In the center of Kadikoy is a statue of a crocodile (a small one by Floridian alligator standards, maybe 5 feet total, nowhere near the size of the 16 foot monster that took down our neighbors Spaniel one autumn night) When the Greeks founded their first settlement several millennia ago, they discovered a spring here full of crocodiles. Today the same area is filled with stray cats, who sat on various posts, rails, and tree stumps, all in a row, watching with twitching ears and alarmed eyes two mimes perform an odd sort of puppet show. One of the mimes is a towering woman with a long face like the a canyon drop. It's painted white with exaggerated black eyebrows and little red bow of a mouth. She has long hair as straight and stiff as metal wires, which she keeps it tightly bound in a pony tail that falls past her waist. She never speaks, but plays the violin (much to the ear twitching cats' despair) and always wears the same stern expression of a Nazi head mistress who had just walked into a room full of homosexual Jews making love to Downs Syndrome gypsies.
The man, who may or may not be her husband, has long unbrushed hair and a scraggly beard. It alternated between brambles and bald spots from chin to temple. He wears the same mime makeup and dances a marionette who looks just like him across the sidewalk. The marionette lives in a small, dank room next to the alligator that has only one ratty looking chair. It's depressed about a great many things, wears black robes, and will wail from various points around the alligator statue as the violin plays in the background.
This whole business strikes me as a very German, or perhaps a Czech thing to do. I'm not sure why. But these guys are authentic Turks. The gypsy kids who usually play buckets for change in the square stare with a kind of bemused amusement. Their hands still reach out for a lira, but they aren't looking at me when they ask but rather at the mimes...they're smiling, but they're not sure why. They can't quite like this business.
History here is like an ant hill, give it a little kick and all sorts of unwanted surprises come pouring out.
I tried to find out if there had ever been any crocs in Turkey--i.e., what's the deal with this statue. It turns out the croc report was written by a man named Strabo, a Greek historian from now Turkish Amasya who was penning a huge 17 volume Geography for the Romans. Kadikoy was part of a city-state called Bythinia at the time, which was being attacked by another dude from Anatolia named Mithridates. Mithridates' family would have made good Jerry Springer guests. But seriously. One day, Mithridates decided that his mother, the Queen was too bossy, and he was like "Unh uh, bitch, I'm an adult now" and had her put in jail at which point he took over the family trailer that she owned, i.e., Pontus in Northern Anatolia and part of Armenia (That was Anatolia, too, ladies). But she was all, "Hell no! No kid of mine is putting me in jail!" and got out figuring she'd take back at least part of the trailer (Pontus), "'cause it was bought with my money." To make sure she didn't have any competitors, she killed off all of Mithridates brothers and sisters (I was getting real tired of them kids) except for his sister, who helped her stake her claim to Pontus. Mithridates got around this by marrying his sister to seal his control over the final half of the kingdom. ("That's right, that's right, I married my sister! I can do what I want!") Why are ancient royals so much like modern Jerry Springer rednecks? He was no dummy at least. Supposedly he could scream at people from all of the 22 nationalities he had conquered in their own language, without use of an interpreter. Legend says this shows how brilliant he was, but then again, my high schoolers can't say "How are you" yet they know cuss words in both German and English that make them sound like grizzled sailors from the Bronx. So he could cuss people out in 22 languages...is it any surprise a rage-a-holic piece of shit dictator can learn dirty words in 22 tongues?
Anyway, this Mithridates laid waste to Kadikoy when he was fighting the Romans, but the curious thing is this...He was a king of Armenian Minor, and in an effort to break Roman power had over 80,000 Roman men, women and children murdered by the locals--a veritable genocide called, calmingly, "The Asiatic Vespers". This is what sparked the war that led him to level Kadikoy in the first place. The massacre is adorned with all sorts of familiar words like "alleged", "possible" and what not, all the usual verbal guests that attend the more important word "genocide".
And what did I find out about the Nile croc in Turkey. Nothing. Rumor and legend.
In one page, in one paragraph of one of the 17 books of the Geography, Strabo claims that the fountain of Azaritia on a hilltop in Kadikoy--where I live perhaps?--was full of "small crocodiles." Various spurious websites (Wikipedia) suggest the Nile crocodile was once thought to stretch as far north as Turkey. In any case crocs are an oddly social monster, and they have much in common with the two mimes now dancing around their statue, or at least with the species to which the mimes belong. For instance, they will protect their young, even last year's brood who by all rights should be providing their own parents with grandchildren at this point. This calls to mind our human moms who can't quite get rid of that twenty five year old divorced daughter who leaves her kid at home with grandma while she goes out to party. This sort of behavior is especially observable in Turkish mothers who also continue to (over)protect their sons long after they have reached adulthood (a 35 year-old male student still lives at home and can't do laundry or make dinner by himself). Also, they bury their eggs in the sand (crocodiles, not Turkish mothers). When the babies hatch, they younglings start screaming to let the mother know to dig them out. I imagine they're probably just screaming because its scary as hell being buried under a 16 foot crocodile--but it serves a purpose. Another stress free way to encourage hatching is for the father crocodile--called a "bull"--to roll them around in his fang filled mouth--a sort of crocodile Caesarian. Nile crocs also communicate with odor, motions, posture, touch and sound. All of which humans employ as well, though they are loathe to admit the odor part. What am I trying to say, for example, when I save odiferous outbursts from my colon (yes, I'm talking about farts) for certain classes?
Other facts: Crocs are also the team mascot of Bursa, who could take the championship this year, the first time that a non-Istanbul (or Trabzon) team would do so. Crocs are also sold in all the pet stores here. The Turkish word for croc is timsah, a word that comes from Arabic that was not purged by Ataturk and Friends in the 30s.
Finally, one last bit of serendipity. Apparently, the American crocodile (which makes its home in my Florida and which is NOT an alligator) is going to be taken off of the endangered species list because it is thriving in the canals around the nuclear power plant in Turkey Point. An American in Turkey. An American crocodile in Turkey Point. But for two words, there go I.