La Dolce Vita

The seductive love of narrative, when we ourselves are the heroes of the events which we tell, often disregards the attention due to the time and patience of the audience, and the best and wisest have yielded to its fascination.
—Sir Walter Scott

The previous post on Istanbul covered most of my broad observations of the Turkish race, so that catching up to where I am now in my trip should be painless, and will require a haste for which the Reader and I should be equally grateful. To synopsize, after leaving Istanbul I traveled by bus to Troy, Pergamum, Ephesus, and Marmaris, by ferry to Rhodes and back, by bus to Fethiye, by sailboat around the Lycian territory, and by night bus back to Constantinople, to retrieve my final package. I will get into the details of this trip in short order, but first we have to conclude my first visit to that city.

There I was stuck, waiting for packages, and planning the next stages of my journey. On Sunday I went out for a fish dinner with Gavin and Nellie and Nellie's brother Ned and his Turkish wife Oya.

We had salad and cheese and drank rakı with our levrek and çipura — sea bass and sea bream. We added water to turn the clear anise-flavored liqueur cloudy white. Gavin, Nellie, and I bought a bottle of it after we finished eating, and then several beers over the course of half as many hours. We met Steve and Carrie at a sports bar, where Steve was dressed up in the canary yellow Fenerbahçe jersey to support the Kadıköy team, and also met a Virginian teacher whose name I cannot remember. With his guitar in hand he went back with us to Gavin and Nellie's apartment, along with ten beers.

The following day was dedicated to recovery. Nellie made coffee and omelettes, and might have felt better since she went to bed when we got back at 1 a.m. Gavin said, "You went to bed too early. Jonnie, when did you go to bed? Three?"

"Yeah, three," I said.

"That," replied Gavin, "was smart. Three is a reasonable hour. Midnight is an unreasonable hour... Five is a very unreasonable hour."

"Did you drink all those beers?" I asked.

"We were just going to finish that one I opened for you, but yeah, I guess we did," said Gavin, and he put his head in his hands. "I know this is cliché," he added, "but I've never felt like this before."

The next day, the first of September, a sad rain ushered in autumn, but cleared up enough in the afternoon for us to cross over to Eminönü and Beyoğlu. We looked at the piles of red pepper and of tea leaves and Turkish delight in the Spice Bazaar, then took the funicular up to the middle of the İstiklal Caddesi and stopped at bars and book and record stores. Down one stairway lined with posh cafés we came to the interesting Faik Pasha Caddessi, and took that back up to near Taksim, where we got kebab from Adana Dürüm.

After losing my bag, I mailed home an assignment for my living-vicarious parents: to retrieve and mail a list of essential items. By this time, two of the three packages had arrived in Turkey, but could not be delivered to my friends' office as requested because the declared value was higher than Turkey's limits.

Following a long Ottoman tradition, Turkey remains a leader of frivolous tariffs and taxes, and the Turks impose a modern backsheesh on any business or item coming into the country. For packages, the rule is that anything over €100 in value, including declared value and shipping cost, incurs a tax of 10 per cent of that value, and must also be retrieved in person from the central post office far outside the city center. Nellie's name was on the package, and she spoke more Turkish than I, so on the twelfth day of my visit we went out to this post office with a sheet of directions and heads full of misinformation.

Picking up a package in Turkey is something of a spectacle. The post office runs entirely on ledgers and calculators, and I would not be surprised to see an abacus or two floating around. The way things proceeded, we brought the package slips to the workers in the mail room, waited a half-an-hour, checked the contents of the two boxes, got a photocopy of Nellie's passport from a temp worker who ran upstairs to make it, had a woman calculate the amount of my backsheesh, registered this amount with a post official in a ledger, payed the tax, registered that we had paid the tax, helped compile a stack of documents as thick as my finger, and finally left with my two packages.

Now I rearmed myself with the following: A fleece sweater, a large camp towel, a flashlight, a compass, a charger for my camera battery and iPod, a first-aid and sowing kit, anti-malarials and pills for dysintery, a silk sleeping sack, new socks and boxers, and a pair of Teva Omnium Leathers, which are rafting shoes, good for the climates I'm going into because of their support, protection, and ventilation, and with socks and inattention they kind of look like real shoes. These new items come in addition to my two T-shirts, plaid shirt, jean shorts, swimming trunks, camera, and iPod — which since Varna have been my only accoutrements.

