09/10/2007 12:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Notes from Turkey

A couple of weeks of the hard life on Turkey's Aegean coast. We're north of Bodrum, the Turkish Riviera resort that the Ertegun brothers of Atlantic Records fame helped make very popular, and very crowded.

But here where we are is away from the mobs, on the other side of the peninsula. On waking, clump down from the house past the bougainvillea, down the rocky slope of olive trees and flower-speckled shrubs to the private jetty, and flop in. You're splashing in the sea of Homer, pretty much. Or rather, Herodotus, who was from Bodrum when it was known as Halicarnassus in Ionia. The Aegean being saltier than the rest of the Mediterrean, you float without effort.

Maybe not paradise. But pretty close.

We're guests of our friends Engin and Nuri. She, for want of a better phrase, is the grande dame of Turkish cuisine; he's a business tycoon. All the other Scrabble players and novel readers on the jetty are wealthy, too. And distinctly cosmopolitan. An Iranian-born international finance type from Washington, D.C., another from Pakistan with Russian houseguests; high-power Turkish lawyers who studied in the States and do work for Murdoch; Turkish writers and artists, including an internationally known novelist and singer; a Libyan-born Italian from Istanbul married to yachting Englishman. Et cetera. Not our regular social set; but hey, live and let live under this lazing sun.

Disliking Bush?

I wouldn't say people here "dislike" Bush. Feelings range more accurately from resigned or toughened disgust (Turkish businessmen) to a state of permanent, barely coherent rage (the foreigners), which flares daily with updates from the Herald Trib or Newsweek International or on Al Jazeera/English on cable.

But the only truly virulent anti-Americanism so far has come from a prominent radical English movie producer, I'll call her Sarah, here on her way to take Engin's cooking classes a couple hours inland. We were all agreeing with her happily until she badmouthed Monterey Jack cheese, which for us is really crossing a certain line. After she left (she was fine company, generally), we fell to yacking about the ill effects of English class consciousness -- Sarah being ferociously, but also vulnerably, working class. How happy the Brits we know in America are, despite Bush, to be out of England.

Sarah herself raised a particular political stigma for the UK regarding Iraq, over and above America's: What's to be done about a government that went to war despite the overwhelming opposition of its citizens? What does this mean for a "democracy?"

Turkey's Issues

The Turkish contingent here have their own political preoccupations. Many businessmen voted for the AKP, the triumphant so-called "moderate" Islamic party, in the July elections. AKP is conservative and very business friendly, the main champions of the push to join EU. But everyone on the jetty is nervous what this will lead to socially. Turkey's parliament will be voting on changes to the constitution that might whittle at the precious heritage of Turkish secularism. Headscarves, for instance, are banned from official public buildings. With cooperation from Turkey's main nationalist party (conservative too, albeit secular and ultra-nationalist, historically), AKP probably has the votes now to lift this longstanding prohibition. So the headscarved wife of newly elected President Gul will not cause a ruckus (she's getting a fashion jazz-up by an Austrian designer, by the way).

The fear is that all this will be a thin end of the wedge to patiently Islamic-ize public life. Secular Turks feel squeezed between the encroaching rock of Islamicism on the one side, and the interventions of the army, which is secular but also at least quasi-fascist, on the other. The fear is one will have to pick one's poison.

The other issue here, not widely spoken of, but explosive, could turn Turkey very anti-American overnight. The U.S. Congress has on hand an Armenian genocide resolution. The Anti-Defamation League in America has long opposed it, for reasons of Israel's alliance with Turkey. But recently the ADL allowed that the term genocide indeed applies. This is a matter is of extraordinary sensitivity to most Turks, secular or religious, who feel no unambiguous genocide took place. Given America's moral standing these days, any such resolution would be seen as the most provocative and insulting hypocrisy and intrusion. Even champions of genocide acknowledgment among Turkish Armenians, such as murdered journalist Hrant Dink have felt outsider pronouncements are counter-productive. I'll be writing more about this upcoming.

Blue Voyage

But back to sunny things. It's big sailing country here, and one of the pleasures is Blue Voyage -- lazing along the coast for a few days in a boat (either your own or a rented one). You anchor in a quiet cove and spend the day loafing in the water and the night on deck, after cok (much) raki, sleeping under the stars, with the Milky Way adrift overhead like a hazy old superhighway.

On days when the wind blows, though, any open-water crossings back to port can be adventures in seasickness. I'm told that ginger capsules can help. Should have packed some.

And tomorrow is September 11...

Thanks to, where this piece appears on my blog, Brain Flakes.

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