Sunday 29 June 2014

Antakya Part 3: A Good Place

The only discordant note of the hours spent in Samandağ was the trip to the local scarf store, after our prayer session at the shrine. The discord was of my doing because I couldn’t find a scarf to suit my taste. I wanted something solid in cotton, all the store had to offer was a colourful array of exquisite silk scarves. The proprietor, a well-groomed grey-haired man, didn’t seem to read the signs that he was dealing with a woman who doesn’t want to be sold something she doesn’t want. The moment he put a cloud of a scarf around my sweaty neck, I wanted to get out. Then when he knotted another one around Th’s neck, I knew we were done. Th is a far worse customer than I am.
            We settled for a bottle of raki flavoured with bay leaves. An item that the good shopkeeper, whose shop after all is on the historic Silk Road, would throw in for any customer who buys as much as he would like them to buy.
            As we drove out of Samandağ, we trailed a motorbike. On the back sat a women, a load of vegetables on her lap and a green scarf, the kind I longed to have, on her head. When her driver revved up the motor, the scarf slipped from her head and bobbed up and down as he navigated the bumpy road.

At the Church of St Peter we were in for another disappointment. We knew the church was closed due to restorations and would be until 2018. We didn’t know we would be stopped by a barrier on the road, where a man on a plastic lawn chair made sure no one walked past.  St Peter’s, or St Pierre as it is called in Antakya, is the oldest site of a Christian Church. In the early centuries of our Christian civilization, the church was hewn out of rock. During the Crusades a facade was added.
We took in some of the graves gashed out of the mountain wall and the face of Charon, the boatman of Greek mythology who took the dead over the river Styx to hell. His likeness was carved from a rock here, in the second century CE.
            As we drove up, a street urchin started yelling at us and motioning to park in the abandoned lot some way down from the church. As we got out, other kids came and joined us.
“They haven’t even been home from school yet,” Leila said. She had a conversation with them because they had useful information. One of the boys shared sunflowers with Th and both he and Leila handed out coins for their trouble.
            Life is good when school is out. But we still didn't get past the guard to at least see the outside of the church.

Meanwhile, I took in the surroundings. The whole area has an industrial feel to it but that is bound to change once a Turkish steel magnate will open the Hilton franchise, with its museum on the ground floor. He could have finished the project for 30 million had his crew not run into a snag.
           The snag, the largest mosaic floor of the Roman Byzantine time ever found, meant that the government and an archeological crew would get involved. A deal was struck between the entrepreneur and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to built a museum that will hold the floor. The hotel will go on pilers above it. From the lobby and certain rooms, I would think very expensive ones, guests will be able to admire the floor. The museum will also be accessible from below to the general public.

            A worthwhile project, it is now costing Mr Asfuroğlu and his son100 million dollars. And it still isn’t finished. But both are dedicated to this project. They see it as an opportunity to be one of the few entrepreneurs, if not the only one to date, who will put their wealth to good use in order to preserve history and share it with the public.

The next day, we decided to strike back with a vengeance. We planned on visiting every Christian Church in the city and take in the museum with its mosaics, as well. The experience would then be topped off with a funeral at the Greek Orthodox Church.
First stop, the Methodist Church of South Korea. We had already experienced that introducing yourself to someone here, introduces you to a history lesson. The Methodist Church of South Korea is housed in a former French government building. We read on a plaque that the key could be obtained from the Agape coffeehouse. We rounded the bend and found ourselves before a large glass, iron-framed door, painted Greek island blue.
            On the door a cardboard sign read: Little Korea. In English.
            We stepped in and looked about the large and empty space. A young man appeared. He looked at us cautiously. He wasn’t Korean. He could actually have been Greek and when he found out Th was, he said, kalimera. Th, guarded lest he be converted on the spot, smiled and continued the conversation in English.
            We soon learned that the church has 35 members. We already knew that the priest is from South Korean and that faithful will come all the way from South Korea for a Christmas pilgrimage. The 35 members from Antakya are shepherded by their Korean pastor. The Koreans chose Antakya because of its openness to Christians.
            “In other parts of Turkey,” the young man told us, “we meet in secret at one another's homes. We get persecuted.”
            “Like the first Christians?”
            After that, he smiled openly and started to tell us how he was part of the Good News. Meanwhile we had arrived in the hall of the church where about fifty chairs stood neatly arranged around an altar. On each side of the altar, a chair and against each chair an electrical guitar. 
            New ways for an old concept.
On our way to the Roman Catholic Church of Turkey, we walked by the tiny pink synagogue and the older brick building that also houses a synagogue. Neither were accessible. Then the old mosque, behind which the Catholic church. Antakya takes great pride that a mosque and a Christian Church stand shoulder to shoulder. Twice we went to that church. Once that Saturday, and once again on Sunday. At Mass time. But neither on Sunday could any amount of ringing on the attached doorbell get an answer. 

