Izmir, adieu

February 5, 2020 § 2 Comments

We had an earthquake last night. It probably wasn’t very big but I’m on the 29th Floor so it swayed a lot. I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was worse to fall 29 storeys or to be on the first floor and have 28 others collapse on top of you. Either way, judging from the age of this hotel, there was gonna be a lot of asbestos.

Then this morning a cold front blew in. The temperature dropped to the low forties and a rain squall battered the city, and is battering it now.

I suppose earthquakes and storms are as good omens as any that it’s time to move along.

If you are looking for somewhere to visit, I kind of recommend Izmir. Nobody here will GAF about you, at all. I like that in a destination, not to mention people.

The city doesn’t have anything to “see” or “do.” It’s a giant town of 3M that is here for people to to work, eat, sleep, live, die. The Aegean Sea, which is beautiful, is mostly irrelevant, devoid as it is of beaches. Instead there’s an endless seafront promenade, mostly deserted, or alternatively crowded with cigarette butts.

People walk along the promenade or sell pretzels or fish or sit on benches or sell baby bunnies. Selling baby bunnies is a thing. They are so cute I almost bought one, but like the carpet I almost bought, I was saved in the nick of time with this thought: “Where will I put it and why do I have to have a baby bunny NOW?”

Izmir is a place where you can truly vanish. No one cares that you are here, there are no, and I mean no American tourists. The one world heritage site here, the Agora, is ignored. That is very nice. Ruins should look ruined, and these do.

The other two things I liked about Izmir were the potatoes and the cats. I prefer dogs because I have a terrible cat allergy. When I touch a cat I swell up like a porcupine and sneeze for hours. Cats of course know this, and the stray ones in Izmir especially.

At the Sports Park there are hundreds of cats, all waiting for me to walk by. When I did, this one followed me relentlessly until I scratched it. In the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve seen no one pet a stray cat. It purred, and the more it purred, the more I scratched. The sneezing kicked in and the cat purred even louder, mission accomplished. When I continued on it followed me until I came to a catvention, where many other cats were. I hurried past, fearing they would chase and tackle and purr on me.

So even though cats make me violently ill, I loved these ones. I’m sure they were covered with all kinds of outdoor cat diseases but then again I’m covered with all kinds of indoor human diseases, so we probably canceled each other out. Bye, cats.

Then there are the Izmir potatoes. If you eat the whole thing with the skin you will not walk steadily afterwards. They are baked and come standard with butter and cheese. Then you choose from five ingredients to mix in, none of which you know what they are, except for the olives.

So you look through the glass and point. What you end up with is a pizza crammed into a potato, only instead of paying $15, it costs $1.70 and fills you up three times more because it’s bigger than your head. I’m gonna miss these tater dinners.

But I don’t think Izmir is going to miss me at all. How could it? It doesn’t even know I’m here.


Secret pleasures

February 4, 2020 § 13 Comments

When you travel you have secret pleasures. Come on, admit it. Mine is really embarrassing. It is something that will get me excommunicated from the 1% of the South Bay cycling community that hasn’t already done so, and will fan the flames of bitterness and disgust among those who have already written me off.

Nonetheless, I admit it, freely: I love instant coffee.

There, I said it. And I’ll say it again, only this time in caps: I LOVE INSTANT COFFEE.

Mind you, not all the time and not at home, but in my hotel room, well, I could live the rest of my life without ever again having something with an overtone of berries or a mild scent of oak, and could live happily ever after with the bold flavor of chemicals and the aftertaste of diesel exhaust.

Yah, I love me some instant coffee.

Which is great because the hotel stocks me up with four, yes, four little sleeves a day. You’d think that’s enough but it isn’t, so I cheat. What I do is I go out and buy a whole jar of instant coffee and then I get a bottle of fresh milk and stick it in the mini-bar fridge. “Why do you do that?” you’re wondering.

Silly, so I can stash the little hotel sleeves in my backpack and take them home with me. “But I thought you didn’t like instant at home?” you say.

I don’t, but I take them because, hoarding.

Anyway, today started with a roar, like this:

Pure instant goodness

I’m not sure you’d call midnight “today,” but it was for me. I’ve been unable to get on local time in Izmir. I crater about four every day, sleep til midnight, then get up and start working. But today was brutal because I slept through dinner, which meant that except for breakfast and a cup of coffee at noon, I’d not eaten.

This meant great hunger, which increased exponentially until the hotel buffet opened at 6:30 AM, pointy-sharp. I know because I was standing in front wrapped in my blanket and slippers. I was hongry.

This proved well, because the buffet was ready for me. Course 1 was a feast of granola with yogurt and dried cranberries and pomegranate seeds by the shovel-load.

