[Expat Profile] Many roads to travel, many ruins to fix

[Expat Profile] Many roads to travel, many ruins to fix

Turkey is infamous for its construction not being at a very high standard; however, Harston thinks that the flexibility and unpredictability is a charm.

June 22, 2010, Tuesday/ 15:34:00/ THERESA DAY
Have you ever felt life was too short? Deborah Harston, who’s British, shows us we can achieve more than we think.
She tells us about how she came to live in Turkey via Mexico, how she’s renovated a ruin in a Mediterranean village and how she spent the winter working on a cookery book, painting and writing.

From Mexico to the Med

“I have to admit that I first came to Turkey, in 1996, because my eldest daughter had just had her hair cut by a Turkish hairdresser in London! At the time I was living outside San Cristobal, near the Mexican border with Guatemala. I had a restaurant and bakery there called ‘Madre Tierra’ that I started in 1984. It was and still is a successful business, but I was eager to see something new, as was my daughter. We were struck by the beauty of the Kalkan area and it also had an air of mystery to it. It was the first time we’d ever heard the five calls to prayer.”

Moving to Turkey took her several years. “The next time I went to the UK, where my daughters were at university, I also came to the Kalkan area, where I made a few friends,” she explains. “I found myself very drawn to the area and, having lived a long time at nearly 2,000 meters, loved being so close to the sea. Moving to the UK for my teenage sons’ schooling also gave us the opportunity to make trips to Turkey and I became a regular visitor to Islamlar, eight kilometers inland from Kalkan. One day, in 1999, I was shown a ruin with 1,000 square meters of land and the added attraction of a small stream running along two sides of the house. I bought it. For a time, I spent the summer in Turkey and continued working in Mexico in the winter. For the past two years, I’ve spent the whole year here.”

In the summer Islamlar is cooler than Kalkan, but what else does she like about the village? “I really appreciate the way the locals were curious, friendly, helpful and hospitable from the start,” she emphasizes. “I also found that if anybody tried to pull a fast one, the villagers had more respect for people who stand up for themselves! I like being able to go out and leave the door open without the fear of intruders. Another luxury nowadays! I also like the fresh air and the fact that there’s little noise pollution; we go to sleep to the sound of a babbling brook. Living in the country is more satisfying than living in a city and I’m never short of things to do. Plus there’s no unnecessary consumerism; it’s good to be away from temptation.”

Weakness for ruins

Deborah wasn’t daunted by the work that needed doing on the house in Islamlar or the prospect of living in a small village. “I was a bit of a ‘back to the lander’ in my 20s,” Deborah points out. “After living in the country in both Devon and southern Ireland, I moved to a village near San Cristobal in 1982. There I renovated a mud hut and the women’s prison in San Cristobal. I’ve always had a bit of a weakness for doing up ruins,” she explains.

“I started restoring the property in Islamlar with my Turkish partner in 2004,” she says. “The cottage was originally about six meters by seven meters with thick stone walls; the dirt roof had grass growing on it. We created one living space downstairs and a bathroom to the rear but then decided to keep the bedroom downstairs and put the living room and kitchen upstairs to make better use of the amazing view of the islands in Kalkan Bay. The upstairs is mostly wooden with very large windows and a big balcony. We get water from a natural spring higher up the mountain; it’s cold and drinkable straight from the tap. We’ve installed solar panels for hot water. We do, however, have a washing machine and dishwasher. The house is furnished with handmade wooden furniture; living on a small budget means one becomes accustomed to ‘making do,’ which all adds to the village-style effect.” And the garden? “We got rid of a lot of the vines to make room for more flowers, bushes and trees -- there are now 20 different kinds of fruit trees. We also grow Mediterranean vegetables in the summer and make wine from the grapes on the remaining grapevines.

“The restoration work proved very challenging at times,” Deborah admits. “Building isn’t always done to a very high standard, and strange things can happen if you leave the site for any length of time! One of the charms about living in Turkey is that things are flexible and unpredictable, and this is also seen on the building site. I think it’s unfair of people to enjoy the freedoms of a country such as Turkey and then try and impose their own restraints. Added to this, we didn’t seek architectural advice and were lucky that the finished house is so charming!”

Now her home is finished, what’s she doing with it? “We hit on the idea of our spacious guest room in the garden. It has its own bathroom. That’s another story: We were surprised when we saw how big it was because there was 10 centimeters missing from the local builder’s tape measure. We also rent out the main house if people want to stay in it; it’s a great excuse to take a short break. Added to an increase in ‘ecotourism,’ we’re near the Lycian Way so some of our spring and fall visitors are walkers. This year we’re also offering accommodation to people who don’t want to walk long distances every day. There’s unfortunately still no public transport in Islamlar and we keep together one of those admirable cars, the Fiat ‘Tofas Kartal.’ We often use it to drop visitors in nearby Akbel where they can get a dolmuş.”

Artistic winters

Living in the village has given Deborah more time to be creative. “The rhythms of country life are much slower and more reflective and one has time enough to sit on the balcony and stare at the sea, especially in winter! Amongst other things, I’m writing a cookery book, painting and taking Turkish lessons and I’ve written a pamphlet about the village.

“The cookery book also includes stories from the 20 years I spent in Mexico, such as how the restaurant began in the 1980s,” she explains. “I’ve completed quite a lot but it’s still, however, in the form of an ‘Adrian Mole’-style fantasy! Not many of the dishes are actually Mexican, though; although I look down on the introduction of English breakfasts to Turkey, I myself earned fame and fortune by selling wholemeal bread and Mediterranean food to tourists and Mexicans in a culture of beans and tortillas. I will, of course, be doing some illustrations. I don’t have a publisher but self publishing is inexpensive in Mexico and there should be a guaranteed local market for the book.

“This winter I also kept busy by painting a series of hand-painted postcards called ‘Sketches of Village Life.’ They’re very ‘naïve’ but I felt they made a change to photographic postcards. I’ve always enjoyed art. I joined a painting group in Kalkan but then decided to paint at home; the idea of painting a postcard was less inhibiting than trying to produce a ‘work of art.’ The postcards depict scenes of village life, such as the grape harvest, making ‘yufka’ [thin, flat bread], picking oranges and bathing in the river Esen. The first one took ages, but I can do one in a day now! This is the first season and I hope they will be popular in Islamlar and Kalkan, maybe even Antalya. So far they’ve been well received.”

“I also wrote an informative, illustrated booklet about the village and its traditions that I hope to get published soon,” she explains. “The best way to research the village was by asking the villagers. A lot is self-evident. For example, the fact that Islamlar has so much water has always made it an important center. There are three watermills: two are used for grinding flour and the other to make ‘tahini.’ They’re attributed to the Greeks who lived in Islamlar -- Bodamya when the Greeks were here -- before the population exchanges. Changes over the past 10 years are also very interesting due to communications and the growth of tourism. Water remains important and has led to trout farms, which have made it possible for more young people to stay. It’s fun writing about the local area as you find out a lot you didn’t know before.”

And where does she envisage her future? “I’m not very good at forward planning and life changes so fast nowadays that it would be unwise to do so,” she points out. “I’ll probably do much the same, but as a general rule, trying different enterprises usually starts one on new roads of discovery!”