We even spoke to the woman who runs one of two adjacent souvenir stores that carry lots of
ecumenical trinkets. She couldn’t rouse the priest, either. We left, disappointed and hoping he was alright.

But never mind, we soon were trailing our way back to the centre through the ancient streets of Old Antakya. By the river, we found the museum, next to it a park. The museum is large enough but only a few halls were open. This meant that we got in for 3TL a piece instead of the usual 8TL. Three dollars for two tickets and a wealth of displays of Roman and Byzantine murals of the third to the fifth century after Jesus of Nazareth sent his apostles out. Once the Hilton is finished and more excavations will yield further riches, this museum will probably no longer be such a bargain.

After a light lunch, a nap, and then the künefe, only one bite for me because I was still being gentle with my stomach, we found Leila at the hotel lobby. She walked with us to the church, where she left us in the care of her sister. The Saint Paul church, which is called the Greek Orthodox Church of Antakya and All the Middle East, is one of the churches serving the barely more than 2000 Christian faithful of Antakya. It belongs to one of five patriarchates associated with the city. The patriarch of this church has his holy see in Syria. Again we were at one of the oldest Christian churches in the world except, because of earthquakes, this present building dates back to the nineteenth century. A tenacious community that will not let go of its religion, it mirrors the other minuscule Churches in the city, and minuscule here does not refer to the size of the buildings.
            We soon learned that when one of their own dies, the whole Christian community, regardless their Apostolic See, turns out. The building was full and the courtyard also. Against the fence the familiar standing sprays of flowers and ribbons. Leila’s sister steered us through the crowd and we found a place at the side where we got a good view of what was going on. The open casket in front, the priest and his acolytes uttering heart rending chants in Greek, Turkish, and Arabic, the women with their coiffed hair, some of it dyed, people coming and going, and the occasional cellphone going off, which was then answered. We could have been at any Greek Orthodox church.
            When the service was over, a woman took my hand in one of hers, ran the other one in a soft caress over my face and told me I was beautiful. Then she kissed me on both cheek.  Leila’s mother. From the sister we learned that the mother loved us the moment she saw a picture of us Leila showed her. We walked with our arms around one another toward the courtyard where tables and plastic lawn chairs were lined up for the faithful, and their guests.
            I travelled back in time and considered how those who came from far away and professed the same faith would have been welcomed. Not that our religious views were questioned but we had been identified as Greek Orthodox and Catholic. Lapsed or not never entered the conversation. And it wouldn't have mattered. We had come to the church. It was all that counted.
            Women with large trays full of cups of coffee and glasses of water were doing the rounds. Th and I sat back and surveyed the gathering. “This is what ecclesia means,” he said. “The gathering of community. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
            In a place where the number of Christians is dwindling, it is apparent that people have understood this very basic function of church, a place to stay connected. Here no swaggering priests trying to impress the gathering, here no notables holding sway over others. Here just people gathered to mourn the death of one of their dwindling numbers.

