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Turkey: Rerun

Posted by Tom Haines, Globe Travel Writer  March 12, 2007 03:37 AM

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It has been nearly 30 years since the release of the film "Midnight Express," which fictionalizes the nightmare story of an American thrown in a Turkish prison after trying to smuggle drugs out of the country. Thanks to the saga of Billy Hayes, much of a generation of Americans grew up fearing travel to a faraway place that loomed as one dark, dangerous jail cell.

Well, Turkey is a top 10 country in the world for tourism, with Europeans flocking to its southern coastline along the Mediterranean and all the world, it seems, passing through Istanbul. Those who visit learn that the country, though it does not have the same freedoms of expression and minority rights as many other democracies, is often, in its cities, villages and remote stretches, a place of warm hospitality.

In 2004, the real Billy Hayes gave an interview in which he said a lot of the brutality of the movie's prison did in fact exist - but that the film painted all Turks with too evil a brush.

"I loved the movie, but I wish they'd shown some good Turks," Hayes is quoted as saying in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. "You don't see a single one in the movie, and there were a lot of them, even in the prison. It created this impression that all Turks are like the people in 'Midnight Express.' ... I wish they'd shown some of the milk of human kindness I (also) witnessed."

Yesterday afternoon, as I rode toward Logan for a flight to Istanbul, the taxi driver listened as I talked on the phone with a doctor about a slew of antibiotics and medicines I had for a lingering virus. After I hung up, the driver chimed in.

"Better be careful, taking drugs to Turkey," he said. "Remember that one movie. I forget what it was called. But Turkey. Brutal."

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