Monday, February 22, 2010

Off-season on the Aegean

Come summer, or so I'm told, the Aegean towns of Çesme (right) and, especially, nearby Alaçatı (below) will be mobbed with rich İstanbul'lus as some of the city's poshest and most popular restaurants and nightclubs open up their fair-weather outposts in these seaside villages.

Empty of the hordes to come, Alaçatı in late February looks like a stage set, with its charming cobbled streets lined by shuttered buildings promising boutique-hotel accommodations, wine tasting, tapas, sushi, and French bistro food -- just as soon as the weather warms up.

Seeing the locals leisurely carrying home their groceries and chatting amiably in the quiet streets, it's hard not to feel a sense of impending loss, whether residents in fact welcome or disdain their annual visitors. (Not to mention a twinge of shame about my small contribution to the tourist-ification of this and other places.)

But more than that, I wonder if the people who come to enjoy fine dining and private beaches ever peek behind the stage that has been set for them. Do they see the people living in crumbling houses or tending hidden gardens? What about the sheep and goats grazing in empty lots just a couple of blocks off of the main road? Somehow I doubt it. Though imagining a late-night encounter between a well-heeled couple who took the wrong route back to their hotel and a small herd of goats is somewhat amusing.

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