Sometimes my thoughts turn to the Black Sea. Above: the western coast of the Black Sea, south of the Bulgarian-Romanian border, 1994.
Three gardens in the town of Kıyıköy on the Black Sea coast of Turkish Thrace.
Kıyıköy — literally: “coastal settlement” — is the all-too-obvious modern Turkish name for the ancient Greek Black Sea port and walled settlement of Medea. By late-Ottoman times, the town, eventually known as Midye — Turkish for “mussel” — was populated in large part by Greeks, whose lives and livelihoods (fishing and coastal shipping) faced seaward, and by Bulgarians, whose lives and livelihoods (dairy production and garden farming) faced inland. Bulgarians left Midye during and after the Balkan Wars of the 1910s, and Greeks in the forced population exchanges that followed Turkey’s war of independence in the 1920s. Demographics have changed — today’s Kıyıköy appears to be populated by Turks and Roma — but the part-Byzantine and part-Ottoman walls of the town still stand and still mark its periphery, and Kıyıköy’s rarely-frequented harbor still provides safe haven from the capricious currents of the Black Sea.
The three gardens portrayed herein are set in the expanse between Kıyıköy’s formerly-Greek town center and its still-extant town walls. At the top: the front garden of the home of a Roma family. Middle: A backyard vegetable garden. Last: A solitary pupil in the playground of a private kindergarten awaiting the imminent start of the school year. All three photos were taken in 2013. The camera: My usual Fuji X100 with and without a wide-angle conversion lens.
As a chill, gray autumn begins in Istanbul, I am warmed by recollections of the late-day glow of sunlight on the Black Sea coast at summer’s and of the fish that began to run last month and now run in even greater abundance; fish that pack local market stalls; glistening and oily, strong-tasting fish, their names shouted to passersby by fishmongers — diminutive, mackeral-like istavrit and far tinier anchovy-like hamsi; small,delicately-colored, bluefish-like çinekop, and meaty, sleek-skinned and red-gilled palamut (bonito). I’ll leave it to speakers of Turkish, Bulgarian, and Greek to argue over which languages the etymologies of these names belong to and — of far greater importance — which fish taste better grilled and which fried, which baked and which salted or cured.
The woman in the photograph above arrived at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast during the Second World War in the chaos of a forced exchange of populations between Bulgaria and Romania. Together with other “ethnic Bulgarians,” uprooted and expelled from villages they called home, she spent weeks on the road, traveling southward by cart and on foot from the surroundings of Baba Dag, a provincial town that took its name from high nearby ridge (“Mountain of the Father,” in Turkish), the site of one of five cenotaphic graves of revered as the resting place of Sarı Saltık, the legendary mystic who spearheaded the advance of the Bektaşi order of dervishes into the Balkans.
On arrival in Bulgaria newly “repatriated” exiles from Baba Dag were arbitrarily divided amongst several villages just over the Bulgarian side of the border, often without the provision of shelter. In the coastal village of Kamen Bryag, the new arrivals eventually built a new quarter of their own apart and off-grid from the original settlement. There, they built low-slung, L-shaped houses in the fashion of the region, starting with one room and, as needs arose and materials became available, adding additional rooms one at a time, “railroad-flat” style,” as it were. Like most villagers, they worked worked the fields by day and, after hours, tended vegetable plots, pigpens, and chicken runs in own their courtyards, yielding autumn harvests of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, fresh eggs, and meat for curing.
The courtyard in the photo no longer exists. It and and the vegetable garden next to it were uprooted several years ago. In their place: a large enclosed restaurant, open during tourist season and desolate in the winter, surrounded by neatly planted flowerbeds on one side and the towering antenna of a local mobile telephone operator on another. The grandmother still lives on the plot and still tends what little remains of her garden. She is in her late-eighties now and, at day’s end, often sits on the raised concrete curb of the newly paved road next to what was once her farmyard in vain expectation of passersby. Roadside benches of the sort pictured in a previous post were removed or left to crumble years ago.