Course 2 was a three-egg omelette, taters, sauteed mushrooms and veggies, bread with butter, sausage, strong coffee, and Turkish tomato paste which is frankly so good I could use it for after-shave.

Course 3 was olives, a magical salad with vinegary-veggies, pickled bell pepper, bread, mozarella, feta, walnuts, olives, bread, butter, cucumber, tomato, and very strong tea. Each one of these plates, by the way, is bigger around than a truck tire.

Course 4 was another trip down the olive lane, with more bread and butter, crackers, dried oranges, dried somethings, raisins, four kinds of cheese, and more tea.

Course 5 was kind of weak, not because I was full, but because I was a bit self-conscious, so I kept it to a mini-chocolate croissant, a chocolate muffin, and more strong coffee. This was a mistake I’ll remedy tomorrow; those mini-croissants are incredible. I should have eaten five or nine.

Course 6 was me staggering back to the hotel room and working for a couple of hours as the mighty engine of digestion did its work. Then I decided to take a break and walk off some of those calories. I got lost and then found, ending up at the old Agora which was founded by Alexander the Great and then rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius after a devastating earthquake in 178.

The place was deserted and it cost $1.80 to enter, which I could afford because I’d been hoarding all those coffee sleeves. There were plenty of stray dogs and I got to pet one of them for a long time before proceeding. The Agora was the city center; the ruins are breathtaking.

After my tour, I left the dogs and wandered up the long hill, then traversed down through a rotted out neighborhood back to the Izmir clock tower, and then to the bazaar. A man hollered at me. “Young man!” he said.

I looked around but didn’t see one.

“You want some coffee or tea?”

That sounded like a good idea, as I’d been out walking for two hours. “Yes, please.”

“Turkish or Nescafe?”

“Turkish, please.”

“That is good answer!” he smiled, seating me and walking away.

Back came the Turkish coffee, and I am here to tell you that if you think you are a badass coffee drinker because you have quadruple espressos and such nonsense, come show me your chops with a tiny cup of Turkish coffee. It is like drinking raw coffee-flavored gasoline. You know why it comes in tiny cups? Because if you had more than one every 24 hours your heart and intstines would seize. It is so bitter that you can feel the enamel on your teeth melt with each sip, and it has so much caffeine that you go from drowsy to wanting to conquer Asia with a stick in about four seconds.

I headed back to the hotel and went to bed, because it was close enough to my bedtime, that is, noon.

Okay, back to work.


Magic carpet ride

February 3, 2020 § 9 Comments

The older you get, the more you realize what you really need in life.

For example, I never used to think I needed a hand-woven Turkish carpet. E-tap? Yes, I needed that. Carbon frame made from carbon with lots of carbon and all-carbon? Yep, I needed that, too. An Austrian mill for grinding wheat in my bedroom? Oh, hell yes.

But it never occurred to me that what I needed more than all of that put together was a carpet. This is because we never know what we need until it is time.

Fortunately, here in Izmir, there are a lot folks who knew that I needed a carpet even though I didn’t. And even more fortunately, when I was walking aimlessly in the market, it was evident to all and sundry that the look on my face was, “I NEED A CARPET, NOW.”

That’s when a man tugged at my elbow. “Excuse me, good sir, but where are you from?”

The way you are supposed to deal with people in the bazaar is to keep walking, so I stopped. “California.”

“Oh, that is a beautiful country, most beautiful. Tell me, good sir, are you here for long?”

The way you are supposed to deal with queries at the bazaar is to dissemble and keep moving. The fellow waved me into a chair, so I sat. “I’m leaving on Thursday,” I said.

“Now tell me, good sir, how would you like to buy a fine leather jacket?”

“I generally don’t do well with anything ‘fine.'” I motioned to my cheap cotton hoodie.

“Yes, yes, but we can make you handsome and elegant and luxurious in a beautiful leather jacket. Come with me, but first some tea.” He called out to his cousin and although I don’t speak Turkish, I understood him perfectly. “Get the sucker some tea,” he said.

Out came the tea. “So tell me about your family,” he said. “You must have beautiful children.”

“They used to be but now they are too grown up to be beautiful.”

“A child is always beautiful to a parent though he is a hundred.”

“The child or the parent?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Burak. “Of course. What size of leather jacket is best for you?”

“The size that is free,” I said.

“We do not have that size,” he said gravely.

I drank the delicious tea. “I’m afraid I’m not in the market for any clothing.”

Burak looked mournfully at the teacup. “There is no obligation to buy anything, we are friends, you and I.”

“Of course.”

