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Village Voices: Issue 48

Iznik Diary

Azize Ethem continues her diary with a look back over a spring and summer shared with many a visitor, both human and avian. While yet more travellers run marathons around the lake, she finds herself helping a local bachelor hone his courtship technique

The world comes to Iznik
With my daughter Sara’s draconian medical regime over and her prognosis good, I arrived home in early April. After seven months away I was a little concerned about the state of my little corner of paradise. Fatih, my one-day-a-week miracle-worker, had the garden looking immaculate, while Mehmet had ploughed the field ready for the first bean crop. The lake was once again very high and lapping at the edge of the lawn. The egrets, herons and other water birds had not yet returned, so the only birds paddling close to the house were moorhens and coots. The orchards were full of blossom and in my garden the air was laden with the scent of violets.

Two summers ago I became a host on the Workaway website, which pairs up travellers who want to work as volunteers with people around the world wanting help with their projects or activities. Why anyone would want to come and work in my house and garden for food and board I cannot fathom, but come they do. Last year was less than perfect, as I was so enthusiastic I invited anyone and everyone who applied. There were the ecology evangelists who left lights on all day and couldn’t live without full-time air-conditioning, and the young Jewish couple who thought the Ottoman Empire had persecuted their ancestors. Both lots got a sharp lecture. This year I have been much more selective and all who have stayed have been a joy. The house had an old-fashioned spring-clean, as well as all the maintenance chores being tackled. My “workaways” this summer were from Ecuador, Taiwan and Hungary, as well as one young Cherokee. Hopefully they have learned from me as much as I have learned from them.

By the end of April all the migratory birds had returned. Swallows, swifts, storks, egrets, pygmy cormorants, kingfishers and herons had once again taken up residence. I have at last reclaimed the back terrace, which is usually taken over by swallows building their mud-cup nests in the rafters. A large black cardboard cutout of a raptor suspended by fishing line has sent the squatters to less threatening climes. For the first time since moving from Iznik, my nasty little plastic boat was revamped and launched. I have not done any long excursions but a leisurely paddle each morning is a great way to start the day. As Ratty said, “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” This spring no sudden storms ruined the orchard fruit harvest, but the extremely hot summer has taken its toll on the vegetable crops. Barring a freak hailstorm, the olive trees look as if it will be the best season in years.

A race well run
On the second weekend in April the first Iznik Ultra was held. This consisted of three trail races: a 126-kilometre race circling the lake shore, a 60-kilometre race and a 10-kilometre fun run the following day. Over 100 contestants signed up for the two longer races, with 10 foreign competitors from Britain, France, Russia and South Africa. The planning was faultless, so hats off to Caner Odabaşoğlu, the organiser. The reports from the foreigners who participated were glowing, with Iznik Ultra set to become a serious contender in the international trail-marathon calendar.

Popping the question
My first trip into Iznik on my return was a lengthy outing with people stopping me in the street to ask after Sara’s health and how I was. There is something very comforting in the fact that as well as friends, people I hardly know are so caring about me and mine. After numerous glasses of tea, I had caught up on all the local news, admired a particularly ugly new baby and commiserated with the man who had had his building permit revoked. I don’t understand how anyone would want to demolish an old house to rebuild within the city walls of Iznik. Time and time again, people start to dig new foundations and – surprise, surprise – they come across ancient ruins. In step the archaeologists from the local museum and that is the end of any dreams of a modern building on the site.

Harun owns a shop near the car park where I always leave my vehicle. A middle-aged bachelor, he sits outside his shop watching the city girls walking past in their skimpy summer attire. He strongly disapproves of these modern girls but never fails to watch them carefully. Why he has never married is a mystery to me: a shop owner with extensive olive groves, he is surely a good catch. For years he has nagged me to teach him English, while I have always managed to avoid starting lessons. This summer, one market day, he was waiting for me. Having given up any hope of my doing the right thing, he had written a list of the important English phrases he needed. Sitting on the guest stool outside the shop, I balanced the ubiquitous glass of tea in one hand while I looked at the sentences he wanted me to translate. Then he held the tea while I copied out in English: “You are very beautiful”, “Are you married?”, with the third being “Will you marry me?” Obviously, my middle-aged friend doesn’t believe in wasting time with a long courtship. Only time will tell if his tactics work.