During the service many men and women quietly wiped away tears.
While power-hungry leaders fill the airwaves, the quiet continuation of people gathering seldom makes the headlines and yet it is this which sustains me and helps me survive. These kinds of gatherings quietly carve out a civilization that can withstand the onslaught of conflict and war. I looked at Th, who had struck up a conversation with an Aramaic Christian man. This man lived for forty years in Germany but wanted to grow old in his beloved Antakya.
            And who could blame him. Life is slow here, people take time for one another, the weather is pleasant, and the coffee is great. What more do you need?
            Soon, Leila’s mother took my hand again and kissed my cheek. She then led us to give our condolences to the grieving family. As I lined up with her to pay my respects to people I never met before, I knew I had become part of this wave of humanity. 


Monday 23 June 2014

Antakya Part 2: Of Daphne, Leila, and old trees

            We were set to meet at 10 am for our tour of the area. She was just checking in. Her smile was kind, polite, and with a hint of reservation. She didn’t know us, we not her, and still we agreed on a full day in a car together. Any attempt at English would inadvertently slide into German on her part. Luckily, we understood enough to get by and that was a good thing because, as the day progressed, we learned that getting to know Leila and her personal story, was a history lesson in itself.
Our first stop, the waterfalls of Herbiye, where according to local lore Apollo pursued Daphne and where she was turned into a tree. The tears of this tragedy have been falling ever since. Her tears, and even Apollo’s, if I could believe what the plaque read.
            The myth exists in many different version. It is a twisted tale that only grew more so as I perused the internet, the never-ending and not always accurate fount of information. Scholars are needed, now more than ever, to keep us from acting on wrong information. One travel agency that promotes this particular spot, put a “horny Zeus” in hot pursuit of Daphne. Another travel guide has her turned into a tree when Apollo tried “to have her.” Here the agent of the metamorphosis is Mother Earth herself. 
            Even though a poet is allowed to embellish, I humbly accepted that Herbiye might not the place where it happened. And still, while I was reading the plaque that explains this story in a few sentences, I had a moment. The hair on my arms stood up straight.
            Leila noticed and we exchanged a look. When a woman is thus wronged, tears will flow and poetry will follow. No matter where you celebrate this event.
            Maybe another kind of energy had captured me. After all, the effects of hangovers linger and Herbiye had been a place of luxury and pleasure during Roman times. Or maybe it was the energy of all that water rushing in rivulets, gushing from springs, and running over smooth rocks, setting algae to play in the ripples. Something happened, and my sense of enchantment only heightened when I could barely discern where human embellishments started in this natural setting and where they ended.
After leading us by the merchants’ stalls and their useless wares, sending a kind and polite Merhaba to all, Leila guided us through a Peter Pan like land. Platforms were sticking out from rocks. Satyr heads, pipes and rocks spouted water. We descended the steep incline following the flow of tears underneath the trees against the rocky slope of the mountain. We navigated by the many patios with tables and chairs for weekend tourists, who come here to enjoy the constant rush and trickle of water amidst green vegetation. There are tables that actually sit on a platforms filled with water so your feet can soak up the healing powers of Daphne’s tears.

