Solomon’s Wine House
May 26, 2010
Mehmet, my host and employer in Turkey and I were having a casual discussion about alcohol. We both agreed that neither of us are really big drinkers. But when he asked me if I liked wine, I said yes. To appreciate what happened next I have to tell you what we had been doing, this my first full day after arriving in Avanos, Turkey.
We had agreed that Mehmet would pick me up at my little stone house apartment at 10am. The clock in my head, not nearly adjusted to the 8 hour time difference, told me I should be still sleeping, after all it was 2am at home. But I was up at 5am for some ungodly reason. My main objective at least first hand was to unpack my suitcase. That took 15 minutes if you count the extra 5 I killed re-arranging my stuff in the small accommodation. I then went about the task of trying to get online so I could start communicating with the world again. Just like the night before, no luck. The wireless seemed to be working, I was getting the “you are connected message” but could not log on for love or money. Next, I decided to step outside and see what this little piece of Turkey looked like in the daylight. (It was late and dark when I arrived the night before.) You might remember the reason I came to Turkey in the first place, to fly very big balloons. I stepped out my door way, took a few steps to my right toward what looked like would be a reasonable vantage point to take a look around. The 30 or so hot air balloons that filled the sky in the near distant valley literally took my breath away. (Sorry if that sounds un-masculine.) They were just hanging as if someone had placed them there like ornaments on a Christmas tree. After the initial shock, I began to take in what else was in this picture. Imagine….a valley divided by a beautiful clean flowing river, the Red River, actually as coincidence would have it. The side of the river nearest me is filled with red tile roofed houses and business’ that make up half the small town of Avanos. The other half of the town is on the other side of the river followed by rolling green hills that dump into the valley floor that is hosting the gathering of balloons and their tourist passengers from all over the world. Directly below the hovering chariots are what they all came to see. A geographical site millions of years in the making by nature and altered slightly over the last 8,000 years by man. Volcanic action on three sides gave the landscape it’s definition, the people gave it it’s character. The sandstone over countless years formed a one of a kind geography that includes castle looking structures and “towers” that are now called fairy chimneys. Then as people began to inhabit the area, they carved the sandstone structures into houses, churches, and whole underground cities. If you would like a lot more detail about the area, just go online and search for “Cappadocia”….it’s worth doing.
Anyway, after taking in as much of that view as I could stand I was off on another mission. Mehmet had been very thorough in furnishing the apartment with everything I needed to just move in. Furniture, linens, vacuum cleaner, iron, TV, high speed internet,(well, eventually), fully equipped kitchen with new appliances. Just everything a person would possibly need….almost…note to Mehmet….next time don’t forget the toilet paper! So, I went on a quest to find that which was at this point desperately needed to make the living accommodations complete. I made a list of a few other items that I could use and struck out to town. OK, I am already in town….out the door, down a very steep cobble stone street, with a bunch of cobles missing, take a right and I am on the main street of Avanos. It’s just like you would imagine. Small shops, markets, with fresh fruits and veggies and stuff I had never seen before. This was gonna be easy. Oh, wait…sure enough, these folks do not speak or understand English, or at least the way I attempt to speak it. The first place I went into was a market that had all of the above stuff…fresh stuff. I suspect it came from the green part of the valley across the river. After walking around the small place a couple of rounds I came face to face with I guess, the owner. Not having a clue what else to say, I asked, “do you speak English?” He looked at me like I had said nothing at all….blank. I tried again. This time real slow and louder hoping these changes would make a difference. It worked, sorta. He smiled and shook his head and shrugged his shoulders in a manner that even I could understand..he had no idea what I said. Not to be deterred I just kept on talking, explaining that I was from the USA, just got in last night, was staying around the corner, and would be here for the summer, flying very big balloons. The amount of talking did not seem to help, but it did produce some smiling and affirmative head shaking indicating that he understood which led him to trying to give me what looked like goat cheese cause maybe I looked hungry? I tried to be graceful, but ended up just smiling real big and slowly backed out of this man’s world.
After entering a couple of more places, I finally found a shop that had what I was looking for. Toilet paper, no problem. Fairly recognizable. I also needed some shampoo. For those of you who are visually impaired, you can appreciate this. It reminded me strangely of being in the shower, without my glasses and trying to determine, which bottle is shampoo and which one is conditioner? Same problem here, except I had my glasses on and I wasn’t naked. But although the bottles on the shelf had some familiar looking brand names, the details of what was inside, of course, was in Turkish. After spending way too much time at that location, I finally settled on a good old fashioned bottle of “ClearTech Mukemmel Dolgunluk. I’m kinda hoping it works with no lasting side effects.
