The Cartographers of Antalya – Antalya, Turkey

Clouds of Geyik Bayiri
Clouds of Geyik Bayiri
All caveats aside, the Turks are terrible mapmakers.

A hotelier named Mustafa draws us a map by which we hope to escape with our newly rented Fiat the knotted streets of Antalya and find the cliffs of Geyik Bayiri. His map exclusively features rows of parallel lines which represent only the horizontal part of the grid of the city. From his explanation our route seems to follow these lines intermittently, but vertical roads, and indeed the route itself remain entirely undrawn as he talks and gestures at the paper. Mustafa swipes down a few more bars, and in order to indicate that we shall proceed a great distance on one of the lines he does not lengthen it but rather traces it over and over again, as if a road were merely time’s treadmill, bearing no relation to actual place. (In Los Angeles and other like-grinded cities, this is in fact the case.) We leave laughing, thread and circle (how about that, Mustafa?) out of the city center and are soon lost in a town apparently bereft of street signs. Praveen stifles a giggle as the next map is drawn, this time by a shopkeeper who stabs a great number of dots tightly in the corner of a page as if testing the pen in preparation for an extravagant flourish that will fill the sheet. But these points are in fact the map itself.

What does it mean to never reduce a city from above, to always know the way through particular places rather than by master plans? What rich and abundant paths Turks may take while Praveen and I dismiss the trees to favor the forest. I refer you to naturalist-philosopher Annie Dillard: “That there are so many details seems to be the most important and visible fact about the creation. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, then look at the trees; when you’ve looked at enough trees, you’ve seen a forest, you’ve got it.” Since we dwell in the journey, why not take the scenic route. Time runs on either way, so go out with a buck, a wing and all the rest of the dazzling minutia that litters the trail.

Finally we navigate by attending to the landscape. Praveen, look there, beyond the old mosque that is now a supermarket, there’s mountains in them thar hills, let’s go west. We jockey for position on the fast, chaotic streets. A man in a business suit sprints across the road so close to us he could have tapped our bumper with his briefcase. Another man jogs with traffic, pulling a cart loaded precariously with bags of potatoes–he too is wearing a suit. A squat old woman in ballooning pants and a head scarf drags a Fiat-sized bag of hay over her shoulder, spits on the road as we pass. Uniformed children suddenly stream across the street; a sedan behind us honks, slaloms past then through the schooling kids who scatter then coalesce on the other side, unruffled. A man crawls from the passenger window of a speeding truck to mount the top of the cab and quick-fix the radio antenna–there’s a futbol match. Apparently the Antalyans are not averse to a little risk on the road. Buck and a wing.

The buildings give way to villages, which relent to to mandarin orchards, then olive groves, then pines and scrub as we wind high into the hills. A light dust of ash drifts in the breeze, no, it must be trees autumn-seeding. A flock of goats blocks the cliffed road and a child with a stick disappears into the herd to play shepherd. Her parents sit hunched and wool-bundled in a rickety wooden shelter–wait, Praveen, the ash-seeds are snow! But it’s too warm; it must be blowing down from deep in the mountains. We get out and hand-sign our astonishment to the wind-wizened couple, their eyes twinkle. In a controlled avalanche the bulk of the goats tumble from the roadside and down the limestone cliff, but the family stays shelter-bound, perhaps waiting for a ride. Pointing his finger with eyebrows raised Praveen asks: You? In car? Further up the road? They nod eagerly. Praveen looks at the remaining goats, brow-furrowed and frowning as if debating, then he dismisses the goat-hidden girl with a wave: No, she is fine here with the herd. The parents laugh–they got it. Come here little one, come on. We drive up to Geyik Bayiri, the family snug in the back seat.

