There are at least 4 K’s in the Eastern Turkish city of Kars, next door to the Armenian border: Kale (Kars Castle), Kaz (the local delicacy – goose), Kar (the snow now widespread over the town). And Kangal, the rather substantial Anatolian shepherd’s dog : never tangle with a Kangal. 

 

There seems to be a Kangal on every corner in Kars. Well, not quite. But the Anatolian shepherd dog is not something to be discommoded. It can, after all, see off wolves and, it is reputed, bears, though that might be a bit of (narrative) overkill. An insubstantial traveller like myself would hardly merit a mouthful. A Burt Bacharach melody comes to mind.

                                                                      If you see a Kangal in the street

                                                                               Please be discreet

                                                                              Don’t look in its eye

                                                                                   Walk on by…

 

As for the goose, well Kaz is down as the local delicacy, along with certain cheeses. In my couple of culinary encounters with Kars goose, it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the version back home. It tastes a lot drier, tastier and more substantial. I hope to have a return meeting with another goose, in the not-too-distant future. I have a more positive attitude towards Kaz than I do towards Kangals. (I mean them no harm: they would, as one of the savants in Joyce’s Ulysses says of the Russian army, only be ”an eight o’clock breakfast for the Japanese.” Which is how I view my own portly personage, scudding along the icy (-20 on my late Spring early morning strolls) streets of Kars. Or an eight o’clock Kahvalti (Turkish breakfast) for a Kangal. I wish to say to all Kangals : I come in peace. I need you to not eat me.

Kar…

And what of the snow (Kar) itself? Well, it doesn’t have any etymological connection with the name of the city itself. It’s just the Turkish word for snow. Many seemingly very ancient Turkish words – as opposed to those which have been borrowed from Arabic, Persian or French – are monosyllabic. Words such as gok (sky), dis (tooth) and gol (lake). It’s easy to imagine a mother uttering these to a small child some two thousands years ago.

Kale…

And the Kale (Kars Castle)? Well, it’s been knocked down and rebuilt umpteen times. Its commanding position at the end of the city, tells you why, if not when. Like the castle in Van, hundreds of K’s down the road, it is no to be trifled with.

And the snow is the real deal. Not a few fussy flakes on Christmas Eve or some grey-faced, snot-breaking slush. When it snows in Kars, it snows. And when it freezes, it freezes.

And when it Kangals, it Kangals.

 

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