From the prologue of A Fez of the Heart
By the shores of the Turkish Mediterranean they once built a city beyond reproach. Such a city that nothing, it was said, could steal from its grandeur. And then they named it Pomegranate, or Side in the Anatolian.
And so, as the city dwindled to a village over the centuries and only passing armies gave any indication that new empires were afoot, the people made an unremarkable living - the fishermen from mullet and the farmers from lamb - among the fallen capitols and pilasters, plinths and pediments, columns and statuary of the ruined city of their forefathers. Among the masonry, coins from the second century featuring Nike, Goddess of Victory, lay in dust-strewn profusion. Children might dig up the coins as a temporary distraction while the years passed in uneventful succession, people grew old, and the poppies bloomed and died. The catch was landed in the small port, the muezzin sounded mournfully from the minaret five times a day. So life unravelled, and the meaning was revealed in its pattern, and for two thousand years the pattern was enough.
By the 1980s, however, the sons of those same fishermen and farmers had discovered the value of the coins and sold them to the local museum. Old Nike for new, they spent their earnings on shedding themselves in the latest trainers and set about running hotels and restaurants where the menus offered fisherman's mallet and farmer's lamp. They touted boot trips to those interested in boots, hired out deck chairs, sold paragliding experiences, chased young girls from Southend through Pomegranate's discotheques in the hope that they might lie down with them, and whispered sweet bitte schöns at fat women from Dortmund that they might buy a leather jacket or a bag to remind them of their time here, in this place of labels whence the echoes of the past had long since fled.
I am left with a man I never met, a few stonings fuelled by outrage, and a purple hat they no longer wear.
Mustafa Yildirim saw little of the 1980s. In 1982, he would die in Pomegranate, the village where he had been born and had lived his entire life. Mustafa could tell his children nothing of his origins, only that a Greek family had taken pity on an orphan boy and assisted by providing him with a donkey to set him on his way through life. By dint of hard work and an orphan's instinct for survival, Mustafa graduated from donkey owner to farmer while his benefactors vanished in the Greco-Turkish population exchanges of the 1920s.
In the reforming, Westernizing years of the 1930s, a decree went out that all Turkish citizens were to be counted. Everybody was to stay at home and usefully occupy themselves on census day. How the injunction was widely interpreted only became clear nine months later when a previously unknown first name - Nufus, meaning population or census - enjoyed a popularity as wide-spread as it was short-lived.
So countless, however, were the Ahmet Son of Mehmets and the Mehmet Son of Ahmets, the patronymics by which Turks were then known, that the census largely fell into confusion, and in 1935, before a further census was attempted, another decree went out that all Turkish citizens were first to find themselves a surname.
After eighteen months, the warning went, those families which had failed to find themselves a surname to their liking would be fined and supplied with one of the district official's choosing. Many citizens needed no such incentive. Admittedly, some, such as the Turks arriving from Crete in the population exchanges who often called themselves Çiritli, or Cretan, were unimaginative in their choice. But others adopted names such as Overthrower of Mountains, Eagle-eyed, Pure Turk and Lion-hearted. Army officers named themselves after victories for which they believed themselves to have been solely responsible, ministers after rivers whcih they had helped establish as national frontiers. The country's President chose Father of the Turks to add to his first names, Mustafa Kemal, while Pomegranate's rather more humble Mustafa ended up with the surname Lightning.
Mustafa Yildirim could not remember much about the genesis of his surname. He could not remember paying a fine. Nor, unlike the President, could he ever quite explain what the name meant. It may have been a fanciful reference to orphan origins so obscure that he could only have come from the sky. Or perhaps it referred to the legendary speed at which he worked his fields - and certainly the same nimble energy is evident in the inherited movements of his son, Halil. But the surname always makes Halil think of something else, an abiding childhood memory of his own. He remembers being commanded to stand near his industrious father in those pre-electricity nights, protecting with his child's frame and cupped hands from buffeting gusts of sea-blown wind the flickering naked flame of the torch by which his father guided the furrow of his plough.
