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Once upon a time in Ankara

Saturday 9 June 2007, by Mithat Melen

The other day a friend said: “All maps are flat. They don’t have any dimensions.” My friend is right. Even colored maps don’t have any dimensions on paper. Look at the Cinnah Street, Ankara, on the map. It looks very flat. But when you start walking on Cinnah Street you immediately discover that you have to climb a steep step slope, which makes the walk quite difficult.

Years ago, during my early youth, there weren’t many cars in Ankara. Only a few wealthy owned imported V-8 engined American cars. In those days, gasoline was cheaper than water, as the saying goes. For 80 kuruş you could fill the whole tank. Listening to Elvis Presley songs was the fashion. More romantic ones preferred Tom Jones. Even Johnny Halliday and Sylvie Vartan came from Paris to Ankara to give a series of concerts.

The rich boys gang

Ankara was no big deal those days. There was nothing much to do. The summers were too hot and the winters freezing cold. Maybe not as cold as the Eastern Anatolian winters where cats froze on midair when jumping from one roof to the other. Nights were always cooler.

When night fell and people retired to their homes, youngsters used to organize car rallies, climbing to the Çankaya Hill. The rally almost always started at two in the morning at the Kavaklıdere junction, finishing at the Çankaya Square. It had quite a number of fans. Patrons of the few Ankara night clubs ended their entertainments at the Çankaya Square. Inhabitants of the Cinnah Street were sick and tired of the noise they were subjected to listen every night.
The owners of the cars, on the other hand, did the maintenance of the engines meticulously, even filling the tanks with regular gasoline mixed with jet fuel. When the engines were gunned, the cars seemed to fly as if they were real jets. The stakes at the rallies were high. The competitors were even betting on their own cars. The loser had to turn over his car to the winner. Wealthy father immediately bought another car to the loser son.
As the rallies went on, traffic police were watching the happenings from afar, sometimes earning soup money. Among the rally drivers were the sons of former cabinet ministers, businessmen and upstart families. Owning a luxury car in those days was equal to owning a private jet today.

In Ankara in my early youth five or six cars only drove through neighborhood streets. A few Americans and Turks owned them. We, school kids, used to stick our noses to the windshields and wondered how many kilometers per hour the cars can make. Every morning at school the gossip centered on them. “His car did 150 kph last night. So and so’s girlfriend refused to ride with him because he couldn’t climb the hill with enough speed.

The road to Çankaya*

All the cars were equipped with record players which played 45 rpm records. Those days the sound volumes of the record players weren’t turned to a high pitch. Some drivers had their cars dance to the cha cha cha tunes. One of the elder boys, nick named “cha cha cha İlhan,” was very popular. Cha cha cha Ilhan had his ’59 model Chevrolet virtually dance the cha cha cha. Those who didn’t know how to cha cha cha looked at İlhan’s car and learned the steps.

Those days it wasn’t easy to get access to the rally gang. You had to have both money and a luxurious car to be one of them. And most important of all, when caught, you had to maintain a silence of the dead.
Experience speaks. You cannot climb the slopes of Çankaya speedily and easily even in a speed car. It is not enough even if your car is perfectly maintained. You, yourself, have to be ready and perfectly maintained and according to my friend Engin’s description “a little soignée.”
My friend is right. Maps don’t have any dimensions and are flat, but the road to Çankaya has its ups and downs. Unlike maps on paper, most things are never flat.

* Cankaya is the name of the “presidential hill” in Ankara.

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Source : TDN, Friday, June 1, 2007

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