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July 15, 2012, Sunday

Bitter sweetness

Last week was the week that the Cappadocian summer finally got into its stride after a long stretch of unseasonable cold weather broken up by monsoon-like afternoon downpours and even, memorably, by a hailstorm.

That being the case, my neighbor and I headed uphill to her parents' home, where sitting out on the terrace has always been one of the greatest pleasures of summer.

Except that today we were speedily diverted onto the roof of the adjacent property, which is inhabited by her brother and sister-in-law. In pitch darkness we felt our way up a staircase with no safety rail and tottered over a ridge on the roof to the terrace area where it was just about possible to make out her mother and father sitting on the ground picking through a crate of apricots. We'd come, it turned out, to help in the task of removing the kernels from the apricots and opening them out to dry in the sun.

Frankly, I was thrilled to have the chance to do this after weeks of far too much brain work and far too little physical activity. And why had I never done this before, I wondered, since apricots drying on the roofs of the cave-houses form one of the iconic images of Cappadocia?

It was a wonderful evening, sitting first in the dark, then in the light shed by a naked bulb rigged to an upturned crate, picking our way through the fruit, then edging our floor cushions gradually backwards as the area covered with apricots slowly widened. Briefly it was possible to fool myself into thinking myself back in the innocent early days when I'd lived just across the road, but the sad truth was that the terrace of a pension now looked straight over us while further up the valley, lit once just by the stars, there now blazed the lights of a boutique hotel. Piles of stones by the road boasted of another imminently on its way.

Afterwards Ayşe's elder daughter served tea while her younger sister chased one of my cats around the rooftop. Officially that cat is called Çiçek (Flower). Unofficially, though, I call her Gölge (Shadow) since she has hated to let me out of her sight ever since the unfortunate day when her failure to give birth to a kitten in the breech position had ended with the urgent amateur delivery of the corpse on my kitchen table. And that's when things started to unravel as I inadvertently stepped up to my knees in rural Anatolian cultural quicksand.

“The kitten was half in and half out,” I was explaining when suddenly I became aware of my neighbor urgently trying to catch my eye, waving and laughing nervously. Her father was present, you see, and I had failed to realize that it was ayıp (shameful) to mention such matters, even in the context of an animal, in his presence.

My voice trailed off in a series of mumbled apologies. Shortly afterwards I stood up to fetch something and stepped right into a pile of wool that was also spread out on the roof to dry. Then I picked up the teapot to carry it downstairs, tripped on a concrete ledge, and scattered tealeaves all over the terrace. It was just one of those nights, you see.

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

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