2011
03.31

SYNOPSIS:

A day spent at the innocent looking fishing village Ayvalik which has quite a heavy past.

I was going to go on the Jewish Synagogue tour in Izmir.  Izmir is the only town in Turkey with a sizable – if 1700 left of many tens of thousands can be called sizable – Jewish population.  But in my ignorance, I pictured daily tours which I could join once I got there, far from it.  You need to register your passport in advance, go through a special tour agency which requests special permission to adhere to strict security procedure.  A 2009 bombing incident in Istanbul has not been forgotten…   For one person?  The price would be formidable.  There went plan A.

Izmir is a port town with a nice promenade, fish restaurants, a couple of archaeological sites and a noteworthy museum.  But it also is an industrial town of a few million people, spread out endlessly. For one day, bogged down with my luggage, the thought of going to Izmir was the opposite of appealing.

Plan B fell into my lap over breakfast at the Athena Pension in Bergama.  There were Sean and Vince whom I had already met the day before at a carpet shop and again at the pension in the evening where they, Aydin the owner of the pension, and a Turkish guest pitched in to empty the 1.5 liter bottle of red wine I had bought just in case there would be a few people interested in drinking it.  Athena Pension is one of those lovely family pensions with just a few rooms in a renovated Ottoman house.  We had spent the evening chatting away and I rather liked the two.  Sean was originally from Germany, but has been living in Italy for over a decade.  He is a flight attendant.  Vince is Italian and a banker.

I had put my foot into my mouth at the carpet shop:  Sean was there looking at carpets for “our bedroom”.  I told him that if my husband (or significant other) would buy a carpet without me, there would be trouble:  Such a major decision, so many patterns and colors to choose from.  He smiled, pointing to Vince and said:  “We are both here”.  Well, if my gaydar would be working, I would have figured that out on my own!  We got a good laugh out of that and then, as things turn out, we happened to stayed at the same pension.

Sean and Vince were heading up North along the coast of the Aegean Sea and they took me to the next little town so I could be at the sea for a day.  It was the most gorgeous, warm and sunny spring day, just right for such an excursion.  That’s how I ended up in Ayvalik, population less than 8000, my kind of town.

The first thing you see in the center of town alongside the fishing boats is the obligatory Atatürk statue.  It’s harder in Ayvalik to get away with the simple statement I heard from Ali, the bored salesman in Selcuk when I asked him about the fate of the Kurds and the Greeks under Ataturk:  “It’s a lie!”  That was all he had to say about it.  End of story.  No need to find out more facts or details.  It’s a lie.  First I was tempted to educate him but then I realized how many much more educated people I know in America will respond with the same line when confronted with realities they cannot bring in line with their preconceived political or religious expectations, or with their wishful thinking.  I have heard it more than once:  “I don’t believe that”.  “It’s a lie”.  “It’s all propaganda.”

In Ayvalik however, you just have to look around to see the remains of the Greek stone houses, some restored, but many still left to an indefinite future of decay.  Even moreso, all the mosques look conspicuously like churches – they are.  The minarets are clearly later additions and often even freestanding.  Yes, Ayvalik was one of those towns which was almost completely emptied out in the famous “people exchange” of the 1920’s.  Luckily, people did not have to go far.  Right outside of Ayvalik, no more than ten kilometers away is the Greek border and Lesvos as well as Chios are two sizable Greek islands not far, on which much of the population ended up.  In return, many of the Turks who live in town have been imported from just those islands sharing the same fate as their Greek counterparts just going the opposite direction.

Today, Ayvalik seems to be a resort town for locals.  Not the resort type you see when a town goes fashionable for international tourism.  But plenty of hotels, seaside restaurants, and excursion boats as well as diving facilities attest to many visitors.  Who would not like this town?  It’s sprawling up the hills in small winding alleys, many of which are too narrow for cars.  It has a wonderful range of colors covering the plastered walls and plenty of charm.  The church/mosques were all closed, but were attractive from the outside.  Away from the bustling center of town, animals were roaming around from cows to goats, chicken to cats and dogs.  Everything seemed laid back and welcoming.

I enjoyed winding down and taking it easy before another big day of travel back to Istanbul; this time less to do sightseeing than to wrap up some loose ends – shipping back some souvenirs, visiting the archaeological museum, going to a Sufi dance performance.  After that, my time here will be over and the next chapter, Iraq, will start.

The evening was spent with Ayden and the Turkish guest drinking whiskey and eating chocolate.  When I asked Ayden if he was a Muslim, he said:  “Of course”.  But then you can’t drink, I responded.  “I can.  I am a Turkish Muslim”, was his answer with a sly smile.  I rather liked that answer.  But the whiskey was bad; a present of some former guests.  It was palatable only with lots of chocolate.  I can’t say I have been on a diet here…

Good night.