Performance Anxiety

Ever since I had a chap visit and sneer at my neighbours for being “poor and backward” I have had performance anxiety on behalf of the village. To be fair it turned out that the man was recovering (badly) from a brain injury and apart from being mad as a box of frogs he had zero impulse control and an empathy bypass, but I still worry that my purple tinted prose may have given visitors an unfairly rosy picture of the place. After all this isn’t Disneyland and not everyone sees the things I see and sometimes goats smell and not all old people are as photogenic as the ones they place strategically around Sirince to charm the tourists.

I worried more than usual when it came to entertaining two metropolitan urbanites from the Bodrum peninsula. Jack, writer of Perking the Pansies blog, and his partner Liam, were coming to stay and the closest these guys ever got to the countryside was knowing someone who once ordered an organic veg box from Ocado and their major concern was would Clarins cope with the free radicals in Kirazli’s country air. So I was seriously worried that my little village would be a bit too real for them, especially in January, when it’s frosty and at its least pretty.

I needn’t have worried, from the moment they rolled up in a glossy black car and swarmed out full of enthusiasm and interest they were a joy to host. First there was Jack with his bright enquiring eyes, Loki personality and intense interest in all around him. And then there was Liam, with his quiet intelligence, strength and stability radiating from him, but enough of the poet behind the eyes to make him terribly romantic. Thankfully they gave every impression of enjoyment during their weekend in the real Turkey.

Okay, my house isn’t real Turkey in the sense of enduring it whilst viewing it, the bed sheets are Ralph Lauren, the showers are German rainburst and the menu is a little more varied than kofte from the village takeaway (brilliant kofte by the way!). This is, in all honesty, Real Turkey Lite – all the ambience, less of a hardship. It is real enough to be interesting, but not so real as to induce cultural meltdown and a stern letter to the United Nations.

Liam was dragged out on dog walking expeditions and exposed to some of our favourite views, Jack politely advised he didn’t do walking and stayed in and admired the heat from the soba.

We took them olive picking and Liam enthusiastically wielded his cane, imagined some people who needed a good spanking, beat the tree soundly and the olives rained down. His prowess thoroughly excited Jack.

We took them to Kusadasi, just to prove it wasn’t Altinkum, and they happily settled into drinks at the Marina in an atmosphere of cool jazz and soft footed staff and admired the sun setting behind the masts of the yachts. It was all very civilised. And the coffee came with a little Italian biscuit.

We exposed them to our friends and they didn’t run away and there were no fights, always a plus.

They were, in short, the perfect guests, they brought tons of booze, mucked in, admired our dogs (even the smelly one), made their own bed, ate everything put in front of them, were funny and charming and clever and genuine. Even Evils the cat approved and unusually for him climbed on Liam’s lap and settled in for the long haul – normally he just randomly attacks people.

On Sunday morning they insisted on taking us for breakfast and as we left the house Liam asked, “Which car are we taking?”

“We’re walking” I said, “its not far.” Jack winced noticeably but gamely girded his loins and politely prepared to trek to brekkie.

A three minute walk down the road took us to the Koy Sofrasi with its usual Sunday horde of Mercedes and BMW’s parked outside. Inside, in the steamy heat, well to do Turkish families were going about the leisurely business of Sunday brunch, reading the Sunday papers, discussing the news and steadily working their way through the rainbow of preserves, jams, salads and cheeses that make up a traditional Turkish breakfast. I nodded to a couple of lawyers I recognised and smiled at the jolly owner stationed behind the cash register and the ladies in the open kitchen and we took our seats next to the soba so I could practice for the menopause – god it was hot!

“None of this was what I was expecting.” said Liam, just to prove that what I write isn’t complete flannel. “I could get used to this!”

“Not yet” said Jack quickly, “We’re still city boys!”

“No, not yet” said Liam, clearly taken with a day dream of a rural retirement, “But one day, when we decide to settle down permanently.”

After a leisurely breakfast, more chatter and life story swopping they said their goodbyes with much hugging and kissing and promises to return in the Spring to see the valley at it’s prettiest when the blossom turns the orchards to white and pink clouds and poppies bloom between the olive trees.

“The only problem with living here” said Liam through the open car window as they prepared to depart, “I’d have to learn how to reverse the car and I haven’t got a clue!” and with that they disappeared, slowly, down the narrow streets of the koy, the sound of Kylie on the stereo vanishing into the distance. A little bit of glamour heading back to their natural environment.

I’m not even a niche, I’m barely a nook!

Sometime during the night before last, when I was tossing and turning and being woken by the unfamiliar drumming of rain on the roof, my website went past 100,000 visitors.

Now that’s not much in internet terms but for a non viral, non porny, personal site like mine it’s a huge number, and when I think that 100,000 times some person some where chose to come here I feel a bit overwhelmed.

That’s a lot of people showing an interest in a tiny part of a vibrant country that is so full of fascinating niches that my little village is barely a nook market, never mind a niche.

But that’s the great thing about Turkey; it is all about the niche, finding it and filling it. From ancient sites to modern thrills, from tours for Christians to tours for veterans, from Gallipoli to Troy, selling you a carpet, selling you a smit on the street, giving you a close encounter with a Gucci fake or a close encounter with the wild in a quad safari into the mountains, that’s Turkey, finding ways to develop a minority interest. I think it is one of the things that makes this such an energetic and fizzy feeling country, it has such enthusiasm for niche business, no wonder the economy is growing.

