Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


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If you’re a visitor, there are many good things to be said about the new İzmir İzban which has made getting about town so much simpler. After all, with buses you need to be able to recognise your stop which is not always easy especially during the rush hour when you’ll be craning your neck round the commuters to see out. With trains, though, it’s all so much easier. Roll on the extensions to the main bus station and its Üçkuyular little sister.

I’d visited Karşıyaka on the far side of the Bay of İzmir before by ferry but this time I got there on the İzban. This resulted in a slight snag in working out where I was when I emerged from the station. Ferres definitely have the upper hand here. No mistaking where you are on the waterside.

“Could you point me towards the water?” I asked a passer-by and he waved an arm vaguely into the distance. Minutes later I was starting down the wrong road when a schoolgirl came rushing up to me. “No, teyze,” she said breathlessly. “You need that road.”

Starting again, I found myself in one of those pedestrianised shopping-street canyons that could be anywhere in the world, frankly, except for the signs in the Turkish and the food on offer in the restaurants. Correction. There were perhaps fewer chain stores than I might have expected (no Starbucks, for example) but you know what I mean. And just to confirm how international this part of İzmir was I soon came across a crowd gathered to observe a group of living statues (here called “soğuk heykeleri” – cold statues) of the sort one is always manoeuvring around in Covent Garden. Painted in gold and silver, they were a wow with the crowd, including a headscarfed matron who paused to be photographed cuddling very gingerly up to one of them. A little further on and I was sidestepping a Greenpeace chugger in high-visibility green jacket. Really, it could have been London.

My plan was to take a turn along the waterfront and admire the remaining Levantine mansions there after first stopping for a hot chocolate in Kahve Diyarı, the İzmir take on Kahve Dunyası. This was just down the road from what seemed to be the cafe equivalent of an Öğretmen Evi where I sneaked in to admire a fine plastered ceiling that suggested how grand the houses along the shore here must once have been. As for the walk itself, trust me to have picked the day the Belediye had chosen for digging up the old pavement and relaying it which meant that I could only admire most of the buildings from a distance. Now reused as nurseries, restaurants and university offices, the mansions of Karşıyaka are a very mixed bag. No graceful yalıs (wooden waterside mansions) here, just a strange collection of muti-coloured buildings that reminded me of Hansel and Gretel houses rendered in stone.

Then as the sun started to set over the bay I stumbled upon something completely unexpected in a country which is hardly renowned for its interesting public statuery: what looked like a stretch of road inserted inside a frame and pointing straight up to the sky. Close up, this “road to heaven” turned out to be a memorial to the murdered Swedish prime minister Olof Palme with, beside it, a second monument listing the winners of the Karşıyaka Prize for Human Rights. Some, such as murdered, journalist Uğur Mumcu, were obvious candidates; others such as Akut, the organisation that helped rescue survivors from the İzmit/Adapazarı earthquake in 1999, were more unexpected; others, such as ex-TRNC president Rauf Denktaş, were just plain controversial. On the other side of the “road” stood a more predictable statue of Atatürk ringed by images of past mayors of İzmir, including Ahmet Piriştina, the man who saved the city from the disaster of a main road right along the Kordon.

With the sun almost set it was time to return to Konak on the far side of the bay, this time in the way that one should always really visit Karşıyaka: by ferry. Waiting for the boat, I admired Yücel Keşkiner’s 3D ceramic representations of İzmir as it was before the fire of 1922, with lovely wooden houses tripping down the hillside and palm trees lined the waterfront. As the ferry sailed out of the harbour the lights came up around another statue or Atatürk on the waterfront. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.400 DSC06975


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