Tenedos (Bozcaada), August, 2007
Shortly after our return from the seaside, Ayşe got
out our volume of Constantine
Cavafy's poems [note 1] and marked
Ithaka for me. The verses
include the following.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time.
Turning back a leaf, I found
That we've broken their statues,
that we've driven them out of their temples,
doesn't mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they're still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure,
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.
Technically, Ayşe and I had just been north of Ionia, and south of the Troad, in Aeolis. There on the coast of Asia Minor, looking west to Lesbos, I had read the Iliad at the Berkman family cottage.
Around the mouth of the Hellespont are five inhabited islands mentioned by Homer: Lesbos, Lemnos, Samothrace, Imbros, and Tenedos. In the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), Turkey took possession of the last two; the others remained Greek. Earlier in the summer, Ayşe and I had been in Lesbos before coming to the Berkman cottage on the mainland. This time, we had been in Tenedos.
The island is also called Bozcaada in Turkish, although we sometimes visit a Tenedos Cafe in Ankara. Boz means gray; -ca, -ish; ada, island. Tenedos hillsides can indeed appear grayish, at least in August: there are few trees, and there has been no rain for months. But inland, grapes are on the vine.
Tenedos is small, geo- and demographically. The two-and-a-half thousand inhabitants live mostly around the harbor and castle on the east coast. The rest of the island is served by a single minibus route. The distance to the lighthouse on the western point is perhaps five miles.
In Atatürk [note 2], Andrew Mango reports a claim that, from the Anatolian core of the multiethnic Ottoman Empire, even before 1908, Mustafa Kemal was planning to construct a Turkish state: he would carefully draw the borders and then remove the remaining Greeks, Bulgarians, and Serbs through population exchange with the appropriate countries. Mango expresses some skepticism that such thoughts of ethnic cleansing were really in Kemal's mind then. But perhaps it is not evidence, one way or other, that Kemal made his plans while drinking in bars owned by Christians.
In any case, under the Lausanne agreement, the Greek half of the population of Tenedos was supposed to be left untouched. Nonetheless, that half has supposedly now shrunk to less than one percent. Still, emigrants and their descendents are said to return to the island for the Feast of St Paraskevi at the end of July. Meanwhile, Turks continue the ancient Tenediot tradition of viticulture.
To reach Tenedos, Ayşe and I took a taxi to the Ankara bus station on Tuesday evening, August 21. Had we known what the station would be like, we would have made other plans. Young Turkish men were heading off for their obligatory military service. The station was full of family and friends celebrating the event. We thought we might never reach our bus to Çanakkale. When we did manage to shoulder our way through the crowds, with the help of one of the bus crew, our vehicle was full of visitors seeing off their boys. They yelled for the driver to open the rear door, so they could get out. The driver wouldn't do it: this would just allow more of them to crowd onto the bus, or to hang from the door like apes, as they were already doing with the front door. So the visitors had to squeeze past us as we made our way towards our seats.
A woman already seated tapped me as I plowed past and said
apologetically in English,
We are not always like this!
She was one of the few women on the bus: indeed, she was one
of the few people who were not young men with crew cuts.
Presently she had a quarrel with the young man seated in
front of her; it went something like this:
He:This is our military service!
She:I'm ashamed of your military service!
He:I'm ashamed of defending you!
As we waited in our seats, the crowds outside pounded on the bus. Then they started to push it side to side. I could only think of stories of what some Americans do when their football teams win. I wondered how many people it would take to roll the bus over. Somehow all of the drivers managed to back up their busses and leave the station. As we headed onto the highway, Ayşe and I imagined that the suspension was dodgy.
After dawn, I could see pine forests and the Dardanelles Strait. We reached Çanakkale without incident. The young men went where they had to go, and the few holidaymakers went where they wanted to go. Ayşe and I took a minibus, which passed the sign for Troy and then followed a narrow winding road to the coastal village of Geyikli. There we waited on the beach for the ferry to take us to Bozcaada.
The ferry filled up with passengers. I worried that we were going to be surrounded by crowds on the island as well as on the ferry. Reassuringly, most of our fellow passengers were not carrying baggage like us; perhaps they were day-trippers. On the other hand, they might be travelling with their cars, parked on the deck below, where they had left their bags. But there was a pair of backpacking women speaking Spanish. Another group were speaking Greek.
The island did not appear quite so gray as expected. On the hillside above the castle, there were some young trees, probably planted. We came into the harbor. We landed, crossed the town square, and found the pension in the Greek quarter where we had a reservation.
