Lafkos is a beautiful village with a long and interesting history, high on the southern Pelion Peninsula. Its old stone buildings, strongly fortified against invaders, showcase traditional building methods, featuring intricate stonework and wood carving, much of it still well preserved.

Beyond the immediate hilltop huddle of historic buildings around the church and village square are more modern structures, built as the village expanded. Most are now constructed of brick, but are still designed in the Pelioritic style as required by the building regulations which seek to preserve the character of the Pelion region.

One such new building is the Lagou Raxi Country Hotel which occupies a beautiful spot overlooking the Pagasitic Gulf, on land which would have been well outside the safe environs of the village in the earlier period. Tracts of land here on the peninsula still carry the descriptive names they were given long ago, and the hotel takes its name from the area on which it’s built: Lagou Raxi, pronounced Lagou Rachi. This refers, so I’m told, to the shape of the ridge or spine (rachi) of ground which resembles the back of a hare (lagos). It’s also been suggested that this had been an excellent hunting ground for hare in former times, and may have contributed to its being so named.

The hotel has a large conference room and it’s here that some of the local homeowners agreed to mount an exhibition of their kilims – flat woven rugs and carpets.  These heirlooms were woven on handmade wooden looms by women of their families in generations past, and most of them are of quite some age.

I was able to attend the opening night of the exhibit and met Mrs Athena Biniari who has some of her family’s beautiful kilims on display. She very kindly spent considerable time discussing with me the traditional methods used to create kilims, blankets, cushions and similar soft furnishings for the home in a time when all such items were manufactured within the household, as they were throughout the Balkans and beyond. In some parts of the Balkans the practice continues, as it does among nomadic tribes in Asia and North Africa who are renowned for their woven artifacts.

Mrs Biniari fondly remembers childhood days of spinning wool yarn on a drop spindle for her grandmother, who would weave in the courtyard of the home during the summer months. Other ladies recall that weaving was more of a winter activity, when days were long. Distribution of labour within the household and the community must have meant that some had more leisure time than others, of course, but the fact remains that the production of any form of textile in these days was a time-consuming process.

Every inch of yarn had to be produced by hand; every colour was the result of hand dyeing processes. Dyestuffs had to be collected from the natural materials that provided them, and the dyepots had to be mixed. Extensive knowledge was required, and passed down from generation to generation. We should not forget that in earlier times most needlework was done after the day’s work was completed, and by lamp or candlelight. And done with such care, such pride. I am in awe.

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With Mrs Athena Biniari
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Pompons dancing!
This expertly woven rug is quite plain in that it’s woven in stripes, which is obviously quicker than weaving more intricate designs, but its relative simplicity is offset by the wonderfully exuberant edging. Imagine making all those deliciously plump pompons, and with no modern pompon-making devices to speed up the work. I hope the maker enjoyed doing this as much as I have enjoyed seeing it. It really caught my eye, and I can just imagine how delighted my cats would be if such an enticing rug were gracing my floor.

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More restrained – knotted edging
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The warp threads form this very simple edging, but so lavishly
coloured is this carpet that nothing more is needed.

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This display makes me catch my breath, and when I think of the work involved, in addition to the weaver’s everyday household load of chores, I’m amazed.

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Note the vases of flowers motif as an alternating band in the middle rug.

I’m not sure if these three rugs were all woven by the same person, but the display itself commands attention, highlighting as it does the variety of colors and motifs.

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The natural materials here – wood and wool – make for an arresting arrangement. The rug on the right is completed with a fairly typical knotted edging, but the one on the left is the only example I have seen of this very unusual crocheted motif edge treatment. It’s quite striking, employing as it does a different form of textile artistry and skill. I’d like to find out more about this particular rug and whether it had one maker or was it a collaboration? The ability to combine all manner of stitching and of textiles, into a coherent whole is one of the enduring appeals of the needlearts.

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These kilims are draped to advantage over hessian, on an old handmade chest, in which they were probably stored. The forests of the Pelion, though now much reduced in size by the inevitable encroachment of the centuries, still abound with hardwoods of many types from which some lovely antique pieces of furniture were fashioned. I believe this chest is made of chestnut; note the handcarved dovetail joints.

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Birdsong of hand-dyed colour
Note the crocheted and braided edgings to this woven cushion cover.

