Sundays in Mersin, for me at least, mean church. Many years ago, being a port town, Mersin was fairly cosmopolitan, even to the extent of having Embassys and consulates based here. M recalls having Greek speaking friends, and the graveyard is reflective of the diverse heritage by being spilt into Muslim, Jewish, and Christian zones. Today, however, only 2 churches and Christian communities exist with any prominence in the city–Catholics and Arab Orthodox. Since I’m more familiar with the Catholic church, and we’ve never managed to find out the service times for the Orthodox, that is the one I go to.
It’s rather tricky to take a decent photo because it’s in a walled complex in the old town. The church compound itself is quite big and presumably housed a small monastery at one point. Having looked into the history, very vaguely, it turns out it’s actually classified as a cathedral. The gardens surrounding the front of the building are pretty and provide some much needed shade in the summer.
The Church is always full on a Sunday and the people are always very welcoming. It’s nice that they seem to remember us and be tolerant of the boys, who are not as well behaved or quiet as the others – most are a bit older though.
At first it took sometime getting used to. We had a book but no-one directing what page or part we were meant to be looking at. Hymns, but again no announcements of numbers. They did try to do it at one point when the teenagers started a music group with guitars, but I haven’t seen them this year. At Easter they had a sort of choir up on the balcony, which would’ve sounded really good if it hadn’t been dominated by a couple with very strong and relatively good voices while the rest were rather warbling and trilly with old age. Sort of lovely but with Vicar of Dibly elements.
The priest used to be a very decrepit old man with heavily accented Turkish, but in the past year a younger monk has taken over, sent East from Meryem Evi (the house of the virgin Mary) in Ephesus, near Izmir. He speaks some English and so sometimes says hello to us. This time the old priest was not there, but there appeared to be a visiting group. I’m not sure where from but the Gospel reading was by a young black priest, and not being that good with accents I’d say his Turkish sounded a bit Arabic. It’s nice to see, mainly because I think the life of a Catholic priest must be quite lonely in Mersin. Yet, having said that, they do seem to be a prominent part of the community, with notices of invites to ifthar dinners and at Easter messages of celebration from local mayors and business owners. This Sunday a young boy was congratulated on his first communion.
The church is in the old town, but sadly many of the old Ottoman stone building have either been destroyed or left to fall into disrepair. Fortunately, there are laws to protect them, and more recently grants to renovate them, but it’s very expensive and when we looked into it a few years ago it would prove hard to adapt the old style of the properties with sensitivity yet make them practical. Also we had to weigh up whether we would be able to live in that part of town and what sort of business could be housed in it if not. We had to opt out, but some wealthy and courageous people have made really excellent renovations, there just needs to be a few more. Some of the old buildings are government property and sadly are now strewn with the external units of air conditioners. At least they continue to be living buildings unlike the burnt out shells which have protected status but hang in limbo for lack of money.
One of my favourite old buildings in Mersin, is squeezed between two modern concrete blocks. It stands almost defiant, determined not to be pushed out.
It is a bakery still producing traditional pastries and breads, some of which actually harken back to the Crimean war – sliced, rebaked bread, dry and without much flavour that were originally given by the British army to soldiers fighting on the front line of the Crimea. Being early on Sunday morning he was telling the few customers that things they were asking for were still in the oven. Though that is probably at the back now, and the one out front reserved for making the rebaked sliced bread. Strangely, both Smelly and Fatso chose this as the thing they wanted M to buy.
In front of them were tasty treats like aniseed simits, bread sticks, biber ekmek (red pepper bread), and coconut kurabiye. Turkish bakery products tend to be very dry, if you’re looking for cream cakes then it’s the patisseries influenced by the French you want. Traditional Turkish deserts, usually soaking in heavy sugar syrup, can be found elsewhere.
We stocked up for a picnic we planned later, with a few free bits of dry Crimea bread thrown in, and headed off. Our plan following Church was a picnic then a visit to Mustafa Dayi at his yayla. Mustafa is M’s mother’s brother, basically Uncle to you and me in our unsophisticated English. Turkish, however, like many other languages gives great importance to family relations being correctly identified as to which part of the family they are connected to. Mother’s side is not the same as father’s side, and there are even labels in indicate who has married into the family. I have yet to master all these labels, but to the few people younger than me I am Yenge, an aunty married into the family. No one calls me Yenge though, which I’m quite thankful for because it’s also the term used by men to address older women unrelated to them out of respect. I’m not that far off being referred to as yenge more regularly here, it’s a bit like shifting from Miss to Madam, a somewhat depressing time.
