When friends abroad contact me asking how we are getting on Turkey in the midst of the chaos – terrorist bombings, floods of immigrants from war-torn Syria, and the aftermath of a failed military coup – I confess to some feelings of shame.
Not that I have any involvement in any of these activities, you understand. It’s just that Dilek and I, being semi-retired, have spent most of the summer in Bodrum basking in the sunshine and dipping in the sea in this little idyll on Turkey’s south Aegean coast. Events in Istanbul and Ankara seem almost as far away as those in Salez, Switzerland, Paris, France, or Milwaukee, USA.
However, we know it’s a false paradise we are inhabiting. At the end of the month I’ll be heading back to work again in Istanbul. We are well aware of the hundreds of innocent people killed or injured while resisting the automatic weapons and tanks of soldiers whose officers were attempting to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government. We appreciate the additional difficulties that government is facing as it tries to assimilate three million Syrian refugees, and sustain economic confidence at home and abroad in the face of plunging revenue from tourism, anarchy and violence in neighbouring states, black propaganda from abroad, and a damaging spat with Russia.
This morning, sitting on the balcony enjoying our modest breakfast, casual conversation ceased as our eyes were drawn to a three-masted, square-rigged vessel of impressive size sailing with a brisk wind west to east across our field of vision. We see some pretty nice boats passing by during the summer, but this one was definitely out of the ordinary, and I had to check it out online. It wasn’t hard to find.
Wikipedia has this to say: The “Maltese Falcon is a state-of-the-art full rigged ship which was built by Perini Navi in Tuzla, İstanbul, and commissioned by her first owner Tom Perkins. She is one of the world’s most complex and largest sailing yachts at 88 metres (289 ft).”
Tom Perkins, God rest his soul, was comfortably ensconced on the Forbes billionaire list when he passed away earlier this year. An unabashed member of the American “One Percent”, he gained some publicity for himself in 2014 by comparing contemporary antagonism against the super-rich to Nazi Germany’s victimisation of Jews, and suggesting that the world would be a better place if people could cast votes in proportion to how much tax they paid. I think that part was a joke. As if those guys care about voting when they can pay lobbyists to pressure governments into giving them whatever they want.
Perkins is said to have paid $150 million to build the Maltese Falcon to his specs in 2006, but got bored with it three years later, selling it at a large loss (probably tax deductible) to another finance wizard (or witch) Elena Ambrosiadou. According to Forbes, “the yacht has 11,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of living space [and] fits up to 12 guests in five lower-deck staterooms and one upper-deck VIP cabin.” Of course Ms Ambrosiadou is generally busy making more money, so when she’s not using it, which Forbes tells me is most of the time, you can rent it (with eighteen crew thrown in) for $540,000 a week.
Well, that was today. Star of yesterday’s show was the Meserret II, which we were quite impressed with, until we saw the Falcon. Being a mere 57 metres (187 feet) it was not so easy to find online, and whoever owns it is a little more reclusive than Mr Perkins and Ms Ambrosiadou – but judging by the Arabic name, they must be from around this part of the world. It’s also available for hire, if your budget won’t quite stretch to half a million or so dollars a week. You can still squeeze twelve passengers on board, apparently. They won’t have quite the same living space as on the Falcon, but substantially more than my ancestors had when they sailed half way around the world in 1842 on a 37 metre (120 foot) motorless sailing ship with 250 other emigrants from Scotland.
Anyway, life goes on in Turkey, as you see – and I’m feeling less ashamed of myself now.