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Part of the same kilim?
The owner has taken pains to preserve and display these damaged pieces which have the appearance of being part of a large carpet, and may indeed be, but given that one piece is edged with tassels, and the other with bobbles, I think they are in fact salvaged from two different kilims.

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A great pity
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but still vibrant
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This beauty appears to have been damaged while stored; the blue areas are the underlay that was used to display it on. If you look closely, you will see that it was feasted upon precisely along the seam where the two pieces were carefully joined to create this large carpet. The precision with which the pieces were woven, so that the intricate pattern remained unbroken when they were seamed together, speaks to the meticulous work of the weaver. The damage suggests to me that it was folded on the seam line when it was put away, and makes the case that textiles in storage be examined frequently to inspect for unwanted guests munching away.

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Wall to wall colour
Lafkos is a small village, well off the beaten track, so unfortunately this exhibition hasn’t received anything like the attention it deserves, but the exhibitors I had the privilege of speaking with expressed the desire to showcase more of their textile treasures in the future. Yes please!


Turkey’s larger towns and cities have many sophisticated stores and boutiques where the shopper, whether a local resident or tourist, is presented with an abundance of the goods to be found in such surroundings. Designer clothing, sumptuous rugs, antiques. Tantalizing temptation!


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Street market in Izmir
But for me, the street markets and covered bazaars do it every time. They are so enticing, full of weird and wonderful objects, the everyday and the exotic, paper tissues and cloth of tissue, jeans and jewellery.

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Always busy; always exciting
The buyers and sellers alike are fascinating; visitors are from far and wide; dozens of languages are heard, mingling with the sounds of bells and music. Tiny shops selling sweet-smelling spices nestle between the textures and vibrant colours of handwoven carpets, rugs and other handworked textiles in adjoining enterprises.

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Snack, anyone?
It’s knitting that invariably catches my eye. Anything knitting related, be it the handknitted socks which pop up here and there in various shops and stalls, or knitting yarn. Although stores here do a brisk trade in clothing of varied quality, much of it imported from countries like China and Taiwan, handknitting is still popular, and domestically produced knitting yarn is widely available.

You will often find a small selection of basic yarns in the typical haberdashery business. These little shops are bursting with threads, buttons, zippers, needles of all types, sewing tools and gadgets, notions and trims – an amazing selection of items for those of us inclined towards the needle arts.

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Worth a look
Displayed on shelves reaching to the ceiling and expertly retrieved for your inspection by the owner or assistants, tucked under the counter, stored in the back or even fetched for you by some runner urgently dispatched to a fellow dealer, the goodies are many and varied.

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Spoilt for choice
Whilst we communicated only by gestures and much pointing on my part, the owner of this establishment was extremely courteous and helpful, even though my purchase was tiny. The hospitality however was huge, as we have often found it to be in Turkey, and sweet tea, always served in glasses, was immediately sent for.

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Later in the day we came across a shop pretty much devoted to knitting – owned and run by two charming ladies who are either sisters, or mother and daughter. I couldn’t quite establish the relationship and as we were a little off the typical tourist part of this particular market, there was no helpful local to translate for me. No matter. We spoke the universal language of knitters and got along quite happily.

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Examining a pair of traditionally knitted socks
As you see in these photographs, the knitters were very excited about a recently published magazine pattern they were working on. They were most anxious to show me the baby jacket, knitted from the top down, a technique which we in America are familiar with, but one completely new to them.

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What was so touching, and so typical of the generosity of knitters, was their determination that I too should learn this method and all of its advantages, in spite of the fact that we had not one word of common language among us. I not only hadn’t the heart to tell them I have made several items this way, but I quite literally couldn’t.

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Here are the ladies explaining the pattern to me, and going to enormous trouble to write down some pointers, bless them. In Turkish yet! They were so enthused about the process, and so eager for me to benefit from it also. We had a grand old time, babbling away, trying to find words in my tiny pocket dictionary, which was not exactly encyclopaedic with regard to knitting terms.

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When nods and smiles aren’t quite enough
I will never forget them, how genuine and cheerful they were, their generosity in sharing. They spoke for knitters everywhere.

