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Earlier in April    April Continues    More Ramblings

April 4, 2000:

  All filled in on the current movies (I watched Hurricane, Cider House Rules and the Green Mile within the past week) I'm re-energized to go hit the developing road again. Istanbul brought me to the Syrian embassy, who gladly welcomed my 65$ fee and bouqette of flowers in return for a 15 day visa to their country, but Istanbul also showed me the door, closed and pad-locked, to the Iranian embassy. Having fled Iran I wanted to return on my own terms. I trucked into the embassy last week, slapped down my passport, pictures and 50$ fee and was told I'd have to wait a week for my visa. Exactly one week later I walked back to the Iranian embassy only to have them say no, of course. Actually they said "Come back in two weeks." So I asked what then, and then they said "Not possible." Who knows why they couldn't just come out and say that first. I pleaded a little with them but Iranian consulates aren't really the type of people you can plead with. The fellow just shook his head and showed me the door. So onto Syria I go.

Here, at the Ail Baba Hotel and Carpet Shop, I'm getting ready to move east. I bought my bus ticket for the12 hour night ride to Konya in central Turkey this morning and now the only thing left to do is settle the hotel bill. Since the Ail Baba has the added luxury of being a carpet shop (and it also happens to be the end of the low season and therefore the hotel staff has way too much free time on their hands) settlleing the bill has been a bit of a tennis match---them throwing out numbers and me returning them. Of course, usually this is all quite unnecessary. Matters of payment normally are settled before the act they cover is carried out. But true to my good travel form, I treated this stay like one of the dinners I had a few days back. When I sat down to order and asked for the menu the cute little Turkish woman answered "no menu. Fish or meat?" I said "Fish, thank you. How much?"And she retorted with a huge grin and several light pats on my shoulder "No. No. Don't worry. It will be no problem." So I went ahead and trusted that Mediterranean smile and enjoyed what turned out to be my most expensive meal to date in the last four months. (I'm beginning to see a theme: No Problem = Big Problem.)

I admit that I might be a slow learner. We'll see what happens at the Ail Baba. If I buy a rug you know I'm hopeless.

(The famous Ali Baba Hotel and Carpet Shop. After leaving the Russian district of Istanbul I found myself in the Baba. Contrary to the name (ie: and Carpet Shop) the hotel was beyond pleasant, bringing me fresh flowers and fruit and never once mentioning the c-word.)

April 6, 2000:

I know you're all dying to hear about my new carpets but I held out. In fact, I did a rather nice job of bargaining with the old Ali Baba. After more than 6 hours flip-flopping between their price and mine it came down to the owner himself. The managers all pointed me towards him,, a strong figure of a Turkish man leaning against the building just outside the hotel. I shuffled up next to him, "Sir, I have a question..." He smiled, grabbed my arm and took me inside to not only agree with my quote but to additionally knock off 10 extra dollars.

(Me after talking to the owner of the Ali Baba. Having spent 10 days in the center of Istanbul in the Baba I was mentally preparing myself for the bill. But when I spoke with the owner he promptly agreed to my "suggestion" and took an additional 10$ off. Needles to say, it put a smile on my face.)

So grinning from the tips of my toes to the end of my hair I boarded a fancy Turkish bus an hour later for Konya a mere 10 hours away. I must admit that peeling my eyes open at 6am after the bus driver shoved me and my baggage off the bus only to land in the middle of Nowhere-Industrial-City was not the image I had in my head of the city of Konya, the poet Rumi's stomping grounds. I expected more of the mosque covered corners and tree-lined parks of Istanbul, what I saw were apartment housing, row after row of them, and bare pot-holed streets.

(Arriving in central Turkey in the town of Konya I trucked immediately over to see the tomb of Turkey's most famous poet, Celaleddin Rumi. Most of the 1.5 million visitors to this holy place are Muslim Turks. And amidst the bus-loads of German and Japanese tour groups some of the devout tried (unsuccessfully) to climb the ropes and touch the sarcophagus. Guards had to politely request people not to pray in the mosque-turned-museum as tourists stepped around and pushed their way through the crowds to catch a glimpse. This just happens to be a quick shot of the carpet in Rumi's tomb. (It's my current screen background, if anyone's interested.) An overly excited Turkish woman grabbed my camera to take a photo of me in front of the sarcophagus. This was the result.)