Two packages remained to arrive. One is a care package from my aunt, and the other contains an Acer Aspire One netbook, a cheap $250 one for writing on. I left for Troy without them, and in my absence last week the netbook appeared inexplicably and without backsheesh at my friends' office. The blog should become more regular after I retrieve it from Istanbul.

The Reader will notice that the dateline for this post occurs before any of those journeys listed at the beginning; this is because, for my own records, I set the date to whenever the last completed action took place. This particular post, for example, written from Fethiye on September 22, is dated for September 3, the day after our postal adventure. According to Joanne Jacobs, a blogger retired from writing op-ed pieces for the San Jose Mercury News, who told me on the sailboat that blogs must have content posted consistently and recently, my blog should be a failure.

To compensate the Reader for the generous perusal of this ungregarious blog, which could be best described as "over-ripe," I provide the following.

I hesitate to share these recipes only because I jealously, even hubristically, wish to make them myself on returning, and to reveal them as evidence of the great and glorious treasures to be earned abroad; but then this whole blog is just such a revelation by proxy. I tell all the good stories without any of the benefits of listening faces lit up in wonderment or mystified with disbelief, without hearing a single laugh or gasp. What's one more secret shared among friends?

  • 3 cups yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
Now some people say that ayran is just salty yogurt, but it's that and also a delicious drink, especially good with things spicy and savory. Only plain Nancy's yogurt has the right consistency and flavor to make this milky beverage. The above amounts make a lot of ayran, but provide a good ratio for reference and can be changed to taste. Blend the lot, and the finished drink should have the consistency of a smoothie.

  • 1 500g cup of Greek yogurt, 10%
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, grated fine
  • 1 small or 1/2 big cucumber, grated coarse
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
This recipe comes from the instructions of the owners of the Rodos Youth Hostel and was made under their guidance, although they could not taste it because that was the Day of the Cross. Grate the garlic and the cucumber in the way described and mix it with the yogurt. Add lots of salt and olive oil. Great with bread, crackers, fries, fish, or on a pita or gyro. Total yogurt works best if you can get it, and make sure it's thick.

Greek Moussaka
  • 4 eggplants
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1.5 kilos of mincemeat
  • Spices: oregano, paprika, thyme, salt, pepper, olive oil
I made this in the same Rhodian hostel with four Aussies, in proportion to our appetite and without the guidance of the hostel owners. They thought us idiots until they saw the finished product, which they had not expected to be edible. The recipe we improvised differs substantially from most moussaka, in that we replaced the béchamel and cheese sauce that normally forms the top layer of the dish with mashed potato, and in the sheer depth of our food, which resembled a core sample when served.

The recipe combined two layers. At the bottom of a dutch oven we mixed the fried mincemeat with diced tomatoes and sliced eggplants, lightly grilled or broiled with olive oil, as well as the spices, which I leave to the chef's discretion. The upper layer was mashed potatoes with more spices, also already cooked, since we did not have an oven. We heated the three-inch thick combination over the stove and served it hot and ate it all.

Ancient Roman Fish Sauce

Says Seneca: "Do you not realize that garum sociorum, that expensive bloody mass of decayed fish, consumes the stomach with its salted putrefaction?"

This fermented fish sauce fouled the air of Byzantium, which in the later years of the Empire was its chief consumer. Its production is only for the brave. I had a recipe from a museum but misplaced the photo. The following one comes from Gargilius Martialis' De Medicina et de Vertute Herbarum. Obviously you can vary the amounts if you can't eat 35 quarts of the stuff.
Use fatty fish — for example, sardines — and a well-sealed (pitched) container with a 26 to 35 quart capacity. Add dried, aromatic herbs possessing a strong flavor, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, and others, making a layer on the bottom of the container; then put down a layer of fish (if small, leave them whole, if large, use pieces) and over this, add a layer of salt two fingers high. Repeat these layers until the container is filled. Let it rest for seven days in the sun. Then mix the sauce daily for 20 days. After that, it becomes a liquid.


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