In Sirince with Aysha

In Sirince, we found a village of white houses with big four-leaf wooden windows, growing in terraces towards the top of the mountain. There is no other colour here and no building standing out architecturally. This is a preserved village and therefore a major centre of attraction for tourists that small buses pour in gulps every half hour.

And almost all the life in Ṣirince, near Selçuk, the town where the ruins of Ephesus are located, is organised on the basis of tourists’ money. The first streets of the settlement have been turned into a souk with souvenir shops, restaurants and garages alternating in a monotonous pattern. Most visitors stick to these streets and lose Ṣirince.

It’s when you start to beat the first ramps that the village appears in its whiteness. Many of the houses are dilapidated, but you can also see good examples of restoration.

Climb the Sirince terraces

Walking towards the top of the village, the atmosphere is suddenly different. We no longer have the bustle of vendors and tourists and the rhythm is now that of the seasons, that this is still a village where agriculture is practised and where olive groves climb hillsides and get lost in the horizon.

I sit on a veranda above the village, protected from the sun by a trellis and enjoy the calm accompanied by a natural pomegranate juice. Down below, tourists and vendors must continue their game. But you can no longer see or feel them. Up here, the village looks different. I look at the terraced houses, facing south. What can be heard now are dogs barking in the distance and the braying of a donkey, a sound I haven’t heard for too long.

Ṣirince is a lovely place to spend a few hours, after escaping the veritable tourist trap that is the first streets.

When Sirince changed its name

I’m sure that in 1926 these mousetraps didn’t exist and those arriving from Selçuk could immediately appreciate the large windowed houses. I wish it had been that vision that inspired the governor of Izmir to change the name of the village, but he probably never went to the small village and gave in to petitions or influence to agree to change only the first letter of the name. From 1926 the name of the village became Ṣirince instead of Çirince.

By changing just one letter – from Ç to Ṣ – the governor radically changed the meaning of the name and, who knows, the fate of the village itself.

Çirince means ugly in Turkish and Ṣirince is the Turkish word for pleasant. And so, by decree and in just one moment, a village went from being ugly to being pleasant.

And living up to its new name, in Ṣirince I let myself be carried along the streets of the 19th century houses. It’s early afternoon and the heat is beating down. I’m practically alone. A tractor passes me with the speed only allowed to those who have been on the road for a lifetime. I turn a corner and meet a boy of about five who insists with a dog to demonstrate who is the owner, trying to make him sit. But he does it as any five-year-old would do it and the poor bug is truly distressed, so he takes advantage of the kid’s distraction at seeing me to put himself at a comfortable distance until his owner’s controlling design passes.

Aysha speaks to me

I can already see the rooftops of most of the houses. I am on one of the last streets up in Ṣirince. Sitting on a rock, an elderly woman seems to be waiting for nothing. Just enjoying a few minutes of rest. With her hair covered in the flowery patterned yazma, she doesn’t seem to feel the heat under her heavy jumper and skirt.

When I pass her I briefly incline my head in greeting. Nice, but distant, that way I don’t hurt susceptibilities. I greet from a metre or two away and continue on my way when I hear in clear French:

– Good morning sir, may I invite you to my house for tea?

Of course you may. I can’t resist when the approach is made subtly or differently. I knew what I was going for, but I also could not miss the opportunity to see the inside of one of the houses in the village.

Aysha – I will know her name in a moment – leads me a little further down the street and opens a green metal gate that leads to a small courtyard with a trellis that is little more than a project. To the left is a ground floor agricultural annex and opposite the gate a staircase that rises to the first floor and through which my hostess leads me.

Inside a Sirince’s house

We barefoot as we enter the house. The dwelling is humble, but the carpets manage to make it comfortable. There are carpets on the floor and also on the walls. They are, in fact, the almost exclusive decoration of the house with the obvious function of making it less permeable to the weather

I enter and to my left there is a kitchen from which I can see only the cooker and a refrigerator that seems to need renovation. Aysha shows me the way and climbs the narrow wooden staircase that runs straight up to a window from where you can see the whole village. Come, she tells me, implying that I will have time later to look at the views.

Upstairs, the scenery is not much different. The stairs lead down to a small hallway that leads to a living room with two three-seater sofas facing each other. Aysha extends her hand in a firm grip and introduces herself.

– I’m Aysha, what’s your name? And where are you from?

I answer her in my best rusty French

– Sit down. I’ll get the tea,” she says as she disappears into the back of the room, separated from this room by two rugs. I think that will be your room and you will have everything you need to make the brew.

A tea with Aysha

Alone in the room, I take the opportunity for a closer look. In wall niches there are photographs. There is a portrait of a much younger Aysha next to a man already losing his hair but with a bushy moustache. The photo where only the busts can be seen has smoky outlines and very saturated colours. In another niche you can see the same couple in moments registered in black and white: in a wedding group; next to another newly married couple; and also in a family photo where you can see several children.

Aysha arrives with the tea just as I sit down, with a sense of time that seems to have been staged. Or else she was just waiting to hear the springs of the sofa complaining about my weight. I tell him he’s got some really nice pictures in there.

Communicating in no language

It’s then that I realise that Aysha doesn’t really know how to speak French. In fact, she does not know how to speak French at all. She has learnt the necessary phrases to address tourists, but she hasn’t gone any further. But that’s not a problem when it comes to making room. You have some very nice photos there, I had told her, pointing at the frames.

That’s the cue for Aysha to tell me about her whole family. She has three daughters who went to live in Selçuk, the nearest city. They all married and now have children. One of her granddaughters has just given her her first great-grandchild. Aysha is now alone in Ṣirince with her husband, who is working fields.

She has stopped working since her heart operation and now the linen quilts and pillowcases are made by her daughters back in town, that this is truly a family business. And it was to sell the linen works that Aysha brought me to her house. When I put them in her lap I explain to her that I am not going to buy from her. My refusal is well received. Aysha shows me two or three more pieces but then concentrates on continuing the story of her family and tells me to finish my tea slowly.

I do so. I also tell her about Fatima and Miguel. We talk without really talking. We say the essential words, mix Turkish and French, use gestures and smiles.

Aysha waits for me to finish my tea and then she stands up, puts out her hand and thanks me in French. I answer her in Turkish. We walk down the stairs and out into the daylight. Aysha stands waving halfway down the stairs as I close the green metal gate and step out of her world.

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