Thu 19 Jun 2008 85 °F
Out here in the Turkish countryside southeast of Istanbul, across the Sea of Marmara, I am melting in the sweltering heat. The sun is an angry beast, directing its burning glare directly at me. My words stop coming, a huge heavy weight descends on my head, across my arms, holds down my eyelids. Sweat wells up constantly on my arms and the back of my neck and down my forehead. In pain, anger, frustration, torment, panic.
To escape, Kate & I have slunk into a simple cafe near the western gate of İznik. It’s one of those stark establishments that seem to lack any decoration, where all the old men hang out all day, talking and smoking and playing backgammon. A few simple tables and chairs are scattered along the front door. Inside, it’s dark and quiet, only a few tea-drinkers sit quietly, watching the street.
Yet as we sit there, my heat fever gradually subsiding, next to the lemonade machine clanking and grinding in the heat, a cloud of hominess envelops us. The cafe manager, a tall man in his mid-30s, circles around, fetching cups of tea and juice. He brings us tea and water, chats with his regular customers, and when there’s nothing else to do, smokes a cigarette at one of the outdoor tables and reads the sports page.
An older man walks slowly toward the cafe. He seems quite overdressed for the day: heavy long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, over which he wears a heavy winter vest, and a knitted cap over his white hair. Yet he is not sweating, and seems as comfortable as if the temperature were half of what it is. He waves at his friends, says hello to a few of them, and carefully, slowly, walks through the door, up the small steps into the dark cafe.
The heat settles a bit, and I regain my consciousness. We leave the cafe, stroll around the town, trying to stick to the shadows along the walls, exploring the shops and alleys and hamams along the streets of this compact town.
After eating a huge but simple spread of bread, chicken soup, rice, and grilled meat, Kate & I walk to the shore of İznik Gölü, the large lake that adjoins the town. As the sun sets below the mountains that ring the calm water, more people gather, sit at the cafe tables and park benches and shoreside stones, and watch the day pass on. Flutters of Turkish float on the air. The boys in the cafe bring out endless cups of tea, soda, and the salty ayran yoghurt drink. There is a lightness in the dusk air, a feeling of being in between the day and the night.
[dateline İznik, Turkey]