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  • This third update of a 1996 memoir begins where Antalya Air left off and recounts a trip from Kemer, Turkey to the my in-laws' second home high on the slopes of Mount Olympos. My wife's words are set off in italics.


    Our trip to the mountains behind Kemer was delayed by jetlag and some family business that I did not quite understand the gist of. But next day, Seyfettin, piloted us over unpaved and unkempt back roads to his other house. It is literally at the end of the road, sort of a last rest stop on the way up Mount Olympos, towering 1,400m above it. His 30-year-old Willys Jeep struggled through hills and switchbacks, with Aygül in the seat next to him. I was left to rattle around in the cargo area as we bounced over ruts and rocks, ascending 900 meters and 12 kilometers in one hour. We crossed a wild river and then hugged the sides of steep gorges, passing through fragrant stands of pine and by tangles of shrubs. The Jeep nosed through two villages, both advertising restaurants with hand-painted signs. Along the way we passed a house with a satellite dish and a madrassa—an Islamic monastery and school still under construction.

    Midway up, we had to pull over by a washout as a large lorry turned around to head downhill, unable to negotiate a mudslide that had narrowed the road. Dad exchanged words with the driver and some of the men riding on the platform towering above us. One of them was carrying a semi-automatic rifle, and I made myself small in my compartment as I recalled that just before we left, Seyfettin had Safiye bring him his sidearm, now sitting under Aygül's seat. But the conversation was brief, and we moved on. After a quick reconnaissance, Seyfettin squired the jeep through ruddy mud and upward toward his Valhalla.

    Eventually the jeep rumbled up to a metal gate barring our progress up an incline ending at a two-story concrete bungalow. The dwelling's ample tin roof overhung a porch and one small room perched on top. Outside was a terrace with a picnic table and a garage for the jeep. The house surveyed a field, a natural terrace on the Eastern slope of Olympos, enthroned in a snowy mane enthroned way above us. Spread before us were garden plots and orchards, now unproductive, with frozen cabbages and withered cornstalks. But under the earth were crops for us to harvest: giant purple radishes, sturdy leeks and dormant potatoes to be picked, trimmed and washed under a spring-fed tap in the front yard just below a concrete swimming pool.

    The concrete house was compact but carefully designed by the couple. The main door opened to a parlor having an arched fireplace, and a serving bar separating it from the kitchen, next to a bedroom that also served as Seyfettin's study. The sitting room held a small wood stove that Aygül stoked as soon as we arrived so that it would be toasty when we got back from working the fields. Opposite was another bedroom, cluttered with stuff being stored for the winter; it had its own water closet even though the main bathroom was just beyond. Upstairs, two bedrooms opened onto a breezeway, where crates of apples, onions and potatoes, walnuts, navy beans, and jars of homemade tomato paste and fruit preserves that awaited our looting.

    Seyfettin proudly let us taste his hand grown and picked walnuts, and gave us some to fill our pockets to entertain ourselves while driving down to Kemer.
  • Even battened down for winter, the house felt lived-in but also unfinished, and indeed its foundation was laid less than three years ago. But it shelters amenities -- such as extra bathrooms and electric hot water -- that the main house in the village still hasn't got. Nearly halfway up Mount Olympos, we were in a dwelling that sucked electricity from the outermost tit of the national power grid. It had a telephone too, so had I brought a laptop and a modem, I could have connected to the Internet. The grid, the phone, the road, and a TV tower on a ridge to the East connect this mountain lair to the rest of Turkey, and from there to less civilized lands. I imagined the hand-made house built by this self-made couple as another hostel in the network of country inns called hans that Seljuk chieftains ordered built more than a thousand years ago to house travelers free of charge. In fact, Seyfettin accepts (but charges) guests that either sleep in upstairs or rent the property for holidays. One recent visitor was a Dutchman who came with a GPS receiver. Seyfettin retrieved from his guestbook the readout that he was given and showed it to me: 36° 34" 24' North, 30° 25' 17" East and 930m up, plus or minus a few meters. A few years later, I went there in Google Earth to reminisce.

