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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Living like locals

Two months ago we arrived in Antalya, Turkey, from Crete via Northern Cyprus. We weren't in Turkey to research or write about Turkey. We were here to hole up at our friends' villa in Kas and use it as a base for a month to write up the Crete and Cyprus books, write a tonne of travel stories for magazines, and plan our next trips. When it was time to leave Kas, we still had more to do, and more work had come in, so we returned to Antalya and rented an apartment for another month. It's a rooftop apartment in a renovated Ottoman house in the old town and we've been here writing, and living like locals. In some ways, it's a relief to not have the pressure of being a parachute artist. We've had no personal desire to play the traveller either, as we've been here before. So we haven't done anything touristy in our time here. In fact we've eaten out just a couple of times. After two months on the road in Cyprus and Crete, moving hotels every couple of days and eating all our meals in restaurants (and with another few months of the same ahead of us), all we wanted to do was eat at 'home'. We've still gotten to know the city. Just a different side of the city to the average traveller. We know every supermarket in town, and which one to head to for what products. We know the different words for lamb and beef in Turkish, and while our vocabulary reads like a shopping list, we know little more than the usual greetings and courtesies. Yet we've somehow built up a rapport with our butcher, who when he sees us looks pleased and smiles. And he seems pleased that we like him to prepare our lamb cutlets the Turkish way, beaten flat and tender and smothered in spices. We know all the courier companies as we've been sending and receiving contracts and manuscripts between here and London, with varying degrees of success. Let's just say that we know the Kaleici (Old Town) streets better than the couriers. We know Antalya is a college town although you rarely read that anywhere. It has a lively, youthful scene, and these kids, especially the arts students (the ones carrying the sketch pads) have the coolest haircuts we've ever seen, so cool they'd be right at home in Milan. We know where the locals go for their afternoon walks. In the seaside neighborhoods just outside the tourist area. And that in the early evening they like to take beers and food they bring from home and set up picnics on the wooden tables overlooking the water. In the same park young couples canoodle on the benches, parents play with their kids, and a lonely man stares at the sea. We see the man around town. He's missing part of one leg, from the knee down, and he moves about on crutches, balancing a stand hung with fluffy toys and Valentines hearts which he sells to earn his living. He usually wears a camouflage jacket although the other day he was wearing a clean new shirt. And he has tea in another park some days, staring at the sea. We may not know the tourist sights, but each day we're seeing little things that move us more than any museum display. Things most travellers wouldn't notice as they rush through a destination in a few days.

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