Whenever I visit my homeland, Canada, I inevitably get asked what’s so special about Turkey that I was willing to leave my family and friends and a country that ranks 14th on the list of happiest countries in the world. I explain the great appeal for me of living in a country with such an incredibly long and illustrious history, which includes ancient sites whose origins trace back to the dawn of human civilization. I also mention Turkey’s geographical proximity to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, which has allowed me to indulge my passion for travel in the 29 years that I’ve lived here. I go on about the culture and the cuisine and of course the friendliness and hospitality of the Turkish people themselves. One thing that I’ve never shared though, is what I call “a perfect Turkish moment.”
In fact, it was a perfect Turkish moment that led me to give up my plans to return to Canada so many years ago. I had just completed a year of teaching in Istanbul and was making arrangements to go back to Toronto. Before my return, however, I embarked on a short, two week holiday along the Aegean Coast. After visiting a friend on the island of Gökçeada, near Çanakkale, I made my way down the coast to the town of Ayvalık to visit the nearby ruins of Pergamon. On the last day of my trip I was eating a famous “Ayvalık toast” (a souped up grilled cheese sandwich) at a small kiosk close to the beach. I can still recall the salty smell of the sea air and how the warm wind, laden with the scent of flowers and fruit tree blossoms, caressed my skin so sensuously. The most amazing music was playing over speakers in the kiosk, by a folk singer named Selda Bağcan – a sort of Turkish counterpart to Joan Baez. At that moment, staring out at the sea while listening to this otherworldly music and eating the delicious sandwich as the warm, scent-laden air kissed my forehead and cheeks, I had the first of what I began to call “a perfect Turkish moment.” This feeling of happiness and being in the moment led to an epiphany: I didn’t want to go back to Canada. I wasn’t full yet! I wanted more! At that moment I decided to postpone my return to Canada for another year. As it turned out, I didn’t go back for a visit until after my son was born 6 years later.
RAKI AND FISH
There have been many such moments since that day – and don’t get me wrong, experiences like these are by no means exclusive to Turkey. But there is an alchemy here, which usually – but not necessarily – involves the Turkish beverage called Rakı, a seafood dinner with an enormous selection of delectable appetizers, a table by the sea on a crowded, cobblestoned quay, and the company of one’s family and several close friends. At times like those, as I gaze around the table at the faces of friends and loved ones through Rakı-blurred glasses, listening to the restaurant patrons sing heartily along to the Classic 70s Turkish songs playing live or over speakers as waves slap gently against the wharf and the moon hangs suspended in the warm perfumed air above the undulating waves of a bay, I feel the happiness and serenity of another perfect Turkish moment.