I just got back from a long weekend in Antalya with my Turkish teacher’s family, the Gürşens. Although originally from Ankara, most of the extended family has relocated to the beach city of Antalya and all meet up regularly.
This was a true Turkish immersion weekend for me. Riza’s family was super welcoming, warm, and funny – I immediately felt like one of the family. When everybody was together, the language was obviously Turkish. Although I had been doing well in classes in Ankara and survival Turkish, I had a hard time keeping up with the language when everybody was talking at once and there was a lot of background noise at cafes and restaurants. Still, I was able to get some of the jokes and tell a few of my own!
Both of his parents are nearly 90 but still going strong. Ismail, the dad, has Alzheimer’s and behaves like a 13-year old – perfect for my sense of humor and language skills! Although he doesn’t talk much, he is usually joking or dancing – everybody tries hard to be serious with him but he quickly refutes them with laughter. The couple argues all the over time over silly things, like where on the table the napkins should be placed – it’s sweet and hilarious at the same time.
Right before I took this picture, they had fought about how to arrange the flower covering on the footstool. Eventually the Mrs. Gürşen gave in, then, while winking at me, put it back when he wasn’t looking.
We started every morning with Turkish breakfast, either at the parent’s flat or by the sea. Here’s my view from one our tables.
I think I’ve talked about Turkish breakfast before. It’s huge!!! The spread always includes breads, cheeses, jams, olives, butter, nuts, some kind of eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, some kind of non-pork charcuterie, fruit, and coffee or tea. Sometimes there’s something special, like börek, which is a tower of filo sheets with cheese, nuts or meat inside. When you go for breakfast, everyone eats and eats and eats while drinking more and more tea.
Although I still prefer coffee, I’ve gotten used to drinking huge amounts of Turkish tea. It’s served in tiny glasses in the shape of tulips (lale in Turkish) and drunk with lemon or sugar. Some Turkish guys have actually told me that without sugar it can cause cancer – although I haven’t researched it, I’m chalking this one up to yet another Turkish superstition. I’m trying to get by with a tiny amount of sugar in each glass – I haven’t counted, but I think it’s possible to have 20 or so glasses of tea throughout the day in Turkey, which would be a lot of sugar!
Each day after breakfast we went back to the flat and had tea and chatted, then eventually Riza and I would go explore a beach for a few hours. Then it was back to the flat, for more tea of course, while the family got organized for dinner.
Dinners were out, either along the sea or in the old town, Kaleici, which is a neighborhood inside the old castle with winding streets, shops and cafes.
After dinner one night, Murat, Riza’s brother, taught me how professional raki drinkers enjoy their beverage. Raki is the national liquor, made of grapes with anis flavoring. Most of the grape harvest in Turkey goes to raki. It’s similar to Greek ouzo or Italian grappa, but in my opinion much better. It’s usually mixed with water and sometimes with ice. Turks call it lion’s milk since the color gets a milky when you mix in the water and provides the same liquid courage as all alcoholic beverages.
So, back to “professional” drinking. You take a sip or raki and keep it under your tongue. Then you take a swig of water and swallow it all together. I was skeptical but tried the method. It does actually make the drink a little sweeter and mellows the sting a bit.
Although the weather was perfect for our time in Antalya, on Sunday morning the sky was crying, as Riza’s dad said, since Riza was headed back to the States. Thunder, lightning, heavy rain and crazy winds made for a challenging drive back to Ankara for me, but I made it in 6 hours with no problems.