Saturday, 14 May 2011

Holiday Snapshots (1): Flying Pigs and the Wine-Dark Sea

“Well, I’m back.”
Sam Gamgee, The Return of the King

… And I’m not sure I want to be. Yesterday evening I returned after spending a week in Turkey – an isolated hotel on the Aegean coast, about 40 km south of Izmir. A week of complete relaxation with the biggest decisions being what to eat, or at which swimming pool to spend the afternoon.

I did take my netbook with me, with the vague intention of perhaps writing something, or logging onto the internet occasionally, just to check my mails, you understand. In the event, I did neither and the netbook was only briefly powered up a couple of times to transfer photos from my camera to the hard drive.

Checking my mail inbox yesterday evening – horrifically full after a week of being left to its own devices – I realised that it has been literally years since I have been removed from cyberspace for so long. What this says about my life, or modern life in general, I’m not sure; when I get my thoughts together about it, it may even prove a subject for a post here sometime in the near future. There are, for example, many mails which I should answer, particularly various comments on posts on this blog, which have been waiting patiently in my inbox for approval. As I write this, I am becoming uncomfortably aware that I am generally not as diligent about replying to comments as I should be – let this then function as a general apology to all those who take the time to comment on my offerings here; I do appreciate what you write and I am aware that the dialogues which comments give rise to are one of the most important aspects of blogging. It’s just that there are so many normal everyday tasks to do in the hectic hurly-burly of life that I don’t always get around to them all.

Which is one of the things which was so marvellous about the past week; getting so completely out of the everyday routine, using the opportunity afforded by a week’s holiday – a package “all-inclusive” deal which even relieves one of all burdens of decisions regarding holiday budgets because everything in the hotel is included in the price, including drinks from the various bars. Very quickly after arriving, I found myself switching into a profound relax, almost standby, mode, so that, even of the four books I (an inveterate, compulsive reader) had brought with me, I only managed to read one during the week. Although, on reflection, it wasn’t standby at all; rather it was a truly blessed opportunity to live intensively other levels of life, to lie in the warm Mediterranean sun, eyes closed, letting one’s thoughts idly meander by until one realises that one has, in fact, not been thinking at all, or to share the flow of life as experienced by my four-year-old grandson who, along with his mother, had accompanied me.

Bertrand Russell once wrote a marvellously intelligent essay titled In Praise of Idleness, which should be required reading for all thinking people. At the end of my holidays, I feel a sense of regret that his arguments have not gained more currency in our modern world and, at the same time, a small degree of satisfaction that, for a week at least, I have managed to experience some of the advantages of the mentality he suggests. But “normal” life is regaining its hold on me and so I find myself once more slowly knuckling under the various demands of routine – including my (entirely voluntary) self-chosen obligation to look after this blog. And, as I so succumbed to idleness in the past two weeks as to neglect to let my readers know how pleasant my holidays were, I will now provide some written snapshots of some of my experiences – virtual postcards, if you will, from Holidayland.

Snapshot 1: The Flying Pig
We were travelling very early in the season – the hotel was open for less than a week when we got there – so instead of flying on a charter flight full of sun-hungry Germans, the travel company had booked us on a regular flight from Düsseldorf to Izmir with the Turkish low-cost carrier, Pegasus Airlines. As a result, most of the passengers were Turkish, people travelling for all sorts of reasons between two international cities.

The low-cost air transport concept has revolutionised air travel in Europe in the past twenty years, making flying from one country to another something affordable for ordinary people rather than an expensive luxury. In my own case it has made visiting my Irish homeland something I can do for a few days a couple of times annually rather than a major expedition to be planned every second year or so. Though the major carriers like Ryanair or Easyjet are better known, Pegasus is the largest private Turkish airline with around 100 flights daily.

As I watched the plane preparing for the start at Düsseldorf airport, however, a very different thought struck me – one concerning the perils of choosing internet domain names and plastering them in large letters on your carriers and the advisability of having a few native English speakers among the people responsible for making such decisions. may seem a logical domain name for an airline called after Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek legend, but I’m afraid the automatic connection my mind made was to place an i between the p and the g and immediately think of airborne bacon. A connection all the more unfortunate for a company operating out of a predominantly Muslim country.

