Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


by in bloggingaboutturkey
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“My daughters say I should market it as for the young and the deaf only.” I was chatting to the urbane female owner of the Begonvil Hotel in Marmaris, a delightful place set around a courtyard that offered one of the best breakfasts in town. I wanted so much to stay there, not least because it was the only halfway architecturally attractive hotel in the area. Time and again I’d check in, go to bed, then find myself rising up again and moving down the road to a friend’s house where it would be possible to snatch a few hours’ peaceful sleep.

The problem with the Begonvil was that it was located on Barlar Sokak (Bar Street), Marmaris’ notorious nightlife strip where things never got going before 10pm, then kept on going until well after 4am. I tried putting a pillow over my head. I tried stuffing in earplugs but to no avail. The trouble was that loud music didn’t just assault me from one side but from at least three different sides at the same time. Whether I liked them or not, the tunes were in cacophonous conflict with each other. It was a nightmare that the editors at Lonely Planet for whom I worked at the time preferred to deny, correcting my “Just don’t expect to get any sleep” to a snippy “Just don’t expect to get an early night” which barely hinted at the reality. 

“I don’t like Marmaris,” I tend to say to those who ask but the truth is that I’ve had many a good time here over the years regardless of the noise and regardless of the ugly sprawl of cookie-cutter buildings running out west towards İçmeler. Once upon a time it was my misfortune to have to visit all the many package-holiday hotels lined up like soldiers on parade along the road. I was working for the ABC Gazetteer, a volume used by British travel agents to offer a balanced corrective to the hyped-up prose of the holiday brochures. It took me two weeks to visit them all and by the end of that time I’d exhausted a Thesaurus of variations on “featureless”, “identikit”, “uninteresting”, “blockish”, “high-rise” and “concrete monstrosity.”

Well do I remember one British holidaymaker I stumbled upon during that thankless task. His hotel was in a side street running off the main drag and was surrounded on three sides by building work. 

“Are you enjoying your holiday?” I asked him cautiously.

He shrugged. “’s all right. They go home at five,” he said in a wonderful example of glass-half-full thinking.

Strolling the streets now I have to admit that the passing of time has done much to improve things. Not only is the infrastructure in place now with neat pavements laid out where once I was scrambling over building rubble but also palm trees now line the Kordon and hedges of red oleander line the beach. Nothing can make most of the hotels anything more than Benidorm lookalikes but by now luxuriant foliage has softened some of the sharper edges and a few smarter offerings have elbowed their way into too.

But as so often nowadays I’m walking with memories. Here, for example, is the Panorama Bar, tucked up in the tiny haven of the Kale Mahallesi where narrow streets and hibiscus-draped doorways offer a fleeting and unexpected reminder of Lindos on Rhodes. On the steps which now wish visitors a Happy Christmas there once stood a sign scrawled in angry black lettering. “Go away, British. We don’t want you here,” it read.

‘What happened, Ali?” I asked the owner.

“They come here all the time,” he said. “They drink all night, then say they left their credit card in the hotel. They’ll come back to pay, they say, but they never do.”

Hanging my head in shame for my compatriots, I gazed out on a peerless view over the red roofs of the castle to the yacht-filled harbor and railed at the horrors of mass tourism. 

When darkness falls I venture out of my hotel to take the pulse of Bar Street almost twenty years after I first tried to sleep through its ministrations. The Begonvil is long gone, its owner having given up the futile battle to flog a good night’s sleep to her guests and sold to a bar owner. Where once I lingered over that delightful breakfast a shots bar now overlooks a dance floor open to the stars. I wander out to the harbour and start to stroll round the line-up of restaurants. Then unexpectedly another ghost leaps out to ambush me. 

Suddenly I’m remembering a bar open at the front and packed to the rafters with young Turks. There was music playing - Zülfü Livaneli, as I remember - and every one of them was word perfect, flicking their lighters on and off as they swayed back and forth in harmony with the tunes. It wasn’t raucous. It wasn’t alien. It wasn’t Lady Gaga blaring out over the bay as a British-accented tour leader urged her charges to blow their whistles into the night.

As the ghost of my younger self stirs I remember the fledgling phase of a holiday romance, a first kiss, the uncertain embarkation on a journey better not started. The next day I amble past the restaurant with whose owner I’d set sail on a choppy sea that night. Despite the lost decade it looked exactly as I remembered it. Behind the bar I glimpsed the dapper little owner but like me he was heading fast towards old age now. My father, I thought, he reminds me of my father. I could only be sure that it was he because I heard someone address him by name; had I passed him in the street I wouldn’t have missed a step. With no clue to remind him that he had once known me, though, his face betrayed not the slightest glimmer of memory. 

I sat for a while over my dinner fretting over distressingly intimate memories. Should I reintroduce myself? I wondered. Was there anything to be gained by that? In the end we exchanged a polite “good evening” and a polite “good night”. It was hard to believe I could ever have felt an ounce of passion for him. 

A ship that long since sailed, I thought, as I ambled into Kahve Dünyası to avail myself of a very civilized cup of coffee. Past memories best left firmly in the past.

Tagged in: Marmaris

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