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Island of granite and vineyards
2002 / FEBRUARY

My grandfather passionately loved the island of Avsa in the southeast Marmara Sea. It is one of the three large islands in this group, the other two being Marmara and Pasalimani. He used to say that he had tried the other two, but Avsa had won his heart. When he retired and started going there in the early 1970s it was a quiet backwater, a world of its own which the busy goings-on of the mainland had passed by, and without any regrets on the part of the islanders. Times have changed since then, but fortunately my grandfather did not live to see them. The blustering chill winds of March that held the cities in their grip hardly touched the island of retired accounting clerk Mr Mahir Crusoe. Here the sound of gulls filled the air and a gentle breeze blew. It was in this season, when spring was struggling to put in an appearance, that my grandfather would set out, drawn by dreams of wakening to the scent of marguerites, poppies, broom and white sand lilies.

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Island of granite and vineyards
2002 / FEBRUARY

In the cool evening hours he would drink wine of the previous yea's vintage, savouring the astringent flavour which harmonised so well with those hours. In the mornings he would sip his black coffee as he gazed at the purple hills scattered with olive trees in silent tranquillity.
Why did he choose this island in the Marmara Sea, instead one of the towns on the south coast? I often asked him this question. Then he would point at the Philips radio in his island cottage and say, 'You should not escape from life completely.' Around noon he always turned on the radio to listen to the indistinct and scratchy womn'sy voice presenting the news. He felt as at home here as the local people, but with the habits of a city-dweller wanted to keep in touch with the world outside. Avsa, known variously in the past as Ophioussa, Afousia and Panaya, is 75 nautical miles from Istanbul, a distance both near and far at the same time, as my grandfather once told me.

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Island of granite and vineyards
2002 / FEBRUARY
Far out to sea was the tiny island of Hayirsiz, meaning Inauspicious. My grandfather told me not to be deceived by the name. 'You would be wrong,' he said. 'That island serves a useful purpose. How can an island with a lighthouse upon it be inauspicious?' From these words I understood that he wanted to see himself as an auspicious pensioner. In this land of granite and vineyards, where wine making, fishing and quarrying were the main activities, he saw himself simultaneously as an exile and as a man of the city. In the late afternoons, returning from visiting friends in nearby country houses, he would drop by the village coffee house for a game of backgammon, looking up to gaze out to sea from time to time. Then it would be time for wine again, another of those occasions when, like weddings and funerals, everyone shares what they have. The conversation would mingle with the sunset and those wine-red evenings. 'It will be an abundant grape harvest in September.
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Island of granite and vineyards
2002 / FEBRUARY

If only we had a vineyard. We could have produced our own wine. How agreeable wine made in jars tastes on summer and autumn evenings.' And so the dusk would advance into night. The fresh water on the island went well with the wine, and the sea water was perfect for swimming. My grandfather once said that in such water he could swim as far as the island of Ekinlik to the north, where the dolphins were. I have to confess that the wine played as great a part as the sea water in this claim. Ekinlik was close to Avsa on the map, but looking at it gave a sense of depth and distance. The dolphins were undoubtedly the cause of this. These smiling creatures would come right into the islnd's shores, making distance seemed close and depth shallow, as they flirted with the islanders.

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Island of granite and vineyards
2002 / FEBRUARY

The fish were not so fortunate of course. Their fate was settled by the fishermen, who caught sea bass in May, young bonito in August, blue fish and chub mackerel in September, and mackerel, large bonito, anchovies and whiting in October. Sometimes shoals of sardines from the Aegean heading eastwards across the Marmara would find their way into the fishing nets. Crustaceans were also abundant: lobsters, hermit crabs, shrimps, oysters, and cockles. The latter in particular were plentiful all around Avsa's shores.


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Island of granite and vineyards
2002 / FEBRUARY

In time all roads in the Marmara region began to lead to Avsa, and more and more holidaymakers found their way there. Spring merged into summer, and summer into autumn. It was just before this that my grandfather slipped away, never to return. But he left the finest wines in the Marmara region and his dreams in Avsa.

* Müge Iplikci is a short story writer.

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