David Pierce | Matematik | M.S.G.S.Ü.


İstanbul, Çıralı, Antalya; May, 2007

As last year, so this year, Ayşe and I visited Giritli Pansiyon in Çıralı, west of Antalya, before returning to the city itself for Antalya Algebra Days. But this year, one of the speakers in Antalya would first be giving a different talk in İstanbul, on algebra in the twentieth century; we decided to go hear this talk, see some İstanbul friends, and buy some English books, before catching a bus to Antalya.


On Thursday, May 17, an overcast afternoon in Ankara found us at Ankara's otogar, which can be as impressive as an airport. The skies cleared somewhat during our six-hour ride to İstanbul; we ate a meal outdoors during the rest-stop on the way. The bus took the new tunnel through Bolu Mountain. For years, when travelling between Turkey's first and second cities, I had looked down from the mountain pass at the unfinished contruction in the valley below. I could see a great elevated highway. Was it to be abandoned? Had it perhaps not been constructed to earthquake standard? All I can say now is that the highway and its tunnel are finally in use.

We took the Kâmil Koç bus to the company's Asian-side terminal at Ataşehir, then took their minibus to the Bosphorus shore at Üsküdar. İstanbul felt like a real city. Ankara may have been settled earlier: before 1200 bce, as opposed to the 7th century bce for Üsküdar. But most Ankara neighborhoods went back only a few decades, and the city felt like a frontier town, hastily built; İstanbul had been the center of the world for centuries, and one could still see traces of those centuries.

Another difference between the cities was simply that Istanbul was greener. Bolu Mountain seems to keep a lot of rain from reaching Ankara.

From Üsküdar, we took the ferry to Europe. Mustafa met us at the Beşiktaş terminal; from there, by taxi, we went up the hill, past Ihlamur Kasrı, to the flat that Mustafa shared with Melda and the year-and-a-half-old Turgay. We had not had the pleasure of meeting Turgay before—or of seeing his parents in their new apartment: last time we saw M. & M., they were living way out in the west of the city, in an area more vulnerable to earthquake.

Next morning, Melda had to go to her job as a banker; but Mustafa, an academic economist, was able to accompany us up to Taksim Meydanı and İstiklal Caddesi. (Turgay stayed with a nanny.) First we met up with Mustafa's nephew Cem, who was in town from Germany for reasons unknown to Ayşe and me, but whom we had met in 2003 at Mustafa and Melda's wedding on the Bosphorus: so it was good to see him again.

Cem smoked cigarettes that he rolled from American Spirit tobacco in a German package. As we were drinking an orange juice somewhere, a tobacco ember singed his jacket, and he made a German reference to excrement. I observed that the burn was the least damaging thing that smoking might do.

My companions tolerated my browsing in Homer Kitabevi for a long time. Unfortunately the proprietor, Ayşen, was on holiday; we should have liked to see her. (Some time before, we had learned that she had been a student of Ayşe's mother at METU.) I bought mainly books about Turkey through the millenia, from Xenophon's Anabasis in the Loeb edition, to Geoffrey Lewis's Turkish Language Reform: a catastrophic success. I did pick a novel by Milan Kundera suggested by Ayşe. I considered a volume (in Everyman's Library) of travel writing by Evelyn Waugh; but the introduction told me that critics had wondered why anybody would care to read about Waugh's travels. Should I have bought the book anyway, for examples of how not to write my travelogues?

A good choice for reading on our overnight bus-trip to Antalya was A Loeb Classical Library Reader. Useful after our arrival would be Olympos, A Pirates' Town in Lycia, in Homer's series of archeological guides.

Back out in the sunshine, Cem went to take care of his own business; Mustafa, Ayşe, and I ate lunch at Zencefil (“Ginger”). Restaurants come and go, in Turkey as everywhere else; vegetarian restaurants seem to be especially evanescent; but I had eaten at Zencefil during my first visit to İstanbul in 1998 (with my sister Elisabeth and her husband Stewart). The dining space had been intimate then. A few years ago, the restaurant moved across the street, doubling its eating space—and that's not counting the tables in the garden.

Ayşe had claimed that baby Turgay did not particularly look like his father. In Zencefil, there was more emasculation for Mustafa: I pointed out that all of the other customers in the restaurant were women. But Mustafa was a good sport. I do think custom at Zencefil is more mixed in the evening.

