The Long Riders' Guild

The Old Man, the Lake and the Stallions

by Jeremy James


The man in a suit beside me has seen what I see: he's seen the rainbow flying in the spume from the bow as the boat dips, and now he's taken off his jacket and is letting the fine spray misting over the low gunwhales blow in under his shirt and he's leaning back against the white bulkhead and gazes across the blue moving water.

What a way to go home after a day at the office - that view, the mosques, the minarets, the cypress, the sun on the sea - the ferry across the Bosphorus.

On the port side the Ciragan Palace slips past pale in the evening light, like faience.

I had just spent a night that hotel, one luxurious night.

And tonight?

Tonight I sleep on the slow train to Egirdir - south.

The ferry docks at the quay at Hydarpasa and the man in the wet shirt shows me the way to the station, and my platform and smiles and wishes me gule-gule.

It reminds me of another time, another platform in Turkey five years before when all my thoughts were filled with a dream, a dream of a stallion.

I remember that dream and that stallion now.

The train arrives, we passengers board and soon we are skimming the northern shore of Marmara going east then cut down south running through Dogancay following the Sakaraya river valley: isn't that river running uphill?

We pass Pamukova, more like the Turkey I recall with small hand harvested fields, maize and vines and women bent straight from the hip, hoeing crop. The old houses are saffron and magenta, comfortable in the landscape, as if they belong to it, like the trees.

The sun sinks and the far hills become a soft, smokey, plum -bloom blue. I can feel the train moving faster now as night closes round us and the man on the snares drums the rhythm of the bogeys as the wheels hit the joints in the tracks.

Round about midnight I go to the restaurant car, sit down with the guard, take out my pocket dictionary but can't read its tiny print so he lends me his specs. We swap his specs, shoving the dictionary into one another's hands, swapping pointed out words, phrases, translations.

The train winds on.

I go back to my place and sleepily watch the coppery dawn breaking in the sky, lighting the plain we're in, fields of bearded wheat edged by crank-handle-shaped olives and oleanders and peach.

The landscape changes as the sun rises.

The train shunts and cannons off to Egirdir through baked white limestone mountains, hard and brittle. Half asleep I miss half the journey. Catching snatches of flying barren land I wonder why I came to this place. Why did I choose to visit such a hard, hot place?

Ah, but this is Turkey, and she is capricious.

The train cuts the gorge and there it is.

A wide band of shivering silver, the sleeve of the morning sun lying across the lake at Egirdir.

It is enormous.

From the station the taxi drops me in town, a quiet, hot, small place. Ruins of an old castle built by King Croesus stand by the lake, and there's the mosque nearby; the stone in the Medresesi looks like it was cut yesterday, not seven hundred years ago.

I wander past a big open air market with tables of olives and peaches, apples and tomatoes, courgettes and watermelons: beautiful big tomatoes: bite one of these tomatoes and it bursts, full of succulence, all over your chin.

I walk along the water's edge when an old man calls out. He's squatting in the shade of an old hollow plane tree. He points to a little blue fishing boat lying in the water and says for a few lira he'll take me pugging round the lake so I agree and get in and sit on old faded kelims chucked over the seats and he winds up the single cylinder diesel and we go pugging out nice and easy into the cool blue lake with the sun in the sky and the dry mountains all round us. Somewhere out in the middle he cuts the engine. It is silent: a pure watery silence, just us, bobbing about all alone in all this blue. I swim and feel the fresh water glide round my body like silk and have trouble getting back into the boat but old Turan pulls me aboard.

Then we pug back.

But look at these mountains!

How can I describe these mountains?

Dry, big and sandy brown, dark on the north side, old volcanic mountains, sad and magnificent. They are like the mountains outside Mecca and Medina: holy mountains.

Turan drops me off on the green island and I eat a fresh salad with those big tomatoes and fish - carp - straight from the lake. That and a bottle of cold white wine.

And as I eat I watch old Turan mending a fishing net out in the sun and I don't know why, but I can't stop thinking about horses.

Turan said the wind would come up in the evening and it did but it wasn't until the following evening I left Egirdir.

It took four or five hours to get to Cal which was in darkness when I arrive, and as I step into the dusty street a lump comes to my throat.

Cal in only a bit of a place; no tourists ever go there and it has little to offer, but it means something to me: there's the caylevi, and there's the blacksmith's place, there's the bank where I changed my money and there's the crumbling wall where first I saw him: the very place I saw that beautiful white stallion Ahmed Pasha, those years ago, the spot where I bought him.

No-one remembers me.

So I leave at dawn next morning and as I climb aboard the dolmus a lonely man in the caylevi jumps up and waves: then with a gesture of a man riding, he holds up his hands as though he held reins: I remember him: the deaf and dumb man in Cal.

