THE CARAVAN MOVES ON BY IRFAN ORGA
Irfan Orga (1908-70) was a Turkish fighter pilot then air attaché in London until he resigned his post to marry an Englishwoman, thereafter becoming a writer about Turkey in English. His The Caravan Moves On, published in London by Secker & Warburg in 1958, describes his travels in Turkey in 1955-56 following his first return there after seven and a half years' absence.
Orga arrived in Turkey in mid-1955 by sea at the port of Izmir on the coast of Anatolia to stay a couple of weeks in the home of his brother.
My most potent memory of Izmir had nothing to do with its changed appearance or with its new generation of stolid citizens. […] Perhaps my head was filled with thoughts of classical Izmir, perhaps I was in a receptive enough mood to see gods walking in the streets. At any rate, I certainly caught site of a young god in a garden.
He was kneeling on the grass when I saw him, staring up at an old woman who seemed to be scolding him. It was a garden surrounded by trees, holding in its heart an old stone house with hooded, secret windows. It was a garden where anything might happen. At any moment, the pipes of Pan himself might pierce the air.
I halted beside the tall grilled gate, staring at the boy and the old woman, captivated by that smooth old-young olive face. What sensuality it expressed, what rapaciousness! He couldn’t have been Turkish, for no Turkish face was ever carved with such delicacy, or such weakness. His beauty was in his weakness. He was Antinous, thwarted by the old woman of some trivial desire. He was Beauty and Evil. He was the Youth of Smyrna.
Like a figure on some Etruscan vase he knelt there in the warm grass, his frozen gaiety, his quiescent passion, epitomising a grander era than this. [pp. 23-4]
Arriving soon afterwards in the city of Konya in south-central Turkey, Orga sought out Hikmet Bey, “a bull-like man” he had met in London and a prosperous farmer and former M.P. long well-known for his virility with women, who took him to stay at his home in nearby Meram. One day, Hikmet drove him out “to Kavakli to see his farm” and “it was arranged that we should spend the night” there.
We ate in the stone-flagged kitchen of the farmhouse, where candles stood in saucers were too feeble to illuminate shadowed corners. Drinking vast quantities of rakı, as if it were water, Hikmet Bey grew amorous and called in some of the labourers to drink with us. The candle-light flickered on dark faces and tattered shirts. Hikmet Bey fondled a good-looking young man with a mouth as sweet as a girl’s. Dursun Bey looked faintly shocked. I longed for a camera to photograph that ring of dusky faces which, loosened by rakı and the suggestiveness of love, was assuming a primitiveness as exciting as a Rimsky-Korsakov suite.
Someone produced a small drum and an ud - a five-stringed instrument shape like a half pear - and presently the deep throbbing rhythm of a fast Anatolian peasant tune broke on the air. A voice took up the tune, feet tapped in appreciation. The singer was a youth of about twenty, a slender, womanish figure with large dark eyes. Hikmet Bey, twisting in his chair, groaned his appreciation, and the singer’s voice grew low and sweet, teasing Hikmet Bey’s emotions. The thrumming of the ud, the dull noise of stamping feet on the earth floor, the singer’s voice, all made a dark pattern on the senses of something half as old as time itself. The flickering candles highlighted lips and jutting noses, the skin stretched tautly across high Asiatic cheekbones, and the jewel-like liquidity of a dark eye. There was a sharp smell of stale sweat.
After a time the men grew tired of baiting him, and he sulked in a corner, hidden from view, but fumblingly groping for a young boy who was plying him with rakı.
A boy of perhaps fifteen was pushed into the centre of the floor. His fresh adolescence was a touching thing in that stale old room. His face was tender as a dawn sky, and touched with the humility of the mountain Turk, yet his eyes were already alive with the experience of living. He singled me out for his attentions, standing so close in front of me that I was aware of the little pulse beating in his throat and his head outlined in flaring candlelight. He stared at me for a moment, his eyes taunting me, then he flung back his head in laughter. He leaned forward to snatch my hand and kiss it, and all the time his lightning gaze flashed from my ring to the gold watch on my wrist. Hikmet Bey pulled him close to plant a kiss on his upturned mouth, then said thickly that he was to dance.
For a few moments the boy stood slackly, but one felt the ripple of excitement that went through the watching men. For a little longer the boy timed his movements against the beat of the music, little hesitant movements that were suggestive of young amorous limbs. Then he began to dance, carefully, painstakingly – almost clumsily – keeping in perfect time with the quickening music. His smooth young face was as blank as a sleepwalker’s. He weaved a pattern with his feet, but his mind was somewhere else. His artistry was superb, for the movements of his body and the fluttering hands portrayed unmistakably a young girl’s first reluctance to physical love, her gradual desire to experience it, finally her surrender.
