We have had our Mersin flat for 6 years now. When we first came our view from the back of the flat overlooked citrus groves with one lone pink building in the distance and the car dealership in front of it. Six years later the city has begun to catch up and each year we come to find fewer citrus groves and more buildings. Up to now we had been pretty lucky because the trend was to expand northwards but, as with everywhere else in this country, land means money and money comes in the form of profit made from building apartments at least 10 stories high. Give it a few more years and it is unlikely that we will see much more green and the wonderful mountain breezes we enjoy will be gone with it as the ever taller apartments block its path.
Earlier this week, on our unfortunate mountain escapade, I had promised the boys gozleme on the way up the mountain. M was unsure that we would find a place selling this on the way up to Findikpinari (I love these names: hazelnut spring) but suddenly we saw signs for a place called Atlas Garden. We started to follow and became more dubious along the drive as it took us completely out of our way. There appeared to be nothing else around apart from signs for an organic farm (that we never found) and while trying to remain upbeat for the boys I was secretly thinking they had put up signs and not yet opened or closed down quickly. How wrong I was. It turned out to be a really nice little place with it’s own bread oven and limited menu to reflect that. (It also had fantastic loos and they are always worthy of comment in this country). But best of all what they did, they did really well. Plus, and this is the main point of this tale, they were positioned almost in a valley that rose to give amazing views of the city below. What lay before us was a green valley with farmland and trees opening up to a panorama of the high rises on the horizon before the sea. On seeing this, M suddenly said “what an ugly city.”
I was a tad taken aback by this declaration. I mean ,I had always said it was as ugly as sin and the only thing differentiating the various blocks were the shapes of the balconies. But this was the first time I had ever heard M say anything so blanketly (yes I know it’s not a real word) negative about his home town. He grew up and lived most of his life here and would tell stories of little bungalow type houses, the diversity of the city, Greek friends (who eventually left), and we even wanted to buy and renovate one of the old houses at one point; sadly not to be as we just did not have the money and time to invest in such a project. But now it seems, that looking at it from this view, he sees what an abomination it looks like from afar. And it is growing. Turks, it would appear, are not going to let go of their love for apartments any time soon. And before you all start saying that it’s to do with demand and the growing population, the fact is that there are absolutely loads of them empty here. And in some cities, like Ankara, I am told by those continuing to build, that the market is flatlining; the apartments aren’t selling.
Turks though, are full of hope: Allah Korusun on every vehicle meaning God protect me, despite them not wearing seatbelt and cramming the car so full it’s fit to burst. Allah korusun, God will protect me; my flats will sell and make me rich rather than bankrupt, and so on. I hear it all the time that soon they will make money, that they won’t give up on a business that maybe running them into the ground physically because soon things will get better and they will make their fortune. And while some do get rich, others don’t. And yet, the hope doesn’t stop and nor does the building. In fact, driving to our new favourite beach yesterday we saw that the building is continuing along the coast but it is of a different kind. Boutique hotels have become a trend and there are emerging a few more ‘luxury’ hotels, even next to us. The crabby pansiyons and self catering apart hotels are becoming fewer, gradually. The Mersin to Silifke coastline is trying to go upmarket(ish).
This is a bit scary because it makes me wonder why. Is it because the west has become so expensive it is starting to out price even the middle class Turks? Is it because Turks are becoming more discerning and demanding better quality accommodation? Is it because of the ‘new airport’ that has been promised for years and still has not materialised? Is it because Mersin finally wants to be seen as a tourist destination rather than yet another area of the country that gets overlooked because it isn’t interesting enough?
Whatever the reasons it’s sort of good but at the same time selfishly bad. The green is going and the concrete is rising. The beaches will become ever more attractive to the beach mafia and the belediye who see them as a way to earn money while absolving themselves of maintenance. In Fethiye this year the locals (expats and Turks) have become enraged at the local council for allowing ALL the beaches to be turned over to the beach mafia and prices have tripled on some of the beaches there, which already were under the control of these guys. Weirdly though, as we past our old favourite beach near Kizkalesi we saw signs saying under new management. On the way back we saw fewer sun loungers and no massive speakers booming out toons. Swings and roundabouts obviously. Perhaps people stopped going to the beach. Perhaps the old mafioso pissed the belediye off. Who knows. Too late for us to go back this year but we will look again next. It could all change again. Things change massively in Turkey in such a short time.
This year it has very much felt that things have moved on from an old familiarity really quickly. I have already written about how there is very little left of the Istanbul I know. Soon though, I think that Mersin will start to have the same feel. It’s not just the building. Closer to Mersin there is a long coastal promenade that runs from the part of Mezitli that my sister-in-law lives in, right down the coast to the Centre of town past the marina and only stopping where the main road ends. This year half of this has been torn up, children’s play areas removed, piles of rubble everywhere, and (perhaps worst of all) large rectangles of crisscrossed metal that tell me concrete is soon to be laid over what was once an area of grass. Why the F they love their concrete so much I will never understand. I can only hope that they are not about to build things there or have yet more pointless, ugly installations that are most definitely not art but fakery. This park is loved by everyone in Mersin. It just needed maintenance not a penis enlarging project on behalf of the Mayor, who seems incapable of spending money on other things the city actually needs but is very happy to buy the biggest flag he can find and create concrete monstrosities to declare Mersin Buyuksehir Belediyesi for no apparent reason at all other than he thinks people may forget where they are. How could we every forget where we are? It’s declared at what feels like every five metres along with flags, and posters of your damned face.
It’s not just here that change happens but this year, for some reason, I seem to have felt it more acutely than before. The friend I made left on Sunday with her son. And while chatting to her meant I didn’t get time to sit and read my book, and while friendship is not something I crave now that we only stay a few weeks each year, her going left me really quite sad. I suppose it reminded me of the transient life I seemed to have in Ankara, where friendships were short-lived and fraught with the possibility that it was based on being on of the few yabanci’s rather than a deeper connection. Her leaving, and knowing that she has decided not to return here next year because she’s had a bit too much of the huge family and the Turkish kids ignoring hers despite being related, took me right back to the isolation I felt in Ankara.
Who knows what I will find here next year? Definitely a few more concrete blocks, perhaps a few more upmarketish hotels, probably more beach mafia, a bit more of the mountain road widened? Highly unlikely things to happen are; the beach in front of our apartment being cleaned up, the mayor having a vision that involves people rather than concrete, the motorway extending beyond Erdemli to take some of the awful intercity lorry traffic away, or green areas preserved. Either way, it’s always interesting to find out, even if sometimes a little depressing.