On Sunday the 23rd, Co? decided he wanted to go to Ardanuç, a small town of five thousand people where a friend of his once knew the mayor. Elif refused to have any of it, and when we passed by the turnoff, Co? kept looking back like a petulant child.
We drove down into the Tortum Valley and saw the massive, domeless Georgian church of Dörtkilise near the village of Tekkale. It had delightful frescos, but the road there was basically made out of boulders, which was ruining Co?’s car. We went to Ösk Vank – a more-intact Georgian church in the village center. It was pinkish, with great carvings on portals and on the columns. There, we picked up a 50-ish man with a skullcap and a thick eastern accent (more guttural sounds in his speech) and gave him a ride down toward Tortum. We found a delightful shortcut highway before Tortum running east to north of Narman, the part of which running from Narman to Oltu being the most beautiful road I’ve been on, although I ran out of film in my camera to take pictures of it. The rocks and mountains were rainbow-colored, with lots of red, even in parts like the American southwest.
At Oltu, we went to the 7th-century Georgian castle. Since it was a Sunday, we had to beg for a key from the local Zab?ta (the health/safety inspector). A boy in his late teens showed us around the castle; the sign there said it was 8th century BC Genoese; the boy said it was Armenian; the Rough Guide says 8th Century AD Georgian. The boy told a story of a Selçuk Turk who fought there with his head cut off, and that he’s the one buried in the castle graveyard; two women reportedly turned to stone when they laughed at the man being headless. The boy said that we should cover ourselves and even wash before visiting the graveyard, so we didn’t bother going in to it – he said that the dead guy wouldn’t like it otherwise. Dilek answered that the dead guy would like it better if we didn’t wash first. The boy asked if I had converted to Islam yet (the thought of Elif converting from Islam wasn’t even considered as an option).
From there we went to Bana to try to see a Georgian church there, but we missed the unmarked dirt-road turnoff. We asked directions from an old man with one eye wearing a woman’s sweatshirt. The old guy was selling cucumbers by the side of the road, and he insisted that we take him too, and he’d show us. Instead, though, he took us up a treacherous boulder road to see a pile of rubble that was not Bana. He said that villagers stole the church pieces to make houses hundreds of years ago and then abandoned it after an earthquake, and that the church graveyard’s skulls came up having bigger jawbones than we now have today. Although the trip was annoying and destructive to Co?’s car, we returned the one-eyed Turkish cross-dresser to his roadside cucumber supermarket and bought a few cucumbers off him for his troubles.
Then Co? decided that he really had to go to Ardanuç after all, which was now 210 km out of the way. Dilek was coddling him, after he had the grave misfortune of being forced to spend the day with us seeing Turkey’s best landscape and monuments in the world’s largest open-air archeological museum. So back to Ardanuç we went, just so Co? could be well-treated by a mayor of a village of five thousand. (Being impressed by authority seems to be a Turkish trait; there’s an Aziz Nesin short story about townspeople going all-out to impress a minor authority who’s coming to visit, training each other to stand up straight and walk in line and even erecting a statue for him – and then the guy never shows up.)
On the way back to Aradnuç, we passed through Ardadhan, which was fascinating – a military and industrial town with Russian architecture, but completely random: instead of a village growing into a city, the once-Russian city was now amusingly overrun by shepherds herding sheep right down the main street, with geese following in tow! (I have to mention this: right now on TRT – Turkish Radio Television – as I’m writing this – there’s a TV program as part of the GAP project [southeast development] educating villagers not to fuck their siblings or marry your cousins. The show is talking about genetics and showing retarded children and such. Very exciting stuff. The program ended just now with a boy and his girlfriend/cousin standing at a crossroads; the boy looks in his hand to see a pair of dice there; the dice then turn into the face of a retarded child; then the boy throws the dice away onto the ground (thus littering, which is something that Turks excel at), and the couple finally walk away from each other going in opposite directions from the crossroads as the music swells.)
It was getting late, and our Rough Guide said that the hotels at Ardahan were overrun by natashas, so we decided to push on to ?av?at, where the book said you could spend the night in the Sahara hotel. But the Sahara looked really seedy, as did every other hotel in town, and now it was 10PM. We inquired at the gas station, and we were informed that the Sahara was too dangerous for us to stay at, and that the Iviera hotel would be a far better bet.
We drove to the Iviera, and its lobby was straight out of a Hollywood movie. The guy behind the front desk played the pimp, who was wearing a satin black shirt with the top two buttons undone and a very loose tie; the actor was complete with greasy black hair and smoking a cigarette. Splayed across the torn-up couch was the fat madam with a mustache. Downstairs strutted a rather large whore in a white dress, appearing as if she had just finished doing something important and looking around to see if there was anything new. The reservations clerk asked us for our ID’s, and Elif said we were married. He smiled a little and said that of course we were, but wouldn’t it be much nicer if we just filled out the reservations book with me staying with Co? and Elif with Dilek, and then later we could do what we wanted.
