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   One of the great pleasures of living in a winter country... (December 27, 1991)

One of the great pleasures of living in a winter country, as distinct from living in a city under a temporary cold spell, is having a genuine fire in the house. Not a gas or an electric heating system, but a wood fire blazing away in the fireplace, the cleanwood smoke lifting out of the chimney pots rows of houses, like so many popes being elected.

It is a very Dickensian scene. Christmas cards spread-eagled on the fireplace shelf, cherublic men in tight waist-coasts and long coats sitting around long wooden tables, pince-nezes on noses, tankards in hands, large chunk of roast beef, half carved, on the table, children and dogs on the floor, women in four skirts (or one skirt and three petiticoats), stirring things in tureens, and, out of the window, the view of a stagecoach having just arrived, horses with flaring nostrils condensing the air.

I once spent two winter months in Turkey, in a hamlet on the slopes of the Taurus Ranges, where the scene was somewhat similar. The town (vilage) stood on a less-used from southern into central Turkey and local travellers passed through it daily. Instead of stagecoaches, they travelled in buses, as old as the coaches would have been.

The travellers belonged to the past and the present; under sporty cloth caps (since Ataturk had banned the Fez Muslim cap) and jackets, they wore old baggy trousers of the Turkman empire, and when the buses stopped, and when the buses stopped, they came out and stamped about out the winter street with scowls on their faces, as if to keep out the cold. The women, though the veil and the burkha were banned by the same Atatuek, covered their faces with scarved.

I used to watch them from behind the glass-front of a doctor's dispensary. All day long, I would sit by the fire, which it was one of my duties to keep alive, and watch them.

Threre were others who came from the valleys around, simple farmers, the richer ones on mules, the poorer ones on donkeys. Friday, there was a large crowd in the town (village), it was the bazar day. Though a Muslim country, the weekly holiday was on Sunday and not Friday, Ataturk had organised that also.

Most of the villagers would come to the doctor's dispensary, either for professional advice and medication, or for a chat. Though most of them, I suspect came in for a few moments of warmth that the fire offered.

Fire has this tendency of drawing people together into its warmth during a winter. I repeat, it is one of the great pleasures of living in a winter country. But you cannot have a fire in a city under three-day cold spell. You can't even have a cardigan.

 
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