What did we see in that shabby, dirty villa with its overgrown weedy gardens and thoughtless design? The glorious quiet of hot August in an agrarian village perched on a mountainside. Waters and islands of the Mediterranean spreading to the horizon past rock stained rusty with the clay soil. The dusty greens of olive, carob and scrub oak. Five crazy stories so that every space had its own balcony from which to take in the sounds of children, chickens and doves carried on eucalyptus and jasmine-scented air. Sheep, cows, goats, olive trees; all laden with Bible images of sacrifice, Spirit energy, simplicity and prayer.
Cost-counting in many forms nurtured this undertaking. How to pay for it; when to leave career and what that might mean to ego and satisfaction; how to train and discipline ourselves for a life of spiritual listening and quiet offering; from where would come the resilience to live far from other believers; and what, in all of that, would be the cost to our family for us to locate in a place so far from parents, kids and grandkids. Dad is dead now, but his long silence that poured pain and longing, along with the courageous refusal to complain, down the phone line when I crushed his deepest hope that we would build this place near him still exerts its power in my deepest being.
Yet in all the cost-counting and spacious imagining somehow we failed to notice that when one buys a small olive grove one becomes an olive grower. It is Tuesday and yet again we climb the old trees, pull fruit down with a hand-rake, collect it on nets, and sit on the ground to sort goodness from trash. We bend and stoop a hundred thousand times to collect fallen fruit from the dirt, the steps, the road.
Everything we now know about olive husbandry, and it still isn't much, we've learned from our neighbors. We know now how to harvest, how to store harvested fruit on cool stone in the shade until the day comes to take it to the press, how much fruit will produce how much oil, how the press system works, how to filter and refilter the oil for weeks after pressing until it is perfectly clear and clean, and how to store oil. We've learned a little about pruning and tending our fourteen 60-70 year old trees.
The two most important things we learned: olives bear only every second year; and the harvest lasts for three or more months. The first fact is cause for celebration because of the second.
So here I sit. My harvest wear is old clothes now stained with oil and the red of the soil. Most of the stains are on my butt because while I am on the ground sorting Curt is in the tree above me doing his olive rain-dance. As they rain down on me they smash on my hair and shoulders, roll around, and wedge themselves in against my sitting parts that are perched on the sloping ground.
It is not that we never thought about the olive trees when we bought this place. The agent tossed off a description of how villagers would be happy to harvest our olives in exchange for half of the produce. No problem. And that is exactly what most of the smattering of foreigners and well-heeled Turkish retirees in this village do. We are an oddity when we turn up at the village press. Seems they don't see many foreigners.
We pretty much ignored the olives until after we finally moved here. Who knows what happened to them the years the place sat empty. When we did at last move into the neighborhood, well, it seemed natural to imitate our neighbors as they gathered from their land. They were willing to teach, and we were a community of tired backs and stained clothes. It felt like a piece of blending in, of identification, to reject the "rich foreigner" role and do the work ourselves.
|Using a siphon to pour off the clear oil and leave the sludge|
But today I sit here, and as I reach and sort, I ponder yesterday's conversation with my neighbor. We were looking at photographs from last winter, from our Thanksgiving celebration. Çiğdem was sharing her memories and remarking on the various guests around the table. This one who is my age but attended with her much younger boyfriend, that one who covers to identify as religious, the British couple, and Çiğdem's own son Orkun sitting on Curt's lap. "It was a wonderful party," she reflected, "but so strange." "Strange?" I ask. "How?" "We don't do things like this," she replied. "We gather with friends to eat, but our friends are people like us. In this photo there are foreigners, and there are locals who would never be together anyplace else because they are all so different. And look at Orkun sitting on Curt's lap. A child might sit on his daddy's lap, or his mommy's, but never with anyone else. Orkun loves Curt. It is so strange, but all so wonderful."
|Much to be thankful for!|
We give a lot of time and energy to things we hope will make us seem normal and acceptable to the people of this place. Lately, though, I've had several windows into how, for all that, we are strange, foreign, odd. And we always will be. We play down our wealth, but with a neighbor who doesn't have firewood sufficient to heat this winter because of the expenses of a son's first year in university, another who goes to bed at dark because she comes from a time before electricity was here and so lives her life by the sun, yet another who...well, we don't even know when our basic assumptions about how life works are shocking to the rest of this hillside.
And yet there is love, grace and wonder. Ayşe Teze, nearly 80 and with a village dialect so thick I almost never understand her, pops in to borrow our olive rake and chats away to Curt with harvest advice even though she knows he doesn't understand a word. Süleyman hollers up the steps from the front door because he needs to make another measure for the shelf he is building. Gets all excited at my wine-making paraphernalia, all hopeful for a sample. Commiserates when I explain in halting Turkish that we will have to wait a year to find out whether my experiment with pomegranate wine is success or failure. Hüseyin points out when we waste water or electricity. Çiğdem makes sure I filter the oil timely. Another Ayşe brines my olives, lending her expertise at just the right amounts of crystalized lemon, oil, and salt.
|Ali amca and Ayşe teze in happier times. He died last summer, and now she soldiers on with the help of neighbors and friends.|
And so we live the dream. As with nighttime dreams, it takes weird twists; our understanding of reality is suspended; and things happen that, outside of the dream, would not be possible.