Life on Location in Turkey

Last Updated on May 2, 2019

Here’s an excerpt from my humorous travel memoir, Bright Sun, Strong Tea. (The previous episode is Cheap Blond(e) Foreigners.)

On October 21st we piled into the Opel and the ciné-minibus and headed west to Bursa, the first capital of the Ottoman sultanate. I got to know Diana a little bit as we drove. She was friendly but a bit distant.

“I’m living with my parents temporarily,” she said. “I was in the States but…well, there were some problems, so I’m spending some time in Ankara with them.”

So she had things on her mind. Career? Economic? Romantic? I couldn’t tell, and she wasn’t saying.

The film project was a welcome distraction, she said. She was responsive to the director’s wishes as we worked, but showed little emotion one way or another about it all. Notably–to me, at least–she also showed little emotion about me. Not that I expected anything different, especially if she was in a fragile emotional state, but after a year of living like a monk I must admit that my imagination blossomed with the unfolding possibilities.

We arrived in Bursa in the evening. Diana and I were given rooms in one of the better hotels. The director and crew bedded down in a much cheaper place.

The next morning we showed up at the Ulu Cami, Bursa’s venerable Great Mosque (1396) to shoot The Tourist Couple Wandering Through The Venerable Mosque. Diana was wearing one of her body sheaths. The venerable old hajis (men whose white beards showed they had made the holy pilgrimage to Mecca), recoiled in shock and alarm.

Nurettin Bey had been careful to procure all the proper official permissions–from the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the city government, the local mufti, the historical commission, probably even the chief astrologist and the head of the parking ticket office. He marched in waving a sheaf of papers blackened with rubber stamps and signatures, but that made no difference to the hajis. They had come to the mosque to pray and here were these weird-looking foreigners, one of them obviously–far too obviously–a woman, being chased around by klieg lights and a movie camera.

I don’t blame them. What they didn’t know, and what I didn’t have the heart to tell them, is that we were the tip of the iceberg, nay, a mere blob of sorbet, compared to the tsunami of Sony-toting infidels who would soon crowd noisily into their sacred space.

The old men registered their protest with Nurettin Bey, then retired to pray, no doubt asking Allah to explain what the devil was going on in His house and had He had a change of heart and come out in favor of secularism, infidels and body sheaths, or what?

We shot the scene and were out of there, off to the Yesil Camii (Green Mosque), where things went better because it’s out of the city center, away from the bazaar, and more sparsely attended.

From Bursa we drove west along the Sea of Marmara coast to Erdek, a popular seaside resort, then south to Izmir and Ephesus, where we filmed The Happy Tourists Treading The Marble Streets.

On the highway south of Ephesus we encountered a camel caravan, still used to transport common freight in the Aegean region in 1968. We drove up and down the highway trying to get some shots with the camels. (Alas, the camels didn’t make the final cut.)

I enjoyed driving a car, which I hadn’t had the chance to do before in Turkey. Diana seemed to enjoy herself and carefully followed the director’s instructions, which were to look out the window at the passing scenery and now and then to chat with me, the other half of the happy couple.

We got it all on film, and came finally to the modest fishing village of Marmaris, where it promptly began to pelt hail.

At that time Marmaris was a mere village which made its living entirely from the bounty of land and sea instead of from imported bodies toting credit cards. Hearty fishermen still set out in their boats early each morning, and sinewy farmers with gnarled hands and toothy grins still tended their citrus orchards with ancient pruning hooks.

The film shows it all quite clearly–the bollards for tying up boats along the treeless concrete quay, the black piles of fishing gear, the brawny mariners mending their nets or chatting in familiar groups.

Looking at sleek Marmaris today, with its traffic-thronged corniche shaded by towering palms and crowded with trim yachts, our movie seems painfully antique.

In the Marmaris of 1968, the only affordable place to stay was an ev pansiyon (“home pension”). The only hotel worth the name was the Hotel Lidya, off by itself far around the bay, a favorite of the grafty political class and utterly out of our price range.

We drove to our pension, met the smiling proprietress, and were shown to our rooms. Of course I was shown to my room, and Diana was given a room by herself. The matron of the pension didn’t know the situation between us except that we weren’t married, and that was enough for her.

She naturally assumed the role of mother-chaperone. Being a mother and having sons of her own, she could easily read my mind. After she had shown us to our rooms, she gave me a steely look that said, unmistakably, “I know what you’re thinking, and it will happen over my dead body after a loud and unpleasant ruckus. P.S: Take a gander at my biceps.”

The next day we started shooting the Marmarisscenes. Diana and I sauntered along the quay, we “shopped for souvenirs” in the tiny market, we “went to the Tourist Office for brochures.”

After the day’s shooting, we returned to our pension. The matron gave us a warm welcome which included, for my benefit, an abbreviated but incontrovertibly authentic version of the steely look. I wasn’t going to mess with her or her biceps. We retired to our separate bedrooms….

Click here to order an autographed copy of the book online with credit card or PayPal.

(Excerpts from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea copyright © 2004 by Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)

(Next: The Thumb in My Soup)

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