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Otzi, the Iceman, first came to my attention in September 1991 as I sat at our kitchen table in Austin, perusing the New York Times. Enthralled doesn’t begin to describe my reaction as I read the article about the discovery of a mummy, more than 5,000 years old, frozen in the ice of Southern Tyrol, close to the border between Italy and Austria. “One day, “I announced to my husband, “ we have to go and see this.”

Scientists the world over became involved with Otzi; the more he has been studied, the greater our knowledge and understanding of his life, and the period in which he lived. We know his age and what his ailments were. We know his occupation, his diet and what his last meal consisted of. We know how he died. We even know, through the wonder that is DNA, that there are male descendants of his living in the area! The importance of this find cannot be overstated, and for those interested there’s a wealth of information available – our good friend, Google, is a starting point.

What we will never know is the character of the man. No scientist can tell us this, though they were able finally to establish that he died of an arrow wound in his back. That is to say, he was killed by the intervention of another man, or men. I find it particularly poignant then that even in death he was wanted by others, for the politicians weighed in as the row over ownership of Otzi escalated. Was he found on the Italian or the Austrian side of the border? The implications of this are significant, and it was finally determined that he died in what is now Italy.

My fascination with Otzi increased with each new discovery relating to this extraordinary find. Bodies encased in ice masses are revealed occasionally in the Alps, particularly in recent years as a result of the melting of some glaciers, but these deaths are comparatively recent and due to avalanche, skiing or hiking accidents. The identities of the unfortunates buried in this manner are usually established very quickly, but Otzi is in a league of his own.

People’s lives take on turns and twists. Some years ago so did ours, and my husband’s work took us to Austria for a number of years. I almost swooned when we realised that we could drive down to Bolzano, Italy, across the Alps in roughly four hours. I’m not going to dwell on the anticipation, or the excitement here, other than to say that I am still awed by Otzi. Three times have we visited him; my husband delights in commenting that his wife is in love with an older man.

The museum has mounted an excellent exhibition of Otzi, complete with a lifesize model of how he would have been dressed in life, and reconstructions of his clothing and equipment. His garments were found in a poor state, and frankly I think it a marvel that they survived at all. The clothing in itself was a significant discovery as it became clear to scientists that artisans worked at what one might call the clothing trade.

Otzi’s garb was not crudely fashioned, he wasn’t roughly clad in skins, but in fairly sophisticated garments of specific purpose, made by others. Given the skill sets and tools of their time, the Neolithic tailors were accomplished at their trade.

His cap, in particular, caught my attention, fashioned as it is from small pieces of bear skin. I assume that fur remnants were reserved for such items as it is unlikely that whole skins would be cut up for this purpose, given their value as larger pieces of clothing and as bed coverings. It’s also quite probable that skins and furs were recycled from damaged pieces which were no longer of practical use.

Acquiring and preparing animal hides and pelts could not have been easy; such valuable materials would have been repurposed. It’s worth noting that bear skin, with its thick layer of fur, was almost certainly the warmest material available to the mountain people of this period.

Caps and hats need to fit the head quite closely, particularly if required for warmth, whatever they are made of. The hatmakers of Otzi’s time shaped his headgear, patchwork fashion, into a crude bowl shape, thus ensuring maximum warmth. Two leather strips were attached to his cap, both of which were torn and knotted before his death.

Vicious winds whip wildly through those mountains, and it might well have been difficult for Otzi to keep the hat tied securely on his head. Poor Otzi. A knitted hat, worn as a helmet liner perhaps, would have made his life a little easier, allowing as it does a snug and elastic fit.

We learn and continue to learn from Otzi, more than 5,000 years old, whose needs and aspirations were much like ours. My husband refers to him as the victim of a hostile corporate takeover.


WINDOW: An opening in a wall, a roof, a vehicle which allows the entry of air and light; usually features panes of glass; can see and be seen through; may be secured by shutters or bars.

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Leftover scraps and remnants of various materials have been used throughout the centuries by diverse cultures in all corners of the globe; manufactured goods such as clothing, for example, have been re-purposed in countless imaginative ways. So varied are the techniques, and so decorative and/or practical the results that many a book is devoted to the subject.

