A house-bound İzmirian diary: Post-corona life continues on in balconies and online
From sumptuous terraces overlooking the Kordon, İzmir’s waterfront, to dingy half-closed decks that one could barely fit a raki table, balconies have always been part of life for Izmirians. This local obsession has often the butt of jokes for the rest of the country. “No man without a paunch, no home without a porch,” goes the popular saying, implying that a potbelly in a man and a balcony in a house are signs of wealth and status.
But in the post-corona world, balconies have become the only safe public space for many of the city’s residents, who are reluctantly and awkwardly practicing social distancing. Mornings at Alsancak, Izmir’s chic downtown, start with waving hands among neighbors who take their morning coffee at their balcony or water flowers. Domestic drama, such as arguments between couples suffering from cabin fever due to full-time cohabitation, take place in full view of neighbors. At nine o’clock every evening, people come out on their balconies to applaud the health workers who are working under tough conditions.
As rumors of Izmir – along with Istanbul - being one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced earlier this week, many of the residents have taken off to their summer houses in Cesme and Alaçati, twin seaside resorts 70 kilometers of Izmir. “At least I have a garden there so I can sit outdoors and get clean air. There are less people and less risk,” said Simin, quinquagenarian who has retired two years ago from the health sector.
Neither is true anymore. A customs officer at Cesme’s Ulusoy port, where ro-ro boats from Italy’s Trieste land, tested positive for coronavirus, announced Cesme Mayor Ekrem Oran. Some 45 families who have been in contact with him were placed under quarantine and four people, who have had high fever, were sent to Izmir’s Tepecik Hospital, the main center for coronavirus cases in the city.
The residents of Cesme are less than thrilled about the early arrival of the summer people. “Those who have suddenly decided to come here are an additional burden, both for the supply system and should something happen, in the health system. We have one small hospital here which is barely adequate in normal times, let alone in a crisis… and if they come to be isolated, why don’t they f*** stay home?” said Beyhan, a resident of
Cesme. “They are everywhere. Alacati, which was blissfully calm in winter, is returning to its hectic summer days.”
In downtown Alsancak, the number of people on the streets is ironic, not the young population of Izmir but the elderly who insist of taking their daily stroll. Complaining of unrelenting septuagenarians and octogenarian who refuse to stay at home, has become a national topic of conversation – a light one as opposed to false remedies spread by covidiots and constant steam of bad -mostly false-alarmist - news of coronassandras.
“I am praying that there would be a lockdown so that my parents would stay home,” said Itır, a US-educated academic and a columnist for humor magazine Bayan Yani. Indeed, in an unnerving reversal of our teenage years, the 50-somethings are now screaming at their parents to stay home and parents defiantly retort with, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – but it is sooo boring at home.”
The government’s decision to impose a curfew on people over the age of 65 has brought a sign of relief – as well as a round of jokes. “After the government decision to keep the 65-year-olds at home, it was decided that Meral Aksener (the chair of İyi Parti) would do the shopping for all other political leaders,” said Zaytung, Turkey’s satirical online publication. All major politicians in Turkey are over the age of 65 – with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 67 and main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu 71. Aksener is 63, just below the age limit.
Indeed, humor – along with lemon-scented cologne and kelle-paca, an astringent soup whose strong smell is sure to keep away anyone two meters away – may be one of the stock-in-trade of the Turks in dealing with the deadly coronavirus. This Izmir resident, who is in self-imposed quarantine for a week with her husband, certainly began to appreciate jokes on marital bliss in time of corona. “The jury is still out whether there will be a baby boom or a lot of single parents after the pandemic,” said one.