Every Picture Tells a Story [Don't it?] 01 - Updated
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
(With Apologies to Messers Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood)
I've decided to start a new, weekly series, for fun. I'll aim to post these every Tuesday or Wednesday, for midweek entertainment. Rather than create it's own 'category', I'll put into the OffTopic Ramblings section, as that doesn't get used much - or hasn't so far. This is not quite the same as the KesterTester - because those are photos of Hungary and the region many that people in here might reasonably be expected to guess where they are. But photos presented in EPTASDI are ones I've taken over time (though most will be from the 70s to the mid-90s) that have a story attached to them, which I will relate in an accompanying text. They might be in Hungary, or surrounding countries, or wherever. This first one just happened to be on top of a pile that I was trying to sort out into boxes, and I thought would fit the job for starters.
But to add to the fun - I'll wait a day before I tell the story and reveal the location. So anyone who would like to have a guess can do so. And because it's much more exotic and much more difficult, if you are first to locate it correctly (within reason), you win the exclusive right to buy me a bottle of wine :) Heh heh heh! You can't accuse me of not rewarding talent with open-hearted generosity, can you? So, here you go - Every Picture Tells a Story [Don't it?] 01 - and I'll give you a generous clue for starters - it ain't Hungary :)
Alright, here's a bit more. Pre-Covid, this was a very popular country for tourists, although I doubt 0.01% visited this little area. Certainly, when I was there around this time of year in 1984, I didn't see a single tourist, and there was no tourism infrastructure. I hitched to the place, maybe 40 km from the nearby town.
And here's another clue (phew, I am generous today), it's quite likely that today, local security forces would not allow tourists here.
UPDATE: So where is it, and what's the story? Well, first an honourable mention must go to site member Albyn Austin, of Cardiff, for guessing the location - southern Turkey. “How about Adiyaman in the Kurdish area - just a blind guess,” he proffered. Not bad at all, Albyn.
Tom Chilton also casually said something like 'Turkey, near the Syrian border' - but a) he was showing no respect for the competition and b) I'd probably shown him the picture years ago in any case, so hardly fair. The problem with Turkey, as Albyn wrote, is that it “has more ancient sites than you can shake a stick at.” That is indeed true. There are an awful lot of really interesting places to see, and while this site, while it does (or did when I was there) get mentioned in national tourist brochures, is so far away from the 'hot spots', ie Istanbul and the coastal resorts, and it has such little infrastructure around it that I'd say tourists, as such, don't really go there. Travellers, on the other hand, did – but not so many even of those. I hitched south from Urfa (or Şanlıurfa as the authorities these days stress the Şanlı bit – I thought it meant 'holy' or 'saintly' in Turkish – google makes it 'famous') around the end of October, 1984 to find this settlement, which lies about 6-8km north of the Syrian border. The first surprise, when I got dropped off, was to see what I assumed was a huge crusader castle in front of me. It was, I'd say, in pretty good condition considering its age of 700? years, but wasn't even mentioned in my (fairly comprehensive) guidebook. Even the writer couldn't get everywhere, I suppose.
It was about two in the afternoon, and a clear sky bathed the area in good light from behind my back. And of course, having never been in a crusader castle, I just had to take a look. I mean, castles are romantic places, filled with a spiritual mix of chivalry and intrigue, the stone walls still faintly resonating with the sound of lutes and lyres and stuff like that, right?
