Monday, June 27, 2011

100 Books 32 - Karen & Ray Gilden's TEA AND BEE'S MILK: OUR YEAR IN A TURKISH VILLAGE

Turkey is quite an interesting place, but as is the case with so many interesting places, at the rate I'm going I'll never manage to visit there. Hence my occasional random indulgence in some armchair travel.

Usually I put myself in the hands of someone I know and respect -- Robert D. Kaplan, say, or Paul Theroux. So how did I find these two odd, hipstery Oregonians for travel companions?

Funny you should ask. Really, it's George R.R. Martin's fault.

Ever notice that when you're up reading way, way, WAY past your bedtime that sometimes the print gets a bit blurry, even after you've tuned your Kindle's typeface setting to "legally blind"? It's the sort of thing that only happens when the book is very good indeed, as A Game of Thrones is, and so it did. As I read of the adventures of its many characters, somehow the name of Arya Stark swam into view as Freya Stark, and this reminded me that I had yet to read any of that remarkable woman's work. I had always meant to, though.

Ah, but as yet, Amazon really doesn't have any of her own writing available for the Kindle, which is where and how all my impulse book-buying takes place. A biography of her, yes (at an "agency model" price well above the normal $9.99, meaning I shunned it on principle. They can charge me more for a Kindle book when it is fully shareable on MY terms, not riddled with DRM, etc.), but by her? Tumbleweeds and cricket sounds.

But tossed in amidst the by/for/about Freya Stark Kindle offerings was Tea and Bee's Milk, a charming title, modestly priced and modern, and my impulsiveness clicked in.

What did I get for my $5.99 American? A mixed bag, but mostly of good things.

Karen and Ray Gilden are, as I said, Oregonians, hailing from the Portland/Eugene area, and come across in their book as people who would not be out of place in a sketch from the TV show Portlandia and its gentle satire of the earnest and often smug denizens of that part of the country. Ray is a bicycle fetishist, for instance; Karen a bit too fond of pointing out how off the beaten track they went when they decided to sell the house, ditch the kids and parents and spend a year doing nothing in Turkey.

Of course I'm a little jealous of the pair of them. That's only natural. I also dream, just a bit, of doing so myself, and maybe even writing a book about it. If/when I do so, though, I can't go to Göcek, Turkey, because it was in the process of becoming "touristy" even before the Gildens got there, and is now even better known for their having written about it. And of course an important part of hipster travel is being able to decry how the place you've discovered is being spoiled by its being discovered by others (but never oneself, oh no). Oh, those terrible others. But not us, of course. Everyone told us we were lovely, and we have no reason to disagree.

Eye-rolling aside, this book is much longer on charm than it is on smugness. Both Karen and Ray are talented writers and have a gift for highlighting the humor to be found in ordinary challenges like operating a Turkish washing machine, finding some oil to keep a bicycle in good repair in a tiny Turkish village, and figuring out when the ferry to Kos is actually going to leave. They also take a most amusing turn as restaurant reviewers for a newsletter they had once thought of starting and sending home to family and friends (but were soon too happily relaxed to continue with and so only published one issue). Their stories of meals here and there made my mouth water even as I smiled at the wit which which they described their settings and circumstances.

Like Troika before it, this was a short read but a pleasant one. As it will probably be the closest I get to a low-key Mediterranean idyll, I consider the brief time I spent swimming, biking and lazing about with the Gildens to have been well spent. Though I hope they never come Saratoga, WY, where I grew up, motto: "If you're in a hurry, you're in the wrong town." We already have enough tourists complaining that it's getting touristy.

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