After lunch, Mustafa went to work, and Ayşe and I took the Bilgi University shuttle from Taksim to Zelmanov's lecture. The Bilgi mathematics department had a nice intimate arrangement, with instructors' offices opening onto a central lounge. It was too bad that the thank-you-for-not-smoking signs were ignored by everybody from the department chair on down. I did not take advantage of the opportunity to photograph three bearded, shaggy-haired Turkish mathematics professors.

After the lecture and some visiting, Ali and Özlem decided to join Ayşe and me in a visit to İstanbul Modern. We took a taxi, which just creeped through the crowded streets; I snapped a few photos on the way, showing glimpses of the old through the new (or at least the less old).

Ayşe and I had visited İstanbul Modern before, some time since its opening three years ago; but it is always good to go back. The collection is arranged thematically: landscapes on one wall, geometric abstractions on another, and so forth. This is good as a break from the standard chronological arrangement, though I am not sure that, in the end, the chronological order is not the best. Or varying kinds of arrangements might be tried; how about one according to color?

I enjoyed the landscapes the most. There were few other visitors to the museum, but two young people, listening to a single handheld audioguide, hovered in front of what I eventually decided was one of the best of the landscapes. (Unfortunately I cannot name it now; it may have been a brown hillside, with trees at the bottom, that put me in mind of Corot's oil sketches of Italy.)

The dockside museum normally has a wonderful view, except when an enormous cruise ship is at berth, as was the case during our visit. So our drink at the cafe was overlooked by a great white wall. Ali wondered why I still couldn't speak Turkish; Özlem observed that she still had trouble with French, though she was just finishing a post-doctoral fellowship in Paris. (I know Turkish grammar; but I cannot really use it to say anything complicated with any speed. I say it would help if my Turkish friends and colleagues would speak Türkçe as slowly and clearly as I try to speak English.)

When the four of us parted, Ayşe and I headed along the Bosphorus in the direction of the Black Sea; then we made our way to Mustafa and Melda's, where we had dinner before catching the bus to Antalya.

We caught the minibus from the neighborhood Kâmil Koç office around 21.00. This took us to the Alibeyköy terminal. It was a rainy night, so the waiting room was crowded. After the real bus came, heavy traffic added an hour to the chore of crossing the Bosphorus. We crept along towards the tollbooths; once past those, we still crept along over the bridge. At least we were seated comfortably on the bus; Asian-side passengers just had to wait out the delay at Ataşehir. (We never learned what had caused the delay.)


We reached our intended destination on the southern coast after noon on Saturday. After such a long trip, I wondered why we had decided not to fly. One reason had been that we didn't want to arrive at the Antalya airport late at night. Our host in Çıralı, Alp Giritli, did kindly say later that he could have picked us up from the airport. However, that trip would have taken him more than an hour each way. As it was, our bus did not terminate at the Antalya otogar, but continued west along the coast road to Finike; so we could just get off at the Çıralı junction, where Alp was waiting, as last year.

I have little to add to what I wrote last year about Giritli Pansiyon. It was wonderful to be back again among the pine trees by the stream between the mountains. As last year, we unpacked our swimming things and walked the two kilometers to the sea.

A curious fez-wearing figure was painted in red on a couple of concrete surfaces near the road. The text next to one of them read, “1000 monkeys”. We don't know what it means.

At the beach, first we stopped for lunch at Ceylan Cafe, as last year, and Rabiya Hanım recognized us immediately. She didn't have a hot vegetable dish ready, so she cooked us menemen; she said she would cook some vegetables for us the next day.

Down at the shore, the worries of conference organization, and the annoyances of city life in general, melted away into the Mediterranean Sea. However, the shingle beach did not make for easy barefoot walking! I had forgotten to bring the appropriate sandals for entering the water.

After our swim, walking back to the pension, we greeted a man who was standing by the road, on the other side of a fence and an irrigation aqueduct. Not yet comprehending that we understood Turkish, he motioned urgently for us to stop, then ran off into his orchard, returning with several ripe oranges, which he gave to us. He kept one blemished fruit for himself. I asked if I could take his picture. He refused, saying he was too ugly; but we should visit him the next day at his house, where we could photograph him and his wife. He explained that his house was by the signposted water tap (sebil) that we had passed along the road. His name was Kemal.