Some guests were still having their breakfasts at the tables set up on the narrow cobblestone street. But Ayşe and I went to a cafe called Güverte around the corner, to have lunch at a table shaded by vines. The color scheme was blue and white. What country were we in?
The several mezedes on the menu were all available. Because Ayşe kept notes, I can say what we had:
- cevizli kabak (squash with walnuts),
- köpoğlu (a mixture of eggplant and yogurt and other
things, although the name is also a term of abuse, like
- yeşil börülce (immature black-eyed peas, still in the pod).
This impression was confirmed the next day, when we had lunch at a restaurant that, in addition to the mezedes, offered Anatolian staples like gözleme (a sheet of dough folded over a filling and baked on a griddle). A patron at a nearby table expressed relief to his companions: he had got tired of eating nothing but vegetables. (I had gözleme too.)
We were then overlooking the Ayazma Beach on the south coast of the island. Perhaps it was the beach where the Greeks landed after leaving the horse behind at Troy; there they watched for the smoke to tell them that the raid of Odysseus and his comrades had been successful. Ayazma was the best beach we had seen on the Aegean (not that our experience had been so extensive). The sand was fine and free of pebbles. Friends and books had warned us that the water would be cold, but we found it refreshing. It was clean and clear. You just walked into the water as it got gradually deeper; there was no shock of sudden immersion. Further out, the sea bottom had vegetation, and rocks with urchins, but they were beyond the standing depth, even for me.
The previous day, we had found that the sea around the Tenedos castle had such a bottom right up to the shore. We entered the water anyway, wearing our sandals until we reached sufficient depth. A passing elderly man asked us why we didn't use the nearby piers, which were crowded with swimmers. Ayşe said we thought they might be private. The man told us not to torment ourselves.
Eating and swimming, with a general aura of archaic divinity—what more do you want? Well, the sleeping at our pension was not great. It was the fourth place Ayşe called: the others were more expensive, but full. Our hostess was practically a native Tenediot, having come to the island from Çanakkale at the age of seven. She was pleasant, but perhaps she had no experience of travelling and staying at other people's pensions. Our small room was filled with three single beds, a waist-high refrigerator, a wardrobe, and a cabinet. It's hard to see how three travellers could use the room, since they would want one of the beds for luggage. Maybe they could put some of their clothes in the refrigerator. The wardrobe was not of much use, as it was full of acrylic blankets. Inside the cabinet were some old paperbacks; on top were some plastic flowers. There were also some plastic flowers on the television that sat on the refrigerator. So the hostess had tried to be decorative, but in doing so, she took away potentially useful surfaces. Decorations on the walls would at least have been out of the way; as it was, the walls were bare.
The bathroom was standard for a pension: no shower stall, just a hose with a showerhead, and a drain in the floor. We had no complaint there. But the toilet ran terribly, as the flap in the tank would not seat properly. Having come from Ankara, where the reservoirs were running dry, we could not stand the waste, so we just turned the water off. Ten years ago, we read, Tenedos used brackish well-water; now the island got water in a pipe from the mainland.
Our window overlooked the street and took some afternoon sun. Fortunately this did not make the room too hot for a siesta. There was also an air conditioner, but we didn't want to use it. We did break down and use it on the second night, just so that we could close the window and still stay cool. The first night, Ayşe was kept up by people talking on the street below; next morning, I was awakened before dawn by people talking. Our hostess may have been one of the talkers in each case.
Breakfast was fine. It was a standard Turkish breakfast of bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers, with some preserves made (probably) by our hostess and her daughter. One of the preserves was supposedly eggplant; the other was tomato. These may be a peculiarity of the island.
On Thursday morning, we went down for breakfast around eight and sat at one of the tables on the cobblestones. We saw the hostess and her daughter in the kitchen. We didn't want to go asking for breakfast: we thought our desire would be obvious, and we would be served at the convenience of the women. But nothing happened for some time. Then Ayşe went to enquire, and the hostess started handing dishes to us through the window.
We went down next morning at the same time. Nobody was in
the kitchen. We decided to go eat somewhere else. On the
way, we saw the hostess's daughter.
Isn't my mother
there? she asked.
Later our hostess explained:
I didn't think
anybody would get up that early, so I went to stay with my
There are finer places to stay in Tenedos, with rooftop terraces, or gardens overlooking the sea. Some hoteliers are proud not to put television or air conditioning in their rooms. They may invite you to join them for yoga in the morning. There are also some hotels inland, away from the town, among the vineyards.