Woman and Child, Geyik Bayiri
Woman and Child, Geyik Bayiri
We leave the family in the village and drive-scan the cliffs. There Chris, at the highest lip of a cave in the rock, it’s a goat! Praveen shakes his head in amazement: Goats in caves, kids in flocks, snow, what a place. No Praveen, impossible, no goat could stand there, it’s a stalactite for sure. Praveen grins with recognition. It’s a climber! Slide to a halt, backpacks on, up through the pines to the cliff and we are suddenly climbing with a German clan who to a man float routes on which we flail. I grab a stalactite, step on an edge, splash a finger in a wet pocket and fall laughing through empty space to dangle spinning over southern Turkey. I swing gently, hypnotized by the goats rafting down the winding road, the orchards like squares of green fabric stretched over knees and shoulders, the flecks of town like flakes of snow, the Mediterranean blue–lower me Praveen, you’ve got to see this for yourself.

We lower back to Antalya, in our headlights the dark-suited men furtively dart across the road like deer, their eyes glowing. We park in old Kalechi, a maze of narrow cobble streets of the type familiar and beloved across Europe by the tourist set, ourselves included. Kalechi’s tourists are wintering elsewhere, but the bakeries and clothiers and restaurants remain inexplicably open. The tables are set with candles burning, the bracelets and scarves are arrayed under the streetlights. We linger at a window examining painted ceramic tiles and out rushes the shopkeeper’s son, spilling his tea and leaving it and us floored: Welcome, come in, look around, where are you from, would you like some tea, here are some apple slices, I take your coat, this tile a special price, very fine things, all the best quality. So shameless it’s innocent. Ok, yeah, I’ll have an apple, and how much for this bracelet? Five lira sir, three sir, one and a half–if he undercuts his price any more he will pay me to take it. Stop man, here’s two lira ($1.50) and keep it, what kind of reckless capitalism is this–it’s cold, nobody’s in town, close the store until spring, it can’t be worth it!

Now we are looking for a restaurant, and from across the courtyard storms a black-suited bouncer who deftly drops and stomps his newly lit cigarette without breaking stride. He looks to tackle us, but stops just shy and gracefully bows. Almost singing he booms: Come in, it is warm friends, we have a table for you, my name is Sahar, where are you from? Ok, ok, I say, wait a second, do you have pizza, because my friend here is vegetarian. Yes, yes, we make anything! I look at Praveen–I swear I will order roasted camel with fig sauce on a bed of polished turquoise pebbles. We gawk at the candles burning down, the roaring fire, the army of waiters serving us alone, swiping and replacing used napkins, filling nearly full glasses, rearranging plates to make the table tidy. Then up slides the graceful and massive Sahar with his unbridled grin and twinkling black eyes and flourishing gestures and operatic voice singing: You are my friends, I am so happy you are here, I am so glad, yes, would you like to smoke the nargila? Hey Praveen, that’s just tobacco right? Ok, yeah, why not? Sahar tells a story as we pass around the hookah:

Yes, yes, you are my friends. You are Americans. Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back! Ha, ha! Monica Lewinsky! Bill Clinton! I am sorry for my English. No bad? Wow man, thanks! I fight for NATO in Croatia, yeah man, I have American sergeant, and I learn English. He say “yeah man, shit man, the war is shit shitty man.” Ha ha! Yeah man. I get ten beers for one week. I no drink the beers, I sell the beers to the Americans, yeah man! My Mother, she lives Antalya, she say to me she need money, and I send her the money. And she say, what man, why you get money? I say her, what you think man, I make a store with the beer, ha, ha! Good smoke man, what you think? You like that glass? I give you! I shower it for you! No? Ok, I no shower it, you keep with the raki inside to remember me, I hope you come back soon! Here is the bill, you look. Sixty lira, it is ok?

Bouldering West of Antalya
Bouldering West of Antalya
Well shit man. Yeah, of course it’s ok, what you think?

When Praveen and I return to Antalya in the spring we will visit Sahar. We will bring him a t-shirt with the Terminator on it. We will get to know him rather well–we’ll drink raki with him and since he is broad shouldered and eager we will take him rock climbing. He will be as good as the Germans in a month. For a laugh around the nargila we will ask him to draw us a map of Kalechi. Though it will not at all reflect the layout of the old city, his map will nevertheless be perfect for navigation. We will carry it with us wherever we go–it will keep us lost and alert, attending to the landscape tree by tree.

Chris continues to make maps at He can be reached at onbigrock at hotmail dot com.

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