“It seems to me that you are a simple man in appearance but very complex inside, very complex, like internal combustion engine.”

“I’ve been called worse.”

“To me you must needs appear to be one who would own a fine Turkish carpet.”

“If it’s in the same price range as my price range for leather jackets, I’m in.”

Burak called out to his cousin and said something like, “This cheap bastard has wasted all our time and drunk our tea let’s take him to the carpet shop and get a commission.”

Burak took me by the arm and guided me through the throng. We turned left, then right, then left, then right, then right, then went up some stairs, then around a corner, then left, and then we left the bazaar entirely and began ascending the steepest, most narrow streets I have ever seen. Eventually they became so steep that they turned into stairs, and I was lathered in sweat.

Small children peered out from doorways as my guide pushed me onward and upward, going from lost to very lost to completely lost.

Finally we came to a small building. “This is my cousin’s carpet shop. Only finest carpets,” he said.

“I’m sure.”

We ascended the narrowest of stairs and went down a hallway and up some more stairs and then around a corner down a dark hallway and came to a small wooden door with iron bars and a peephole. Burak knocked and I saw an eye in the peephole. The door opened and Burak guided me in.

“Here is a sucker,” he must have said. “Sell him a carpet but be careful as he will drink all your tea and fart.” Then in English he said, “I bring to you my cousin Arda, carpets most beautiful on earth.”

He pushed me across the threshold. The door closed behind me, and Burak was gone. The single room was well but not brightly lit, and three of its four walls were stacked high with folded carpets. The fourth wall had a sofa and next to it a desk and a small chair.

A man with a large black beard in a thick gray suit sat on one end of the sofa. In the chair a thin man in a t-shirt smoked a cigarette and eyed me. I heard the bolt in the door shoot home. “Hello, good sir, welcome, welcome! Let us serve you a tea? Or perhaps a Turkish coffee?”

“Coffee would be great,” I said, and settled into the sofa.

In the middle of the room two older men were unfolding carpets, one after another, things of dazzling beauty and no insignificant weight. They were apparently wrapping up a deal with a French gentleman. I followed the conversation in French. “For you, because you are my friend, because your wife is beautiful wife, because your daughter is beautiful daughter, because your son is handsome and strong, and because today is Saturday, I make you a special offer.”

“Yes?” The French guy said.

“4000 Turkish lira, 800 US dollar.”

“That is a good price.”

“No, no,” the fellow scolded. “It is magnificent price, beautiful price, you can never find such price and quality but here. And I give you free pillow case, but machine made so not too special.”

The French guy and his wife conferred. “Okay, we will take it.”

They rolled up the carpet, bagged it, and sent the customers on their way.

The older of the two straightened after putting away the other carpets and turned to me. “Where are you from, good sir?”


“A beautiful, beautiful country. And you are a lover of Turkish carpets?”

“Of course.”

“Then you have come to paradise.” He waved at the walls. “Would you like to purchase a carpet, or a kilim, or perhaps both? Your lovely wife would desire both.”

“What’s the difference?”

“The carpet is thicker, double knotted, and warmer, heavier, the kilim is better for your summer home, single layer, cooler, lighter, easier to carry.”

His cousin rolled out a dazzling kilim. “But I can see you are a man of excellent taste.”

“Where does it say that?”

“Your eyes, they are of a connoisseur.”

“I don’t know anything about carpets.”

“Perhaps but you know much of life and quality things, you can easily become expert in Turkish carpet. And for you, because you are my friend, and because today is Saturday, I make you a special offer only to you because you come from so far.”

“What does Saturday have to do with it?”

“Saturday we are happy and relaxed and joyful for Sunday, but Sunday we eat much food, spend all our money, and come to work anxious and needful to sell many carpets and make money, so no discount. But today is lucky day, Saturday.”


“This carpet which will look beautiful in your bedroom for only 4000 Turkish lira, less than 800 US dollars, and this kilim for your lovely daughter, for only 2000 Turkish lira, less than 400 US dollars.”

“How did you know I have a daughter?”

“You have a careful grooming of man accustomed to listening to daughter’s loving advice about clipping long nose hairs and such. Tell me, would you like shipped FedEx or regular freight?”

“Look, Arda, I’m not in the market for a carpet today.”

“Of course not, because Turkish carpet is investment for a lifetime. A leather jacket you can purchase one day, but Turkish carpet your purchase lifetime. It’s good investment.”

“I suppose so. Let me think about it, okay?”

“No obligation, only enjoy coffee and tell me about your beautiful children.” He sat next to me on the couch.

“Can I tell you about my grandchildren instead?”

“Ah, grandchildren? You are a blessed man indeed, praise Allah.”

He meant it.


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