Friday, March 23, 2012

English Bookstores Abroad: [The Owl Bookshop, Antalya]

I have perused The Strand. I have spent languorous hours in Blackwell's. Much have I seen and known (and loved greatly) of The Albion Beatnik. But I declare - as contentiously as I am able - that the single best English-language bookstore in the world is The Owl Bookshop in Antalya, Turkey.

Me and Justine
The Owl Bookshop (less, in reality, a bookshop than the personal library of a mad Cappadocian intellectual ) consists of two rooms of an Ottoman house in the Kaleici district of Antalya. The books within are in no discernible order, but they are universally excellent (and gleefully esoteric - I discovered a copy of Moltmann's The Crucified God v.2). The bookshelves, tables, and benches are apparently reclaimed from Orthodox churches, as are the wall-carvings.

The highlight of our visit to the bookshop, however, was not the books themselves but their curator, the Cappadocian himself, Kemal. Kemal, who tore himself away from reading a biography of Nietzsche in English (or was it German?) to speak to us. Upon bemoaning the desecration of Black Sea monasteries, introducing us to his all-too-sadistic black cat Justine (with whom Very English Boyfriend got on quite well - the reference, Kemal assured us,w as intentional), and grilling us as to the last book we had each read (I am pleased to say that my selection satisfied him; he had, of course, read everything), he proceeded to provide us with specialized recommendations (including some handwritten ones for texts not available in the shop), he offered us enormous slices of watermelon (although his assistant infuriated him by providing it improperly sliced) and proceeded to speak with us about Literature. He informed us that we should visit Mustafapasa in Cappadocia (we did!) and that we should read various treatises on Victorian sexuality (we did not). We passed two enormously enjoyable hours in Kemal's company, and spent the rest of our trip carting eight books overland from Antalya to Cappadocia to Trabzon to Batumi.

When asked from whence he procured the tiles and fixtures for his renovations, Kamal replied somberly: "From the dustbin. Like Trotsky says...the dustbin of history!"

The Owl Bookstore single-handedly rendered Antalya one of my favourite places in Turkey (aided, admittedly, by the seashore, the Old Town, the bougainvillea, and the wonderful man who attempted - very kindly - to convert me and Very English Gentleman to Islam). It is worth a visit for the shop alone.

Haul: Iris Murdoch's The Unicorn, von Kleist's The Marquise of O and Other Stories, Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy, Joseph Roth's Tarabas, Moravia's Contempt, Olivia Manning's The Rain Forest, Lawrence Durrell's Antrobus, Ned Sherrin's Scratch an Actor. Total cost = 60 YTL (approx 20 quid) for eight books.

Enter Kaleici not via Hadrian's Gate, but rather via the entrance off Ataturk Caddesi (near the clock tower). Turn right and walk 30 seconds. Alternatively, wander about until you find it.

3 comments:

Lindaloo26 said...

I am so glad that this bookshop is still existence and the owner too. This book shop kept for sane for six months back in 1997 when I lived in Antalya. I will never forget the elation when I discovered it - not so easy to do. And I remember the owner going out to his garden and giving them a big bunch of pungent basil to take home. I must have disappointed him with my mundane book choices. We never talked literature.

Bury me where I fall said...

Kemal is still there in March 2014. Seems he is not going anywhere. I took a lovely photo of him. A shot which shows that intelligence behind the eyes. I had to admit to him I had not read 10 per cent of the English books he has read. I have the Hilary Mantel he spoke of but alas have not read it. He gave me lunch of the best octopus and salad bead roll and the nicest glass of chai in all of Turkey.

bessfones said...

Kemal and his Owl Bookshop also kept me sane during my time working in Turkey in 2014. He's a world-class reader and he started out with a book exchange back in Kaleichi's wilder, less gentrified backpacker days in a different building where he kept a rose garden. But Kemal is actually from the city of Sivas, not Cappadocia. Not only has he read everything he's a fantastic cook and you may be lucky enough to join him if he's cooking dinner provided he approves of the books you've picked out. Beneath that gruffness is a truly kind man. Miss you Kemal and thank you for introducing me to my favorite soup; the healthy "sourdough" soup tarhana you served me without a word when I was really under the weather.