My first visit to the Nesin Mathematics Village was in the summer of 2007. My first course there was in the summer of 2008. I have been back every summer since, sometimes more than once. Now I have visited for the first time in winter. I am in awe. The photographs here are supposed to give you an idea why.
I had not wanted to teach in Şirince during the winter. I preferred to use the winter holiday as a break from teaching. But I was still curious. This year I paid attention to a request for teachers. My spouse had other business to attend to, and she also had a reluctance to dealing with cold weather in primitive conditions. However, as John Denver sang, Elhamdülillah kır çocuğuyum! I travelled alone by bus, heading out of Istanbul on the evening of Saturday, January 16, 2016.
Earlier that day in Istanbul, Ayşe and I had lunch on the first floor of a restaurant overlooking Abide-i Hürriyet Avenue and the Şisli Mosque. One might think the mosque was from Ottoman times; but it is from 1950.
After lunch, Ayşe had a meeting, concerning the the delicate situation of herself and a thousand other Turkish academics; but I visited the Elgiz Museum, at the İTÜ-Ayazağa metro station. I had never visited this private museum, and I knew of it only from a display at the last Contemporary Istanbul art fair. At the Elgiz Museum, the works of a new exhibit were on the walls, but not the labels. In one of these works, a photograph, the objects dangling from a woman’s necklace were testicles, by my guess. I take these as an allusion to ancient statues of Artemis, from the temple in Ephesus, by the seaside below Şirince. Across the bosom of Artemis hang globules that are said to be testicles. Probably they are bull testicles. However, in a passion for chastity, such as was shown by Hippolytus in the tragedy by Euripides, perhaps a devotee of the goddess would offer up the testaments of his own virility, in an act of self-castration.
I knew the statues of Artemis from the Selçuk museum. I headed to Selçuk on Saturday evening, when I donned my backpack and walked to the Mecidiyeköy office of Kâmil Koç. My beloved spouse saw me off as I caught a minibus to the Alibeyköy bus terminal. I reached the Selçuk station next morning. The dolmuş to Şirince left almost immediately. At the head of the dirt road out to the Mathematics Village, a Village vehicle happened to be waiting. But I preferred to walk, backpack and all.
My backpack was called
old school last summer by a sculptor whom I met in Assos. It is a pack with an external aluminum frame that I have used since I was eighteen. I borrowed it from a friend, who had taken it from an older brother. I ended up keeping it, and I think this was with the friend’s explicit permission. I have taken the backpack on airplanes: indeed, this is how I brought it to Turkey. But I would rather not think about how the pack will be handled when it is out of my sight at an airport. Within Turkey, even as the price of airplane tickets goes down, I prefer to travel by bus. I like to see the countryside, even at night. I still find romance, even in pulling up alongside other busses at a rest stop, and having a bowl of tomato soup in the cafeteria.
A great pleasure of being in Şirince this winter was the people. There were the workers whom I knew from previous visits, and there were the students, most of whom were new to me. I did not photograph them, and I am not going to talk much about them here. My photographs are of the outdoors, and people do not spend time outdoors in winter.
The dining room of the Mathematics Village is a cozy place in winter, once wood fires are roaring in the stove and the fireplace. I would find these fires being stoked at half past seven in the morning. At that hour, the people were mostly construction workers, warming their hands at the fire or around a glass of tea. The students must have been asleep in their dormitories. The first class was not until nine.
My first night in the Village was spent in the Han, since the supposedly better room that had been reserved for me was not ready. The room in the Han was fine, and at first I considered not bothering to repack my things and move the next day.
Then I decided not to pass up the luxury of the room named for the Gayrettepe Rotary Club and Cem Yılmaz. It was a large room with balconies on two sides.
The radiators were supplied with water heated centrally by pirina, a fuel made from olive pits. Since most of the trees coating the hillsides in my photographs are olives, pirina would seem to be a natural choice for fuel in Şirince. A dictionary translates pirina as bagasse, although strictly speaking this seems to be the residue not of oil production, but of sugar production. In any case, I am told that pirina is actually expensive.
In the construction of the math village, trees were spared whenever possible, even if this meant letting them grow through the roof.