            Down and down we went, following the remaking of an ancient myth in order to suit present day needs. If Greeks could reward their poets laureate with a crown made of bay leaves on account of a woman who chose to be a tree rather than be ravished by a god, then Antakya can soak its feet in her tears. One day someone will want to restore this place to its original intent but for now, weekend people own it.
         But we couldn’t linger. Soon Leila was navigating the hotel’s SUV  skillfully by tricky snarls of traffic, potholes, and up the mountain to find the last remaining Armenian village in Turkey. Trying to undo the knots in my tongue that still refused to utter the language I learned in school a long time ago, I wanted to converse with this woman who now touched my knee to draw my attention to a group of women.
            “Always working,” she said. “Women.”
            I nodded, even though these particular women seemed to be out for a stroll. But I got the gist. If not working now then they either just were or soon would be again. Leila then half turned her head towards Th, who had graciously offered to let me sit in the front so that nausea wouldn’t catch up with me.
            "In the Armenian village the women do the work and the men play backgammon," she said. 
            Meanwhile, the road in front of us had started to stream with happy children, some oblivious to passing cars. “School is finished today,” Leila told us. “For three whole months.” She then stopped and waited until the youth in the middle of the road became aware of us. When you are a kid, summer is just a long string of hot days.
            I managed to ask her if she had children. “Yes, two,” she said. They still live in Germany, where she lived for twenty three years before she came back here. She will spend time there in summer to be with her young women.
            When we stopped at the Vakifli church, a few men were indeed sitting outside playing backgammon. Others looked on. “You see,” she said. “And the women run the orchards and make the food.” We visited the tiny, refurbished church and courtyard and then had a coffee, tea for me. The coffee house is part of the building, the only building apart from one other house we ended up seeing there. Only 135 people still remain in the village. Five hundred of the children of the village have settled in Istanbul and send money back to support a newfound trade: organic oranges and other vegetables that supply Europe.
            The air was pristine, the surroundings quiet.

            “It’s a healthy place,” Leila said before she pointed to the left of her. “Women bake bread there every Sunday.”
            I got up to take a look. A flat iron lid that covers a hole to hold coal was all I could see and I wondered until it dawned on me that she wasn’t talking of leavened bread. She was talking about the oval flatbreads with their thin crusts puffing out like fat balloons.
            She then asked if I wanted to see the handcrafts the women make and we obliged. Tourism is part of what sustains the village and so does money from the government. The
relationship of Turkey with the Armenians is a long and strained one. It is a sensitive issue for Turkey, which has not yet agreed officially that what happened at the beginning of last century was a genocide.
            Genocide and bloody history seemed unreal in this quiet, still place where bottles of oil and preserves lined the wall. I decided on some olive soap with bay leaf oil.

            From Vakifli, we descended deeper into the Musa mountain, the Moses mountain. It seems only fitting that an area so steeped in early religion should have a mountain by that name. In the middle of the mussulman village, as Leila called it, grows a thousand year old plantain. It has 7.5 meters in circumference and creeps up into the sky with gnarled branches.
            We found a shady spot near the tree and sat down. Then we would get up to drink some of the spring water that forever gushes from a faucet near the tree. Then we’d sit down again. “The village is always good,” Leila said. And we nodded as we drank in the pristine air and savoured what we are so diligently destroying on this planet.

            A woman walked by wearing harem pants. I thought she was the same woman I’d seen earlier until I realized this was a young woman. She also wore the scarf knotted in the back. I decided I would get myself some of those pants, held down at the ankle but free and easy for the rest.
            As we were sitting around watching the world come and go, we learned more about Leila. She is an Arab. A Christian Arab. A Greek Orthodox Christian Arab. Th told her we tried to visit the Greek Orthodox church but that it had been closed. “I’ll take you,” she said. “Tomorrow.”
            While I was trying to take some pictures of people taking pictures in front of the tree, she got on her mobile. By the time she was finished we were invited to attend a funeral at 5 pm the next day.
            “All the women wear black,” she said.
            “I don’t have the right clothes,” I said.
            No problem.
            During the remainder of the day we would learn more about her family. They all live on one street in Antakya. They occupy practically the whole street. Her sister also lived in Germany but she wants to go back there. She and Leila talk German if they don’t want their mother to understand. Their mother’s mother was French but she didn’t pass the language on to her children. In the family Arab is still spoken. And Arab is also used in the Greek Orthodox church in Antakya. I learn later that people do not readily advertise their arabic origin in a country where the term “Arab” can still be used in derogatory fashion.

