Burgazada

To some it’s a place for all seasons; to others it means an escape, a fish dinner, long walks in the forest, or simply peace and quiet and a little romanticism...

Horses... The island’s true inhabitants, the monastery, Marta and Berç, fish in abundance, Kalpazankaya, the dogs... Such were the thoughts going through my mind as I sat in one of the seats next to the heater on the island ferry, waiting for my journey to begin to the peaks of the minor mountain range that was inundated in the Great Flood some eight thousand years ago. Ever since it began operating in 1846, the island ferry has stopped first at Kınalıada, then Burgaz and Heybeli and finally Büyükada. Nor do Istanbullu’s fail to fill those ferries every time. These small islands, so close to the city yet purged of all the negative aspects of city life, have become places where more and more Istanbul people by the day want to live.

I MEET GEPETO AND TRIPOD
When I reached the square overlooking the ferry landing, I met the island dogs that are Burgazada’s permanent residents. Whether because I shared my sandwich with them or because of the mid-winter spring weather, the brown one looked at the black one as if to say, “Come on, this could be fun!” Thus commenced my journey with my two new friends, Gepeto and Tripod, first stop Hristos Tepesi (Bayrak Tepesi) at the top of the island. Tripod managed to keep up with us despite having lost a leg in an encounter with a phaeton. Leaving the ferry landing behind, we headed left and upwards.

First we ran into Sait Faik’s old friends. Unbeknownst to us, they were making their final preparations to get to the sea as soon as possible. In a brief chat I learned that the waters off Burgazada let neither net nor hook-and-line fishermen return empty-handed. Horse mackerel and bluefish both large and small are a frequent catch on the hook and line. Those who prefer to cast nets go to the Kalpazankaya or Kumbarostaşı side. 

A LONG WALK IN THE HILLS
I started my climb up a slope where the streets are lined with wooden houses surrounded by gardens. Seduced by the whisper of the wind, the leaves had long since blown away, their yellow quietude disturbed. The houses thinned out as I began my hike to the summit. Although the road where I walked is paved for part of the way, it eventually becomes a stony mountain path. The ‘tree cemetery’ at my side all along the way was a sad reminder of the terrible fire that day, 6 October 2003, when 40 hectares of forest were destroyed. Reaching the pyramid-shaped hilltop, I arrived at the ruins of the collapsed defense wall and, immediately adjacent to it, the cemetery. These are what is left of the Christos Monastery, and of the church that was built here in 1603. The monastery was built by Basil of Macedonia in 866.

IN THE HOME OF A GREAT WRITER
As I followed the same route back down, rain splattered on the roofs of the houses, the shop windows, the hills and, more relevantly, on my head! Gepeto, Tripod and I walked together as far as Sait Faik Abasıyanık Street where we separated with a promise to meet again on the square. Famous writer Sait Faik succumbed to cirrhosis here in 1954 in his island mansion, which was turned into a museum in 1964. The Sait Faik Short Story Prize, launched by his mother Makbule Hanım in 1955, continues to be awarded every year here in the mansion. Lines of his racing through my head, I am impatient as I approach the outer gate: “Psst... psst... Let them come, from wherever they come, from the mountains, from the birds, from the sea, from people, from animals, from the grass, from insects and flowers... Psst, psst...”  I climb the mansion’s outer staircase and ring the doorbell, which sounds like an old-fashioned bicycle bell. With mounting excitement I hear the slow footfalls of the elderly lady who lives here and looks after the house. The door opens and I step into the life of the master writer. Old lace antimacassars, straight-back chairs with faded upholstery, no armchairs; this place where he awoke every morning, wrote his stories and spent his time is even more fascinating to me. Taking the wooden stairs in a single bound, I reach the top floor, and the place where he actually lived. The tiny room where he composed his works.

“I couldn’t help myself. I ran to the tobacconist’s and got pencil and paper. I sat down. I took out my penknife, which I carry in my pocket to carve little sticks if I get bored. After sharpening my pencil, I held it and kissed it. I’d go insane if I couldn’t write.” Perhaps he even penned the continuation of those lines here in this very room... 

MARTA’S COVE
Exiting the museum I head for Kalpazankaya, leaving the sea on my right. As I progress along the narrow path lined with trees and grass, my attention is drawn to one of the lovely coves at my right: Marta Cove.

Marta was an attractive and striking ballerina. Berç Kazar sold hardware at Perşembepazarı, a quiet man who kept to himself. They got married and had a son, Corc (George). Marta was a free-spirited woman for those days. She loved going out for long walks by herself, and swimming in the coves. The island folk don’t like. Berç got wind of them. So did Corc. And they were angry with Marta. But Marta outdid them in her anger and had the last word, never to speak again. “You can breathe easy now,” she wrote, perhaps more, on a tiny scrap of paper. The islanders were sorry and named Halikya, one of the most beautiful coves. And Berç? After Marta, Berç spent most of his time on Burgazada, in front of his little hut, sipping rakı and munching snacks with his friends. Until he was eighty years old...

SUNSET AT KALPAZANKAYA
With Marta Cove directly opposite me, I continue on my way. Every now and again the phaetons, the island’s sole mode of transportation, block my path with the clip clop of the horses’ hooves. Indeed, a few stray horses, left to roam now that it’s evening and the workday is over, briefly become my new road companions. I reach Kalpazankaya and descend once again via the tiny steps next to the restaurant at the top. When I get down to the shore, the first thing that catches my attention is a rocky outcropping at the tip of the tiny beach that divides the water in half. The cove takes its name from this rock. If you look closely, you can see the tiny room at the top. This is where the ‘kalpazans', history’s original counterfeiters, once stowed their forged money. I climb back up. Everything is stained red as I wait for darkness to fall. Day is ending at Burgazada; maybe it’s beginning, too. The horses, the island’s true residents, the monastery, Marta and Berç, fish in abundance, Kalpazankaya, the dogs...