He’s also cluey, promptly establishing me in a ‘‘tree house’’. It looks more like a few grey timber boards cobbled together, with faded bedsheets for curtains, halfway up a giant oak. It’s not for sleepwalkers. ‘‘Mind the scorpions,’’ Eric warns. I take a dip in the pool and update my journal, writing on the vinecovered terrace over a cup of George’s complimentary Nescafe.
I document my arrival at Faralya — emerging from a hot and airless valley to see the village houses perched astride verdant terraces, enfolded by mountains on the lip of a vast gorge.
Stark against the milky blue Mediterranean, intimidating grey and red-ochre cliffs plunge about 300m into the Kelebek Vadisi, or Butterfly Valley, which terminates at a remote beach.
A fellow emerges from the canyon, glowering like a modern-day Siegfried — he is pure Teutonic myth, lean, tanned, stripped to the waist, his hair and beard bleached by the sun. He is followed by a small, determined-looking woman.
Helping himself to coffee, ‘‘Siegfried’’ explains how he and his wife caught the morning boat from Oludeniz to the beach below, then tackled the ascent. ‘‘It was difficult,’’ he assures me, ‘‘but we live in the Alps. Mountains are nothing to us.’’
Meanwhile, George is hovering, unimpressed, I suspect, that these drop-ins are making free with his coffee. George resembles a belligerent bulldog. His eyes are small Pico Iyer’s latest book is The Man Within My Head: Graham Greene, My Father and Me (Bloomsbury). and set close together. The missing claw doesn’t help. Later, walking among the terraces, I’m astonished to encounter another bald man who is missing not only a hand but a sizeable portion of the arm. Is it a congenital family defect, I wonder, or just poorly executed dynamite fishing?
Back at the house, two trekking groups — one English, the other French — have returned from their respective expeditions and are gathered in separate camps beneath the vines.
Delectable aromas waft from steaming dishes conveyed by the nun and her helpers. George stands nearby, an experienced field marshal overseeing proceedings. To my surprise, he is almost smiling.
‘‘Follow me upstairs,’’ Eric suggests, and I take his advice and sit on a mat with the English trekkers. The meal is simple but delicious, with honey-soaked cakes and yoghurt to finish, washed down with carafes of chilled mountain water.
Eric explains that Faralya has long been a favourite bolthole of his, the place where he comes to do nothing. I ask him about George. He doesn’t know how he lost his hand and is unaware of the existence of a doppelganger. ‘‘And,’’ he adds, ‘‘his name isn’t George.’’
At the bottom of the stairs, Eric wishes me goodnight. I walk down through the garden, past the log cabins where the French are washing socks and comparing blisters in cubicles of yellow light, then into the darkness bordering the gorge where all is silent save for the chirruping of crickets.
Far out over the black sea the lamps of fishing boats shine, while closer, vivid in the warm darkness, the cool green lights of fireflies flicker. I sit on a bench and watch as brilliant arabesques illustrate the night.