Tokat (Central Anatolia)

August. East to Tokat today. Road repair and dust. The road is gravel for a long distance. The summer heat is tiring. But we press on.  

Three o’clock, afternoon. We pass Corum. It is a town full of myriad types of baked chick peas (leblebi). Crunched all over Turkey. I eat my share. When I am not eating peanuts, that is. We have explored the small pleasant town on another trip. We stop and have a picnic under some poplar trees near the road. It is pleasant in the open air and relatively cool. A cold beer from the cooler tastes delicious. Chilling irrigation water trickles through the small canal to trees and crops. Green leaves in the breeze. I feel like sleeping.

Six o’clock evening. After two hours more cruising. Our Mercedes smoothes out the road. More productive green valleys. My old Merle Haggard tape keeps me awake. Okie from Muskogee. The song doesn’t quite sing me back home. It gets us to Hotel Burcu in Tokat.  

A large fertile valley here. An abundance of fruit and vegetables on an industrial scale.  Huge fields of tomatoes, grown here for the juice and canning industry.

Wheat harvest now in full swing. Still few combines. Still small peasants hang on. It is 2002. Harvesting is still done mostly with a modern grain binder behind a tractor. The sheaves are then collected, opened and fed through a stationary thresher run by a tractor. For peasants, it is a family operation. Labor intensive.

But the younger ones will soon head for Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Germany, America. They are under the illusion that the grass is greener on that side of the global fence.

Many old, traditional Turkish houses still stand in town. Some are nearly ready to fall down, but historical houses are protected by law.

Unfortunately the lawmakers have little effect on gravity. I realize the town is very different from the image I had in my mind before I came. Turkish towns can be very traditional in style, while things work in a quite modern way. The markets look modern, while back streets take one back in history. It is pleasant, but a boring place to live, I reflect. That is, for a ruined academic like me. My mind has been badly warped by knowledge. Unfortunately most of it may be useless.

We asked for a quiet room. Impossible, however, to avoid noise from the streets. Autos with blaring horns and revving motors. The two-stroke engine. A boon to humanity? I doubt it. Youthful love of noise. A power drug. Part of modernity, I suppose. Or perhaps stupidity. And the urge to travel. Anywhere.

I tried hard, but could not generate any inspiration for this trip. I was down in the dumps, as my father used to say. High plateau central Anatolian blues. One gets em, just like in Missississississississippippi. Or more accurately Meessssssippee. It was hard to shift mental gears. Once on the road, however, I started looking forward to Eastern Anatolia and Van. Hope springs eternal. I am sure the towns will not look anything like what I have imagined for many years.

I think of Dogubeyazit too. I tell myself that I would like to live in that area for some time, but it is an illusion. A fantasy. I do not know what it would offer to me. What could I do there? Sometimes I am wild like that.

The valleys are very green from good rains this year. On the other hand, high areas are dry and brown. The fields of golden wheat are  beautiful. Most of the grain has now been cut. Shocks lie in many fields, not yet gathered. But there will be little or no rain for months.

Some fields are harvested with a combine. But I have not seen anyone cutting wheat by hand. Thankfully, that horrible task has mostly gone out of style. I think of  Punjab where the harvest was all done by hand in the l960s. The small mechanical binders driven by a tractor are quite imexpensive. In Punjab, farm laborers lost hands and arms in them.

The area is rich in watermelons and cantaloupes. And kavun. A kavun is like a cantaloupe, but bigger. And grows in dry areas, making its sweet juicy fruit. One sees many onion (sogan) fields, patches of pole beans, tomatoes and fruit trees. Large fields of sugar beets fill up the valleys. The peasants here feed the country.

And beautiful fields of dark green maize. It appears to be a wonderful year for crops. Many farm tractors on the roads. The drivers defend their rights and only get off the road to let one pass with great reluctance.  

Leylek or storks appear. They are big black and white birds. We saw several today. They build enormous nests right on top of electrical or telephone poles. There is a cross-bar right at the top, which must be extremely inviting to these birds. At the first nest, we saw six or seven big birds standing on the mass of twigs. It looked to be six feet in diameter, but perhaps was larger as we saw it from a good distance.

They build nests right next to the road. One would think the traffic would disturb them. But it seems that they have adjusted to it. Turks say that if one sees a stork that they will travel a lot that year.

The down side is that storks too often get electrocuted on these wires. Some towns have made them places to nest.