Halil is now a successful Pomegranate hotelier, but he has not forgotten his father. The tools of the old man's trade, such as the wooden ploughs and the threshing sleds - horse-drawn slabs of walnut from whose base diagonal lines of slates protrude to separate wheat from chaff - have been tidied up, varnished, and displayed around the hotel, along with photographs of an ancient face, to commemorate the man and his way of life. Even the baggy şalvar trousers of Mustafa amca - old man Mustafa - have been lovingly patched, washed, and ironed, and draped over one of the ploughshares.
The tools of Halil's trade are fax machines, tour operators, a facility with profit margins and exchange rates, charm, and foreign languages. No son will build such a memorial to Halil - a wall adorned with his typewriter, Filofax, and a sheaf of holiday brochures above beach shorts and sunglasses - and not only because it would look ridiculous. Halil knows that there never were, nor will be, such differences as existed between him and his father, and their respective generations. There is a yawning gulf that cannot be closed, only recognised. The shrine is testimony to a time when life in Pomegranate changed so fast the tools of working men were museum pieces before those who once had used them had had time to die.
It was hard to imagine a more achingly beautiful place than Pomegranate in the early seventies. The pioneering trickle of independent tourists certainly thought so. The locals, who took such scenic magnificence for granted, were struck instead by these visitors whose behaviour was quite as strange as their clothes, colourful and entirely absent below knee and elbow. In July and August, when the villagers were indulging in lengthy recesses from the heat of the day, these people could be seen pottering around the ruins of ancient temples and the theatre, puzzling over fallen friezes before taking themselves off to undress - as well as men, women! - on the long beach that fringes the peninsula where Pomegranate stands. According to the sleepy by indignant village commentary that raised a cloud of drowsy wasps as it issued from beneath the shady vine trellises of homes and tea houses, the ruins had been there as long as anyone could remember and hardly merited exploring in the baking heat of high summer, while even the infidel Greeks in the old days, the oldest villagers readily confirmed, had never undressed on the beach.
Not that it was for the villagers to wonder why. Turkey had long been host to the unpredictable tidetables of invasion that had thrown up the Hittitles and Mongols, Romans and Persians, Selçuks and Ottomans, and countless others besides. On the great Eurasian land bridge unsolicited visits from passers-by were largely considered to come with the territory, and the people of Pomegranate were habitually sympathetic to requests for billeting or a glass of fortifying tea.
So some Pomegranate families were prompted to clear spare rooms and offer them to the latest arrivals as pansiyon accommodation. The more enterprising among them even dared, having heard the practice was acceptable, to charge a few lira at the end of the visitors' stay.
But the first signs of trouble were not long in coming. Some visitors started to wander back from the beach in their bikinis and so caused grave offence among a profoundly traditional Muslim population. For whatever the Mongols had done, they had kept out of bikinis. Signs in atrocious English and German - 'Bikini in village no!' - were erected on street corners in an attempt to stem the offence. Unsurprisingly, these signs proved incomprehensible as much in concept as language to French visitors who had been largely brought up on nude sunbathing and doubtless thought slipping on a bikini for a jaunt through town might label them as puritan killjoys. As a result, several of them were stoned by incensed villagers.
Bruised and bemused, the French were driven back to the beach, but the influx of tourists was not discouraged. Pomegranate's twenty-five-bed capacity soon doubled, and doubled again, setting a pattern for the years to come. Pansiyon owners even started requisitioning the rough notice-boards which had recently railed against bikinis on which they might advertise their bed and breakfast rates. Suddenly, there was a new livelihood called turizm, predicated on the astounding discovery that foreigners seemed happy to pay for the things - accommodation, meals, and even visits to ruins - that the local people had always marked down under hospitality. It was not surprising then that Halil Yildirim should wake up early one spring morning as a young man and decide he no longer wanted to be a farmer.
Clıck here for Amazon's UK or US pages for A Fez of the Heart