The flight was pretty full. Directly across the aisle, a large, overweight Turkish man of around sixty took his place. He didn’t look particularly well; he was sweating and panting heavily. That part of me which is an experienced nurse automatically speculated about probable coronary heart disease and hoped that a few hours sitting down would provide him with some relief.

It didn’t. About an hour before we were due to land, he began to feel so unwell that he (or his companion) summoned a flight attendant. Shortly after that a call went out on the loudspeakers for a doctor or medical personnel. No doctor appeared so I offered my services. We got him into the flight attendants area (luckily we were both sitting at the front of the plane). Despite a pretty dark skin colour, he was looking pretty grey and gasping for breath. He spoke nothing but Turkish, the stewardess acted as interpreter between us. There was considerable chest discomfort (rather than real pain) and he indicated that he had gone through this kind of thing before so I guessed (and hoped) that he was having a pretty heavy attack of angina pectoris rather than a heart attack.

Some more questioning revealed that he had nitroglycerin spray in his pocket (thus confirming my suspicions about heart disease), so I gave him some of that. As we were in an airplane, I suggested to the attendants that we might be able to organise some oxygen for him and after some fumbling with the various connections between a portable tank and a mask we had him on two and a half litres per minute. The relief came quickly and after about fifteen minutes we could discontinue the oxygen and he went back to his seat quite happily. With the help of the stewardess, I gave him a lecture about the necessity of seeing a doctor as soon as possible because with these kinds of symptoms a heart attack is always looming. I can only hope he took my advice, as the last that I saw of him was him waiting for his luggage at the baggage carousel.

Snapshot 2: The Wine-Dark Sea
The Aegean is, of course, Homer country (or sea) par excellence and as I looked out over the small bay on which our hotel was situated, I found myself thinking of the Iliad. There is good evidence that Homer was born in Izmir (Smyrna) and Troy itself is only about a hundred miles north of Sığacık/Seferihisar where we were staying. During the long years of the Trojan War Achilles and his Myrmidons raided this coast repeatedly to put Priam’s allies under pressure and try to cut off the Trojan supply lines. It was on one of these raids that he took the beautiful Briseis prisoner, over whom his dispute with Agamemnon would have such catastrophic consequences.

Samos, just visible through the haze
We are used to thinking of history and geography in terms of landmasses and countries, but this is only one way of seeing things. The great French historian, Fernand Braudel, taught us another way of looking at the world in his masterpiece, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. Braudel looks at the whole Mediterranean as a cockpit of history and indeed sees it as many seas, “a vast, complex expanse.” One of its most historically laden components is the Aegean and there is a lot of justification for regarding ancient (and indeed Roman and Byzantine) Greece less as the Hellenic peninsula and more as all those lands and islands bordering and contained by the Aegean – a cultural unit which lasted for two thousand years before the Turks created a new reality for the region, less than a thousand years ago. Greek and Roman ruins are visible all through the coastal areas of Turkey and the ancient Greek city of Teos (one of the twelve members of the Ionian league) is within walking distance of our hotel. Looking south across the bay, the mountainous mass of the Greek island of Samos can clearly be seen through the haze. Indeed, until the Greco-Turkish war following World War I, there was still a sizable Greek minority (some even claim it was a majority) in the whole Smyrna/Izmir area and, if the Greeks had had their way, the area in which we made our holiday would today be part of Greater Greece. As it was, the Turkish nationalists under Mustafa Kemal succeeded in throwing the Greek forces out of all of mainland Anatolia in a war characterised by incidents of savagery and atrocities (“ethnic cleansing”) on both sides and the ultimate relocation of nearly two million people, three quarters of them Greek. And our hotel had no problem playing the Greek card with much of its décor, even going so far as to call itself Club Atlantis.

As to the wine-dark colour of the Aegean famously described by Homer, despite my best efforts I generally only managed to see many beautiful shades of blue. Once, seeing a darker shade probably caused by seaweed in the centre of the bay, I reflected that, with a bit – well, a lot – of charitable imagination, one might describe the quasi-purple colour resulting as wine-red. Maybe I just wasn’t fortunate enough to see it under the right lighting conditions.

Rosy-fingered dawn was another Homerian epithet I missed. Experiencing it would have meant getting up very early in the morning and I was on holiday. Being in relax mode, dawn wasn’t very high on my list of priorities anyway.

(to be continued …)

Photos by the author with the exception of:


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