Knotting and tying short lengths of yarns into a longer, more useful yarn is by no means a new idea, and is a thrifty way to knit a garment. I have seen wonderfully vibrant kiddie clothes made like this in Africa, but unfortunately have no photographs. Where economic considerations aren’t an issue, beautiful multi-coloured yarns can be created by cutting lengths from yarns in one’s stash and joining them into what is now called a ‘magic ball’. I don’t know who first came up with this very apt name for such an exciting ball of yarn; Kaffe Fasset uses the technique to spectacular effect in some of his stunning garments, but as far as I’m aware, he didn’t coin the term. If anyone knows who did, I’d love to hear from you.

For those knitters not familiar with Magic Ball knitting, there’s a great deal of info on the Internet. Clara Parkes of Knitter’s Review has written a very clear description.

The Magic Balls, knitted hats and handwarmer I’m showing here were all made from leftover bits and pieces as I was knitting, and in particular from my always too generous length of yarn pulled out for a longtail cast on. I live in terror of running out before all the stitches are on the needle! I toss the scraps into a ziplock bag and wind them into balls every now and then, having several balls on the go so that I can vary the colours in them. So far I’ve knotted all the bits together, but there are many ways of joining the yarns so that no knots show at all. If that’s your look, turn to our old friend, Google.

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Woven, knitted

Beauty and utility

Simplicity in scraps

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It’s interesting that the rug, handwoven from cotton fabric scraps in India, produces the same effect.

The beret has the knots featured on the right side.
Fun! The hat’s knots are on the wrong side.

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I began by knitting a 3inch brim which was turned to the inside.

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The handwarmer is lined in mohair which both hides the knots and makes it reversible, as well as doubly warm.

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Raki, who can sleep through anything, including earth tremors and all that Hera, Zeus, Poseidon and the crew can hurl at us, was totally unaware that he was standing in for Jason.

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My adorable little models, Nellie and Michael, pictured here with their mother in their home in Volos, were very patient and obliging. Thank you, Lena and Sotiris.

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Nellie’s ready to go out, and she loves the handwarmer!
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Michael’s a sporty fellow
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Warmly snuggled
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I’ll wear it the other side out, shall I?
I think it’s pure magic that you can take knitting needles and yarn, a little knowledge and two basic stitches, and create almost anything at all. And if you’re not pleased with the result then you can simply unravel your work and hey presto – you have your yarn back! Very few handcrafted goods can be returned to their original materials; unfired clay can be reworked, but cut cloth can’t be restored to the original yardage, though the pieces can of course be used in a different way.

Whatever my yarn, whatever the project, for me the knitting magic will never end.

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Enough already – let me mess with this!


KEDI: cat (Turkish)

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Maybe I should go in?
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Got anything for me?
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My friends
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Clear out, Buster!
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Where’s the lunchtime crowd?
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We’re not sharing
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Still room at the inn
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See my fine coat?
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Keeping an eye on things
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Be careful in the street
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Love this sun!
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Deep in thought
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Yes? What?
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I’m headed to that cushion
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Watching the world go by
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Cat nap
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Could we have a little quiet here?
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Never mind the inscription
The translation of the Greek is to the effect that the vault, statue and satyr were erected during the time of the Roman proconsul, Rouson; this has clearly not survived intact.

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There’s water in this hole!
Raki is our very own, much adored and most indulged, Turkish Van cat.

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Towers and turrets are frequently a feature of medieval buildings in Europe, but particularly striking are those on castles situated high on hills and mountains from which fortifications the occupants attempted to defend themselves against the various attackers who made life rather difficult back then. Many of these remain intact, some still being occupied by the descendants of those who first built them, who live in splendour surrounded by the trappings of their illustrious family histories; many former strongholds are reduced to romantic ruins whose history may or may not now be known.

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Ice Palace
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These centuries-old castles which were constantly being enlarged to accommodate all those who lived within their walls as well as the lesser folk, the serfs, who toiled to provide the food and goods required, certainly capture the imagination and it’s easy to see why stories abound of deeds daring and dastardly, of noble knights and pretty princesses, of loyalty and treachery, not to mention exploits in towers.

Prominent among these is of course Rapunzel, imprisoned in a tower. The fairytale version of this was popularised by the Brothers Grimm and is known to most people, though the story upon which it is based is considerably older. The witch is described in some interpretations as wicked, but in others she is depicted as kind and loving towards Rapunzel who lets down her magnificent long hair, depending on which account you read, for the witch to climb up to the tower, or the fabulously handsome prince.