As I had written the previous year, Çıralı reminded me of my favorite place: Sedan, West Virginia. The resemblance became stronger on Saturday night. The previous year, there had been no chickens around, because of the bird-flu scare. This year, the neighbors had chickens. The rooster crowed in the night, from his roost not far from our open window. But I didn't mind too much. I still got some sleep. (As did Ayşe.)

Alp told us later later that there was not a henhouse; the matriarch next door just knew where the hens liked to lay their eggs. The Giritlis' cat did not give the chickens much trouble; he might chase them away when they visited his food bowl, but this did not stop them from coming back.

After breakfast on Sunday, we headed off to the sea again, this time to visit the ruins of Olympos. First we filled a water bottle at Kemal Amca's sebil. A plaque with a registration number told us that the tap was supplying municipal water. Kemal Amca must be paying the bill for whoever wanted a drink.

After various adventures, we managed to visit Kemal Amca's house late Sunday afternoon. We met first his wife and one of their grown sons, and sat with them on the porch. Kemal himself was said to be praying. Then he came out and greeted us. He tried to get us to call the Giritlis and tell then not to bother preparing dinner for us. Then he took us around the house to his loquat tree. “Loquat” is the word the dictionaries give for the fruit that Ayşe recognizes as the “Maltese plum” (malta eriði) or the “new world” (yeni dünya). But Kemal Amca called the fruit muşmula, which the dictionary says is a medlar, a different fruit. Similarly, perhaps, the locals in Sedan, West Virginia, use “sumac” to refer to the non-native ailanthus tree, though it does not actually belong to the genus Rhus of “true” sumacs.

Kemal Amca climbed into his loquat tree with the help of a nearby oildrum and filled up a bucket with fruit. We protested that we could not eat all of this; he told us to give the rest to our hosts at the pension. Some fruits that had fallen to the ground were fed to the goats.

To get to Olympos from Çıralı, you head to the Çıralı beach and turn right (which is south). When you reach the next stream, you turn inland and pass through a natural rock arch onto the path that passes through the ancient city. Perhaps most people use that path merely to reach the beach more directly from the highway; I don't know whether they all pay the two-lira fee to a man in a booth, as we did. Near the seaward entrance to Olympos are some sarcophagi, protected under a roof. The holes in their sides show that they have been plundered, like all of the other graves around.

Entering Olympos on Sunday morning, we immediately climbed up to the acropolis. The remains of structures there may be informative to the trained eye. To us the hilltop provided mainly a spectacular view.

On the landward side of the acropolis, we headed north into the jungle along a stone channel, now dry, that perhaps once powered a mill. Presently we reached the so-called tomb of the Lyciarch: two sarcophagi, as it appeared, raised above opposite sides of a small square depression, now filled with water. At that time of day, the intimate area was lit up spectularly by the sun, while the pathway outside was in the shade of the trees.

Continuing on our way, we found a house with a tiled floor. Ayşe considered the symmetry group of the tile pattern: she teaches a course on such things.

We continued along a path that was blazed now and then with red dots on rocks. Eventually we found ourselves in a lemon grove, seemingly abandoned, as lemons littered the ground. We did eat part of one lemon; then we relaxed beneath a great pine tree for a while and ate Kemal Amca's oranges.

Now there was no clear path. All we could do was head towards where the Olympos stream should be. We found a grove of orange trees, seemingly more carefully tended than the lemons. But there was an adjacent field of abandoned and dying trees, through which we could see the acropolis. I don't know whether the trees had been abandoned because they were dying, or the other way around.

An irrigation ditch seemed a bit too wide for the shorter one of us to leap across. We found a place to walk across, where the water passed through a culvert. Soon we found Olympian ruins again, and people heading towards the beach.

