One never knows when one is safe in life. I’m sitting in my lounge, with the aircon on, while an inferno builds around me. Outside the temperature is 42+ C, inside, a comfortable 26C. But then it all depends on the electric company, doesn’t it? Once they decide it’s safer to cut my power, I’ll be immersed into the heat. Once the wind turns, from the east to the west, I’ll sit in the middle of the flames burning the pine tree covered hills around me.
Where would I go? Into the pool, I’m thinking, but would I have to stay underwater while the inferno takes me hostage? For how long? Will I survive? Who knows?
This is the fourth day of the fire. No, it’s not a bush fire. I know this for certain. I’ve lived here for the last 11 years, and never seen anything like this. Usually, the fires are local, and firefighters put them out in a few hours. This is different, deliberate, mean and calculated. Set ablaze in various spots. Mankind is the cruellest creature on the planet.
The villages are left on their own. Their livestock, greenhouses, homes, and fields at the mercy of the flames. There is no state, authority to protect them. The president visits the disaster sites in a convoy of hundreds of cars and throws tea bags out of the window. Not flowers, not water, but teabags…
Have I come here to die in an Inferno? I do not know. I miss my hometown, but I also got accustomed to this place which has given me hope. A fake hope, perhaps. Hope is a wish that keeps us going.
At dusk, the scenery resembles an apocalypse, a blood red sky, smell of burning, and the death of the forest. Hot winds blow ash and burnt pine needles everywhere.
In daytime, driving through the once thick woodland, the ghosts of pine trees lament their lost glory. No more the rich green against the azure sky. Only carcasses in brown, dead and dying, weeping. I weep for them, and all the creatures who have lost their homes and perished. It seems it takes 50-60 years for a forest to recover its ecosystem. The flora and the fauna that provide livelihood to the locals. I won’t be around then, but I have seen the best. No one can burn my memories.
So, I wait for fate to turn its wheels. As far as my view and binoculars allow, I watch the forest day and night, to spot intruders with heinous motives. Will the wind change, the power cut, or will I be saved, redeemed, and perhaps understand what I’ve come to learn in this life.
I remember my first time in Amsterdam, a magical city with dainty bridges over canals, and quaint buildings along it, whose tops symbolize various forms of architecture. Different gables, bell, neck-shaped and laddered, according to the fashion.
Our hotel was far from Rosse Buurt, so we walked and had dinner in an area close to the district. I never forget that name because it is a vivid memory of how things worked in that part of town. The restaurant had a good view of the Red Light District, comprising of houses whose windows displayed young women in their underwear. Once the curtains were drawn and the light faded, it meant they were busy. Other windows lit up and faded into darkness throughout the dinner. What a life, I thought, open, uninhibited.
Prostitution is the oldest profession in history. I remember seeing a sign in Ephesus, probably the oldest bit of advertising, stating, “If you go right, you’ll find your heart’s key,” pointing to a house of joy.
Men marry proper women who bear proper children, but some can’t stay away from the women of joy, can they, and perhaps have some illegitimate children. What’s the secret? The proper versus the improper? Perhaps they prefer the less inhibited? There are many answers to this question. I think it has to do with the alter ego and the rebellion against what’s proper.
Recently, I read that Rosse Buurt will be moved out of Amsterdam. Amsterdam will not be Amsterdam without Rosse Buurt. It will never be the same. With this on my mind, I listen to Jacques Brel.
Loss is like something torn out of one’s soul. Something strong grabs hold of it and takes it away. Never to be replaced in this life.
I’ve lived through loss. Of parents, lovers, and relatives, but this is the first time I’ve faced the loss of a very good friend, the only male one. We had been friends for life, he was a month or so younger than me. Our grandmothers were friends, our mothers, and us.
I keep thinking of England, when he came to my wedding party in Warwick. He and his wife were the only Turks there, besides another friend Mehmet, and his English wife. Azmi and his wife gave me a silver tray as a wedding gift. That tray has been sitting on my coffee table for a while, waiting to be put away. You know how one forgets things, after a recent event. I wonder if that was a sign. It is still there and now I cannot put it back in the dresser. Another gift he gave me, sits among the small silver knicknacks. A milk pitcher with a ladle. I love it and polish it, thinking of him.
After our school days, we were apart. He got married and moved to England, while I got married and began to work. We had no contact during the time I lived in the Far East. When I returned to London, we were both separated from our spouses. It was a difficult time for both of us. We stuck together, supporting each other and shared things. Going out at night, to shows, dinner with friends, and countryside rides.
During my miserable days in London, he was the only beacon of light that kept me going. I hope I was the same for him, for his losses.