Well, I thought about this and I sure wouldn’t be letting my hair down for someone to yank themselves up on. So I’ve written my own Rapunzel story, about a witch warmly disposed towards a Rapunzel who wasn’t quite such a ninny. My witch would do anything for Rapunzel other than let her go, so witchy was delighted when Rapunzel asked for a spinning wheel with which she might pass her not inconsiderable time. Spinning wheels seem prominent in fairytales about princesses and princes and towers and having a good long sleep, but I digress.

Rapunzel got her spinning wheel and I’d rather not think how it was brought into the tower, but then asked for fleece which she cleaned, carded and combed before spinning a lovely yarn, soft but strong, rather like a good Australian merino, though she did not of course have anything to compare hers to. The witch would have brought her fleece from a local sheep and I sure can’t tell you what that might have been, for I doubt witchy knew much about the properties of fleece. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, Rapunzel would have gone for a merino if she’d had any say in the matter.

Actually, ‘Punzel was quite an accomplished spinner and soon turned out a large quantity of yarn. Well, as all spinners know, she wasn’t content to leave it at that but soon had the urge to dye it herself into some luscious color, and being a cheerful soul in spite of her rather limited existence, she opted for one of the reds. A crimson, or a scarlet would do very nicely, she thought and so she sweetly asked the witch to bring her some berries, or roots, or twigs or leaves or whatever it was that a witch of that period and in that particular region might be able to procure for the production of a good natural dye.

The witch, because she really was very fond of the industrious little Rapunzel, did a fine job of gathering dyestuffs and equipment, even helping Rapunzel tie up her skeins and organize her dyepot before she left to do whatever it was she did when she wasn’t visiting the tower. Rapunzel busied herself immediately with her task, being driven as she was by her desire for beautiful red yarn, now greatly intensified after all she’d been through to get it, what with hauling the old girl up and down so many times on her hair.

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And then it was done and Rapunzel was totally delighted with the result, even though life in the tower became a tad more cramped due to her having to weave her way among the luscious skeins drying overhead.

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When next the witch clambered up to the tower, Rapunzel requested knitting needles and instructed her not to be stingy with them, but rather to bring several different types and sizes so that she could make gauge swatches. Look, Rapunzel might have lived in a tower but she was no knitting dummy. Now I could devote pages to her efforts with the gauge swatches but it isn’t necessary as we knitters know what’s involved, so suffice it to say she was happy with the results and got started as fast as possible on her project, which was going to be a scarf.

Rapunzel, being a product of her medieval time did not have access to all the knitting stitch dictionaries we do, but she was a resourceful lass and created a stitch to suit her purpose. She wanted her scarf to lie flat and be reversible, she wanted her stitch pattern to be a very simple repeat, and in short she created what we today would call a seed or a moss stitch. And every day for many an hour she worked away at knit one, purl one, alternating on every row, and chanting sweetly “He loves me, he loves me not,” as a way of maintaining her rhythm.

The scarf grew and grew and witchy was delighted that her darling was so happy in her little hobby. Finally it was finished, a long and lovely thing but Raps was not yet satisfied and asked the witch to bring her some beads and baubles as she had a bit of a mind to embellish it. Witchy brought a super collection of beads, some of which Rapunzel selected to apply to her wonderful scarf, so that it became truly a thing of great beauty, dazzling in color and sparkling enticingly whenever the sun’s rays fell through the narrow windows of her high tower.

The day came when Rapunzel was finally satisfied with it, and she stationed herself at the window which afforded her a most excellent view of the forest, for as I have already mentioned, she may have been limited in her opportunities but she was nobody’s fool, and had been scoping out her surroundings for some time. Soon the stunningly handsome prince of the realm came trotting by on his gorgeous white steed, just as these useful princes do in many a good fairy tale, clad in doublet, hose and feathered hat, chirping tunelessly away to his badly played mandolin.

Rapunzel, having secured one end of the scarf firmly to the leg of her very heavy iron bed, flung the other end out of the window and watched as it tumbled in a glorious flash of color to the ground. The prince was greatly amazed, but to his credit grasped both the situation and the end of the scarf immediately, and being quite athletic, as well as very kind and awfully rich, was in the tower in a heartbeat.