We were ready to hit the beach too and then have lunch; but we thought we might as well see the Olympos theater first, on the south side of the stream. Ayşe didn't mind getting her old boots a bit wet in the crossing; but I took my new boots off. The boots had been made for me by a neighborhood cobbler in Ankara, who was not used to customers who abused their shoes so much. He had been embarrassed by the cracks appearing in the boots he had made for me four years ago, though he did blame me for not keeping them properly polished. For my new boots though, he made a point of showing off the higher grade of leather that he used. “Look” he said, “I even cut the pieces from the middle of the hide, where the leather was best; usually I just cut from the edge!” (He wants to make another pair for me right away, so I can alternate.)

Having crossed the stream, first we went west, when we should have gone east. When we did find the theater, we saw that it was so ruined as to be hardly identifiable. I thought we should be able to reach the sea by continuing east, without going back and re-crossing the stream. (The stream did not actually cut through the beach, but just flowed through the underlying rocks.)

The jungle between the ruined city and the beach seemed impenetrable. The ruins came very close to the beach; we could hear people on the beach; but how could we get to them? We poked around for a long time, growing increasingly frustrated and hungry. Climbing up the southern hillside for a better view did not help much. We did finally find an opening. Actually we had seen it the the previous year, from the beach side.

For our pre-lunch swim, we headed back north towards Çıralı to get away from the Olympos crowds. Then, from the shade of a rock, Adrien stepped forth, notebook in hand: he had come early for Antalya Algebra Days and was preparing the talk he would deliver. That morning, on the road from the beach, we had already met some other conference-goers having a little tour of the Lycian coast before the mathematics got heavy. They had thought they might see us on the beach the previous evening. Have we started a trend?

On Monday morning, we set out to hike to Yanartaş, “Burning Rock:” the Chimaera. From our map of the Lycian Way, we inferred that we could probably find our way to that blazed trail, then follow it to the Burning Rocks. Alp and Zeynep seemed to agree. So we set out on a dirt road that Alp had shown us the previous year. There were some ominous dark clouds overhead, but I could not imagine that they would do us any damage. Anyway, the valley holding the Yanartaş was desert-like; perhaps it kept the clouds away.

Meanwhile, the clouds covering the sky kept us reasonably cool as we followed the trail along a stream—sometimes high above the stream. A lush forest in a mountain valley is a beautiful thing; what more can I say? Motorized transport might be able to use some sections of the trail, but we saw little evidence of such use; other sections were made inaccessible by treefalls. Eventually we reached the section of the trail that was officially part of the Lycian Way; this meant it was time to turn and cross the stream and head over to the Yanartaş in the next valley.

This was when the batteries in our camera gave out. It was also when a light rain started to fall. Stopping to contemplate the gorgeous view, I wondered whether it had been the same in Homer's time. There were trees all around; but had the Lycians cut down larger trees in their day? I thought I should photograph my boots in that scene, to show the cobbler where I was taking his handiwork; but as I said, the batteries were dead, and anyway, the rain was starting to pick up. Higher up towards the ridge, we met another couple of hikers, coming the other way. The woman had a rain jacket on. The man did not, so I said to him, “This rain is not going to amount to anything, is it?” In a British (perhaps Scottish) accent, he agreed, observing that he had left his jacket back at the pension.

The rain did amount to something. It was still a long way from the burning rocks. We got soaked on the way. At least the air wasn't cold. Still, the warmth of the unquenchable flames jetting from the rocks felt good. At the bottom of the valley, we had a cup of hot tea at the facility there. Rather than walk the remaining hour or so to Giritli Pansiyon, we broke down and asked Alp to fetch us.

Back at the pension, the sun came out. We spread out our things to dry as best we could, then walked back to the sea for the lunch that Rabiye Hanım would have prepared for us. On the road back to the pension, we met those two hikers we had met in the rain earlier.


We packed up our things, Alp drove us up to the highway, and we caught the bus to Antalya for six days of mathematics or at least of hanging out with mathematicians besides ourselves.

As usual, our conference ended before lunch on Sunday. This year, Ayşe and I stayed at the hotel Sunday night also, to have a more leisurely departure for Ankara on Monday. I managed to entice a reluctant Ayşe to go swimming with me before breakfast on Monday morning. Then we packed our things again and went to the Antalya otogar.

All photos here were taken by Ayşe Berkman and me, May 17–28, 2007. The large versions of these pictures can be obtained by clicking.

Son değişiklik: Wednesday, 29 May 2013, 12:45:26 EEST