From Istanbul To Elko

During September last year, we hosted an official delegation coming from the city of Nevada of US. I welcomed this delegation, in which there was the Deputy Governor of the state of Nevada – where I went for solar energy business, the Deputy Mayor, a senior manager of NV Energy – the state’s energy company, important lawyers and businessmen and the President of the Turkish Association of Nevada.

During this official visit, which went considerably well, Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, Foreign Economic Relations Board, Turkish Exporters Assembly, Young Businessmen Association of Turkey were visited in Istanbul and the Governorate (the Governor Cahit Kıraç), the Metropolitan Municipality (the Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu) and Izmir Chamber of Commerce were visited in Izmir.

Something interesting I remember from this visit took place when we visited Cahit Kıraç, the Governor of Izmir. A short while after entering the room of the Governor with a delegation of nine people, we started a conversation. When the Governor saw that the translator was having a hard time translating, the Governor pointed at me and asked if I would do the translation, and I told him that I would do it without hesitation. The Governor didn’t know who I was and he probably thought I was a guide who was accompanying these representatives of Nevada. Frankly speaking, I don’t take offence at such things. I started to translate and after a meeting that lasted for about an hour, cooperation points between Nevada and Izmir were set and after mutual wishes for cooperation, the press was invited inside the room. After taking a picture together, the authorities working at the Governorate accompanied us at lunch to discuss the topic of Expo in more detail. We had promised our American friends to buy them chicken at KFC for lunch, so we went to the KFC restaurant at the Konak Pier shopping mall of Izmir. There, the regional manager and the restaurant manager welcomed us. A table with a view of the great Aegean Sea was reserved for us and when the orders that we had previously set started to be served, one of the authorities from the Governorate asked if KFC started serving to the table and the other Turks in our group started laughing. The lady who asked the question was trying to understand what was going on. When one of the Turks at the table explained her the situation, she said: “Oh my God, did we just asked you to translate?” I smiled and told her not to worry, that I took no offence and that I was glad to be helpful on the contrary. After eating the delicious chicken of KFC Turkey, one of the KFC chains with the highest standards in the world, we joyfully headed towards our hotel.

At one point during this official visit, while chatting with Joe from the group, he told me: “Do you know that we have a festival called Cowboy Poetry, where we have a lot of fun? I would like to invite you to this festival someday.” I asked him the dates of the festival and told him that I would like to join them at the next one if I can make it and I did.

The festival which takes place at the end of January coincided with the time I was going to be in America. So, I was able to add a visit to the festival at the end of my business trip. Let me quickly inform those who don’t know: Elko is a small city at the northeast of the state of Nevada.

My flight route was: Istanbul – Los Angeles – Las Vegas – Elko. I came across an interesting event at the Los Angeles airport. After we landed at Los Angeles, I heard someone in the airport, close to the gate of the Las Vegas flight say: “Can you believe that this woman is 113 years old?” Of course, out of my curiosity, I straightened up and went near this Vietnamese woman, who lived in America, whom people said was 113 years old. After confirming what people said about her, I told her that I wanted to take a picture with her. She couldn’t react much from the wheelchair, she just shook her head and when her caretaker told me that I could take a picture, we took the following picture:



By the way, before boarding on the Las Vegas flight, I ran across a Turkish businesswoman together with her son. We said hi to each other and flew to Las Vegas on the same plane. In Las Vegas, İsmail Onat, the President of the Turkish Association there, and the lawyer Joe Brown, who invited me to Elko, welcomed me.

Elko is 699 km from Las Vegas. You arrive there in about 6 hours 45 minutes (there’s a speed limit in America) by car and in about an hour by plane. Thanks to Tito Tiberti, a businessman, we flew to Elko with his private plane. After a comfortable trip, we arrived at Elko. On the plane, I showed an example of Turkish hospitability and opened one of the boxes of baklava I brought from Turkey (Of course, my father’s side is from Gaziantep). We started talking about very different things while going to the cowboy town Elko and eating Gaziantep baklava with our American friends. At one point in our conversation, the businessman who owned the plane said: “You had a president (He’s trying to say Prime Minister or President of the Republic), I don’t remember his name now, but he was the president in the 80s. He was a bit plump and was pretty successful.” I asked him if he was talking about Turgut Özal and he said yes. Later on, we started talking about Turgut Özal and Ronald Reagan and compared these two with the politicians of today.

When the plane landed, we went to the Red Lion Hotel with the cars waiting for us at the private airport. We rested for a couple of hours after we arrived at our hotel and went out for dinner to the Star Hotel, which was a Basque restaurant. You didn’t hear incorrectly: We went to a Basque restaurant in Elko, a cowboy town in America.