He used to take me to a night club called The Escapade in South Kensington, very close to the Bibenium. That was the only venue open until the early hours of the morning, after the Pubs closed. South American owners, Argentinian steak, music, and dancing, and Londoners from all walks of life. Then, he’d drive his classic Lancia along Park Lane, breaks and tyres screecing, taking me back to my flat. He was a gentleman, generous, courteous, intelligent, and kind. Despite his excellent education and high qualifications, I don’t think he found the dream job of his life. But he tried, through thick and thin, he tried, to his last day, always…
Then we’d have Fish&Chips at Notting Hill, watch the Talking Heads movie at the ICA, go to Sunday lunch with his friends, or mine at my flat.
I returned to Istanbul after two years, he followed a couple of years later. Being an engineer, he had turned his skills to IT. He became a programmer, an international one. He worked in Beirut, in the UK, and wherever his services were required.
Then life happened. Companies closed, he had the big C. He never ever gave up, until the last moment.
Wherever you are, my friend, may you rest in peace. I have thousands of memories to cherish, once I can deal with your loss.
Sorry I have been away for a while. It wasn’t intentional. I meant to post a story before I left on holiday, but failed to do so while trying to get organized for the trip. So, here’s a true story about our adventures, meeting with fellow writers at various locations, and how this journey evolved.
David J. Meyers, from Melbourne, Australia, and I, first met at the now defunct Harper Collins writer’s website, Authonomy, in 2013. I had joined Authonomy back in 2012 and posted my manuscript The Child of Heaven which David read and edited while I read many of his books, including The Maia Calendar, Lost in Authonomy, The Gargoyle Chronicles, and To See the Sun. This was before David established himself as an historical fiction writer and his genre was more fantasy orientated. Meanwhile, that year I also met the American author, Joanne J. Kendrick who wrote paranormal fantasy and romance. I read her books, Music of Souls and Chance Inheritance, and her sequel to Music, Eternity’s Opus.
The beginning of David’s Maia Calendar takes place at the Sultanahmet Square, the Hippodrome, in the old town of Istanbul. In the summer of 2013, David and Michelle decided to visit Istanbul. At that time, I was no longer living in Istanbul, my hometown, but in Marmaris, on the Southern Aegean coast. So, I made sure I was in Istanbul during their short stay and the virtual friendship became real when I met David and his lovely wife, Michelle, in person, at their hotel in the Sultanahmet area and we had lunch at the historical Sultanahmet Köftecisi.
Joanne had a life change a couple of years ago, and was working and living on her own. She wanted to travel to places she had never been, and had never flown across the Atlantic. I invited her to stay with me in Marmaris, and said we can also go to the Greek islands from here. Last year it didn’t happen, for one reason or another. This year in early January, Joanne asked if we could plan a trip together from Turkey to Greece. This coincided with the time I was diagnosed with hernia in my lower back and was having treatments. I thought, why not, life is too short, and perhaps, I might not be able to do this in the future. Who knows? Not that I can afford to pay anything in Euros with the state of the Turkish economy these days, but what’s money for if you can’t enjoy it in good health. I said, “Let’s do it,” and we began to plan our journey.
Meanwhile, David and Michelle were celebrating their 25th year together and he wanted to do something special for her. Once David heard our plans, he discussed it with Michelle and they decided to fly to Santorini for a romantic break before meeting us in Athens on the 21st of May. For four nights and three days we stayed in a flat with 3 bedrooms and bathrooms, in the Plaka district, which Joanne found from Airbnb.
It was the first time David, Michelle and I met Joanne in person. She turned out to be exactly as I imagined her. Then, thinking perhaps my Facebook friend, the lovely American painter and writer, Pamela Jane Rogers, who has lived in Poros for the last 30 years, could join us for lunch during our stay, I messaged her, and she kindly agreed. So we all met for lunch in Athens, 4 writers, two from the US, one from Oz, and one from Turkey, together with Michelle Meyers and Francis Broun, a professor of History of Art from Princeton, and Pamela’s husband.
David was the tour leader in Athens as we covered all the historical sites, from Hadrians’s Library, The Athenian Agora, Roman Agora, The Temple of The Winds, The Acropolis, The Temple of the Olympian Zeus, to the Acropolis Museum. Although it was a challenging task for my back, I did manage to climb to the Acropolis, with help from my friends, while trying to cope with the treacherous spiral Greek steps and stairs, and hills that were an inescapable feature of our daily excursions.
Joanne and I parted with David and Michelle on the 25th of May. They left for Australia as we boarded a propeller plane to Kefalonia from Athens. We took a ferry to Ithaca, Penelope’s Island, where we stayed with a very good friend of mine. Our week in Ithaca was pure serenity as we marvelled at the unspoiled nature and exquisite beauty of Ulysses’ Kingdom. A population of 2000 and full of Greeks born is Oz with Aussie accents, who have returned home to claim their heritage from their ancestors. It seems back in the early 50’s there was a devastating earthquake in the Peloponnese Islands and most of the inhabitants of Kefalonia, Ithaca and other islands immigrated to Australia, South Africa, the UK, and the US to begin new lives.
