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February 01, 2012, Wednesday

Thrust into reverse

In the last two weeks I’ve had the strange sense of the clocks having been turned suddenly back on us.

 This is not a comment about politics and press freedom, the topics that have tended to dominate news coverage recently. It’s not that those aren’t hugely significant subjects, theoretically of as much importance to us in the countryside as to anyone else, but the sad reality is that they tend to be metropolitan obsessions. Here in Cappadocia we’re too bogged down with fixing burst pipes and plugging leaks in our roofs to have much energy left for anything else.

Three years ago in our last hard winter (and actually it was much worse that this one) a wise friend of mine commented that it was fine to stay in Göreme in the winter so long as you were prepared to live as people had done in the past. The problems came, he said, when you tried to live a modern, centrally heated, plumbed-in kind of lifestyle in houses never designed to cope with such luxuries.

Of course he was absolutely right. Whatever their drawbacks (dust, lack of thermostatic controls, etc., etc.), wood-and-coal-burning stoves are completely immune to power cuts. Even when I used to use gas bottles to fire my central heating system, there was a switch in the system that used electricity, which meant that the whole thing always clicked off simultaneously with the lights. Today, when I use a wholly electric system, there isn’t even any mystery attached to cold radiators. No electricity means no heating. The simplest of equations.

Ditto with the water. Actually, so far I’ve been lucky compared with some of my neighbors. I had one early frozen pipe in the courtyard to deal with but nothing since then even though temperatures recently stuck at minus 18 degrees even in the middle of the day. Less lucky neighbors, though, have had multiple breaks to cope with, and that was before some mishap between here and Uçhisar, that left us without water for most of three days. It’s the price we pay, you see, for having to pipe water from further and further afield to cope with all the new hotel bathrooms.

Anyway, last week for the first time in ages I saw what was once a familiar sight: little huddles of women gathered round the çeşmes (fountains) with their buckets and ğüğüms, the tall jugs that are filled with water, then set on the sobas (stoves) to heat. Needless to say, the çeşme nearest to my house is relatively high up and so froze as solid as some of the pipes. Cue the sight of a poor neighbor struggling up our steep hill clutching multiple ğüğüms of water for her cattle.

Together we carried those supplies to her cows, skittering across the ice and struggling into the ruins of the old house where they’re stabled. In the sudden light cast by a naked bulb three sets of eyes stared out at us. Their cave stable was certainly warm and smelt much less ripe than in the summer. But even this timeless scene turned out to be an illusion. “All these buildings have been sold,” my neighbor reminded me. To a turizmci. Which means, presumably, yet another hotel as soon as he can raise the funds.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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