For one glorious day we had a tomato tree on our front terrace. The tree had a girth of perhaps two meters, a spread of about six meters and it stood some 10 meters tall. Believe me, it was beautiful with its large dark green leaves and fine crop of dazzling red tomatoes. We have photographs.
Now let me explain. We have a Turkish friend by the name of Can. He is the director of the local library, but he also owns a big parcel of land with a goodly number of olive trees and four large greenhouses in which he grows tomatoes year round. Every year Can gifts us something like 20 kilograms of tomatoes; they usually come in large bread baskets. Last year he delivered the fruit on a day when we were out. He told us later that he had waited for an hour, expecting us to be not far away, but after that hour gave up on our early return.
I think it may have been a day when he had little else to do, so Can spent a further hour tying the tomatoes to the lower branches of the old mulberry tree which graces our front terrace so well. He used thin black thread which he found in our sewing kit we happened to have left out, having spent the previous day mending things. After completing his work, he left.
When we returned from our day out, the sight of that tree stopped us in our tracks.
I am reluctant to criticize the Creator for his design of the standard mulberry tree, but really its design cannot compare with the sight that greeted us that day. Just beautiful.
For several years we had been hiding an earlier gift from Can Bey, one less appreciated. He had been given an oil painting which was a little too risqué to hang in his home and a lot too risqué to hang in the town library. It was of a couple of naked young ladies; ladies best described as statuesque. One was squatting on the floor and one was standing nearby. They were a fine pair of ladies and both appeared to be of kind disposition.
Now then, we had no objection to the subject matter whatsoever; there are perhaps a dozen scantily dressed ladies scattered around the walls of our house, some painted by friends but many prints from the likes of Klimt and Beardsley; the truth is that the gift from Can, some one meter by 0.7 meters, was poorly executed. It was verging on kitsch. We hid it behind a cupboard but were prepared to hurriedly hang it over a much smaller painting were Can to visit.
After a few years, we supposed that Can may have forgotten about the painting, so when a friend who ran a weekly auction of antiques and artwork asked had we anything to sell, we thought about the ladies.
So kitsch was the picture that we contrived this: He would announce that the proceeds for the sale of the masterpiece would go towards animal welfare and that the successful purchaser could, if he wished [“IF HE WISHED !”] donate it back for the next auction. It worked! We sold it in at least five consecutive auctions and probably raised a total of about TL 150, which we gave to the local doggie home.
The racket may well have gone on for another month or two, but it ground to a miserable halt when a lady who didn’t quite get the idea won the bidding but took the picture home. She told us later that her husband hated the picture, so he burnt it!
Back to tomatoes, I’m reminded now of my very first Turkish crop.
My arrival in Turkey was by yacht. I sailed into Bodrum harbor one day and two days later came the weekly market. My diet then was very simple, consisting of one chicken döner ashore every day supplemented by bread, cheese, tomatoes, eggs and potatoes on the boat.
I went ashore on market day to buy the necessary vittles for the coming week. At the first veggie stall I saw beautiful tomatoes, so I pointed to them and ordered “One kilo lütfen.”
The chap looked a bit startled and said, “On kilo?” I said, “Yes”; but again he asked “ON kilo?” and I replied, a mite exasperated by now, “YES ONE!”
The stallholder started filling a plastic bag and by the time it was half full, I was beginning to think that perhaps one kilogram was too much. When that bag was full, he started on another and it dawned on me that I’d made a mistake. If I remember well, I walked away with four large carrier bags stuffed with my 10 kilograms of ripe fruit. I could barely carry them.
Back on board I found that I had bought far too much to be able to comfortably stow them in the galley, so I left the majority in the cockpit and determined that I would gobble them down as fast as possible. I ate a couple of the fruits, a piece of cheese and rowed to the shore and went to the jazz cafe.
I returned later that night slightly the worse for drink and fell asleep.
I will not tell in detail the night’s adventure; suffice to say that the wind got up to something like gale force, boats dragged anchors, we were all swinging around pitching and yawing, and all captains were awake and jumping around doing captainy things until dawn.
A little later I aroused myself from a cockpit doze and found myself ankle-deep in approximately 9.9 kilograms of tomato ketchup on the cockpit floor.
There went my first Turkish lesson. “On” means 10.
For the week following I was, deservedly, the laughingstock of the anchorage, but I was dethroned the following market day when another single-hander bought a kilogram of bay leaves. Oh sure, he had no trouble carrying it back to his boat, but where on a 27 footer do you stow a sack of that size?
By the way, when I was halfway through writing this piece, Die Frau brought me my midday snack. It was a cheese and tomato sandwich.
Good bread, reasonable cheese and possibly the best tomatoes in the world.
John Laughland – Fethiye