The entrance of the restaurant​


Of course I questioned what the Basques were doing here. As far as I learned, the Basques were sailors who crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. In fact, it is indicated that they arrived at the American continent even before Christopher Columbus did. The Basques left their homeland, the Pyrenees, to settle in Latin America during the 15th and 16th centuries and arrived at California from the western shores in 1850s, during when the gold rush was taking place. During the years when it was hard to find gold, the Basques started to do other things that they knew well: They reared animals (cattle and sheep) and found farms. They continued their journey in America, which started in California, by migrating to the east. Elko became one of the destinations they settled in. 1870s was the time when the first Basque families from France and Spain settled in Elko. During the 1890s, the settlements of Basques gradually increased. They were positioned as the founders of the sheep rearing sector in America with their expertise in sheepherding. This way, they became an important part of the social and economic structure of the region. Below, you will find two pictures taken at the section about Basques at the Northeastern Nevada Museum I visited on the last day of my trip:


The section of the museum that explained the lives of the Basques​


The section of the museum that explained the Basque women living in Elko


While eating the delicious Basque food with a considerably large group, I was also chatting with the warm people of Nevada. In a sense, they were honored by my visit to their festival all the way from Istanbul, which was 10250 km far.


Our table inside the restaurant​


After dinner, I went to the first show organized at the Elko Convention Center at 22.00, with the senior manager of NV Energy, Dilek Şamil and her husband. You didn’t hear me incorrectly; Dilek Şamil is a Turk living in America. She is actually from Izmir. Just like the CEO of the Coca Cola Company, Muhtar Kent, she’s very successful and is one of the important senior managers of Nevada’s energy company, NV Energy. The successes of Turkish managers like Dilek Şamil make me proud in this sense. After watching the one man show in which poems were read and songs were sung, we went back to our hotel.

After a tiring line of trips, dinner and the show, I fell asleep as soon as I went to bed. The next day, I woke up at 4 in the morning. I finished my daily work until 6.30. Then, I went down to the gym to work out and I did cardio (45 minutes of running and 13 minutes of step master) for one hour.

Afterwards, I went up to my room to take a shower, answered my messages and went down for breakfast with Joe and his wife around 9. After a good breakfast, we went for shopping at the famous cowboy shop Capriola with Joe, as we have agreed. To join the cowboy festival in Elko, I had to wear a cowboy hat, boots, belt and a blue jean. Except blue jeans and a shirt, I didn’t have any cowboy outfit with me. I usually get bored during shopping and I always go out knowing exactly what I want to buy. After finishing shopping in thirty minutes, I was now ready to attend to the festival.


A picture of Capriola, where I bought the cowboy outfit, at night​


The first activity I attended was the poetic stand up show of a three generations old cowboy accompanied by the music of Brenn Hill. You can find the videos of this great show below:

Towards the evening, we went to Western Folklife Center, which was the center of the festival. This center was formed of an exhibition area, a shop, a bar and an area in which concerts were given.


View of Western Folklife Center from outside​


Everyone’s enjoying their conversation at Western Folklife Center​


As soon as we went inside Western Folklife Center, Joe said: “Let’s visit the exhibition over there.” Frankly speaking, the Italian Cowboys exhibition, which he mentioned before, surprised me. There were images, display windows and sketches telling about the Italian cowboys, the adventures of the Italian origin American families in Nevada and the story of blue jean.


The outfits of the Italian cowboys


American and Italian cowboys together with the Native Americans


By the way, the Italians call their cowboys ‘buttero’ (the plural is butteri) and the Americans call the Italian cowboys ‘buckeroo.’ As Joe told me, buckeroo was a nickname given first to Mexican cowboys. It was a derivation of the word ‘vaquero’ (means cowboy in Spanish), produced because the Americans couldn’t pronounce the word.


The Buttero


The Italian Buckaroos​


A sketch showing Italian and American cowboys together​


I also came across sketches showing cowboys in Europe and in Italy.


A sketch about the European cowboys


A sketch about the Italian cowboys


To me, one of the most enjoyable parts of this exhibition that was about the Italian and the American cowboys were the pictures of Natalia Estrada. Natalia collected the pictures she took in farms and in natural life in a book called Horsepower and her pictures were published in the sector’s important media organs, like Western Horseman and Cowboy Magazine.


Joe, Natalia and I (from left to right)​


Here are some examples from Natalia’s photograph exhibition about Italian cowboys:







My first opinion about Natalia when I first met her was that she was a professional Italian photographer who did well what she did. The pictures she took, as you can see above, were very good and interesting. From what other people told me about her, I learned that she was actually Spanish (I talked in English and in Spanish with her) and she was a famous TV broadcaster in Italy, a professional dancer and an actress. She had a relationship with Paolo Berlusconi, the brother of Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for a while and now she was living in the villages of Italy with her Italian husband. I found it very interesting that she chose such a life after so much glory. However, I always appreciate those people who know what they want in life and who don’t hesitate in applying them even if it requires a radical change.

Another interesting subject in this exhibition was the story of the blue jean. According to the exhibition, blue jeans were first produced in Genoa, Italy. The reason they were produced was that the sailors needed long-wearing pants in those days. The jeans that were first produced in Chieri, known as a textile town, were dyed blue in Nimes (France). Blue jeans were worn by Italian cowboys, long before the American cowboys adopted it.


