Thursday, October 14, 2010

Turkey: No country for old men..but how 'bout women?

“Do you do yagli gures?” I asked Ozan. Ceren giggled. Then she corrected my pronunciation.

Ozan blushed. I’d been doing a little research before breakfast.

“No,” Ozan said. “It is a traditional sport, done only in certain areas of Turkey.”

H looked puzzled, so I said, “Yagli gures is oiled wrestling.”

“It’s disgusting,” Ceren said. “They grab each other.”

Well, I thought that was the point. I can’t help flashing back to the fireplace scene in Women In Love with Alan Bates wrestling nude with Oliver Reed—but I digress.

Ozan is more interested in football—soccer where he comes from.

For the past two years Ceren (the C in Turkish is pronounced J) and Ozan have lived in Montreal, where she goes to school for photography and he works in a French restaurant. But they call Istanbul home. H was a history major in college and says Istanbul used to be Constantinople. Ozan adds before that it was Byzantium. As in Yeats’s poem, “Sailing to Byzantium”: “That is no country for old men. The young / In one another's arms, birds in the trees.”

I’ve never been to Turkey, and perhaps now I am too old to go. But after meeting these two, I’m tempted. Turks are known as quiet, amiable and hospitable people and this couple is a good example of such graciousness.

The history of Turkey is not so amiable. The Huns, led by Attila around the year 400, invaded just about everyone around, expanding Turkish territory all the way to the English Channel. In fact, the Great Wall of China was built to keep the Huns out. The word “turk,” by the way, means strong and mighty. Attila was a force to be reckoned with.

And then there was the Ottoman Empire, named for the ruler Osman (which means “bone-breaker”), lasting from 1299 until 1922, a time when there was no discrimination based on religion (Turks are Muslim, Jewish or Christian), race or language—and architecture, art and literature flourished. It appears that no one messed with Osman, either.

Eden is thought to have been in Turkey and perhaps Noah’s ark as well. Turkey is the bridge between Western and Eastern Europe and is surrounded by water—Black Sea, Mediterranean, Agean, Ionian, Sea of Marmara—you can practically tiptoe across a confetti of islands to Greece. Imagine sandy beaches protected by craggy mountains. Aren't you already feeling serene?

But don’t get too comfortable. Bordered by Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Bulgaria, Turkey is a hot spot for conflict. Fortunately, Turkey aligns itself with peaceful Greece, and most of the food has a Greek influence. Yogurt, honey, shish kabob, lamb, garlic, rich soups. I wish Ceren and Ozan had stayed long enough to cook us up a dish or two, but they were on their way to Boston to meet a Turkish friend and transport him to Montreal for a visit.

In Turkish, Ceren means “Bambi,” an apt name for her doe-like eyes, long legs, and sweet smile. Ozan means poet or bard, and Yeats could have written a poem to his handsome face. When they left for Boston, Ceren kissed me on each cheek. Then I turned to Ozan, and when he kissed my cheeks, I got a little thrill at the overnight stubble on his chiseled jaw. I reached to touch, realized I was out of line, and drew back my hand.

“It’s okay,” Ceren said. “You can touch him.” I laughed. Then I touched and felt a tingle, as if I were stroking the beards of Attila, Osman, Noah—maybe even Adam. Oh, and didn’t that make me feel so young?

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