Mustafa Dayi’s yayla is in a different village from Emine’s, and involves slightly more treacherous roads to negotiate. There is a picnic stop along the way with a play area, but the boys had all fallen asleep so we decided to let them have a snooze and drive on. M didn’t want to arrive at the house of a fasting family and feed us so we ended up having a Turkish style roadside picnic. Fatso wasn’t impressed by the cicadias in full voice, here they’re known as August bugs, and sat grumpily chomping cherries becoming covered in their juice, stones all being swallowed. Nobody seemed to eat a lot, much to M’s annoyance as he’d packed a feast but was fasting. We all piled back in the car and carried on.
Mustafa Dayi’s yayla is in the ever expanding village of Findikpinari (spring of hazelnuts or hazelnuts by the spring). To say his yayla is basic is a bit of an understatement. I call it the treehouse yayla. To get to it we go up a steep, slippery, hill path with what appears to be a small open sewer running down one side (at least it smells that way). In fact, if you didn’t know it was there you would miss the path all together. Fatso, who has the memory of an elephant, remembered where we were but soon got confused as the unpainted, plywood doors that appear in the walls start to look the same. M knows it by heart of course. As we barged in we found Mustafa Dayi sitting in the small yard below the house. I pointed to the black berry bushes in the tiny garden area letting Fatso and Lai lai forage. The rest of us clambered up the rickety wooden steps, minding our heads on the large tree branch as we went. At the top of the steps is the small balcony? veranda? whatever it is it’s on stilts. It serves as their living and dining area crammed with a table, chairs, and two metal bed frames topped with sheep wool mattresses, serving as day beds or uncomfortable sofas. There is just about enough room to swing half a cat. I couldn’t stay there but love visiting. I don’t say a lot beyond hello and basic conversation, not that I can’t, just that I never know what to say. But they are so welcoming and the women start to fuss around me bringing Turkish coffee despite the fact they are fasting. Mustafa Dayi sees himself as very cosmopolitan having lived abroad and likes to try out the one or two words in English he still knows.
The boys wander up after their hunt for bobbies (black berries) to be presented with more big juicy, riper, ones. Another piece of plywood is dragged across the front of the the stairs and secured with a bent rusty nail to prevent falls. I have no idea what the rest of the building is made out of, probably a combination of wood, bricks and plaster clad on the outside with sheets of metal and a corrugated metal roof. There are 4 rooms, two of them are bedrooms and I have never even seen inside, then a kitchen and bathroom. Thankfully they don’t have an alaturka (squat toilet) but–and I love the irony here- an alafranga (French toilet, haha, meaning a proper loo). The only reason squat toilets bother me is not the way you have to use them, but the fact that Turks seem to always have wet bathroom floors. Water always seems to be strewn liberally, so at least with a proper loo you can guess it is just water. Of course you can wear the communal rigid plastic flipflop/slipper. This bathroom is dominated by another relic, a wood burning water heater. Thankfully it has ever been on when I’ve visited. I used to find it shocking that kitchens and bathrooms would frequently have only a cold tap and where there was a hot or mixer tap it invariably didn’t work.
You can’t really get much more basic than Mustafa Dayi’s yayla unless you go camping. They stay there from June till October, so a large portion of the year. Quite how they manage large family meals from the kitchen with barely any room for more than a sink, cooker and a couple of cupboards, I don’t know. When we visited there were 6 of them staying in this tiny treehouse.
Not wanting to make them feel obliged to invite us to ifthar, which they started trying to do, we started to bid our goodbyes after a couple of hours. I felt rude, the women had dashed into the kitchen earlier so came out to try and persuade us to stay. M explained that the kids were our reason for going, that ifthar was late, they would be tired, and it was a long drive home.
Theirs is a life from a different age, no snobbery, no need for things, and the warm welcoming nature that so many say the Turks have, but I rarely come across as part of city life. Definitely worth savouring.