A sketch telling the history of blue jean​


A Levi’s from 1910.​


It was purchased from Anacabes, a general merchandise store in Elko.
After carefully viewing the exhibition, I went to the store next door and bought a poster about the festival. After chatting with our friends and listening to the local music of the Italian cowboys for a while, we went to Biltoki, another Basque restaurant, for dinner.

The local music of the Italian cowboys

We had a really good time in Biltoki with pleasant conversations, good food, poetry and songs. What was interesting to people was that there was a Turk among them and with Joe’s initiative, about 40 people at the table decided to give me a cowboy name. From various cowboy name nominees, it was first decided on Bronco (wild horse) and then on Bronco Twister (wild horse tamer). In this way, I went down in history at Elko as “Serhan, the Turkish Cowboy, Bronco Twister.” Here are some pictures and videos taken at Biltoki Restaurant:


The entrance of the Biltoki Restaurant​


While eating at Biltoki​

A musical poetry performance at Biltoki

A section of the poetry trio performance at Biltoki
After the Biltoki restaurant, we went to see another performance. This time, I witnessed the Western Country music performances of two neighboring countries. The country musicians coming from both Canada and Mexico gave great concerts.

After this beautiful music feast, we planned something different for the next day (Saturday). We first went to Elko Convention Center and close to the center, I witnessed the protest dance of Native Americans. I was told that they were doing this dance to support a Native American tribe in Canada.

The protest dance of the Native Americans. While they are forming a circle and dancing in their original way.



Leaving Elko Convention Center​


Later on, we went to the Northeastern Nevada Museum so that I can learn more about the state of Nevada.

The entrance of the museum​


My picture taken in front of the house at the entrance of the museum​


I would like to share with you some pictures I took inside the museum:





















After leaving the museum, Joe told me that he wanted to show me the mountains there. With our other friends, we went to the famous Ruby Mountains in Elko. Here are some pictures I took on the way:







After reaching a small village at the Ruby mountains in Elko, they took me to Reds, the ranch of heliskiers (the helicopter leaves the skiers on top of the mountain and they ski all the way downhill). As I have mentioned before, skiing is a serious passion for me. When I went there, I thought how great it would be to put on my skis and go up the mountain. Here are pictures from this ranch:






In fact, after leaving the Reds Ranch, I told Joe: “If I come to Elko again, I will definitely spare two days for heliskiing.” After having a few drinks in Pine Lodge near Hotel Lamoille, we headed back.


Hotel Lamoille​




The restaurant section of Pine Lodge​


A good picture in Pine Lodge​







At night, we went to the Star Hotel Basque Restaurant one last time. There, I met Brenn Hill, whose show I admired and who is the country music pioneer of the new generation. Unlike the showoff pop stars, Brenn, who’s considerably famous in country music, is very humble and patriotic. After we took the picture below, he sat facing me on the dinner table. During dinner, we had a very pleasant conversation about many different things: from the universality of music to America’s foreign policy, from Turkey’s geopolitical importance to him giving a concert in our country etc.


My picture with Brenn Hill


Later on we went to Western Folklife Center



Sunny, Joe’s wife Pam and I​



After watching the performance of Tom Russel, which was a mixture of a stand up show and a concert, the area we were in was transformed into a dance floor. The conversation with friends after the show was very deep. While chatting, we even listened to a harmonica recital.

A friend of us giving a harmonica recital at our table
At one point, I went near Tom Russel and introduced myself. Of course he was surprised that I came all the way from Turkey and listened to him. After a pleasant conversation, he signed a CD for me saying “Serhan, the Turkish Cowboy” and gave it to me as a present.



The signed CD


After these pleasant conversations, everyone went to the place where the last concert was going to be given and everyone let themselves go with the marvelous rhythm of country music.

The cowboys on the dance floor​

The last activity of the festival. Time to dance…
This activity which lasted until dawn was the last activity of the festival. The next day, we started on our way back. I returned to Turkey following the same route: Elko – Las Vegas – Los Angeles – Istanbul.


The picture taken when we returned to Las Vegas from Elko.​


From left to right: Sarah Ning, Tiffany Tiberti, Pam, Tito Tiberti, Rick Rushton, Joe. Dan Tuntland took the picture.


Our last picture at the festival. From left to right: Joe, Pam and I.


While looking at the pictures I took in Elko on the plane going back, these thoughts came to my mind: Mankind has developed different cultures in many different parts of the world for thousands of years. Everyone should internalize the fact that all these original cultures and differences are actually the wealth of our world and everyone should protect their own culture. The people who are organizing this festival every year in Elko since the 1980s are valuable people who protect their own culture and who do their best to keep it alive.

During the whole festival, I was glad to have met a different culture, the hospitable people of America and Elko’s beautiful nature and I tried to enjoy all of it as much as possible.

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