            Soon we had climbed the top of the mountain range and were rounding the bend down to the coast. Below us the beach drew a long straight line between the land and the sea, above us the sky was a piercing blue. As we wound our way down I kept peering at the horizon. About a hundred kilometres from where we were, across the sea, the island of Cyprus. Another place of strategy and early Christian activity.
            As we were driving toward the coastline, a mountain materialized out of nothing. It kept disappearing until we were close enough and it became part of the land instead of the sky.
            And then we were at the sea. The coastline not spectacular. A few dilapidated restaurants and fishing boats. And there the Tunnel built by Romans and waiting for us to explore. It had rained a lot the day before and Leila had not been able to take people far, but today the water had drained enough for us to go in deep. The going was a bit rough but we managed. A man was selling delicious apricots along the way and a few very polite young men helped us get back up a steep slope.
The Tunnel of Titus was built from 69 to 79 AD and is considered an engineering marvel. It’s hewn out of rock and is about a mile long. It has arches, bridges, and deep in the tunnel Th had a conversation with a crab that was sitting on a nearby rock. Behind him a shaft of sunlight painted a straight line down.
            But then we were hungry. Hungry for fish, sure, but not right at the restaurants where we were. Instead, Leila drove us to Deniz, the seaside resort of Samandağ. Resort is a big word for a humble place where the main tourism comes from the province of Hatay only. When you have places like Bodrum, Izmir, and Antalya, you can afford to be careless. What it meant for us, though, was that we were immersed in local culture, without outside interference. The food was great, the place unspoiled by too much greed.

            Before we ate, Leila took us to the shrine that puzzles us even today. None of our friends had an idea what Th was talking about when he described it to them, once back at work. Some didn’t even know there was a place called Deniz, meaning sea, by Samandağ. It wasn’t until some tricky internet navigation on my part that I learned that the shrine we saw is a place where both Christians and Muslims come to pray for good health. But what exactly we were walking around is still not clear, except that the shrine is in honour of Saint Hizir, who may well be the oldest god of the Middle East, predating all others. It is said he might be Elijah and shrines such as this one can be found all along Mediterranean in the Middle East.
            As we drove into the centre of Deniz we saw the building. It squats low and white and has a dome on top that makes it look like a shrine. In front, beggars hold out their hand for a coin. Shoes have to be removed, and women cover their heads. Scarves are on the house.
            By the time, I took off my shoes I was in the zone and zeroed in on a lilac scarf with tassels, the kind women in the region traditionally wear. I like the way these scarves are worn, once around the head and then with a knot at the back. Just cover some of your hair and leave your face and neck proud and free. I promised myself there and then to buy such a scarf to go with the harem pants.
            After Th and I entered, we followed the stream of people and walked around once, our hands clasped behind. Back at the start the soft but firm energy of a woman held me back like a shield.
            She motioned to my scarf and nodded in approval. Then she took my hands and showed me how to hold them and motioned that I walk around the stone three times. She indicated again how beautifully she thought I knotted my scarf by kissing her fingers and touching my face. I wanted to sink in her arms and have her tell me stories until I fell sleep. Instead, I walked like a good girl and told my husband to do the same. Social control can be firm in the gentlest of ways. Here I was walking around what I understood to be the white washed stump of an old tree, with my hands heavenwards, hoping some good might come from it.

            I did her proud imitating others backing out of this airy and light building that holds a cumbersome nondescript shrine. And even though my mother was gone, I still motioned to my husband to fall in line. Once outside we saw cars circling the building in the same fashion. Three times around.
          When we finally left Deniz, I looked back once. A cloud had tumbled down like a fallen angel on the land before the disappearing mountain.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Antakya Part 1: When gods are with us