But even where we were, we couldn't have stayed a third night: our room was booked. The island was a popular getaway for Istanbullites. Evidently they would accept basic accommodation within the densely packed grid of the Greek quarter of Tenedos town.
That grid is lush with vines and flowers, growing on the picturesque old houses. We may thank the Istanbul vacationers for this. In the old days, before the tourist potential of Tenedos was recognized, goats and chickens roamed freely, gobbling up everything.
The castle of Tenedos was presumably Byzantine, though used
also and perhaps added to by Venetians and Turks. It was
restored a few decades ago, I don't know how
faithfully. Within the inner walls are some Greek and
Turkish tombstones and a display of amphorae; otherwise,
there are just the stone surfaces at various angles, to
contemplate, and climb on, and view the sea and land from.
I said there was one minibus route. But there is also a special run in the evening to the western point, for sunset viewing. We went to the harbor to catch this bus on Thursday evening.
The road to the western point passes through a pine forest before coming out onto sands that support but a thin and sparse covering of vegetation. The sands are now dominated by seventeen wind turbines. One of these would satisfy the island, they say; the rest of the electricity is sent to the mainland. They were the first wind turbines I had seen up close. I had no aesthetic objection: visually, they were attractive, and I might prefer their sound to the sound of automobile traffic. I cannot assess the damage that their construction did to the ecology of the sands. Near the shore was a lot of plastic trash, thrown up by the sea. Offshore was an old shipwreck, tied to the land by a long cable. Near the lighthouse, film was being made for a new television series. People who had driven their cars to the point were drinking wine and beer. As the sky was clear, what color there was in the sunset was probably due to smoke from the fires devastating Greece.
During our time in Tenedos, I read Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels With Herodotus. When I first came to Turkey in 1998, I used Herodotus as a travel guide. Kapuscinski portrays him as a companion, who travelled his own world as Kapuscinski does his. For Herodotus, people know about their neighbors, who know about their neighbors, and so on. Nobody has a global picture, unless like Herodotus, or Kapuscinski, he travels in order to construct one.
During the war for Congolese independence, Kapuscinski observes that displaced people try to reach their villages, but all they know are the names of the villages, not where they are, and nobody else knows the names, except for people in neighboring villages. So all one can do is travel by whatever conveyance comes along, hoping it will take one closer to where one wants to go.
Our last morning in Tenedos
When we went to Tenedos, I didn't study a map. I just knew we were going first to Çanakkale, then Geyikli. After Tenedos, we were going to the Berkman cottage at Altınova. When we took the ferry from Tenedos after lunch on Friday afternoon, three busses were waiting at the dock in Geyikli. We crowded into the minibus going to Ezine. I had probably been through there, but could not picture where it was: just somewhere in the Troad. We had to sit sideways on a bench in the bus; other people had to stand. (I might have stood too, with my head bent over.) A representative of the Truva bus company was standing: people asked him about busses from Ezine to here or there, but he said they were full.
Ezine bus station
Something would work out. Indeed, in Ezine we found that there were just two seats available on the next Truva bus bound for Izmir. It would make a rest stop near Altınova, and there Ayşe's father would pick us up. As our bus neared the stop, after all of his adventures, Kapuscinski finally visited Turkey and the home town of Herodotus, and I finished Kapuscinski's book.
I was carrying seven other books that I might possibly want to read. On Sunday, I decided to get down to the Iliad, in Chapman's translation.
I had read the Iliad in the ninth grade, in the Lattimore translation, and I had read it again at St John's College. A few years ago, I had read somewhat more than half of the poem in Chapman's translation. But now, reading in Altınova, soon I felt as if I had not read the poem before. I don't know how much geography mattered in itself. Sitting on a beach in Asia Minor, I could look to the right and think, Troy is over there; or I could look over to Lesbos and observe, Achilles raided villages there. But this does not matter much. The point is that the geography constantly reminded me that This is where the gods live.
A young St John's student reading Homer will say,
believes in those gods anymore. A tutor may respond,
Don't be so sure. An older student may comment in turn,
That's what's so silly about St John's. Myself, if I ever
again have to fill out a form that asks for my religion, I
have half a mind to write
Owing to corruption or incompetence, Ankara is out of water.
Although a crisis has been predicted for years by those who
respect science, the mayor says,
We couldn't know that God
would do this to us; then he invites us to pray for rain.