Well, it’s obviously all going to end very happily for Rapunzel though the witch won’t be too thrilled. Our Rapunzel was a young woman well ahead of her time, so the prince had to get used to the idea that Rappie was going to do her thing, rather than the typical princessy thing, which meant of course that she would spend her days knitting away while being waited upon hand and foot.

FOOTNOTE: Like Rapunzel, I wanted a cheery crimson scarf, but unlike Rapunzel I wasn’t going to knit umpteen yards of it as I haven’t as yet had any need to facilitate the entry of a prince to my high window, so I settled for a small cowl. The yarn is indeed a merino, purchased pre-spun in the natural colour, which I dyed using two dyes – a red and a fuschia. Seed stitch, in the round, gazing at the TV and not out of a tower, a cat or two on my lap… and here it is.

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I love it!

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“When there’s a shine on your shoes
There’s a melody in your heart.”

From the Broadway Musical “Flying Colors” (1932)
(Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz)

Visit any of the well-frequented tourist sites in Turkey and you’ll encounter many of these; even in the smaller towns you’ll come across some. Who or what am I referring to?

Answer: the chaps who shine shoes. Many and varied are these entrepreneurs, some of whom have occupied the same spot for years, and some who are here this day but gone the next for, as with any occupation, there are those who work very hard, and those whose approach is more casual.

Does a shoe shiner require a permit to operate his tiny and highly portable business? Probably, but I have no idea of Turkish rules and regulations which control such enterprises. What I do know is that those who have cleaned my dusty shoes while I have rested my tourist-tired feet, have been unfailingly cheerful, and have taken such pains with my footwear that I always feel refreshed of soul, not to mention sole.

The most basic equipment of the trade is quite simple of course, requiring little more than a couple of brushes, a few bits of cloth, some polishes, and a container to keep them in. This could be a wooden box, a large tin, even a cardboard box, but it’s the wonderful brass bound, highly ornamental shoeshine kits that grab me every time.

They fascinate me! Some are clearly antique, with wonderful hand-beaten brass worked around the basic wooden box. Some have intricately inlaid mother-of-pearl motifs, some have Arabic verses. They have little drawers and tiny shelves; glass bottles and jars to hold oils and polishes with highly decorated stoppers, usually secured by delicate chains; they often have hand-hammered shoe rests; complicated locks and keys abound.

They may open up concertina-style, or have an equally beautiful cover that fits snugly over the whole thing, the carrying handle making them rather reminiscent of old sewing machine cases. Such beautifully ornamented pieces, the work of craftsmen, to be used for so mundane a purpose as polishing shoes, but not surprising really as Turkey has long been famous for its decorative arts. I suppose you could say I’ve really taken a shine to these.

The first shoe shine I had in Turkey was in Izmir, an ancient city which used to be called Smyrna by the Greeks, who still refer to it as such. The shoe shiners were a jolly group, plying their trade while chatting happily with passersby, and enjoying numerous cups of Turkish coffee and equally numerous cigarettes.

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Street market in Izmir
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Business a bit slow
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Cheerful soul
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Close to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul  (formerly Byzantium, and known as Constantinople to the Greeks) is a very pleasant shoe shiner who cleaned my well-worn Eccos meticulously.

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Waiting my turn
First he removed all traces of dust and soil with cloths. Then he applied a cleaner to every seam, each nook, each cranny, and buffed it off thoroughly.

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Tools of the trade
Then came the polish which he carefully matched to my shoes from his numerous selection of colours, working it deep into the leather.

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Well organised
Vigorous brushing followed, then more buffing with clean cloths, before some kind of final coat was applied.

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Such attention to detail
My shoes positively glowed!

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Like new!
A passerby heard us attempting to talk to the shoe cleaner and very kindly stopped to help us converse. Our translator had spent time in America, and thanks to him we learned that the hardworking shoe shiner has plied his trade in the same spot for several years, and indeed, we saw him each time we walked that way to our hotel.

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Helpful translator
At day’s end, he closes up his wonderful box, zips up his wheeled case, and off he goes. Where to, I wonder? How far must he travel? What of his family? Was it a good day?

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The world goes by
It’s often been our experience that locals will take the time and trouble to chat to us, whatever the language and hand flapping we’re using, and we’re always extremely grateful for such kindness.