THE TOWN WITH STREETS THE SCENT OF CITRUS

We were in high school at the time, and we’d just come back from summer holiday.

Everyone was telling everyone else about where they’d gone and what they’d done during the summer break.

After everyone had finished telling their story, we turned to our one friend who had been silently taking it all in.

“Where did you go?”

“I didn’t go anywhere; I stayed at home!”

“How terrible!”

“There was nothing terrible about it. Our place there…” he began to explain.

Goodness gracious! The classmate who had just been sitting silently in the corner couldn’t stop talking about his hometown. The sea there was such that you wanted to drink it! The sand there was such that sunbathers thought they were lying down in a bed made of bird feathers! The streets there were such that the scent of citrus was everywhere!

“Enough already. You’re pulling our leg, but you can only go so far! Do streets ever smell like citrus? You must really think we’re stupid because you’re having us on,” we said, giving our classmate a good thrashing. These cute little beat-downs were an inseparable part of boarding school…

The place he was talking about was Bodrum.

And what did I see when I went some years later? If anything, our classmate had undersold the place, rather than exaggerate it! Bodrum was a small, little town. When you reached the top of a long, meandering and difficult road, you had the chance to behold the magnificent castle, unparalleled sand and fantastic natural beauty below you. As you descended the hill, you got to dive right into all of this beauty. And our classmate wasn’t lying; there really was an incredible scent from the orange, mandarin orange and lemon trees!

The houses were two stories tall and bedecked in white paint. They said no one ever locked their doors at night because there was no such thing as theft. There was just one sizable pension, as most of the small number of visitors were hosted in private homes. I still remember the refreshing coolness of the bedsheets and the scent of mandarin orange cologne next to the sink…

Old Bodrum

The small population of the town largely subsisted on the sea and diving for sponges. The café on the shore served as a place to gather over tea, both for people preparing to set sail and those returning to land. Nearby, on the narrow roads leading to the café, there were a few shops selling handicrafts and sponges.

Still, people were a bit melancholy, and why would they not be? The locals of what outsiders saw as a “charming seaside town” earned their living in difficult maritime conditions. How many people went diving for sponges and never returned – or, even if they did, were never quite the same again? Perhaps this is why they were melancholic, solemn and dignified; they had become acquainted with the blows dealt by life. These blows made every woman and man into philosophers of the coast. They would gather to drink rakı in the evenings in a few meyhanes, as the newly picked peppers, eggplant, herbs and melons would be more than enough for mezes. The star of such evening spreads would be fish that were freshly caught that day – or perhaps just moments before! And if an oud players happened to come your way, you’d reckon you were even a singer as you shouted out all your pent-up emotion.

That was the Bodrum of the 1960s…

After that, Bodrum grew to become one of Europe’s most prominent tourism centers.

Despite all this, the Dinç Pension, the largish inn that I saw when I first went there, is still there… So is the Denizciler (Sailors’) Café…

The Kortan Meyhane is still there too… Kortan is one of the fish restaurants boasting the best views of Bordum Castle. While sipping your drink, you’ll be enchanted by the beauty of the castle lit up at night.

Its fare is like that of everyone else; it’s the same mezes and the same fish. But those not expecting something really exceptional won’t have any complaints – we certainly have never had any; the beauty of the surrounding nature has always filled us up first.

What a thing to forget in the washroom

One time, my wife went to the ladies’ room after our meal. After she washed her hands, we left the restaurant and lost ourselves in the crowds of Bodrum. We had walked a little ways until she suddenly let out a scream:

“Oh no, my ring!”

While washing her hands, she had removed her ring and forgotten it there. We hurried back immediately, but half an hour had passed; someone could have come in after her, taken it and disappeared.

Full of worry, we entered the restaurant, where the boss was on hand, chuckling.

“Forgot your ring, didn’t you?”

We were shocked.

“It’s something that happens a lot here,” he continued. “That’s why I go into the washroom every time a lady comes out to see if something’s been forgotten!”

We took the ring and thanked him.

When the beauty of character and the beauty of nature are combined to become a tradition at an institution, its life is likely to last long!

The next time I’m back, I’ll invite the classmate who first told us about Bodrum and invite him to Kortan if he’s still living in the area. After our meal, I won’t have the energy anymore to give him a good thrashing, but I could push him into the sea right on the doorstep.

Traditions have to continue, after all, don’t they?