    The tiny village below us we had driven through was becoming a distant suburb of Kemer, the largest of dozens of towns and tourist compounds that dot the coast road from Antalya. On a clear day one could gaze past the barbecue pit and grape arbor towards the southeast to the sea that lapped these shores. Seeing this private plateau with its panoramic setting and piney slopes made me realize why Aygül regards it as such a special place, which she calls "meadowland," as in "My father is building summer house for family in meadowland in mountains." In Turkish, meadow is yayla, and throughout Turkey mountain meadows serve as refuges for peasants, who herd their animals and carry their belongings up to cooler, wetter climes every summer. Accordingly, this house was a working farm, a healing spa, a frontier outpost and a ready refuge—a private han embedded in Turkish time, space, and tradition, available by appointment.


    It is like Paradise in meadowland. Nothing is humanly challenging. Everything is coming from nature, which makes this place every special to me. I feel myself very lucky that my father built his house up on very close to the peak of Mount Olympos. Otherwise I would not have enough courage and strength to come and camp here. In the summertime when you are swimming in the swimming pool, the sun warming you, you watch the peak of Mount Olympos and feel the pine forest around yourself while you are seeing Mediterranean Sea all the way down Mount Olympos. What could possibly beat that? However, I still feel somehow scared to live in our house up there alone. I feel myself vulnerable to whatever might come from nature. I think this must be my city-bred side. You are very alone up there. And that feeling keeps my father up there and his presence keeps me going up there.
  • We had lunch on the patio in the winter sun. Olives, slices of white cheese and warm sausages stuffed into loaves of bread, and boiled potatoes filled our bellies. As Aygül served us tea and sliced apples, the dull rumble of an approaching vehicle punctuated our reverie. The sound issued from the very same lorry we had seen reverse direction on our way up. Whereas four or five men had occupied its carriage before, only one remained, the guy with the semiautomatic rifle. The truck scudded to a stop near the swimming pool, and the armed man lowered himself down to a rocky path that the lorry driver couldn't, wouldn't or needn't follow. "Now what?" I found myself thinking.

    It turned out to be no big deal. The man was a hunter I was told, whose friend had just given him a lift to the end of the road. He walked up the hill and disappeared behind a curve; every now and then we heard his weapon discharge. I asked Seyfettin what the man might be hunting. As near as I could tell, the answer was something like "anything that moves," and I was curious to see what that might look like.

    After picking up from lunch, we closed up the house and toured the gardens one more time. My compartment in the jeep was now half-full of crates and bags of produce we would bring home. It was still early afternoon, but we had things to do down below. As the eve of our engagement ceremony was approaching, Aygül had to get her hair cut, and I wanted a little space for myself. As we climbed into the jeep to head down, the rifleman appeared around a hill and the lorry driver woke up from his nap on the hood. We saw no game in the hunter's possession, but he appeared to be satisfied, as were we as we coasted down to the front gate, locked it behind us and putted down the mountain to town.
  • Part way down Seyfettin turned onto a different dirt road than we had taken up, which followed the other side of the same river valley. This road was even muddier than the other one, but the Willys took it in stride. Soon, we slid to a stop on a wide curve with pine stands below us, and mixed woods and shrubby grazing land above, pock-marked with sheep and cattle hoof prints. This was Seyfettin's secret mushroom garden we were advised, and thanking him for sharing it, we followed him up the slick slope. He found a long stick and started poking bushes with it, parting branches and flipping up debris. Seyfettin's method paid off, and he called us over to see a clutch of beige funnel-capped fungi he said was the type he was looking for. I had never found that kind before, but my myco-mind told me they must be from the genus Lactarius. Sure enough, when I scratched the gills of one with my knife, a salmon-colored latex slowly oozed out, which shortly turned green, as did the parts of the caps that had been handled. If my memory served me right, these were all Lactarius deliciosus, an edible that I hadn't found before, as they rarely occur in New England, preferring warmer regions.

    We gathered a few more specimens that I wrapped up in my bandanna. After slip-sliding our way back down to the jeep and trying unsuccessfully to scrape the mud off our boots, we piled in and drove the rest of the way to their house. Later that evening I prepared hors d'oervres, cooking the mushrooms in butter and wine with slivered leeks from the meadowland plantation. Their flavor was sweet, and their consistency pleasantly chewy.

    We retired early, still not recovered from the flight. The next day would be a long one. Aygül and I intended to take a bus back to Antalya to forage for gold. We needed some precious metal for what was to come.


    @image 1: My daughter taking in the view from a trail going up Mt. Olympus in 2011
    @image2: The view from above the Yayla southeast toward Kemer and Akdeniz as synthesized by Google Earth
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