Day 55 Intermezzo - another romantic interlude
General status update:
Hair: Still there. Most of it.
Nausea demon: Quiescent. Almost.
Chemo Muse: Cracking the whip, and making no allowance for fatigue and feebleness. We have an important PROJECT! The PROJECT must be kept going! No, you CANNOT lie down!
Chemo Brian: Still stuck on the donkey – he’s been forced to do a reknit. He blames the pattern, I’m more inclined to think decades of mind-altering drugs might just have made the ‘Knit Your Own Nativity’ a challenge too far.
Sleep, lack of: n/a. Weird dreams, but if I ever starting describing them, you have my permission to shoot me immediately.
Fatigue/weakness: persisting. It seems to be getting worse with each cycle. The second week is the worst.
Anxiety level (1-10): We’re actually going out tonight, like normal people, for a final birthday celebration dinner with an old friend. Hope I will have the stamina for it.
State of mind: Happily nostalgic – see below.
Everywhere in Turkey, where I used to live, there are very simple and cheap restaurants called lokantas - for which there is no equivalent in the UK. In a lokanta you will eat food which is essentially Turkish home cooking, choosing from a selection of prepared dishes on display. There is usually no menu: you just take a look and try whatever appeals. There is typically a choice of soups – soup being as central to Turkish culture as yogurt, with some lokantas called ‘çorba salonu’, which means ‘soup lounge’ – a range of vegetable dishes, and one or two meat dishes, plus pilav made from either rice or bulgur wheat. In Turkey working people go to lokantas to eat at lunch time, rather than buying a sandwich – Turkish culture still revolves around proper food.
The standard of lokantas can be variable, but in my adopted home town of Ayvalik, on the north Aegean coast, they are generally very, very good. The Aegean coast is Turkey’s main olive-growing region, and is famous for Zeytinyağlı Yemek – food cooked in olive oil. The fragrant golden olive oil from around Ayvalik is legendary, and in previous centuries was sent to Istanbul to be used in the kitchens of the Ottoman Sultans. Ayvalik is also renowned for the quality of its fruit and vegetables, yogurt, cheese and honey, all sold by local producers every week in its market, which is the largest open-air market in the north Aegean.
Many varieties of chili for sale in the market at Ayvalik
My own favourite lokanta is located down a narrow cobbled alley in the back streets of Ayvalik, off the street where the town tin-smiths are located. It’s family-run, spotlessly clean, and has a number of tables outside in the shade of a great big grapevine:
All the food is made from scratch every day, they only open at lunchtime, and they close when the food has run out. They make excellent soups - fish, Ezogelin (spicy lentil), mecimek (plain lentil, served with lemon) – and very good mantı (tiny dumplings served topped with yogurt and garlic, dried red pepper and melted butter), but the thing I love the most is their vegetable dishes, which include the year round staples of nohut (chickpeas) and kuru fasulye (white beans), simply cooked with olive oil, tomatoes and a little chopped pepper, and a variety of seasonal dishes, according to what is available in the market: barbunya (fresh pink and white-marbled borlotti beans), enginar (artichokes, cooked with baby broad beans and dill) and many more.
The cost of the food is so remarkably low (a meal for two or three pounds) and the food so delicious, and healthy, that during my years in Ayvalik I would eat lunch there virtually every day, either with friends or alone, but with something to read.
You can get English newspapers in Ayvalik, brought over on the ferry every day from Lesbos, the Greek island which lies just off-shore, but they are extremely expensive; as a print junkie abroad, I yearned hopelessly for English newspapers and magazines, but accepted that their loss was one of the prices you pay for living somewhere so sunny and beautiful. Yes, you can read them online, but it’s just not the same; when I was going to the lokanta alone, I would take a book.
When R gave me an overseas subscription to the London Review of Books, however, in October 2010, all this changed: thereafter I always had a copy of the LRB, full of long, fascinating articles, to read at my leisure whilst eating my favourite lunch, which was simply a dish of nohut (chickpeas), with a little rice pilav on the side, and some dried red pepper to spice it up a little.
My favourite lunch - chickpeas, pilav, and a sprinkling of hot red pepper
The LRB is so full of interesting things, which I would immediately want to discuss with R, that from my table under the grapevine at the lokanta I would text him, 2000 miles away in London, to talk about whatever idea it was that had caught my eye and my imagination.
We were in slightly different time zones, but I usually ate lunch late, and R often ate his early, so somehow we often ended up lunching together, him eating a sandwich at his desk in his office in London, and me eating chickpeas at a sun-speckled table under a grapevine at my lokanta in the Aegean, all the while furiously texting one other to discuss literary matters arising from the London Review of Books: J.G.Farrell, his novels and his strange death by drowning, Philip Larkin's Letters, John Lanchester on the future of newspapers in the digital age, Saul Bellow, Jenny Diski, James Ellroy, Alan Bennett. The LRB is a broad church, and we were its devoted parishioners.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we were weaving each other into the warp and weft of our everyday lives, via all the electronic means available to us - email, chat and Skype - but with 2,000 miles still separating us. Eventually we would have to address the issue of meeting in person, but that was some way off: the autumn months of 2010 we spent happily, living our different lives on different continents but, as often as we could, eating lunch together in our own little world - 2000 miles apart.