Photographic footnote … and, following it, a story
The photo above was shot in 6x6cm format on C41 process black/white film, a film sort that yielded magenta-tinted black/white negatives when processed in “drugstore” color film developing machines. The film was fine grained and had a broad exposure latitude, enabling individual shots on a single roll to be taken at different ASA settings, usually within one stop of the rated ASA of 400. I took the photo at a relatively slow shutter-speed, fast enough to enabled to shot to be taken handheld but not fast enough to take into account the sudden turn of the subject’s head. Thus, while the neck and dress of the subject are well in focus, her face is slightly blurred. As a result, I originally rejected the photo but, on examination years later, I felt that the combination of facial expression and setting outweighed the technical demerits of compromised sharpness.
From Ovid to Grandmother
For a long-ago somber treatment of the region of Kamen Bryag, Baba Dag, and surroundings one can flip through the pages of Ovid’s writings during his exile from Rome, Tristia and Ex Ponto (both available in a single file on Archive.Org). For a somewhat humorous view, one can read a story I wrote a decade ago linking the great Roman poet with the grandmother portrayed above — the full text of the story can be found by clicking here or on “Read More,” immediately below:
A road left unpaved in a village in the process of gentrification …
The photo above is one of a several I took last month to supplement a series I shot a decade or so ago in 6x9cm format on black/white negative film using a tripod-mounted technical camera. The subject of the original series: Village roads receding into the horizon on a seaside plateau. The series was shot using small aperture settings so as to achieve maximum depth of focus. The supplemental photos taken this summer were taken with my Fuji X100 fitted with the recently released +1.4x “50mm equivalent” tele-adapter. I took them at an aperture of f5.6, thereby throwing roads sufficiently out of focus to achieve abstraction but maintaining sufficient focus to keep road, vegetation, and farm houses recognizable. I was pleased with the combination of sharpness and soft-focus the X100 plus adapter was able to achieve. Over the next months I hope to scan, post, and print several of the original black/white images.
Decades ago, when the village of Kamen Bryag was still an agricultural settlement, homes looked outwards and, in the hours before twilight, villagers sat on roadside benches to greet and gossip with passersby. Today, as the old agricultural generation dies off and the vacation villas of urbanites take their place, homes look inward and their inhabitants relax and socialize in the privacy of backyards and walled compounds.
Fertile soil, a flat plateau, and a shoreline of steep cliffs shaped Kamen Bryag as an agricultural rather than fishing settlement — this despite its setting only few hundred meters from the edge of the Black Sea. Natives of the village rarely ventured down the steep paths to the seaside, in modern times leaving isolated coves to the whims of summer vacationers.
Geology transcends the ephemera of political borders. The great plain of the Ukraine curls southwestwards, across Moldava, Romania, and into the wheat growing region of the Dobruja in northeast Bulgaria, where it crashes into the Black Sea as per the photo above. From Asia into the Balkans, the plain has been a route of migration for Scythians, Sarmatae, Getae, Slavs, Bulgars, Cumans, Tatars, Kipchaks, and Pechenegs. It has also been a path of northeastern migration for Greeks, Romans, and the Seljuk ancestors of the Turkophone Christian people known as Gagaouze.
Hovering over the Black at the final reaches of the plain is the small windswept agricultural village of Kamen Bryag (Stone Beach), known in Ottoman times as Kayabeyköy (Feif of the Lord/Squire of Stone). Once a village of Bulgarian tenant farmers, its population was augmented in the 1930s by an influx of ethnic-Bulgarians from Romania, force-marched southwards during a population exchange between Bulgaria and Romania, a mutually agreed process of ethnic cleansing and national solidification at the expense of dispossessed peasants and villagers.
In the decades spanning the denouement of the communist period, Kamen Bryag became a summer gathering spot for self-styled bohemians and those seeking alternatives to mass tourism along sandy beaches. Today, as the last of its old villagers die off, Kamen Bryag hosts the summer villas of city folk and a number of small guest houses. Free-roaming goats, cows, geese, chickens, and turkeys no longer pack the streets of Kamen Bryag but, nevertheless, the air remains clean, the village remains quiet, and the local tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, honey, and homemade grappa remain excellent.
Photographic Footnote …
The rich texture of stone and the crisp definition of clouds in the photo above is a function of accurate metering and the appropriate use of an orange filter — not to forget skilled printing.