The Best of Times the Worst of Times

Whoever said “Writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”, pretty much got it right. I can always find something else to do: ride the bike, play the piano, chop wood, eat, drink, irritate, fascinate or amuse Special K, stare vacantly in to space and so on. And now the internet has made a fulltime profession out of work avoidance. There is always another link to follow (but not that one haha).

Fact is, most things are preferable to concentrated mental effort. When did you last do it? Come on, truth! Which is why it has been a long time since I posted. But I have felt the slıghtest of stirrings from the Muse – a bat squeak, no more. Also today is the first truly dull day in a month; clouds swirling around the house, intermittent rain forecast for the whole day and I have to await a delivery of wood. So here I am. Seat duly applied.

Diyarbakır SurIn my defense I could also point to an uncomfortable dislocation between the pleasantly mundane nature of everyday life here in our Mediterranean resort and the tempestuous dramas swirling around us; the thousands of refugees in flimsy craft battling on the seas washing our shore, drawn like moths to the guttering candle that is Europe, Land of Milk and Honey. Then too the nightmare war zone that Kurdish regions of Turkey, especially in and around Diyarbakır, have become (click on picture of Sur to enlarge) and of course the war against IŞID, DAESH, IS or whatever you want to call the attempt to found an Islamic Caliphate across Iraq and Syria. Shi’ite happens.

Let us not forget either the YPG and the PYD (backed by Russia and attacked by Turkey) and countless splinter groups fighting in Syria. Anomalies abound as America lines up with Russia against its NATO partner Turkey, whose president seems hellbound on taking on the Russian Bear, as if it does not have enough on its plate.

All of which makes it difficult to write a post about life here that is entertaining (what do you mean you did not realise?) without appearing fatuous.

Actually because we are only a 20 minute ferry crossing from the Greek island of Kastellorizo, the plight of refugees has a resonance here too. Many expat folk from Kaş and Kalkan have been volunteering to help on the island. Until recently volunteers were the only show in town as the UN and major NGOs had not been involved. It is easy to forget that the Greek islanders are victims of the refugee crisis too, as their winter population of a couple of hundred or so sees 3 times that number of migrants and refugees arriving weekly. With the tourist season a few weeks away the local administration has started playing hardball, evicting everybody from the temporary sleeping quarters.

A week later the clothing distribution centre funded and run by charitable efforts from Kaş and Kalkan burnt to the ground. An unlucky coincidence? Well we shall await an official view but I know which way the balance of probability is pointing. If that proves to be the case, it is an angry, futile and malign act but the underlying despair of locals is genuine enough.

But this is the Near/Middle East not Worthing. When shit happens it tends to take the toilet with it. I have been been away for a couple of chaps’ weekends (cannot quite bring myself to say boys’) recently, taking advantage of the return of “Nice South African” KR to these shores and the winter presence of errant builder and Sarıbelen Wild Man TS (in their best interest I have withheld Ken and Trevor’s names). We recently spent a couple of days in Izmir doing mad stuff like a chamber concert by the State Opera Company in the municipal concert hall. Woooah!

Izmir was Smyrna in Ottoman days, a polyglot port city peopled by Turks, Jews, Armenians and Franks in large numbers but with the majority group being of Greek origin. It was thus ceded to the Greeks by the Great Powers at the end of the First World War but went up in flames when the victorious Turkish Nationalist army under Mustafa Kemal marched in after four more years of war. If you have the time watch this 11 minute reel shot by a British Pathé camera man who happened to be in the area at the time. It is awesome and horribly compelling. When I am in Izmir I am always reminded that Turkey is something of a tinder box even if there are periods of calm.

Whilst on the subject of chaps’ weekends, did I tell you about our couple of days in Antalya? Well we decided to go and see the Picasso Exhibition but one of us (no names) needed a box of shotgun cartridges and various other bits so nipped in to a gun shop en route. Twenty minutes later we go in to the town hall’s exhibition room and through security.

“Beep! Beep! Can I see inside your bag, Sir?”

“No!“think I “Mr T and his dickhead ammunition is going to get us locked up!”

But this is not Worthing and we are politely asked to deposit the bag of lethal hardware in a locker and they hope we enjoy the exhibition! Carrying live ammunition around? No worries. Just do not disrespect the President.

Başka? What else?

Well the tourist season will soon be upon us although with a whimper rather than a bang it would appear. Bookings are horribly down and there are a lot of anxious business people wondering what sort of a living they are going to make this season.

Not the time to open a new restaurant then so no surprise that “Lucky” Süleyman Buran is……….opening a new restaurant.

