Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Village Life


View of the Hisar from a vantage point in the
Balkan Valley

For a small village like Ortahisar, tourism is number one of the economic base, followed by fruit storage. Since the older part of town in built on top of, or into the Swiss cheese cliffs leading down into dry (at the moment) riverbeds, there are many deep cave rooms where the temperature remains about 45-55 degrees year round. On the mesa tops, closer to the four-lane road that runs from Nevsehir to Urgup, more modern buildings sit atop dug out caverns with sloped entrances for trucks to back into. These are full from mid winter to the following autumn with citrus and from autumn till summer with potatoes. The citrus are lemons and oranges. This area has some farms but the crops are mostly grapes for the wineries, and vegetables, grown only in summer. Further south along the coast, the warmth permits year round crops where they can also grow citrus and palm trees. Dates, nuts, wheat, and figs are a big part of the agricultural base of the country.  With enough water, Turkey could supply food for the entire Middle East.

When a cavern is unloaded, a number of the lemons have dried up and these are tossed into long bags and sold for $4 Turkish lira apiece, about $2.20 American dollars. Evelien purchased five of these heavy bags and brought them home to store in her own large cave room. She uses them all winter as fire starters. The oils in the dry skin light quickly and give a nice aroma to a wood or coal fire.

Market day is Saturday, when people bring in
the produce from their large gardens for sale in Urgup.

Evelien’s house sits atop three cave rooms. My apartment is made from one of them, partitioned off inside with blocks made from the same tuff rock, so the whole thing feels like a cave, though portions, the kitchen for example, are actually constructed outside of the original cave. It has one door, hobbit-sized, that I can pass through, but anyone taller than 5’3” would have to duck. The door is made of planks of wood and security consists of two sliding pieces of wood that go into the frame. One has a handle on the outside; the night piece is accessible only from the inside. A window above the door swings open. It is protected by four steel bars, artfully decorated with bits of drift wood and glass “evil eyes”.  That window provides all the fresh air to the apartment.

In town, there is a large parking area in a triangle. The Mosque is in one corner; shops, a hotel and restaurants line the other sides. Giant tour buses park here and disgorge hoards of people with sunglasses and cameras dangling. They wander about the town, purchase a few dried fruits, nuts, a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate or orange juice, and maybe buy some dishes or embroidered tablecloths from the vendors. My friend Ali, who owns an antique shop, does a fairly lively business in spite of seeming to be uninterested in selling anything. He loves chatting with people. The tour drivers all know him and sit around his short tables on little Turkish padded stools smoking and having a cup of coffee or tea.  Up and down the street are four Tea Houses always full of men chatting, playing board games, and watching the people passing on the street. It’s a testosterone charged town, few local women are around, ever. They have better things to do than hang out in the town. Last Friday, there were no tour buses for some reason, and the town seemed particularly vacant of women. When I became aware of it, I looked around and there were men coming into the parking area from all over, lining up in front of Ali’s shop in an orderly bunch of rows, a serious solemn mood all round. Not another woman in sight. It was a little frightening. Ali’s shop was closed, a rarity, so I hightailed it down the hill with my groceries. Jim later told me he thought it must be the Friday prayers, but the next day, Ali said it was a funeral. Women do not attend funerals. They have their own weeping sessions together, privately, and at a home. A local man, about 42, had been killed on the highway when he tried to cross the road.

This woman rolled out a large "pancake" much
like a flour tortilla only thinner, filled it with cheese
and meat, then it's folded over and baked. 
There are several grocery stores in town, a couple of bakeries specializing in pita breads, called pide here, and the lovely small round loaves of soft whole wheat. French baguettes are also popular, and chunks of baguette bread are served in baskets in all the restaurants. In addition, there are a few vegetable/fruit markets where the owners stand outside using  fruit presses to create those delicious drinks. A small glass of orange juice, about 6 ounces, sells for 2 lira ($1 US). Evelien has one of those presses so I used it the other day to process the abundance of pomegranates I had. However, there are juice pomegranates and eating pomegranates. The ones for juice are quite small and fit the press perfectly. Most of the seeds inside pop but the larger ones are too big and half the pomegranate can be wasted. Unfortunately, the bitter white ‘skin’ that separates sections of seeds also gets squashed and adds a disagreeable flavor. The majority of Ortahisar's restaurants are Doner Kapab places where they shave off meat from a spit and serve it in sandwiches or on plates with vegetables. A couple of the restaurants have photos of other dishes, but usually only the soup and three or four dishes are available every day, you have to ask!

The pancake being baked on a large black
griddle, with a wood fire underneath. 
A big employer at the moment is the town government. It is in the process of “remodeling” the Hisar, the castle, the landmark rock formation. Most of the homes on the north and west sides are abandoned, by decree I think, and will eventually make up a museum, thus drawing even more tourists who will have been to the other outdoor museums at Zelve and Goreme where all they saw were ruins. This museum will show homes, as they appeared not so long ago, a more modern version of the troglodyte lifestyle.

Meanwhile, foreigners and a few Turks have been buying up cave homes in need of repair, preparing to create yet more cave hotels. I got online to check prices and was surprised to see many such homes for sale in the area, some for as much as 300,000 Euros. That’s a chunk of change for a building that is in dire need of lots more money just to bring it up to living standards, much less the luxury level provided by many of the cave hotels. I may have to come back in a couple of years just to witness all the changes that will have taken place.


Check out the size of those cabbages!

The gauntlet of shops you must walk through in
order to get from the parking lot to the Goreme
open air museum.

The ruins of a large carved church at Goreme.