At last the relentless summer heat begins to fall and give us some relief. I never in my life thought I would come to greet the lower 30’s Centigrade or a cool northerly breeze the same way some people dance naked under summer rain. Although my dry little corner of Turkey won’t see any significant rainfall for another 2 or 3 months. The bearable temperatures also remind me that the first of my Snowbird friends will soon arrive from a cooling north Europe for their second bi-annual migration to their holiday homes. I suppose, as they don’t stay the whole winter (which are often cold and wet here) they are perhaps not true Snowbirds – maybe we should call them the Rainbirds, as they cleverly extend their own variable summers by a month or two either end to guarantee their Springs and Autumns, at least, enjoy some sunshine.
As I tend to stay here all summer I sometimes miss the subtle changes others see immediately on their return. A new shop here a lokanta re-vamp there, or perhaps the worst road in Turkey (through my village) finally repaired after being virtually un-navigable for the past 5 years. However, I wonder how many Rainbirds will notice the endless streams of Turkish people now striding, or marching purposely along local beaches, promenades and roads? It is an odd phenomenon because almost my entire time in this country I have seen no more than a handful of people doing anything remotely like exercise, and here it tended to be over-ambitious foreigners, who have never experienced the heat of a Turkish summer, jogging themselves towards heat stroke. Indeed, Turks were so anti-exercise that one of our more entertaining weekend sports was watching the jostling and jousting of cars and off-roaders of every size, and nearly all with Istanbul (34) or Ankara (6) number plates, to get parked as close to the entrance of the more popular restaurants as possible or make a drop off, so the wife, children or parents did not suffer the walk from a virtually empty parking area no more than 25 meters away. Only 3 years ago one of these regular altercations of shouting, finger wagging and sometimes even gun brandishing, ended when one furious man mounted the kerb, flipped his car onto its side and somehow wedged it so tightly against the entrance of a fish restaurant that for a while, the clientele had to be helped in and out using a ladder, until the Jandarma arrived and dragged the car and drunken man away. Anyway, this year that all changed.
It seems that for much of last winter, public information ads espoused the benefits of exercise and perhaps more importantly highlighting the dangers of smoking and of being a couch potato. The famous and the good were seen publically stomping around the few city parks that have not yet been cleared for buildings, or walking along busy city streets. In addition, a few fictitious characters have been doing the same in some of the numerous soap-operas that the couch potatoes once watched, without guilt.
So now, every morning and night, single walkers, pairs or larger groups (the biggest I have seen so far was fourteen people) are all out purposely marching in their newly purchased leisurewear and trainers. While I see that some find it a chore, especially some of the husbands perhaps dragged along by the more exuberant wife because it is mostly women, I see most of them enjoying the fresh air and camaraderie of this new opportunity to catch up on the latest news and gossip as they stomp out their half hour or so.
For me personally, it is an uplifting sight because it reminds me that it is only 10 years since the first book I co-wrote, Gelecek Yiyeceklerde (The Future is Food), dominated the Turkish Bestseller lists. In that book I wrote about my surprise at discovering that a supposedly modern leaning country like Turkey, should only have a male life expectancy of 67 years, even less than some third world countries. However, my experience of my friends was that they nearly all smoked, had poor diets high in sugar and salts but low in roughage and nutrients, and that the taking of exercise was regarded by some as no more than a self indulgence of the rich. With the exception of a few health food shops, anything but the omnipresent standard white bread was hard to find, so for a time I even made my own bread. Indeed, unlike today, where many shops have ample stocks of breakfast cereals, 10 years ago it was so scarce that in our next book we actually wrote a simple recipe for muesli, which we just could not resist naming – The Bradley Breakfast!
Anyhow, a lot has happened since then and life expectancy has climbed up to 72; a huge leap of 5 years, 3 more than most normally smug Western Europe countries. However, I would wager that this new emphasis on exercise and healthy eating will push it even higher and faster in the next few years. So well done men, women and children of Turkey – eat well and keep walking!