I’ll take the highway
There has been much activity on the field beyond my fence. Low-lying, it has been flooded for the past few summers, so the owner decided to bring in tons of soil. First came a tractor and trailer, which got bogged to the axles. After hours of revving the motor and discussions with a gathering audience, a second tractor arrived to pull out number one. By the end of the day we had three tractors and one trailer firmly stuck in the mud. Day two saw the arrival of a large front-end loader, which, with much shouting from the gathered experts, quickly extricated everything from the sticky mud. Once the lake level dropped a little, huge trucks started to deposit mountains of soil on the land. After about 30 loads I began to wonder how the owner could afford such a project. It wasn’t long before I was enlightened. All the excess soil from the area of the new highway eight kilometres away has to be removed. For a tenth of the normal price the trucks are dumping soil on my neighbour’s land. How I wish I had friends in the trucking business. I am not too sure what the word “superhighway” means exactly, but the width of the ribbon wending its way down the hill is enormous. In just over two years there will be the second-longest bridge in the world crossing the Izmit Gulf to join this superhighway. How that will impact on this quiet area I can only wait to see.

Beyond the Orchard, by Azize Ethem (Çitlembik), is available from, price £9.99

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 48
  • A Brave New World

    They were stigmatised and despised, and eventually they were closed down. But what would Turkey be today without the Village Institutes, its bravest educational revolution, and the young people they empowered? Maureen Freely tells the moving story of the institutes, the subject of a new book and exhibition

  • Clerical Error

    The lethal mischief of Canon MacColl, by David Barchard

  • Socialite, Traveller, Scholar, Spy…

    The Istanbul diaries of Gertrude Bell, now available online, reveal her astonishing transformation from socialite to scholar and political observer. By Robert Ousterhout

  • Pomp and Perfidy

    As Turkey and the Netherlands celebrate 400 years of diplomatic relations, Henk Boom highlights the twenty turbulent years that Frederik Gijsbert, Baron van Dedem spent as ambassador to Constantinople

  • Simply Sufi

    Simple on the outside, some wooden village mosques had an added portico reminiscent of galleries opening onto the courtyards of private houses in the region. Inside, pillared halls and colourful painting on the wooden structure and on the walls make for a warm, joyful space. Photographs by Tarkan Kutlu

  • Sanctuary of the Sultans

    Abdülhamid I and Osman III’s private quarters in the Topkapı. Photographed by Fritz von der Schulenburg

  • The Man who Rescued Hadrian

    Sagalassos, the remote site in southern Turkey where a giant statue of Emperor Hadrian was discovered five years ago, is the driving passion of Marc Waelkens. The Belgian archaeologist, whose new book is now available from Cornucopia, talks to Thomas Roueché about his pioneering work as director of excavations

  • Fruit of the Gods

    The best table grapes in Istanbul are the fragrant, delicate skinned çavuş from the northern Aegean island of Bozcaada, ancient Tenedos, and the sweet sultaniye grapes from around Izmir.

  • Muted World

    Maggie Quigley-Pınar describes a book of photographs that evoke the spirit an almost-forgotten modern era: Istanbul in the 1970s

  • The Diving Diva

    John Carswell pays tribute to his friend Honor Frost, doyenne of underwater archaeology

  • The Flow of Time

    James Crow on Istanbul’s amazing system of aqueducts

  • Harem Secrets

    The landmark 2012 exhibition at the Tokpapı Palace, and the sumptuous book that accompanied it.

Buy the issue
Issue 48, Autumn 2012 Rural Treasures
£10.00 / $12.46 / 403.14 TL
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