I said, Elif, let’s leave, now. Elif turned to me and said, “Stop being such a problem, I hate you when you get like this” and added that we’d get killed if Co? drove any further this tired, this late, on mountain roads. I said that the odds of us getting killed if we drove on were only about 30 percent, whereas if we stayed here they were closer to 90, so she began to ignore me. I asked her, loudly and slowly so her mother would understand, how much the hotel’s hourly rate per room was, but Dilek and Co? had no idea that we were in a whorehouse – they just thought it was a regular disgusting hotel. Now, it’s delightful to be able to walk around a low-rent Turkish bordello, it looked too disgusting and dangerous for me to want to spend the night.
So now I’m practically yelling let’s go go go go go go go, and finally Elif said, let’s look at the room. We went upstairs, and it was an adorable little operation they had up there. Everyone was working, and the whores were waiting in the green room with couches and floor mattresses and phones. Finally, the owner, upstairs running the whole show, saw that we really were a family and said “You really shouldn’t stay here, the Johns (Mehmet’s?) would certainly take a liking to you, and the doors don’t lock, and they may not take no for an answer…” (I tried to imagine our story in the country’s newspapers’ typically lurid headlines had we run into a problem there: “Married judge in tryst with attorney ‘friend’ found in whorehouse with her daughter and son-in-law.”) One prostitute felt as if she had to apologize to Dilek, saying, “We’re just trying to make a living,” and Dilek hugged her and said that she firmly supports them.
So we drove off into the night. In the car, Dilek and Co? insisted that the women were yabanç?s – “foreigners,” (Georgians), but Elif said that they know better Turkish than Dilek does, and I pointed out that they were quite Turkish in appearance, not Russian. (If they had looked like the natasha I saw at the Besst hotel near Trabzon, who knows, I might have stayed.) I tried to keep Co? awake by teaching him the game “Ghost”, but it doesn’t really work in Turkish – they just kept adding suffixes to get huge one-word constructions which translate into something like “Wouldn’t you really not be the one who would call himself an American worker.”
Again we arrived back at the turnoff to Ardanuç and Artvin, and instead of going to Artvin where there are hotels, Co? takes the road to Ardanuç, where there are more whorehouses. He decides that now, with his impeccable wisdom, that Sunday night at 11 is the perfect time to pay his mayor friend-of-a-friend an unannounced visit so that he could really show off to us three what his influence as a judge can bring. We arrived, and he left the car in the middle of the street in front of the Forest Works building – and, just like he did in Samsun, he doesn’t come out for over an hour. We have no idea what’s happening, and we shout out, “Where are you?” and a man comes out to say Co? is drinking tea inside while they’re still looking for the mayor. He also suggests that we move the car. So I get behind the wheel and park it, and Dilek asked me why I didn’t drive if I could operate a stick-shift, since he had been driving on the left side of the road the whole time. I said I didn’t know I could and I didn’t want to strip the gears or kill the clutch on a new car.
So Dilek, Elif and I move to a schoolyard and sit in a playground for another half hour. It’s well after midnight, I haven’t eaten all day except a candy bar, and I’m pissed off. I gave Co? the latitude that although he has no intellectual interest in archeology or anything else other than football, we were driving his car, he was paying for well more than half of everything, and there were cultural differences I needed to take into account in his wanting to impress the mayor of a tiny whorehouse town (the main cultural difference being that he is a schmuck and I’m not). But at least I wanted not to be randomly abandoned in various places I suddenly found myself in merely because he was behind the wheel (and not doing a very good job of driving at that). Elif is using every trick she knows to make her mother hate her boyfriend; I start saying that at least Co? can provide for her and he doesn’t beat her – in my exhaustion, I’m really thinking that I want anyone, anything, to provide for her so I don’t have to be around any other person than my wife – and I offer the opinion that Co?, like any man, both will do whatever he can get away with and will treat her how she teaches him to treat her.
Finally, Co? comes out. The mayor, of course named Hasan Bey, has been located but can’t be told by his handlers that Co? is here illegally with a woman who’s not his wife. Hasan Bey offers him a room in his house, and to us three he offers two rooms in the Teacher’s House – a ubiquitous boarding home in Turkey for traveling teachers. All he has to do now at 12:30 in the morning is to kick a man out of his room, which he’s actually anxious to do in order to display to us his extreme hospitality.
Elif refuses and says she’ll sleep in the car if he tries to kick anyone out, so Elif, Dilek and I will cram into the one vacant room at the Teachers’ House. We all get into the car, and Co? is following Hasan Bey’s deputy’s car down the road, and we pass a bakkal (grocery store) that has a light on. I yell, “Stop the car, NOW!” and Co? doesn’t, saying we shouldn’t disturb the mayor’s deputy by making him wait. I am furious and open the door while the car is moving, which forces him to stop, and I hop out leaving the door open. I buy a can of tuna fish and crackers, which I devour. Co? dumps us at the Teacher’s House and leaves for the comfort of Hasan Bey’s house. Our room is hot as hell and stinks of the public toilet that’s right outside our door. The sheets and pillowcases haven’t been changed, merely hastily turned inside out, and are filthy. I now wish the mayor had kicked out the other guy, who turns out to be a drunk who keeps leering at my wife. I put a T-shirt around the pillow and sleep.