Mr. S is my good friend who always supported our annual charity swim when he was managing Fener Café, built our love nest in Islamlar when he started his building firm Likya Yapı, so now I shall be supporting him in opening his new Meyhane in what is becoming Kalkan’s most happening street.

I could tell you that this street is called Süleyman Yılmaz Caddesi but more helpfully it is the little street that continues on from Moonlight Bar, behind the High Street; very Greek looking street where Salonika started up and thrived last year.

Former Ottoman Glories BuildingSüleyman’s place will be, like Salonica, a Meyhane although not a pure version as it will cater for European tastes as well as Turkish rakı drinkers. The proposed name is Pera, the old Ottoman name for Beyoğlu. Pera was the fashionable centre of European Istanbul with, at its heart, the Grande Rue de Pera, renamed Istiklal Caddesi after the republican revolution. The Pera Palace was the final destination for many travellers on the Orient Express and much frequented by Agatha Christie herself along with Ernest Hemingway, and other literary and fashionable types.

Good wines (featuring indigenous grapes which are hugely undiscovered and undervalued), beers and spirits will be complemented by great food especially small mezze dishes, similar to tapas. And importantly it will have a buzzy, intimate atmosphere (unless it is empty of course). The street is one of the few streets in Kalkan which has a strong sense of its history and potentially bags of style. Botanik Garden bar is at one end along with the White House pansyon and now recent arrivals Paul and Helen have opened boutique newcomer Old Town Hotel opposite.

The harbour and old town are the jewels in Kalkan’s crown and it is so important that they are protected and sensitively developed. Turkey does not have a good track record in this regard. As an alternative to the harbour, this narrow cobbled street overhung by pretty wooden balconies and ıncreasingly invested with cafés, bars, meyhanes and bistros is going to be the place to go.

People talk about Kalkan being an upmarket resort. It is true that it is not in the mould of the worst of mass tourism resorts BUT big screen football, all day breakfasts, large amounts of tattooed flesh on display in shops and restaurants etc. are not hard to find. I have no gripe with a little of that (apart from the displays of flesh off the beach) but Kalkan needs to be promoting cultural, gastronomic and activity tourism. It has all the assets but with bookings down by 80% at the moment, its future is on the line. It needs vision and direction.

So I am right behind anybody who is risking their money in new ventures right now. The Pera will have a big screen and it may show the odd game but it may also show late night performances of classic films, opera and iconic performances (Pınk Floyd Live at Pompeii) from the world’s best venues along with other Turkish and international performances if there is a demand in summer. In winter it has ambitions to be a cultural and social hub for Turkish and expat locals,  offering a warm ambiance and wide ranging programme of events.

We are also scouting for the best artwork from Kaş and Kalkan’s talented artist community to display and sell.

If you have thoughts about what you would like to see in a restaurant: amazing mezze you have tried, drinks (fresh mint tea is a must), thoughts about the name or any creative ideas please post a comment.

Kalkan will come through this difficult period and what does not kill you should make you stronger. However, it will require a surge of creativity, talent, energy and boldness from the business community and support from those who would and do visit. It needs to reach out beyond its narrow base of British fans so that it has a broader visitor base for the future. If Britain coughs Kalkan catchs a cold and that ain’t healthy.

Let us hear it for the creativity and dynamism that underpins this little Mediterranean jewel and make sure it does not become another victim of the arrogance of governments and the murderous ambitions of fanatics.

Şerife!

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4 Responses to The Best of Times the Worst of Times

  1. Sue says:

    This is a very sad period in time. I read last week of the incident in Kastelerizo and understand the mood is changing. That small island was so idyllic when we last visited two years ago but has seen many different moods over history. If Kalkan goes more like Kas it will be much better than if it goes like O/ D . There was such a shift from hotels to self catering (with the help of concierge services ) in Kalkan over the last eight years at least there cannot be a shift to A/ I cheap mass tourism.
    Good luck Kalkan!

  2. Eleanor says:

    I love reading your posts! Feel like I’m almost there. They should make you cultural ambassador! Then Kim could enjoy all the Ferrero Rochet. But shocking to hear about Kastelerizo. Does this mean Kim is no longer involved in the refugee clothing project?

    • admin says:

      Still involved with refugees living locally but reappraising Kastellorizo anyway.

      Thanks for your comment. The Ferreros would be safe with Kim; choclate coated hazelnuts though, anuvver story x

  3. Trevor says:

    Wow, the film by British Pathe about the burning of Smyrna is stunning, very very sad times. Glad you included it as it’s an excellent historical record.

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