Friday, January 15, 2010

Soul Searching somewhere in the middle of Asia Minor, Cappadocia, Turkey

Five minutes before boarding I see my phone light up. It's my Significant (m)Other calling.
Better answer it now than send email later. I was about to get on a plane to Turkey, I explained to her. By myself, yes, and I would be back in ten days. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had saved days of worrying and fretting from both her and my dad. To be honest, I was already a little more than scared myself to be traveling to the middle of Turkey by myself for ten days. But I kept thinking of the words my college volleyball coach would preach to us:
"Do something every day that scares you."
I figured flying 20 hours to visit a country I'd never been to knew zilch language of and this would cover at least a month's worth of fright, so here I go, off to the middle of Turkey to look for my pappou's (Greek for grandpa) village.

I stopped over a few days in Istanbul. My yiayia (Greek for grandmother) was from Constantinopoli, as Greeks still refer to what was formerly known as Constantinople and now known as Istanbul - a city that was once a thriving metropolis of the Ottoman Empire is still and probably always be a fascinating city. In addition to touring Agia Sophia (the Greek Orthodox church) and the Blue Mosque, between bouts of fending off carpet dealing hustlers, I checked out the spice market and the open air food markets, tasting copious amounts of delicious Turkish cheeses as I walked along.
Fresh lambs' heads and brains for sale.
I crossed over the bospherous bridge to the Asian side and checked out the fish markets.
It made me happy to see fresh roasted chestnuts being peddled on the streets, just like they have in Greece.
Istanbul was awesome and definitely worthy of more than a two day visit. I will be back for sure, but my real reason for visiting Turkey was to find my pappou's village, so I  hopped on a plane and made my way east, bidding farewell to Istanbul.
I never met my pappou. He died 6 months after I was born. I was in California and he was in Athens. Everyone says we are the same person. Anytime I meet an old relative in Greece, within the first five minutes they tell me I'm just like my grandfather. Same personality and both athletes - he was the starting center (at a whopping 6'2" - extremely tall for a Greek at that time) for the first professional basketball team in Greece, Iraklis, in Thessaloniki and I also played professional sports in Greece and France. My pappou grew up in the middle region of Turkey, known as Cappadocia, where over one million Greeks were living during the time he was there. He was part of the Greek - Turkish population exchange of the 1920s and went with my grandmother to live in Athens, starting a textile business in the city center.

Not many Greeks have gone back to this area to find their relatives' homes, but after a few generations, the bad blood is diffusing. I met a few other Greeks during my trip doing the same thing I was: rummaging through the dilapidated old Greek mansions and begging locals with connections for old records. Since I was there for significant time, I toured the breathtaking outdoor "museum" as locals refer to it, famous for the 1,001 things to see before you die rock formations.
I hired my own personal cab driver for the day for about $60 and toured the area, scrambling up rock formations, hiring bootleg half French speaking (and I don't speak French) tour guides for an excursion of so-and-so ruin and mastered the Turkish word for "Thank You" with the help of my non-English speaking taxi driver. I stayed in a cave hotel, which is common for the dwellings in the area; entire villages are living in carved out stones.
I don't care what they say about Japanese bathrooms, Cappdocia has the coolest bathroom ever.
Local plates.
Bars with applicable themes.
I had excellent traditional Turkish cuisine in Cappdocia, much better than the touristy food I had in Istanbul.
Bread was served with cold butter, olive oil and ground sumac-based spices. 
The manti, a traditional dish of minced meat stuffed in dumpling bathed in a cool garlicky yogurt sauce, was the best I've ever had. Everything was handmade with local ingredients. I don't think I can ever have a manti again and feel the same way about it. I am ruined!
Of course I also had the traditional Anatolian fare of stuffed chicken with a color chart friendly array of sides.
The lamb durm (seen with toothpicks for easy eating) with the fixing was delicious. The pilaf and stew was forgettable, but maybe it wasn't the specialty of Cappadocia.
And not to be forgotten is the Turkish Greek coffee. I couldn't think of anything better than ending a delicious meal with thick, bitter sludge coffee!
So in the end, did I find my grandfather's village? All the Greek names got replaced with Turkish names and no one wanted to remember the old names. All records were destroyed for the most part. As I was leaving my cave hotel for the airport, shoulders slopped with defeat, I ran into a Greek family who happened to have a text message (before we had met) from a friend in Athens saying that his grandfather was also from the area and had the same last name as me. I ended up speaking to this man (discovering that we were distant cousins) on my new Greek friends' cell phone on the drive to the airport and he knew the name of the village. It was too late to go there since I had to catch my flight back to Los Angeles, but at least I know the old Greek name and somehow feel that much closer to my pappou.


Unknown said...

Nice story, reminds me a greek I used to know. Hoped you liked and enjoyed your stay. Ex Venice beach biker.

Maria said...

Great post. It's nice that you can take off and partake in such a search for family history ... soul-searching in essence. One needs to do that at times.

Peter M said...

I'm so glad you shared this journey of yours to help discover who you are and where you came from.

I long to visit Constantinople again soon!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wow, I'd love to go to Turkey! Thanks for sharing! That is such a beautiful place and the food there is si scrumptious!



Banana Wonder said...

Unal, Thanks - I had a great stay and always good to hear from an ex venice beach biker. Bikers rule!

Maria, Yeah, I had some vacation saved up and just went for it. So glad I did!

Peter, Thanks! I want to go back to Constantinopole too - I didn't have enough good food there ;P

Rosa, Hey! Thanks for stopping by. Turkey is beautiful and yeah, delicious nom noms to eat.

SinoSoul said...

A wee bit amazing. Makes me wanna visit, and eat the shit out of this country. And Greece too.

Banana Wonder said...

Tony, hehe thanks. Yeah, there was so much more left to nom on but I'll have to save it for the next visit. Going to Greece in less than a week!