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Todd Boressoff (T-10) Report on his return trip to Turkey 2005.

Our trip to Turkey… basically, it was terrific. It is hard for me to get my mind around all of the different ways we were moved –- a visit to the village, Istanbul, the people, the countryside, the Aegean, just driving… the food. If you haven’t been there since we were there, go.

I did a lot of informal brushing up on my Turkish. I listened over and over to the two CDs and read the textbook from Teach Yourself Turkish. I worked on a phrase book and took what I was relearning to our favorite Turkish restaurant in West Patterson. It was surprising to me how much and how easily what I knew from those days came back. They say that about old age.

Visiting Ayvalı Köyü, the village where I’d lived for almost a year 38 years ago, was extraordinary. With the help of a Turkish colleague at work I wrote in advance to the muhtar and enclosed copies of the letter to be shared with my closest friends or their families. Two weeks later I received a welcoming email that one of these friends had had someone send.

When Judy and I drove up the same road I had walked many times before (7 km each way), not much appeared changed –- an electric wire running into the village, a few houses built of cement rather than adobe style. When I inquired in front of the kahve about my friend Veli Genç, I was told, "He's here, inside." Veli came out before we could enter and gave me a full and warm bear hug.

We’d brought along a number photos from back then –- a small album with about 60 3"x4" photos printed in Turkey, some others of these to give away, and 4 enlargements from slides, one each of my three friends (including Veli) and one, framed, of the village square in spring 1967. These were duly passed around the coffee house and the framed photo was immediately tacked up high on the wall. After much conversation about whose uncle or grandfather appeared in this photo or that, and about who had passed or was still alive, Veli invited Judy and I to his home for lunch.

There his wife, Emine, joined us. To our surprise she too greeted us both also with warmth and hugs. Veli's was a typical village home –- kitchen with wood burning stove, sitting room, front entry area and a bedroom. There were kilims and fabric everywhere... and now a TV. And no more outhouse; there was an indoor flush squatter. We toured their garden, which was all organic, "hormonsuz." Veli, who 38 years ago was proud to use a horse and metal plow (most villagers used wooden plows then), is now on his fourth tractor. This one has heat and air conditioning and pulls his wide plow or seeder behind it. Everywhere in the Eskişehir region there were now straight rows of wheat. No more rhythmic hand-toss sowing of multiple grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye). No more wonderful village brown bread.

Other highlights: trip to the Ayvalı school where we donated magic markers (I work in a college early childhood center) and I gave a small speech in each class. Visiting Veli's daughter in her apartment in Eskişehir in the building he’d bought. In the nearby town we visited Ismail, branch vice-president of the Ziraat Bankısı, the son of my closest former friend who had died. He asked us to join his family at dinner in Eskişehir that evening and picked us up from our hotel in a cab. His two brothers and their families joined us. Highlight: when discussing jobs Judy asked the women what work they did. One husband responded playfully that his wife did not work; she was an "ev hanımı." When Judy had me tell them that being a housewife and mother was the hardest work of all, these scarved women just beamed. And their husbands smiled and agreed!

Some thoughts on Turkey today. The people were almost to a person warm, welcoming and helpful. Not sure how to get to our hotel in Eskişehir (it was in an all pedestrian area), two boys (well, 18 or 20) jumped into our car showed us the way to the closest parking lot. They offered to carry our luggage to the hotel! (We said we were fine). They refused my offer to pay them for there help. In another town when we asked the man on the scooter next to us at a light where to find the nearest Türk Telecom (a wonderful little chain of stores with phone kiosks; less than $2 for TWO relaxed calls home to our children each time), he waived for us to follow him and led us there. In the Kapılı Çarşa (Grand Bazaar), famed for targeting tourists, asking the owner for directions to a specific shop resulted in a personal escort from one of the waiters. Again, tip refused. But most amazing of all was the Istanbul cabbie who drove us to our Sultan Ahmed hotel after we flew back to Istanbul from Izmir. After asking others on the plain what they though was fair, I had negotiated a 20 YTL rate (about $15). It turned out that our Hotel, the wonderful Empress Zoe in the warren of streets below Aya Sofia, was not easy to find and he had to ask again an again. When we finally got there I offered him 25 lira, and held up his hand no! I do think that speaking Turkish makes a difference in this, put people were almost universally welcoming.

Though I’m sure going by bus would be its own adventure, we rented a car for 8 days and loved driving. It was much less chaotic (except in Istanbul) than the old days -- no dolmuşes and far fewer dilapidated trucks and busses, though most of the trucks were still loaded precariously high and wide. Highways and even side roads are much better and drivers drove far more safely and politely than they do in New Jersey, not to mention NYC. Huge modern gas stations had beautiful clean bathrooms and fresh prepared food as good as any nice town locanta. Twice they washed our car for free. The gasoline, however, was about $100 a tank full (we used 2½).

Half of our trip was during Ramazan and this proved exciting. Breaking the fast in a city restaurant is an event. There are a number of special meal choices only, all with the same soup, salad and dessert. Everyone waits patiently, usually elbow to elbow, until the call to prayer; and then the owner call out, "Afiyet Olsun." In Istanbul ringing the Hippodrome were hundreds of stall restaurants, each with a tented seating area behind. You could sight down these rear tented areas for hundreds of yards as thousands of Turks who come to Istanbul for the holidays sit on tiny stools at tiny tables to break fast together beside the Blue Mosque.

Some other highlights. Foça is a small fishing village about an hour north of Izmir. It is beautiful, what so many of the Aegean ports used to be. Kuşadısı today could be any other Mediterranean tourist port –- enormous cruise ships in the harbor, stacked condos up the hill, even huge Disney-like water parks with tunnels and slides. But Foça and the hotel on the water where we stayed, the Foçantique, was wonderful. The owners had led English speaking tours for 15 years before they bought the hotel. This was our first real English after about a five-day stretch. Check out www.focantiquehotel.com. Foça is only about 40 minutes from Bergama and maybe 2 hours from Efes (Ephesis). I could stay in this town for a long time.

Although breakfasts were great everywhere, ours at the Foçantique was wonderful -- three kinds of cheese (feta, kayseri, another), three kinds of olives, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, melon, grapes, fresh figs, multiple jellies and jams and bread. And olive oil fried eggs or French toast. All this while looking out on the Aegean. Though this was our best breakfast, all of our breakfasts, always free with the room, were great. Always more than the simple feta, olives, bread and jelly we remember (which I always loved anyway).

We did Turkey simply, spending time in some non-tourist towns, eating in typical restaurants and staying in small hotels. Only one hotel was over $100, the one in Foça ($120). The cheapest, in Eskişehir, was $37. We were looking to experience some of the Turkey I’d known so many years ago. Not that I wouldn’t like to spend some more time experiencing more upscale places. Though we lived fairly simply our downfall was carpets. We bought two. But those we get to bring home.

Todd Boressoff, Turkey 10




Updated: 06/06/2015
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