As was observed by one of the losers in the last Ankara
mayoral election (he's now an M.P.): If prayer brought
rain, then Saudi Arabia would be as green as Amazonia.
A polytheist prays for rain too. But he knows from the Iliad that prayers do not work. No goddess is keener than Athena for the destruction of Troy. Yet the Trojans pray to her (Book VI). They do not even pray for victory. They pray only that a single Greek warrior, Diomedes, might be removed from battle. Athena does not listen.
I bought Chapman's translation in Ankara in a cheap Wordsworth Classics edition. I must say, I see little point in importing this edition to Turkey, even though it does have modernized spelling. If Turks want to read Elizabethan English, they should probably read Shakespeare. Chapman's syntax can be impenetrable, even for the native speaker of English (that is, for me). Yet I found his verse exhilarating.
When I was young, I must have read about the slayings in the Iliad as casually as I watched deaths by phaser on Star Trek. Reading now, with the graphic descriptions of spears piercing the breast below the nipple, or entering the back of the neck and exiting between the teeth, I had to ask what more the Iliad offered us. Perhaps Simone Weil's essay on the poem helps show how the Iliad is relevent to what is happening today, in Iraq for example.
It just seems to me now that Achilles's purpose is to be honest about what war is.
As Ryszard Kapuscinski reads an incident in Herodotus—say, the cutting off of a woman's breasts by a rival—, he pauses to ask, What must that really have been like? Herodotus does not get worked up over such questions; he just gets on with the story.
Herodotus begins his story, as Kapuscinski reminds us, with the tit-for-tat abductions of women that began the conflict between Greece and Asia. The Phoenicians stole Io from Argos; Cretans stole Europa from Tyre; Jason and the Argonauts stole Medea from Colchis; so the Trojan king's son Paris felt free to abduct Helen. Then, the Persians point out, the Greeks were so foolish as to go to war over the matter.
Later, in Book II, Herodotus visits Egypt, where he learns that Helen was in Egypt throughout the Trojan War, only the Greeks wouldn't believe it;—that's why the Greeks went on fighting. Really now, says Herodotus (II.120), if the Trojans could have returned Helen and ended the siege of their city, surely they would have.
In the world of Homer, where Helen is in Troy, and she can be returned to Menelaus whenever Paris gives the word,—in this world, Achilles still knows that the war is not about a woman, or about a man's rights to a woman. Otherwise, Agamemnon would not take Achilles's woman Briseis.
Agamemnon goes to war to further his career, so to speak. For Achilles, the war is an opportunity to do what he does best. As the child of a goddess, he can do no wrong. Zeus can father all of the children he wants; they are nothing special, and Hera scolds her husband when he is tempted to save the life of one of his sons, Sarpedon. But not many goddesses mother human children; when such a child comes along, Hera dotes on him.
I suppose Hera is no different from the parents who live in
the building just behind ours in Ankara. Not long after our return there, these parents let their
young daughter play an old Queen recording at high volume,
over and over, with open windows, at 10.30 at night. The
father did visit the daughter in her room, as I could see
through the window: this was only to dance and sing
We will, we will, rock you!
I sometimes say that living in Turkey helped me to understand the first page of the Republic, since both places exhibit the kind of hospitality that won't take no for an answer. I see now the same hospitality in the last book of the Iliad, where Priam visits Achilles in the night to retrieve the body of Hector: Achilles insists that his overwrought guest must eat and sleep, there in the enemy camp.
Cunda islandAt the cottage I came down with a runny nose and a fever. The seaside in August is not necessarily a healthy place. According to some people's theory, I got sick from going swimming before sunrise, or simply sitting on the beach for some hours at midday, even under an umbrella. In any case, I was well by Friday, August 31. Then Ayşe and I went with parents for lunch on Cunda Island at our usual seaside restaurant, Lyra. At a nearby table, four men spoke Greek amongst themselves, but used Turkish when answering their cellphones. During our meal, a plate of small mussels appeared on our table; the waiter said they had been sent by those men. Ayşe and I agreed to eat one each, thus becoming omnivores for a day. Her parents had the rest.
Wandering about while my companions had their coffee, I discovered a cafe-bar or ouzeri that shared its name and the picture on its sign with Laterna Ouzeri in our neighborhood in Ankara.
1. C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992
2. Andrew Mango, Atatürk (London: John Murray, 1999), p. 75.