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New Europe

Day Forty-four: Göreme

Michael Palin - New EuropeAndus concedes that there were good reasons for resettling people. None of the rocks is altogether stable and there had been instances of people being killed by collapse. Degradation is inevitable, and he likens the chimneys to icebergs, slowly depleting all the time.

But the majority have been occupied quite safely for centuries, and his cave complex was once a monastery. They have all the usual advantages of being warm in winter and cool in the heat of summer and because the tufa is so soft, many of the usual home alterations can be done with a chisel or a pickaxe. If he wants a new shelf he just chisels an alcove out of the wall. And what's more, this is no below-ground cave. It's a chimney, a cave with a view. A troglodyte skyscraper.

Outside the rain has turned to snow and the buildings of Göreme, both natural and unnatural, have disappeared into a swirling white mist. We pick our way carefully down the now lethally slippery steps and into the living room, or more accurately, living cave, where Andus' Turkish wife Gülcan has prepared food and some tea.

Gülcan is a round-faced, merry lady some years younger than Andus, with braided black hair, a multi-bangled ethnic necklace, big attractive eyes and a mischievous smile.

When Andus came to live here, she remembers, he was considered to be either mad or possibly a secret agent. Her Turkish friends, especially the younger generation, were not interested in living in caves, seeing them as difficult to keep clean, impractical for all mod cons and quite possibly haunted. She herself is now completed converted to life in a fairy chimney and refers to Andus as 'my good and lovely fairy', which embarrasses him. Rather happily.

After we've eaten, the talk turns to the strength of superstition round here and Gülcan invites me to meet a neighbour of theirs who can read fortunes from coffee grounds.

The three of us sit cross-legged on a divan whilst some strong Turkish coffee is prepared. After I've drained my cup the neighbour, a woman of early middle age with a sharp face framed by a headscarf, instructs me to put my saucer on top of my cup and turn the cup upside down. After allowing a few minutes for the residue to cool she asks me to lay a finger on top of the cup, make a wish, then turn cup and saucer the right way up and pass it over to her.

She studies the grounds on the saucer and on the side of the cup carefully, flicking her eye from one to the other.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-four: Göreme
  • Country/sea: Turkey
  • Place: Göreme
  • Book page no: 110

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  • Miscellaneous
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  • Day 34 
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