What a dirty job, threshing with these small threshers. Peasants are putting the sheaves of grain through with a pitch fork. They get covered with the dust and chaff. I hope that they make some money. But the trend is to give it up and head for the city, especially if one is a little younger. Youths will no longer stay in the villages. Relatively few of them, at least. The bright lights call them. And the freedom, women, and booze. Human liberation and human libation.

Late evening. We walk around the town. We see some of the old buildings. A quite nice town. The local young girls are dating tonight in Islamic attire. It is Saturday night. Religion has nothing to do with hormones. It doesn’t stand a chance when it comes to hormones.

Their life is far more progressive than the way I was brought up in the midwest of the United States of America. This is what strikes me. They, at least, can be seen with a boy. The social code imposed upon us was closer to that of the Taliban. America the beautiful. Americans the repressed. Well, at least where I was from. Few would believe it, but it is true, anyway. Crazy. Not the Hollywood image.

Just down the main street is a big square with historical buildings. 

Sunday in Tokat. July 31

I awake early. The early morning air is cool and refreshing. A lovely time before the heat comes.

No Sunday School today. Hallelujua.

After a good sleep we have breakfast downstairs. There is kusburnu (Rosehips) jam. And all the other tasty foods of a Turkish breakfast. This includes tomatoes and cucumbers. But not fruit. In Vietnam, its mostly fruit, and no vegetables. Boiled eggs. Olives. Several types of cheese. Salami. Toast, jam. Tea.

Many old wooden houses have now been restored and are beautiful. Others will fall down eventually without repair. This town is very historical. But some old houses are falling down for lack of funds to restore them. It is a shame. A great loss. Makes me feel sad to see it. Sad to see them replaced by ugly modern brick and cement monstrosities.

I realize that I needed to get away from academic work. I needed some human liberation from that grind. And human libation to something or other. I am feeling much better after just one day away from books, articles, and papers. Not to mention student papers. That poison kills brain cells faster than toxic waste. Come to think of it, it is probably a form of it. How long can a professor go on until every last brain cell in his head is obliterated by reading student papers? Revolting drivel. Not long. That’s for sure. Careers cut short. 

This is the true meaning of human liberation. At least for me in the present.

This is not a poor town, due to the fertility of the valley. Many gold shops in town. Buying gold is still a form of savings. And buying for weddings and other occasions.

At the local family tea garden, a typical setup, the old grape vines are almost as thick as trees. They are very old. Looks very Greek to me. They make a natural cooling roof of green leaves, and eventually hanging fruit. It seems that many merchants here were Greek, Jewish, and Armenian before World War I.

The tea garden is a pleasant place to sit in the evening. We stay till late evening. No mosquitoes.

It is the small Cimtim Restaurant for lunch. It is a failure for us, at least. Unfortunately. We did not want to eat heavy meat, such as Tokat Kebab, in the evening. So I have cicik (cucumber and yoğurt) and share a plate of chicken shish with my wife.

We did not find the food tasty, however. We take a walk and find a book seller near the old market. All the books are in Turkish, naturally. On a street corner, a peasant is selling garlic from the back of his tractor. He is friendly and gives us a couple of cloves of garlic. He said they called him “the Doctor” because he sells garlic for health. His tractor has a convenient sun shade.

Behind the town is a huge rock mountain, craggy and jutting. A ruined castle at the top. I reflect that it would be terribly hard to capture a castle on that steep peak. One would certainly have a tremendous view of the town from up there.

Soldiers must have died by scores on that rocky peak.

At the main square, there are horse carriages for hire. Evenings are lively. People stroll, mostly dressed conservatively. But not a great many women in black. A socially conservate area, but change creeps slowly.

Alipasa Camii. (A mosque)  

Places to see: Gok Medrese 1277 (museum); Tas Han (l631); Yazmacilar Hani (Gaziogulu Is Han) Opposite the Kabe-i-Mescit Camii; Hatuniye Camii (l485); Down the Street (North) from Gok Medrese is the Sumbul Baba Saviyesi (Dervish Lodge), Built l292. It is now part of a house.

Another block north is the Octagonal building: Sefer Pasa Turbesi (Seljuk-Style Tomb) l251. From here, a road leads up to the kale (castle). There is a fine view.

16th C. Tarihi Ali Pasa Hamami (l572). Ali Pasa Camii (l566-72) Nearby. Old houses. Latifoglu Konagi. Madimagin Celalin Evi.

One cannot see everything in one trip. Or in many trips. Just a short glimpse and then a moving on. That is life.


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