There was no sound at all in the room save the whispering beat of the music and the slithering of the boy’s feet across the floor. Men sat in rapt attention, light running silver down the side of a face or the jutting archipelago of a nose. The half-darkness was rapacious and secretive and all eyes were directed to the boy who swayed in moaning rapture, his dark shadow leaping up the wall behind him—monstrous, gigantic. The music rose and fell, offbeat, infinitely sad, for it spoke of passing earthly joys. The languorous boy stood quite still in the middle of a twirl, one foot poised above the other, the posture sustained magnificently, then, in time to the quickened music, abandoned himself to the consummation. Now his feet flew so fast I was hardly able to distinguish one from the other. His shadow leaped and jerked up the wall. His hands yearned, taut, delicate, infinitely tactile. The climax came with violence. His low sad cry of surrender echoed round the startled room, and then he flung himself to the floor, twitching.
With the ending of the dance cries rose from dark corners where men sat clasping their hands between their thighs, lost, abandoned to the erotic moment. Someone shouted, ‘All-ah,’ unable to contain himself any longer. Only the musicians played on unmoved, for they were caught up in their own particular rapture. I found the experience of that night both moving and chilling, an experience so primitive that it could not fail to stir the blood, yet so expressive of man’s lower nature, so imprisoning, that one felt brushed by the Devil himself.
The room was full of rakı fumes, of sweating humanity and the queer acrid odour of the copulations of older men. To stagger out to the sweet night air was a form of relief, for unless one has lost one’s senses in drink it is impossible not to be appalled by licentiousness. Dursun Bey came out to stand beside me, and together we looked out at the dark outline of the hills and the villages that lay sleeping at their feet.
“I could have gone outside with that boy,” he said to me regretfully. “You know, he looked at me many times.”
I was moved again by the memory of the dancer and the certainty that he would never grow old.
The moon was high in the sky, infinitely remote, symbol of men’s dreams. Trees stood out on the horizon like a frieze. In my mind’s eye I saw, as in a witch’s ball, the figure of myself, spellbound. [pp. 73-76]
The following general observations were made in the context of describing life in Muradöy, a nearby “tidy village of little over one thousand people”, which Hikmet Bey drove him to the day after the “night’s orgy” just described.
Bodily cleanliness, as integral a part of Islam as fasting or praying, is taught to the youngest child. Pubic hair, and hair under the arms, is regarded as unclean; the Christian use of toilet paper instead of water is considered the very depths of uncleanliness. […] Adolescent boys whose penises are constantly erect cannot enter a mosque in this state, but must content themselves with praying in their homes. This, of course, calls attention to their plight, but nobody seems to feel any embarrassment. [p. 81]
The best-known part of Orga’s narrative, from which the following passage is taken, concerned his three weeks living with the little-known Yürük nomads on Karadağ, an extinct volcano in the High Taurus mountains in south-central Turkey. He had persuaded Hikmet Bey to accompany him there and a Yürük “young boy called Osman” had made himself their guide.
Among the Yürük tribes, prostitutes are rare, and those there are are themselves usually the bastard daughters of prostitutes. I was told there were none on Karadağ, Osman looking faintly shocked that I should ask such a question. However, the fact that I had asked obviously worried him for the same day he came to me, and after a lot of ambiguous remarks, came out into the open with the offer of a young boy who would be willing to oblige me if I ever felt life was too hard to bear. Hikmet, who was with me, gladly offered to take my place at once, and strode off jauntily with Osman to an assignation which had been prepared for me. [p. 177]
 Smyrna was the ancient, Greek and English name for Izmir. It retained a large Greek population until 1922. Antinous was a Greek boy from the Anatolian city of Claudiopolis, loved by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and made by him a god after his death in AD 130, resulting in his beauty being preserved in countless surviving statues.
In “Performing Modernity in Turkey: Conflicts of Masculinity, Sexuality, and the Köçek Dancer” (Master’s thesis, City University of New York, 2014, pp. 27-8), Brittany Giselle Haynes insinuates that Orga’s belief the boy could not be Turkish because of the delicacy or weakness of his face was pure chauvinism, but offers no grounds for accepting this slur against a man whose writings suggest an open and unprejudiced mind. Even more ill-founded is her claim that this passage shows Orga had “conflicted feelings of fear and desire towards young men.” Leaving aside her typical modernist dishonesty in representing as a young man one whom Orga described as a boy, how is Orga supposed to have indicated he saw anything wrong with desiring him? However much Haynes’s compatriots in the 1950s may have experienced conflicted feelings over homosexual desire, Orga’s admiration of the boy’s beauty, which he need not have mentioned at all if he was ashamed of it, is surely refreshingly unabashed, as is his appreciation of the dancing-boy which follows.