Sometimes I hike to the distant meadow, then further up and across the ridge. I did not hike so far this time. This was in part because I stayed busy preparing my course. I had not really known its contents until arrival in the Village. This was just as well, since it spared me from worrying about getting prepared ahead of time. In the end I was fairly happy with how the course turned out. I got to some interesting mathematics, without trying to give a detailed, general, abstract development of each part. (I grant that what I presented was still often abstract to the students, some of whom were not even mathematics majors.)
Tuesday was sunny, and I walked to Şirince after lunch. I sat in the village meydan, making some notes about the mathematics that I was teaching. My class was later, at five in the evening. Meanwhile, I saw the man with a white walrus mustache from whom, in the summer, I buy shirts made by his daughter. Then I had a supplementary meal at Ayşe Hanım’s Place, a regular of ours. This was where, in 2007, my own Ayşe explained her three male companions as being, not tourists whom she was guiding, but her teacher, her spouse, and her student (Hocam, kocam, ve öğrencim).
Evening shadows were falling on the math village as I returned for my class.
A few years ago, the Mathematics Village hosted a sculpture workshop. Evidently great blocks of marble were delivered, carved, and left in place.
One Village road had its gutter down the middle; now, for the first time, I saw it flow with rainwater. Another road had its gutters on the side; the puddles there did not freeze until the last days, although puddles elsewhere froze sooner. Apparently it is not unheard of for snow to fall deeply and last a week. This time there were only some flurries.
Firewood is gathered from around the Village. I was told that there was plenty. Unfortunately the wood did not burn well for me, when I decided to try out the stove in my room. Perhaps the wood was still too wet from the recent rains, or possibly it was just green wood. In lieu of kindling, I was given a great bag full of wood shavings from the carpentry shop.
The newer part of the Mathematics Village is really the Philosophy Village. When I arrived on Sunday, I had a late breakfast with the chair of my own university’s philosophy department. He had been having a holiday at the Village, as well as making arrangements for a philosophy conference a few months later. Houses for the Philosophy Village continue to be built.
There was more activity among the olive trees then I had seen before. I had seen no activity in summer; but now I saw tractor tracks, left from the olive harvest and the olive trimming. During my hike on Friday, I would meet a woman and man collecting olives. Their dog barked at me, but kept his distance on the hillside.
I think there is a kind of Conservation of Green in Şirince. The few deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, but grass that is brown in summer grows.
In the winter, the same hillside is illuminated at dawn, as here, and at sunset.
My other teaching colleague besides Ali Nesin switched hours with me, so he could drive back to Istanbul before an expected snowstorm hit. He took my Friday hours, so I had the day off. (Then I would double up on Saturday.) Earlier in the week, I had heard a gunshot or two, and I thought maybe I should not go hiking. Then I thought, Well, I had not heard that many gunshots, and my hike would be on tracks that local farmers used anyway. So on Friday morning after breakfast, I headed out on the loop that can take you two hours if you are in a hurry. This time I spent more like three hours.
The three stream crossings on this loop became slightly nontrivial in the winter.
I have not got one of those devices that let you see your pose while you are photographing yourself. Still I took one selfie, using the two-second timer on the camera. The camera can recognize when there is a face in view, and supposedly the camera can be set to take a photograph then; but I am not sure how well this feature works.
During my walk I talked to Ayşe by mobile. A
news website owned by the son of the mayor of Ankara had tracked down and published photographs of her and hundreds more of the academic comrades who had dared question the righteousness of the government’s warfare in the southeast of the country. The photo of Ayşe from her own webpage had been taken by me, and it featured me in the background, in a mirror. Whoever gathered these photographs must have worked mechanically; apparently one of the pictures was really of the late Michel Foucault. The picure of Ayşe was from a mosque courtyard. It just so happened that the mosque was in Diyarbakır, the city being devastated now under curfew, while people living comfortably in the west of the country debate about who is a traitor in words.
The Nesin Mathematics Village is at the center.
The sun set.
At the end of class on Saturday, the remaining students—two from my own department—had their photograph taken with me, lined up in front of the blackboards; but I have not seen the photographs.
Next morning, students started showing up for the coming week’s program. Three were from my department. The first had come by overnight bus, as I had done just a week before. It was his first visit to Şirince, and he was in awe, like me.