WILCO VAN HERPEN
Back in the good old days, you used to be able to get very special, authentic sandals from a man named Ali Güven. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but the memory of his sandals live on in Bodrum
It is April and spring will arrive soon. Although it has not been a very severe winter for me, I am still looking forward to spring. During this time of the year, there are a lot of destinations you can go to. It might be a bit too early for the Black Sea
region, but the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea are very nice during this time of the year.
The first time visited Bodrum was in 1987. I came with my former, Turkish girlfriend to Turkey, but since we were not married, it was very difficult to find a hotel that would accept us. Someone advised Bodrum to us, this place is very relaxed, a friend told us. Bodrum still had that village feeling in it during that time. When I look around in Bodrum nowadays, it has grown, matured in certain ways, but still can offer you that nice intimate village feeling! This is the time of the year you have to visit Bodrum.
Not too many tourists yet; you do not have to deal with the traffic that, at certain hours during the summer season, can be as bad as the Istanbul traffic. Merely local traffic without stress, because then it will be busy again. Walking through the little streets in Bodrum, I always make it a habit to visit a couple of places every day and have a chat there. After three days, it is as if you have lived your whole life in Bodrum.
People from all over the world bought
sandals made by late Ali Güven.
The castle, powerful, having stood there for ages, defies earthquakes and harsh weather conditions. A burning summer sun or severe winter storm; nothing can touch this castle. Near the main gate, a man is selling sponges and some dried and conserved balloon fish. For many people, an ideal souvenir to remember Bodrum, but I think we have to be careful with those souvenirs. It takes years for a sponge to grow and once a sponge is being picked, there is no way to get it back. There used to be many sponges in the sea around Bodrum, but nowadays it is hard for sponge divers to find them.
The marine with its beautiful sailing boats and, of course, the promenade next to it. Near the mosque, across the main street, is a small quarter where they sell fresh fish. It is here that you can find some excellent fish restaurants as well. Whenever I am in Bodrum this is the place where I eat fish. In a way, Bodrum has not changed a lot, especially the old center. Of course, some shops come, some go. But as a feeling, it still can touch you. One big thing, an icon or, at least until his death, a living legend, missing in Bodrum though is… Ali Güven and his workshop.
Ali Güven used to be a man who, at a very early age, started to make sandals. Not just any sandals, no way, with love and passion he made his sandals. The leather he used was of first quality; a tanner provided Ali with the material that made Ali immortal. Sandals were his passion and because of that, people from all over the world bought his sandals; people like Mick Jagger or Bette Midler have bought sandals from Ali.
Ali was not a stereotypical person; he was full of life in spite of his age. He was a handsome man who had a nice way of dealing with female customers. But when he was not interested in selling one of his models to a customer he could be indifferent to that person. All kinds of words were uttered and at the end, he asked his client if they needed the sandals soon. Always his answer was, “it takes at least two years to make them. If that’s no problem for you, then we have a deal.”
I like those kinds of people; they give color to a place. You can find them everywhere, but unfortunately we do not always see what those people add to a place. Erzurum, Çıldırgölü, Uçhisar or Mordoğan; those people have, for me, put “their” places on the map of Turkey. I sit down at the seaside with a drink in my hand. The sun is setting and puts Bodrum in a fascinating light. Ali Güven: his light has gone out, but I am sure that sooner or later, a new person will rise and become a new icon for Bodrum.