We boarded a short flight on Pegasus Air on Tuesday morning and left a rainy chilly Istanbul. One hour later, we were in Izmir, and in another two hours of trains and buses, we were back in the tiny Aegean town of Yeni Foça. It all started here for us four years ago when we first imagined our Zeytin (Olive) workshops. Yeni Foça was a Greek fishing village which was emptied of its Greek inhabitants in the population exchange nearly 100 years ago. Today, about 3/4 of the town’s old homes have been restored and we were lucky enough to stay in one thanks to Zeynep.
Part of the week was spent re-visiting the nearby ancient olive groves and connecting up with Turkish friends and acquaintances we had not seen since 2012. In our guided trips about town during the week, we saw again, the unique hurla olive that is sweet right off the tree thanks to a particular blend of a natural fungus and the salt and humidity from the north breezes here. The hurla is only grown in a small 50 square mile area that has the exact right conditions. We also picked çekişte (hammer) olives that we were told would cure in ten days. They are prepared simply by cracking the olive between two stones, adding the cracked olives to a bottle with water, changing the water daily for ten days, and then storing them longer term in salt water. We also tasted a type of olive made by our old friend Kadir that used only olive oil to cure. No lye. No salt. They were delicious. It makes me wonder why all the industrial processing of olives uses the harsh chemical methods – — is it that they don’t want to wait a few days for the outer skins to break down naturally? Also, it was great to know you could eat olives that were not salty but really good!
Part of our time just walking among the trees. What is it that we find so compellingly seductive about an ancient olive grove? Perhaps it is the silvery leaves on the trees or the filtered shafts of light that penetrate the shade in long columns or the ancient pocked trunks that convey strength and warmth. I know that the heavy air that sits waiting for a breeze to push it languidly from one side to the other and the silence of the grove that seems to carry promises, wisdom, and patience combine with all of these to conjure up a feeling of magic and mystery. Time hangs here without intent or purpose. The ancestral trees just are, a sum of all that has been and all that will be. Their time is not our time.
This weekend, Zeynep organized a workshop with an agricultural chemist, a historian of the Ottoman sailing and olive trade, and a man who was himself a mariner and sailed the Aegean. The presentations were on Saturday at 2 o’clock in the waterfront café in Yeni Foça and were followed by some traditional folk dancing.
Here’s where I will try to add the link to the YouTube video:
The local paper carried a full column about the workshop and we were proud of Zeynep’s feature role as the director of the program. We also got invitations to give two seminars – one in Ege University and one at Sabanci University. Should be fun!
We also celebrated out 34th wedding anniversary. Perhaps standing posing with this 1000 year old tree will bring us good luck.