The trip to Antakya in the Hatay province, a chunk of land peeled away from Syria, had been planned weeks in advance and duly anticipated. Antakya is known as Antioch to those who know their Acts of the Apostles. It is the place of the Harbiye waterfalls that still shed Apollo’s and Daphne’s tears and keeps classical scholars, sculptures, painters, and poets mesmerized. It is the place where crusaders fought. Today it is in the news as the province where Syrian refugees live in a city of tents, heavily guarded and behind barbed wire. It is also a place where a Turkish man is building a Hilton franchise but ran into an unexpected snag.
It is a place described by travel guides as not offering any spectacular sites, a rather mediocre city, with a landscape nothing to write home about. The province, of which Antakya is the capital, was once the Republic of Hatay for about a year in 1938-1939 and, as I was to learn, it is remarkable in every way. 
For one who couldn’t even sit on a swing as a child without getting nauseous, being on boats, planes, and in cars and streetcars as much as I am these days, things can get tricky. The day before we were set to leave for Antakya, it all caught up with me. But, with careful management I made it to the airport in the morning. As I walked back from the washroom, Leonardo DiCaprio’s friendly face looked at me from a larger than life, black and white, Saat&Saat poster. He smiled and said, “Hey baby, don’t worry. It’ll all be okay.”
When I got back to our table in the airport lounge, my husband looked at me for a bit. Then he said: “And we’re going to a place where the main attraction is food.” I looked at Leo. He winked back. Then he stepped out of the poster, put his arm around me, and the next thing I knew I had landed in Hatay. 
When we walked the tarmac from the plane to the airport, a hot wind almost blew me over. Careless white clouds amassed toward Antakya. There they grew a deep grey. The quality of air and white mountains sprinkled with dark green vegetation told me we were in the Mediterranean. 

The new airport is made of a white frame of thick pipes and glass walls. The roofs undulate like white waves. It is airy and it is light and it announces to the world that this province is poised to be put on the map again. 
On the half hour bus ride towards Antakya I had the refuge camps of Boynuyogun on my mind. I had seen photographs of the rows of white peaked tents, with the Turkish crest burning like a flame on their roofs, and the walls around the camp topped with barbed wire and heavily guarded. I knew they were near Antakya. This tent city of almost a 100 000 Syrians wasn’t far from my mind as we joined the quiet highway, but then it started to rain and then we entered Antakya, and first impressions soon pushed away the fate of the Syrians. 
The city came upon me as just another Middle Eastern city of clean but messy streets of white-washed low-rises, interspersed with more embellished ones and, in between, shops and workshops in concrete hulls with large storefront windows in aluminum frames. As I looked, my head was computing the information I had gathered about this place.
This city was not only visited by a Greek god and home to a nymph, who was turned into a tree, it also had a community of Hellenistic Jews two centuries before Barnabas spread the word of Jesus. He eventually brought the Hellenistic Jew, Saul, here. He is the one who fell from his horse when he was struck by the voice of the god that rules the religions of this city, and later became Paul and the most important proselytizer of Christianity amongst gentiles. Antioch is also the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians and the city was the fourth largest in the Roman empire. It was again one of the largest cities under the rule of Byzantium. 

Antioch was taken from Byzantium in the eight century by Arabs and called Antakya for the first time. It was then retaken. A strategic point during the Crusades, it was immortalized by minstrels for the Siege of Antioch. Back then the city had a fortified wall and a citadel. None of that was visible to me as we made our way through land that sits on a fault line and was shaken up so badly so often that much of old Antioch lies buried under the sediment of the Orontes River. 
What still is visible are the buildings put there by the French about a century ago when Antakya belonged to Syria. Our hotel, The Liwan, is one of these buildings.
A boutique hotel, it is housed in the restored Embassy of Syria. The floors are covered with old tiles that paint patterns, the velvet chairs in the front lobby that you access by going first up a few stairs and then down a few, are set off richly against the stone walls. The man behind the desk got up and came to shake our hand. As we signed in, we were offered tea. 
It was our first encounter with the overwhelming kindness of the people of Antakya. 
We were given a choice of rooms, one with sloping roof and a dormer, the other with high ceilings but no windows that we could see. The building was constructed on the model of old buildings that prevented the outside world from seeing the women of the household. Only the staircase in the middle at the front of the building has windows and a few other rooms that are now called deluxe suites. Breakfast is served on the second floor where windows and doors open out in an inner courtyard. In traditional homes this would have been the place where women could come out, enjoy the open air and one another’s company. It now has an opaque roof. 