I stumbled into a parking lot and onto a mini-bus. My Turkish is beyond pathetic but I managed to get the driver to drive me to my hotel. After checking in, taking a quick nap and (not because of choice) a cold shower I hit the streets. Two hours later I'd seen some of the great (and under-appreciated) museums of Konya and been invited to stay with a Turkish family for the weekend.

Sitting in the courtyard of a great archive of Turkish history, the Kataray Tile Museum, I pulled out my book to read a little in the saftey and quiet of the museum grounds before heading out to scavenge for an early dinner. Two minutes and pages later four Turks sat down at my table with a large pot of cay (pronounced chai), or tea. They all worked at the museum and a large Japanese tour group had just finished buying their share of hand painted plates and snapping over 20 rolls of film. It was time for some tea, they motioned. Surprisingly enough none of them spoke English. I'd gotten so accustomed to rambling on to museum staff in my mother tongue because all the monuments and tourists sites have always been filled with those natives with the ability to communicate and convince foreigners that they really do need a picture book of the site or an authentic piece of building to commemorate their trip for only a small price that's always "very cheap for you." So we sat and drank glass after tulip-shaped glass of tea in silence. 10 minutes later a young girl named Gulfem came strolling into the courtyard and the Turks piped up, excitedly greeting her. You see, Gulfem spoke English.

"Hello. They want to know where you are from." And I told her America. One half-hour later, after a full conversation about "Little America" (Turkey) and America, Gulfem invited me to stay in her home.

This morning I went with Gulfem to her school and taught the days English classes. This afternoon I lunched with Gulfem's family and went with them to a little village just outside Konya to look at old mosaics planted firmly for centuries on the floors of churches built right into the hillside. And tomorrow I'll visit some of Gulfem's uncles and aunts and learn how to make a few Turkish meals.

Turkey, as an understatement, is fantastic. Not only can you find hospitality in the courtyards of little-known towns but you even get it handed to you in the tourist laden heart of the country.

April 12, 2000:

I didn't really know what to expect when the Gurhans put me on the bus to Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. "You should go to the sea." It was the first thing Mr Gurhan had said to me in English, it also happened to be the last as I humped myself and 50 ton backpack up the steps. So I honestly didn't know what to expect when the bus rounded a large sand mountain three hours east of Konya (and much more from the sea) and dropped me at the foot of a village completely carved into the hillside. Weird, I thought. Tourists have been coming to Goreme since the Hippies made it popular on the overland route to India back in the '70s, and I could see why: surrounded by 100ft tall sand spires, Goreme was fairy tale land. Because of this name nearly half of the some 60 pensions and hotels refer to the "fairy chimneys" where you can pay to sleep in a dark cave that you have to climb a ladder to get to and then climb on your hands and knees to enter. Really weird, I couldn't help thinking over and over as I spent the remainder of the day checking out as many accommodations I could. One can't afford to choose a bad hole in the wall, right?

After unloading my pack in the brightest place I could find I headed down to the center of town to see what I could see. (Aimlessness seems to have taken on some form of purpose for me.) "Hey, so you found a place to stay, huh?" Came the voice of an Irish ex-pat who now lived in Goreme and had just become the proud partner of pension number 61. "Yeah," I said. "Did you know that this place is really weird?" And he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me over to the curb to sit down. "Look at that." He pointed up at the sky. "They have pigeons here." I said. He ignored my comment, obviously not liking its taste, and kept staring at the birds. "Did you see that?" he asked five minutes later as the bird dipped and flew around and around. "Wha..." and before I could finish I saw what he had been so serious about. The pigeon was doing back flips. My mouth fell open to land gently on my knee. Weird. And yet the back-flipping pigeons almost made sense. "You know, they only do that above their homes. They're not wild pigeons. The villagers keep them as pets. They're just playing."

I don't know what to tell you. Backpackers come in hordes to this tiny village made of mud; they sleep in caves, march around the country-side in shorts and tank-tops and as far as I can tell, none of them have ever noticed the back-flipping pigeons. "They've been doing it for years." said the old Turkish women who accosted me in the street, dragged me into her home and shoved glass after glass of Turkish tea down my throat. "Does it bother you?" I asked, talking about the tourists not the pigeons, and fingering one of the many embroidered scarfs she was making for her daughter's upcoming wedding. "No. No, it just means I don't have to spend all my time talking to my pigeons." Weird.

(From antique carpets to skeletons of children from antiquity, from early morning English classes to late night math sessions, Konya and the Gurhan family gave me a little window on life for the modern Turk in the 21st century.)

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