Well, this one was filled with a mix of what felt like goat and cow sh... dung, and the walls resonated with screams of pain as my head hit them in the darkness. OK, that second bit is an untruth; I managed to avoid smashing my head, but the place was about as romantic as a cold store with the lights off. Then, somewhere emanating from the darkness, I heard voices: not speaking some ancient Franko-Deutsch tongue of the Holy Roman Empire, nor classical Arabic - they were no ghostly whispers, but rather – even to my poorly trained ear – seemingly modern Turkish. Was I scared? Well, I might have been, but rather quickly, out of the gloom, a couple of very corporeal men appeared. I'm not sure which party was the more surprised to find the other, but we exchanged greetings and I was immediately told to “come with us” in some language. (I think one of them spoke a bit English.) Well, I didn't want to go anywhere, in truth. I'd come to photograph what the guide book said were the 'beehive houses of Harran', which were the other side of the castle. And if the name sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it is Biblical – the very place, supposedly, where Abraham sojourned for some years on his way towards what became the promised land. So I took a few pics of the hamlet and its peculiar homes through what seems to have been the east gate of the castle – as depicted above – but then relented and joined the uncle and nephew team (as it turned out) and got into their truck to go … well, I wasn't sure. (It was explained that the nephew lived in some far off town, and the uncle had been showing him the delights of the castle and its dung – nothing sinister in them being there.) We bumped along dirt roads for maybe five-six kilometres and came to a stop in the yard of a house-cum-small holding. My Turkish wasn't up to it, but the conversation must have gone something like: “Hello luvvie, we're back with a guest, an English photographer we found in the castle,” as, of course, you do. Luvvie – well, it seemed she was one of three sisters, but you don't ask too much about the women in such circumstances – knew what that meant: make some tea. I forget if I was able to greet the ladies or not. Tea drunk, we had to go out in the yard. Why? To find a chicken to slaughter for a grand meal in honour of their English guest. Hen chosen, squark, knife out, drain blood, job done, body handed over to a luvvie and we retire inside once more. Now I always carried a box of photos with me for moments such as this when, given the typical language limitations, there was nothing much left to say. Going through 40-odd photos is both entertaining and gives something back to enthusiastic hosts, plus it passes the time. So while the sun set and the chicken and rice gurgled in the kitchen, I tried to tell, in a mixture of English, Turkish and maybe some German thrown in, tales behind the photos of places and people from Portugal to Turkey. We did this under, I was told, the somewhat dim, but newly installed electric lights. Then it was time for dinner, and a tasty feast it truly was. Foolishly, I accepted seconds. It was romantic though – not in any male-female way, of course – but just sitting, sated, in a traditional home, with a dirt floor in a place I didn't know the name of in a remote part of Turkey. A place that, surely, no westerner had visited in the past decade or more. It was now about six thirty, and there were no more photos to show. Uncle and nephew stood up. “Come with us!” What, again? Where to this time? We bumped along for another five-six kilometres in the pitch darkness to stop in the yard of another house-cum-farm and got out. If I understood aright, this was a family member of the uncle, but I couldn't work out whether it was the man or the wife of the house who was related.
What happened next? Well, first they turned off the telly – they were very proud of the telly, because they too had only recently got electricity, but when a guest arrives, especially a foreign guest, the newly acquired telly goes off and tea is made. Meanwhile the luvvie disappears to prepare – you've guessed it – another feast. I don't know how I forced it down – yes, it too was truly tasty, but it had barely been two hours since the earlier meal (and seconds). This also, should have been romantic, but I was beginning to understand how kings in the twelfth century had died of surfeits of venison. In truth, I can't remember how the evening ended. I think we drove back to uncle's and I slept there, making my way back to Urfa the following day. Either way, if you ever make it to Harran, I'd advise not entering the crusader castle. I suspect the goat and cow dung will just be that much thicker on the ground and you'll almost certainly bash your head. But if you do, and out of the gloom a Turkish uncle and nephew appear saying: “Come with us” - if you value your waistline, find an excuse - and don't. UPDATE to the UPDATE - I was trying to find a photo of the family - or families - that lived in the first home-cum-small holding, but failed to do so. To my surprise, however, I did find more photos of Harran that I'd totally forgoten about, like this scene, below. This is taken from east of the hamlet, looking across some excavations, with the village in the middle background. On the horizon, to the right of the water towe, is the crusader castle.
The uncle and his nephew must have driven me up for this piccie, something I'd totally forgotten about.