After our magical stay in Ithaca, we flew to Rhodes via Kefalonia and Athens on the 2nd of June. Another 4 days of explorations on the lovely island and a ferry ride to Marmaris on the 6th of June brought me back home with Joanne. Jo stayed with me for 5 nights and 4 days and had a brief tour of Marmaris and the surrounding villages. When she left Marmaris and flew back to the US via Dalaman and Istanbul, on the 11th of June, we had been together for 21 days.
It was definitely a trip to remember, with great company and wonderful memories. I hope we’ll have the chance get together again, in the near future.
And there’s a story brewing, in my head. It starts with, “Penelope sat on the pebble beach in Ithaca and combed her hair …” and I don’t know where she’ll take me …
I was pleasantly surprised to receive this review which she kindly posted on Goodreads, as well. I loved the photo of the book Ray took, which she used on her blog and on Instagram, and asked her if I might use it for a future post for Ripples.
Scrolling through her blog, I discovered Ran Not Bradbury is a pen name for Victoria Ohlsson who lives in Sweden. So the picture was taken in Sweden by a Swedish reviewer. Well, this brought back some memories from many years ago, to be exact, fifty years ago, from 1968 .
So, I time-travelled to the summer of 1968, when I spent about six weeks in Sweden, and a few days in Copenhagen.
I was one of the Turkish students invited to attend an International Lions Youth Camp in Sweden. It was my first trip abroad and the Sterling Airways flight took me to Copenhagen where I boarded a train to Stockholm after making sure I was in the right car labelled Stockholm. When we reached the sea, the Stockholm labelled car slipped onboard a ferry. After arriving at the Swedish shores, the car was attached to a Swedish train. It was dark when we reached Stockholm.
I entered the terminal in apprehension. How was the Swedish family I was to spend a week with before the Camp going to find me? Then I heard an announcement in English on the loudspeaker, calling my name and asking me to come to the Information Desk. A very blonde and blue eyed Swedish lady , Mrs Bernstrand, accompanied by two young boys with corn silk hair, greeted me with a smile. After dropping my small suitcase into the trunk of her car, she drove away to a destination unknown to me.
I was very tired. I hadn’t slept since the early hours of the previous morning when my flight took off from Istanbul. The stress of finding the Copenhagen train station, buying the ticket, and making sure I was in the right car added to the tension. But the good thing was everyone in Copenhagen spoke English, even the dustman who guided me to the ticket booth. Although I had relaxed a bit on the train, the American sailors who boarded at the next station and tried to chat me up, gave me the creeps. As soon as I told them where I was from, they asked me if I had “Hash”. I was terrified. I clung to my handbag and my suitcase, praying they won’t steal my travel allowance of about 200 dollars in my wallet. I stopped talking to them, and luckily they went away.
So trying to keep my eyes open and answer politely to Mrs Bernstrand’s questions was a hard task. I kept drifting off and waking up, thinking this is very rude. At the end of the journey, sprinkled with polite conversation, we came to a jetty and parked. A very tall and well-built gentleman, Mr Bernstrand, came to the car, and after greeting me, carried my suitcase and guided me to a motor-boat waiting at the jetty.
About ten minutes later, we arrived at another jetty, where he tied the boat and we disembarked. Mrs Bernstrand took me to a wooden cabin and introduced me to a teenager, about my age, saying, “This is your bedroom. Chloe will help you settle and she’ll show you the way to the main house in the morning. “
Chloe was an Au Pair, taking care of the young boys in the summer. I think she was French, but spoke English. Kindly she offered me the bottom bed of the bunker. I collapsed and fell into deep sleep. I hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours.
The cabin was equipped with a bathroom and shower. After the morning ablutions, it was time for breakfast.
I emerged from the cabin and found myself in the middle of a pine forest. Birdsong filled the air, and the red house we were heading to was perched upon a hill facing the sea.
We entered the kitchen with a magnificent sea view and sat at the generous breakfast table. Pickled herring Eww… No, I can’t have that for breakfast. It’s sweet too. I love the cheese though, and the crackers. And that little instrument that shaves the cheese. Ham, no problem. Coffee or tea, I can’t remember. Probably tea, I wasn’t a coffee addict, then, just acquiring new tastes. I loved the strawberries, though I couldn’t understand why they were pouring milk on them. Later I found out this was cream, not milk, though I still love my strawberries plain.
I was at Varmdö, the biggest island in the Stockholm archipelago, where Swedish families spend their summers. An array of colourful wooden cottages sprinkled inside a pine forest where strawberries and raspberries grow wild, under the shade of the trees. No borders or hedges between the houses, a lifestyle without borders.
I was lucky. The summer of 1968 was one the hottest summers in Sweden in thirty years. So, I took my first dip into the Baltic Sea and had a great time.
Photos: The book picture is taken by Ray Not Bradbury
The photos of Varmdö, from Google, exactly as I remember this gorgeous island.
The photo at bottom right, is one of me and friends at Varmdö, after playing croquet