After returning to my little stone house, Mehmet, picked me up right on time. Mehmet is not your normal Turk. Most of the people here are of medium height and keep their hair cut very short. Mehmet literally stands out in a crowd. He is at least 6’ 1” tall and has coal black hair that is long and combed back over the top of his head ending up in what looks like a Steven Segal flip. In fact he looks very similar to Mr. Segal. He is very friendly and outgoing. Everybody knows him and it seems every where we go, people just want to talk to him. About what, I have no idea.
After a couple of stops, he took me to a café for lunch. We had what must be the favorite thing around here, which is kebob…it is sold everywhere….a lot of variations, but still kebob….pretty much some kind of meat with some grilled veggies. Not too bad really. Hot tea is the drink of choice. Served in what looks like a small clear juice glass. I think I am developing a taste for it.
We then proceeded to go to the “hangar” where he keeps all his ballooning equipment. He calls it a hangar but it is really a fenced in gravel parking lot with a little building. The balloons are kept outside covered on their trailers. It is new and in the process of getting all the essentials like water and electricity. On this day the task was burying wire. So on my first full day in Turkey, instead of flying very big balloons, I found myself attached to the end of a shovel filling in the ditch containing the wire. Which brings me to the actual subject of this installment. As we were finishing the task at hand, somehow alcohol was mentioned and as I said in the beginning, we both agreed it was not a big deal. But when I told him that I did enjoy a little wine, it was like a switch went off in his head. He dropped his shovel and in his broken English, said , “come, let us go”. And go we went. And fast. Everything in turkey moves very slowly. Except traffic. The narrow, stone streets may as well be Talladega. Between the little screaming scooters, the tour buses and Mehmet’s quest to break some kind of speed record, I thought I had traveled half way around the world just to die on a Turkish street…without even flying not one very big balloon.
We went through the little town like a mouse on steroids looking for cheese. Around this corner, up that hill, down and around and up and down until we came to a stop with Mehmet proclaiming, “ good..he’s open.” He was Solomon. We stepped off the street into a small courtyard filled with flowers and green grass and grapevines hanging over head. The sun was almost gone and the air was as clean and cool as one could have imagined. We were met by a small man with graying short hair and wearing modest western looking clothes with the exception of a wool sweater vest looking garment that seems to be the must have attire among the Turkish men. He invited us to sit on a small bench, verbally to Mehmet and through hand motions to me. And we just sat for a few minutes enjoying the evening before Solomon and Mehmet began exchanging some rapid fire conversation that left me bug eyed. Mehmet explained that Solomon had just invited us into his wine cellar. It was not a cellar. It was a fricking cave. The entrance was large, big enough that Mehmet did not have to bend to enter. And it was dark. I kept expecting a light to come on somewhere but it remained dark. As we entered, I could feel the air get cooler. There is something about being in the middle of a rock that is unnerving, at least to me. As we continued we made a sharp left turn into a narrow, low passage that then opened up into a small room. In here there was some light coming from somewhere, but it was very soft. The room was half surrounded by rock benches carved out of the wall, which is where we were invited to sit. In front of us was a long narrow table that held an array of wine bottles and small wine glasses. Solomon stood on the other side of the table, put his hands together and began to speak. It looked like class was about to begin. He seemed to be talking directly to me, even though he knew I could not understand a word. But it was easy to understand, that this man was telling me a story, his story, and it was filled with such enthusiasm and passion, that the words did not matter. I was mesmorized. To me the words he spoke were like background music, and only secondary to the story being told. His eyes sparkled and danced as his hands kept time to the music. I somehow broke free of my trance and realized that Mehmet was quietly translating the story to me. I won’t tell you the whole story, wouldn’t want to spoil your own trip to the Wine Hause. But you should know that, according to our host, people have been making wine in that cave for over 1,000 years! In the dark stillness of that ancient place, you can almost sense the past, and for a brief moment, become a part of that history.
We sampled wine as the story unfolded, each small glass followed by a few moments of silence, and time to let the taste and aroma of the last fade before the next one was served. Each one was just a little different, progressing from sweet, sweet, to sweet, tangy. They were all good as I listened. When we were done, he gently guided us out of the dark place where the story was told. (I needed more than a little guiding after the story and the wine, to keep from stumbling in the dark).
No money was exchanged that evening at Solomon’s Wine House. But there was something given to me that I will not forget. A welcome to Turkey that will last me every day that I am here, and then some.