Breakfast offers a display of all kinds of foods laid out on a long table: white cheeses, boiled eggs, breads, cheese pies and sweets, fruits, olives, dates, salads. At the very end, fare for North-Americans and Northern Europeans: cereals, milk, and jams. For drinks there is the urn with tea, always the urn with tea, one spout with an almost black liquid and the other, clear hot water to dilute your tea to taste. There is coffee, juice, and there is ayran, the buttermilk that people drink with everything and that is very refreshing.
The remainder of our first day, before that wonderful breakfast, was spent exploring our possibilities and agreeing on a guided tour with a hotel car and driver to show us the most important spots in the vicinity: the waterfalls of Hirbiye, the only remaining Armenian village in Turkey, and the tunnel made by Romans down at the sea. Our hotelier showed us this with the kind of enthusiasm that makes you feel as if you are the only people he will ever do this for. The same when he showed us what there was to see in present-day old Antakya. There the Protestant church, settled by South Koreans we already know, and there the synagogue, the Catholic church, then the bazar and the mosque, beautiful and very old. And here, just around the corner, the Greek Orthodox Church. 
“In Antakya all religions are friends,” he said.
“Any good places for food?” my husband asked. “Künefe?”
The hotelier put some marks in the vicinity of the bazar and the mosque. “First you eat something,” he said. “Not too big a meal. Then, three hours later, you go for künefe. And I will see if I can get you a driver for tomorrow.” 
And with another comment how we are such positive people, he waved us off in search of food. Me with tentative expectations, Th eager. He tasted the künefe, which is an Antakya specialty, in one of the few places in Istanbul that makes it. One of our local kebab restaurants has it on the menu but has not had it available. 
We squeezed our way past the throngs walking up and down the bazar, we spotted places that sell the dough for künefe and we saw the places our hotelier pointed out for kebab but my husband was on a trail. When this happens, he seems an animal on the prowl. He looks and walks on. Sometimes he looks, considers, and walks on. He does not exchange words. I have learned to just let him over the years, because I know he will find what he is looking for. 
Life is good to him that way.
As we propelled ourselves out of the market at the other end we entered new territory. This is not tourist land. This is a place where life functions on little money. Doners are only a buck fifty. 
He found a table free. Most of these places are tiny with only three or four tables. We were given a long rolled up thin pita filled with chicken, some tomato and salad stuff, which had been gently dribbled by a sauce before it was rolled up. I checked in with my stomach and having been given the go ahead for the chicken and some of the pita, I opened my doner and gingerly started picking away at this delicious food. All the while I was eating, I was trying to understand why something as simple as this can be so good in some kitchens and so unremarkable in others. 
It was among the best I have had and I wasn’t even tasting much. With a tea to close the deal, I put my hand to my stomach, happy that I could eat again.
Then we looped our way back through the bazar and the various smells and aromas that drift towards us from the many stalls. It is a substantial bazar which branches everywhere. The hunt was on again. This time for the famed künefe, the pastry made of a mozzarella type cheese encased in shredded wheat and doused with syrup. It doesn’t sound like much, it didn’t even sound appealing to me but it is what everyone told Th we must try.
We found the place. Near the river. It is all they make. That and coffee and tea. I agreed to a coffee and I took a bite of Th’s künefe but I still couldn’t  taste much. What I did taste, however, told me this would be a fare far too rich. I later also consider that maybe drinking coffee was just a bit too ambitious. But I was okay. 
Th was a convert to the treat; I chose to hold back judgement.  
When we got back to the hotel we were introduced to Leila, a beautiful woman with long dark hair, eyes like dark coffee, and a sweet smile. Our driver and guide for the next day. 

In the evening we went out again and found a restaurant that served chicken soup for me and kebab for Th. Tables and chairs were set out on the pavement. The soup felt like a soft warm blanket. I could feel myself heal. All along the traffic-free street, restaurants had tables and chairs out. Trees with hollow braided trunks sent out an eerie green light. Across from us a restaurant sold liver burgers. While the temperature had been over thirty during the day, a cool wind blowing in from the mountains dropped it down to about twenty.