Week 7 – Olives in Season – Şile Off-Season

Click here for some of Rich’s amazing photos of Şile

The olives are ripening on the trees and Zeynep, Rich and I are anticipating the next few months will be a busy time – with seminars to be given on Olive Oil Chemistry, our class to be taught at Boğaziçi, a workshop to be part of in Şirince and the long anticipated harvesting of olives in Turkey, Italy, Greece and Spain.  This week, we gave our first official talk, “Leziz Zeytinyaği: Three Chemists’ View on Olive Oil’s History, Molecular Structure, and Health Benefits of Olive Oil”at Işık University [Leziz Zeytinyaği means “the good taste of olive oil”].  Our friend, Professor Meltem Turkoz, invited us to give this presentation and see the impressive new University in the town of Şile, on the Black Sea.

The event was well advertised on campus and we had a good crowd at the lecture and olive oil tasting. It was fun to talk with the students and faculty afterwards – many had olive groves in the family or were very concerned about quality of olive oil or wanted to talk about a new olive oil therapy that they had heard about.  We hope we made a few things clear for them we certainly learned a lot ourselves.

We came a day early and stayed a day late so that we could explore this vacation spot on the Black Sea.  During summertime hundreds of thousands of people come up from Istanbul to enjoy the beaches, swimming, and outdoor activities.  In mid-October, the town was deserted except for the local population: villagers, university students, professors, and stray dogs.  Our first night in town, we got a chance to visit the famous Şile lighthouse and watch as the beacon lit up just as the last note from the evening call to prayer was sounded.  The lighting was a bit magical – starting with twirling shimmers of blue and green, and slowly shining brighter and brighter as the sky turned more and more pink with the setting sun.  Within 10 minutes, a rotating beacon lit up the rocky coast, ready to guide ships away from doom and destruction.  Afterwards, we headed down to the pier past the ruins of an off-shore island fortress/prison, past a bevy of fishing boats just returned to the harbor with their catch and mobbed by the locals, to find our restaurant.  Called the”Dener Reis” [“Captain Dener”], it is a boat tethered in the harbor, surrounded by working boats ready to provide the ingredients for our meal.  We met up with a good friend of Meltem’s, Ödül Celep, who joined us for dinner.  Of course the Rakı flowed, the mezzes were incomparable (especially the calamari) and we ate three different kinds of fish: Palamuk (bonito), Hamsi (anchovies),  and the unbelievable tasty Çinekop (baby bluefish) and when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore, out came the baked halvah with a Happy Birthday candle for Meltem.  Of course, you must eat a spoonful of birthday halvah!

The second night – after our talk – we celebrated by dining with some more of Meltem’s lovely professor friends at “Kumbaba RocketHane Cafe and Restaurant” a reconstructed “rocket” house from Ottoman times that was perched on a lonely cliff outside of town.  These houses were life saving stations, and were equipped to rescue ships in distress (or their inhabitants) by shooting guide ropes out to sea to help get them over dangerous surf and through the treacherous currents.  The steeps cliffs along the Black Sea were once dotted with these outposts, only a few of which remain.  The sunset itself quietly and set the clouds and ocean awash in peach and gold which faded slowly.  As the darkness intensified, the small bungalow like room we were in was closed off from the wind, and illuminated by small white lights.  It felt like a fairy tower perched high on the ocean cliff.  Our köfte and potato dinner was finger licking good, and the conversation and beer even better.

Ottoman Guard Dinner

Perched on the Cliffs

Our last day, Zeynep headed back to Istanbul a bit early and Rich and I wandered the waterfront, snapping photos of the fishing activity, sea wall, ruins, and visiting some of the local craft shops famous for an embroidery and cotton fabric unique to Şile.  Before returning to the University for our shuttle back to Istanbul, we found a fantastic pastry shop, bought Meltem the birthday cake we wished we had given her the day before, shuttled it back up to her office and shared it with her – a lovely finish to a fantastic visit.

We took the shuttle bus back to Istanbul (about a 90 minute journey) – Many, many thanks to our hostess, Meltem who arranged buses, wonderful accommodations, rides when our feet got tired, friends to take us places when she couldn’t and did this all while still teaching a full load of her own classes. …… and Happy Birthday too!

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