Blue moon beyond borders
Aylin Öney Tan - email@example.comLeros is quiet and tranquil. The little seaside cafes are not crowded; there is a fresh breeze. It is nice to be away from Bodrum’s maddening crowd and traffic, all so unbearable with late July’s suffocating heat wave. A short walk down along the shore, I see a lot of signs of Yeni Rakı, with their new slogan “Unrush Your World,” so perfectly placed with the laid back atmosphere of the relaxed Aegean island. We take seat at the far left end of the bay, at Bourtzi tavern. Bourtzi means “burç” in Turkish (a citadel bastion) and the chef, Mihalis Magkos, takes pride in his seafood. Then a man walks towards us to greet our group. He doesn’t look like an islander (later I’ll find about his origins); he looks like someone close, like a long lost relative. He comes directly to me and utters the words “Fork & Cork,” then spells out my name, adding that he follows this column on the Internet. That is how I meet with Simos Karagiozoglou.
Simos is the distributor of Mey rakı products in Greece; he is basically the man who tries to convince Greeks to give up ouzo in favor of rakı. Rakı sales have greatly increased in recent years, both due to the roaring number of Turkish tourists invading, especially the Dodecanese islands, but also as a result of a successful campaign of increasing its selling points and making agreements with the best of restaurants. At every restaurant we’ve visited in both Leros and Kos, the table cloths and napkins were carrying the logo of Yeni Rakı; they all stocked a whole range of Mey rakı products, including the prestige product Tekirdağ No:10, in prices way more accessible than in Turkey. This is partly because of the relatively more humane taxes imposed on alcoholic drinks in Greece and greatly because of the merciful pricing of the restaurants. Though all the restaurants had popular Greek ouzo brands like Barbayanni, I noticed that most tables were adorned with either Âlâ or Tekirdağ Gold series.
The chic and classy Barbouni restaurant in Kos for example, elegantly displays all brands in the bar, but the cool and refreshing crisp white and navy blue marine logo of Yeni Rakı stands out, calling for an impulsive order of an icy glass of the stuff. It is true that many of the tables with rakı bottles on the tables had Turkish customers, but some admittedly told us later that, out of curiosity, they first tried ouzo but then switched back to rakı, as they found the taste more comforting. It must have been the distinctive sweet smell of fresh anise that they were longing for.
Back to chatting with Simos, I learn that I was not all-wrong thinking of him as a long lost relative. He is from Salonika, the city of my grandfather. But then, I was wrong again; he is not a native. Both sides of his family are originally from Samsun, a coastal Black Sea city in Turkey. He tells me about his relatives in Turkey, now Muslims, but once Orthodox Christian. He adores Bafra pidesi and especially misses the one with pastrami/pastırma. The night is slow in Leros, and we continue to chat and drink through the night, with the July blue moon slowly rising in the sky. After a couple of glasses of rakı, our waitress turns out to be the most incredible dancer. She urges all customers to join, Simos would not resist. His dancing style is quite familiar as well, in a way like it should be done… The next day, I’ll find out he is from the group, Anatolian Rum Association or “Akrites Serres,” which preforms Anatolian Rum’s folkdances authentically. His wife, Ageliki, is also of Anatolian origin, one part from Thrace, one part from Kars, two of the farthest edges of Turkey, who also dances with same group. From our group, we find another amazing dancer, Serra Paçacı, International Marketing Manager of Mey, another true islander, not from Greek islands but from Prinkipo, our beloved Büyükada. I say beloved, as we find out that our houses in Büyükada are quite close. She does not have a Greek background; she’s of Sephardic origin, but out dances all the Greeks in the tavern, like she’s just popped out of the film “Zorba the Greek.” Serra works in collaboration with Simos, and it’s their combined miracle that makes rakı so popular beyond borders.
Like the dance, the music is also more than familiar. As I watch the full moon rising, I realize that I’ve listened to this song with its Turkish lyrics as “Telli Telli Turnam” a zillion times from Yeni Türkü, from my classmate, Derya Köroğlu, from architecture school, without even thinking that it was originally a Greek song.
“Unrushing” our night, we’re all delighted to find so many shared things in common, all bad memories our families have suffered in the past, melting away with the ice in our rakı. Actually, the supposedly blue moon tonight has a golden tinge, matching the slightly yellowish tint of the Tekirdağ’s Golden series. The bluish shade is still hidden in the crispy white milky anise drink, gently blowing refreshing breeze to the shared glasses, with shared music and dance. The blue moon is shining above us all the same, bringing us together from the two sides of the shared sea, over a shared glass. Rakı adopts itself so well in the Greek islands, so well fitting in the atmosphere, so perfectly in place!