Speaking of niche interests I’m off in the next few days – once I get a decent light day for filming – to explore the nearby ski resort of Bozdag by Ödemis. I’ve been meaning to go for ages having toured the area early one autumn before the snow started a few years ago. It was outstandingly beautiful then, dramatic scenery and narrow twisting roads with each turn serving up another outstanding view, and driving back from Izmir on Christmas Eve I passed the signs to it and it reminded me just how close it is. So I’m going to take my Christmas pressie, a digital camcorder, and see if I can get some decent footage to inflict on you.

Part four of my Expat Christmas in Turkey is coming up after the New Year, but in the mean time thank you for reading and thank you for taking me over the 100k, getting there has been a milestone in my head for a long time and I am absurdly proud that we got there.

My Beloved Husband

The day after I wrote my last entry on this site my beloved husband, Phil, died in Turkey.

It was sudden and shocking.  It happened at the end of a lovely day where we had pottered around the house and garden and enjoyed the sunshine.  Just a normal day in Kirazli.

He was only 50.  He was full of life and fun and if I hadn’t stood there and seen it happen I would not believe it.  Sometimes I still don’t believe it anyway.

I was the last thing he saw, mine was the last voice he heard. I am as priviledged by that as I was priviledged to share his life.

Phil’s funeral was held in Rugby in Warwickshire on 9th May 2008.  Eight years before he had left Rugby to come with me as we began our adventures around the world. This is the tribute I read at his funeral.

Phil’s Eulogy

My name is Karen and I am Phil’s wife, I’m that weird woman he ran off round the world with.  These are our daughters Sian and Naomi. Phil and I were very, very proud them, they will be all they can be.  And we three are very proud of Phil.

You see Phil was the kind of man to be incredibly proud of.  In the last few years we had travelled the world, having adventures, building unique homes in strange places and all his qualities came together to make him incredibly good at that. 

It takes a certain type of vision at look at a patch of jungle or a weed infested ruin and see what you could build there and then actually make it happen.  Phil had that vision.  You need courage and faith in yourself to take the risk, to go into a totally foreign environment and work there to create things out of the ordinary. You need a willingness to learn and adapt and you need the energy to see it through and the patience to overcome the daily trials, Phil had all those qualities.  It also helps, if like Phil, you are a bloody good engineer who can turn his hand to anything!

We built homes in earthquake zones and hurricane zones.  We built a house in Mexico that after it was finished endured 48 hours beneath the biggest hurricane that ever stormed across the Atlantic and emerged unscathed.  That was how Phil built things, you build it strong, you build it to last, you get it right and it stands forever.

I think of those homes now, all of them are well engineered, strong and easy to live in, but they are all also intensely romantic.  Inside the engineer was also a poet.  On an island in the Caribbean is Casa De Mariposas, House of Butterflies, sitting on the skyline, rising out of the jungle like a little castle, looking east to the sun rising out of a dark sea.  A place to escape to with someone you love.  A place to sit and watch the fire flies play in the garden after a Caribbean day of white powder sand and pina coladas. 

In a tiny village in Turkey, with narrow winding streets, beneath the pine forests of Gul Dar is Kirazli, and here we built the Muses House and the Artists House with their sun washed courtyards and honey stone walls and splashing waterfalls and  terracotta roofs.  I can hear the wind in the pine trees and the cake seller calling out as he walks through the streets, I see the cherry orchards in bloom and the poppies growing between the olive trees.  Here Phil built retreats, quiet places to inspire the artists and the writers and to sooth the stressed. 

So many places, so many memories.  If I am not careful I drown in them.  We had so many adventures, we travelled so far.  I see him laughing in the sun, filthy dirty with the men after a day of pouring concrete, I see him golden brown and smiling, making people laugh all through those gorgeous Aegean nights.  I see him examining the black scorpion that lived in the garden in Mexico, I see his eyes the first time a barracuda crossed his path, I see him pointing to the eagles that circle above our valley.  I see him living.  Really living and experiencing it all and learning from it.

And because of that, despite all of this I know I am lucky, we were lucky, we had something most people spend their whole lives looking for and never finding. I feel such wonder for that.  Between Phil and I there is nothing left unsaid, no regrets, no words we should have said, every day he knew he was loved and was told how beautiful he was.  I worshipped the ground he walked on and he was cool with that! 

It ended how he would have wanted it, fast, clean, one flash of light and he got the answers to the questions we all ask ourselves in the middle of the night. 

Now we remember, we remember the things he loved and the example he set.  He loved thunderstorms and the sound of rainfall, sunny mornings and long nights, he loved fast cars and women wearing high heels and bluebells in spring and high speed internet access.  He believed in hard work and learning new things and experiencing all of life and that you don’t just have to have one dream, you can have hundreds. 

And finally I think about the music, because the music is so much part of Phil.  I think of the soundtracks he played to other people’s lives on a hundred Saturday nights, and the music that wove its way into our lives as we made our own soundtrack.  And it’s a tough call to decide what to play to send him on his way.  Should it be Rod Stewart singing “You’re in my heart” because that lyric will always make me cry – he really was the warmest thing I ever found. Should it be the Santa Esmeralda track “Please Don’t let me be Misunderstood” but that’s probably more appropriate for me!  Should it be “Somewhere down the Crazy River” by Robbie Robertson or should it be Blue Oyster Cult “Don’t Fear the Reaper” as he several times suggested it should be!  But at the end of the day, and this is the end of the day, for Phil it was about the music not the lyrics and about great guitarists and great riffs and what it must feel like to stand on stage in the centre of a whirlpool of sound and love.  So here is Lindsey Buckingham playing Big Love, and this is Phil, playing air guitar all the way, part of the music.

* * * * * * * * * *

I miss him dreadfully.

The woods are lonley, dark and deep,
and I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.

May 2008
posted 11-05-2008