CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Turkeyrnby Jeffrey MeyersrnTurkish TallyrnA few years ago, iiiv wife and I set off tornspend a sabbatical year in Spain, butrnthonght we wonld go via Turke-. Thernidea started with a new Swiss “motoring”rnmap that laid ont the highways in firmrnred lines. We also wanted to go to thernAegean islands of Greece. We’d been tornGreece many times before; and while wernloved the islands in the Cyelades and thernSporades, we couldn’t stand the tediousrnboat trips from Athens. The map, oncernmore, encouraged us: Rhodes, Kos, andrnLesbos were all very close to the Turkishrncoast. Surely there would be boats thatrnwoild get us there in an hour.rnWe relished the thought of going offrnwithout reservations or a fixed itinerar.rnWe had enough money for modest hotels,rnand we owned a trust}’ Volkswagenrnbeetle. We would make our way fromrnNorthern Europe through Yugoslaviarnand Bulgaria to Istanbul, then drivernacross the wilds of Anatolia to Ankara,rnErzurum, and the border with Iran. Onrnthe way back, we would turn south,rnthrough Kayseri in the middle of therncountrv, and head for the Mediterraneanrnand Aegean coasts. We could cross backrnand forth by boat to Rhodes and Lesbosrn—then drive back up to Istanbul,rnleave the car in the airport, and fly to Israelrnfor ten days. Simple. But we forgot arnfew important things. We had a lot ofrnluggage. The Turks and the Greeks hatedrneach other. And I didn’t read thernsmall print on the map: “numbered mainrnhighways, without regard to their conditions.”rnInfluenced by m visits to Greece, Irntlionght of Turks with some apprehension.rnTheir ferocious image was reinforcedrnwhen I read Seven Pillars of Wisdom.rnIn Deraa, once part of the OttomanrnEmpire, T.E. Lawrence had been capturedrnand raped by the brutal Turkishrnbey. I had taught in Korea in the 60’s,rnand heard a story about the TurkishrnNATO troops. Everybody was preyed onrnby Korean thieves, whose brazen theftsrnincluded underground cable and telephonernpoles. American military bases,rnawash in television sets and electronicrnequipment, were easy targets. But thernTurks had a way with thieves. Theyrncaught one, shoved a ramrod throughrnone ear and out the other, and hung himrnbetween the gateposts. I’hen I saw MidnightrnExpress, a movie about a naiernyoung American doing drugs in Turkey,rnwho was cast into a sadistic jail. Not exaedyrna promotional video.rnIn Istanbul, the West becomes East.rnAfter the grim totalitarian towns andrnvillages of Bulgaria and the rolling farmsrnof northern Greece, we plunged intornthe chaotic, squalid, crowded, noisy,rndusty Asiatic city. Beggars sat, hawkersrnscreamed, and porters toiled across thernGalata bridge under incredible loads.rnMany people lived and slept in thernstreets. Turkey seemed a country underrnarms. Police were everywhere, holdingrnthe ma.sses in cheek. To control politicalrnunrest, armed soldiers stood at ever- majorrnintersection, yet they seemed more reassuringrntiian threatening.rnThere’s no pleasant street to walk on,rneven in the new part of the city. The oldrnpart has all the tourist sights: St. Sophia,rnthe Blue Mosque, Topkapi, the NewrnPalace, the museums, the coveredrnbazaar, and the spiee bazaar. For all therndust and noise outside, the mosques wererncool and silent inside, resplendent vithrnjeweled colors, the black and white calligraphyrngloving on the walls. The bestrnway to see Istanbul is from the w ater, andrnon a boat ride up the Bosporus, we admiredrnthe old houses crowding its banks.rnFrom close up, the domes, minarets, andrnhills were seedy and depressing; from arnshimmering distance, they appeared exoticallyrnbeautiful and recalled the splendorrnof old Byzantium.rnWe were also dazzled by the food in Istanbul.rnDespite all the Greek propagandarnwe’d been fed, along with the lukewarmrnstuffed tomatoes and shish kebabrnwith chips, we were immediately wonrnover to Turkish cooking. Not, perhaps,rnthe land of A Thousand and One Nights,rnbut hundreds of little dishes, like Islamicrndim sum, that make a whole meal. Andrntiiey definitely have a thousand and onernways with an eggplant. One restaurantrnmenu offered Imam Bayeldi, “The son ofrnthe priest of the mosque fainted” —becausernthe dish was so good. We ate “splitrntummy egg plant” but turned downrn”brain fried in lamb’s grease.” In humblerrnestablishments, it was soothing to berncalled Effendi (master) as I paid the bill.rnBack on the road, from Istanbul tornAnkara, I was reminded of Turkey’s militaryrnreadiness and strategic situation.rnHuge army camps, their white pointedrntents stretching across the dun landscape,rnlooked like desert battle scenes in WorldrnWar I. I’hree hundred miles to the east,rnAnkara, the capital, was paradoxicallyrnmore European than Istanbul. The newrnpart of the city —founded by KemalrnAtatiirk in the 1920’s and laid out alongrnwide, straight boulevards-had neo-fascistrnpublic architecture. Easily seen in arnday, the eit)’ had little color or interest,rnapart from tasteful and sophisticated Hittiternarcheology and national art museums.rnIn Turkey, you can always see the layersrnof the past in the present. In thernCitadel, the core of the oldest part ofrnAnkara, the people lie as thev did a centuryrnago. A small bo- picked us up andrnled us through the dingy warrens (forrnonce, we really needed a guide) to thernhigh ramparts and a view of the drabrntown. Wlien I offered him a tip, he wentrninto the routine so familiar to us fromrnnorthern India and Morocco. He disdainfullyrnrefused it and demanded more,rnstomping off in a dramatic display ofrnwounded dignity. When we walkedrnaway, he chased after us and took it eagerl}-.rnUpstairs, in the ladies’ section ofrnthe ancient Ashlahane mosque, thernguide showed me the staircase to thernminaret. Though it was narrow, dark,rnand rough to my shoeless feet, I wasrntempted to use my heathen voice to callrnthe faithfid to prayer at the wrong time.rnAs I painfidly climbed and climbed, arnbird suddenly flew out of the dark recessesrnand gave me a real fright, and I retreatedrndownstairs.rnWe arranged to meet Mehmet, arnPrinceton-educated physicist at the MiddlernEastern Technical Universih’ and arnfriend of a friend. He couldn’t find ourrnhotel and arrived an hour late. He toldrnme about the recent shootout at the university,rnreally an abortive coup d’etat.rnThree hundred shidents and a few facult}’rnwere sent to jail (which we’d seen fromrnthe Citadel), some of them charged withrntreason, a capital crime. Between thernarmy and the fundamentalists, TurkishrnMARCH 2000/33rnrnrn