Queen of Spades

Queen of Spades

In Tarot, the Queen of Spades is the sign of intelligence. It symbolizes intelligent logical decisions and wise judgments that are practical and intellectual. It stands for creativity and represents a visionary woman who brings artistry to life and acts in a planned manner.

This is Ayla Emiroğlu! The woman who created many of the firsts of tourism in Bodrum. She was a tall skinny woman with fuzzy dark curly hair and deep dark eyes. She was tagged by the nickname Maça Kızı, that is Queen of Spades in Turkish, while playing cards in Bodrum by a poet friend. Since then, the name stayed with her and with all the places she started, from the tiny guesthouse with shared bathroom of the ’70s to the very first beach club in Bodrum.

All her places were frequented with intellectuals and artists, all driven to her magnetic persona. She kept innovating and changing, and these initial venues, which combined laid back summer beach life with good food and art, paved the way to the legendary Maçakızı of today, a popular destination for celebrities from all over the world.

Today, her son, Sahir Erozan, proudly carries the flag he received from his mother. He himself has been the creator for the legendary cities and had the same inherited flair and once even brought together outstanding chefs and artists and organized events that hint at new horizons for tourism in Bodrum. Recently, on the verge of International Women’s Day, he brought together women of gastronomy, art, fashion and music, dedicating an unforgettable weekend to creative women in honor of his mother.

The event made me think about the ‘70s when Ayla Emiroğlu started it all. Cooking has always been seen as a woman’s job. But that’s only true at home, the world of chefs was often monopolized by men. Interestingly, there is even the tradition of female cooks in rural areas who cater for communal gatherings such as weddings in Anatolia. However, heavy kitchen work has always been seen as a man’s job in our professional kitchens. Eventually, things have changed, no-name cooks in the kitchen became celebrity chefs browsing tables triumphantly in the dining room, and the gates of the kitchen started to open up for the second gender.

Today, the role of women in every field of gastronomy is increasing. From the field to the kitchen, from experts to researchers in academia, from the taster to the writer, the place of women in the food and beverage industry is getting stronger day by day and the power that women bring to the industry becomes prominent.

Seeing the brigade of women chefs in the open kitchen of Maçakızı, I could not help remembering the Virginia Slims ad with the unforgettable “You’ve come a long way baby” slogan. The point reached today is proud, and its roots should be sought almost a century ago when another pioneer talked about men should also cook in home kitchens.

First Ottoman Feminist
Let’s wind up the history back a century, to the years when the woman’s name was not in professional kitchens, but her main duty at home was definitely in the kitchen. It would be impossible to pass without mentioning Ulviye Mevlan, who is known as the first Ottoman feminist.

Nuriye Ulviye Mevlan Civelek, with her full name, comes from a rich Circassian origin family, but the family became impoverished due to a tragedy created by the selfishness of the only male child. Being unable to provide education for the two daughters, the father decided to give Nuriye to the Ottoman palace in order to secure a good education.

The little girl was smart and quick-learning, and the name Ulviye was attributed because of her success in this high-quality education. However, within the framework of the traditions of that period, when she was only 13 years old, she was wed to someone rich and distinguished in society, but much older than her. Within a few years, as she was already thinking of divorce, the husband died. She got married for the second time, taking the surname Mevlan. The surname Civelek is from her last marriage.

Mevlan’s rise to prominence as a feminist took place during her second marriage, so she often appears in the records under the name of her second husband. In 1913, when she was only 20 years old, she founded the Ottoman Women’s Rights Association and started publishing “Women’s World” (Kadınlar Dünyası), the first Muslim feminist magazine of the Ottoman Empire. Her view of feminism reflected her visionary stand: “The purpose of feminism is not only to improve women’s lives but to improve men’s lives as well. Feminism wants to make it possible for both sexes to live better and happier and more humane lives together.”

There is often this perception that feminists reject cooking at home. Interestingly, the only book Mevlan wrote was a cookbook titled “The Perfect and Complete Master of Cooking” (Mükemmel ve Mufassal Aş Ustası) published in 1918.

The book reflects her entire palace experience, blending Eastern and Western culinary cultures, a thorough information on nutrition and cooking techniques in 26 chapters, featuring 732 recipes with 248 Western and 484 Turkish dishes.

Mevlan tried to create a very detailed and comprehensive source of information, just like the title of the book implies, but do not think that Mevlan created this perfectionist work only for women. On the contrary, she argues that men should also cook at home, reflecting this opinion albeit indirectly, in the introduction to the book.

“Thanks to this book, every patriarch of the family, male or female, will be able to order and even describe the dishes that please to their liking, to the cook of the house, and if necessary, he will be able to cook it himself.” I find that the suggestion that “he will be able to do it himself if necessary” was an idea ahead of its time.

A century later, even in educated circles, the mentality that thinks that a woman’s duty is to serve a hot soup for her husband and does not regard her as an equal life partner still prevails.

After the Women of Gastronomy event in Maçakızı, I realized that Emiroğlu, aka the Queen of Spades, did something more than creating firsts in Bodrum tourism.

She raised a son that will carry the flag further, that truly adopts the concept of gender equality and gives the right place to women of all fields, from food to wine and from music to art.

During the all-women weekend, champagne flowed freely honoring Madame Clicquot Ponsardin, a pioneer and visionary woman and a widow who created a champagne industry and gave her house its singular identity. Follow the activities of Maçakızı winter events and do not miss the exhibition of Wooden Sculptures of Mine Akın (open till April 22), who creates immortal works from the roots of the immortal olive tree.

Aylin Öney Tan,