On the dolmus I watch the hills as we drive past. The trees were smaller then when I rode through them on that horse, but the mountains every bit as big: how we struggled up those mountains in the heat making for Karahayet, how it took us a month to get down to the sea. I know springs up in those mountains and a place by a stream where the horse and I shared raisins given to us by a man from Yukarskoy.

I take the bus from Denizli to Izmir then for some reason the bus does a detour through Turgutlu, a place I don't know. And as we go through I see an old white stallion standing in a field of lucerne and he is the image of Ahmed Pasha. He looks good: fat and content. And I thought if there was anywhere I would wish him to be it would be in that green field beneath the willows, in Turgutlu.

Up the coast from Izmir I think of the other stallion I bought, the one we called Simsek, the one Cecilia rode, and look for places we went to, Boca, Yeni Foca, Yevisakran, Candarli..

I remember crossing the road just here as we speed by in the bus, how we were forced to ride inland and forded the river higher up. And there's the olive grove we slept in and the place where the horses grazed fragmites on the water's edge and in Foca we stopped to watch a man who'd caught a small shark and watched as he untangled it from his net, then dropped it back in the sea and it swum lazily away, blithely away.

Beneath that hill we stayed with a family who fed us yoghurt, bread, honey and olives. How delighted they'd been we'd arrived on horseback, on two fit Turkish horses; and how when we rode away in the morning they all came to wave gule-gule, and stuffed our saddle bags with food, oats and barley and how they pressed back into our hands the money we offered.

In Dikili I get off the bus and go straight to the square and there are the little street horses, all lined up, just like they were five years ago. I look at them, pat them, and go to the caylevi and there's Yelmaz Bakan and he recognises me at once.

Where is my hanim? he asks, the girl who rode the grey stallion, the one we called Simsek?

I have to look away.

And he tells me about the horses.

In the evening I sit under the awnings near the beach by the fishing boats. Suddenly a whistle has come from a man silhouetted against the sky. He's standing on the high roof of one of the big fishing boats and now he's dived - a long way. As he swims in the water a big Bodrum yacht turns slowly beside him - she's broad in the beam, and now he's swimming towards her and a girl leans out and pulls him aboard, lithe and glistening in the evening sun.

I sip my wine.

It was a little north of Dikili, in Ayvalik that I sold the horses.

Yelmaz told me Ahmed Pasha was bought by a farmer in Turgutlu.

Now I know that hopes fly beyond reason but dear God, let it be true.

Was that him? In the lucerne under the willows? Was it? Had I seen him?

And Simek never forgot his hanim, Yelmaz said.

I knew he wouldn't.

She was kind to him.

Simsek: little Simsek

I can't stay longer and leave Dikili next day for Ayvalik, a pretty place just up the coast but the sea is not as clear as it is in Dikili where the oleander was in flower by the palms, pink on the waterfront.

I pick a pansion round the back of Ayvalik to be away from the music, the crowds. Stupidly, I forget about the animals.

The back end of town houses the town's livestock.

Under my window a pair of nanny goats have a butting contest which goes on all night: two revolving dogs bark their heads off round and round and round the cobbled streets and all the cats in Ayvalik prowl the red pantiles seeing who can miaow the loudest. Then dawn in brayed in by donkeys, horses, cats, dogs, cockerels, muezzins and someone beating a forty gallon drum flat.

I sleep for an hour, I believe, and leave at seven in the morning where, dozing behind their vegetables and fruit stalls are the streets vendors. Offices which were open at eleven thirty last night are open again now, at seven.

Things are changing in Turkey, different to the way it was: like it were shining and new and you can feel the future of it under your feet.

The bus whirs back to Istanbul through countryside a flurry of green and brown, plane and poplar. We pass a bridge across history - an anonymous magnificent stone aqueduct - then a red and yellow painted open truck loaded with two mules, two horses - in a row - behind them a mountain of baled cloth shouldering half a ton of water melons beside which is a drooling young camel. Behind him, another mountain of baled bundles on which are: grandad, grandma, the wife, her sister, half a dozen sun-brown children. Up in the cab dad is slogging it out with his mate keeping that old crate rolling and they are ...roasting.


As I wait for the plane in the marble cool airport, I don't want to leave; there is too much I have not seen: too much unresolved: and this - guilt.

Again comes the lump in my throat and I hear Yelmaz' voice, how he looked me hard in the eye.

And Simsek never forgot his hanim.

How he paused then: Simsek was a brute to handle, he said bluntly.

Not if you were gentle, I replied, like my hanim.

The man who bought him was a hard man and he was rough with him.

Simsek killed him.

Simsek was shot in the square in Dikili the same day.

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