Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eymir Lake

Ankara's Couchsurfing group has started a list of 100 things to do in Ankara on their listserv. So far they are only at 26, and some wiseass added "#27: Find a way to escape Ankara." But Wowie, Shauna, and I are on a kick to complete this list by the time the two of them leave Ankara (they did not sign on for a third year like me). So on Friday, we had a half-day of work due to the national holiday, Children's Day. The three of us hopped into my car afterschool on a beautiful sunny day and headed to Eymir lake, a freshwater lake 20km from the city center.
We had lunch at Bag Evi on the lake: Then we took a walk around the lake, which takes about 2 hours, and is fully paved. (a nice rollerblading path....started missing those 'fruit boots')
There are also rowboats and paddleboats to rent, as well as crew teams practicing. There are a few outdoor cafes around the lake, some fancier than others. I want to return to the ones with cushions on the green grass.
And the frogs were out of this world:

The Tulip Festival and International Film Festival in Istanbul

The weekend after spring break, my friend, Wowie, and I boarded the overnight train for Istanbul. My friend, Megan from Montana and her mom were arriving in Istanbul on Saturday for a travel agents' conference, and luckily the International Film Festival and the Tulip Festival were going on.
These are the models for the Ottoman tulip design: the pointy-tipped red ones.

That morning, Wowie and I visited the Dolmabahce Palace (stuffed garden palace): the largest of palaces on the Bosphorus. It was built in the 19th century as an ostentatious show of Ottoman wealth, and is the palace where Ataturk passed away.

That afternoon, we saw two films on Istiklal Caddesi as part of the International Film Festival, and by chance (and similar tastes) ran into Dale (my teaching partner) and Rukiye (Turkish Literature teacher and friend). We saw two films, one from Korea (A Brand New Life) which I LOVED and one from Palestine (The Time That Remains) which was okay.

We heard the director of The Time that Remains field questions after his film, which is always interesting.

That night, we met up with Megan and her mom for dinner, and then the next morning toured Topkapi Palace.

I want a reading room/library like this:

This palace reminds me of William Butler Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium," especially after I spent time explicating it this past summer at the Poetry course in Italy. The golden birdcage reminded me especially:

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

We could not get enough of the tulips!

We said goodbye to Megan and her mother, and Wowie and I hopped a bus back to Ankara, all the while thinking, 'Why had it taken me this long to return to Istanbul?'

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring Break Part IV: Mardin and Nemrut Mountain

The Mighty Mesapotamian Valley! Gorgeous. We couldn't get enough of it. Notice how there is no horizon line. We woke up early the next morning to enjoy the gorgeous hotel we were staying in, and the view from our balcony.

Memet picked us up and took us to an outdoor cafe for tea. With the language challenge, he often settled for silence rather than trying to explain to us the plan. So we just went with the flow, and realized he wanted to take us to each special spot in Mardin for the right view, the right ambience, the right cup of tea. Afterwards, we drove 6 km outside of Mardin to Deyrulzafran, or "Saffron Monastery" named for the color of the yellowish rock used to make the buildings.

This monastery was built in 493AD, and was from 1120 to the 1920s the seat of the Syrian Orthodox patriarch, which has since been relocated in Damascus. It is still in operation, rumored to have two monks working there and about 25 orphans, though we didn't see any on our tour.
Syrian Orthodox priests believe that the Syrian Church was established in this area during the lifetime of Christ. Today, the core uniqueness of the Syrian Church is that the liturgy is in Syriac language, written from right to left, having evolved from ancient Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus.
The underground vault was the most interesting part of the complex. It was supposedly used as a temple by sun worshippers as long ago as 2000BC. So when the Syrian Church established this monastery in 493AD, this temple was already here. The window once used to worship the sunrise is now mostly blocked. The vault's ceiling is constructed without mortar; the stones are 3 meters thick and held together using the keystone method.

Services are still held here in the chapel, and the patriarch sometimes visits from Damascus. There are also guest rooms in which people can stay for religious visits. Another example of a layering of religions, from ancient times to present use.

After Memet's treating us to lunch, and our expressions of gratitude which just did not seem enough for the last 24 hours of feeding us and carting us all around the sites of Mardin, we headed West towards Nemrut Mountain.


We crossed the Euphrates River by ferryboat (and I had a flashback to Laos).

That night, we stayed in a pansiyon in a small village, Karadut, about 12km from the summit of Nemrut Mountain. The next morning, we woke up at 4:30am and drove up to see the famous sunworshipping shrine at sunrise.

The temple consists of a row of stone gods seated facing the sunrise on the east side of the summit, and another series of stone gods on the west side facing the sunset. The temple and tomb complex were built by Antiochus I Epiphanes (64-38 BC), the son of the founder of the Commagene kingdom, which was a breakaway dynasty from the Seleucid Empire, remnants of which can only be found within a small radius of Nemrut mountain. Antiochus was a megalomaniac and built this temple as a monument to himself. He claimed descent from Darius the Great and Alexander the Great. A German engineer came across this site in 1881, but it wasn't until 1953 that a comprehensive archeological survey of the site began. At the eastern temple, you will find six decapitated seated statues, the heads measuring about 3 meters in height. They represent Apollo, Fortuna (a symbol of the Commagene Kingdom), Zeus, Antiochus himself, Hercules, and an unidentified statue.

It was freezing; Christy and I walked up in our sleeping bags.

The temple was meant to incorporate several different deities from different cultures, modeled after Alexander the Great's principle of syncretism, in order to foster a sense of unity among disparate peoples within his empire.
On Antiochus' birthday, the Commagene people supposedly filed up the mountain to witness the sunrise and make sacrifices and offerings to the gods on the alter which Christy is standing upon. The lion is a guardian of the altar. On the western side, which was covered in snow, there is supposed to be the first astrological relief: a depiction of Leo the lion (my sign!), but we weren't able to find it under the snow.

We had a long drive ahead of us that day, especially tiring since we started the day at 4:30 (which was totally worth it). The first place we stopped was to see an old castle from the Commagene Kingdom.

Next, we visited Septimus Severus Bridge, a Roman bridge built between 193 and 211 AD. Only three of the original four columns are in place, because when one of Septimus' daughters was killed, he had one of the columns removed.

That night we stayed in Urgup once again, a familiar place, yet not quite the bussling metropolis that is Ankara. Our drive the next day was short and sweet, a nice way to work our way back into central Anatolia. Here is Christy enjoying the comfy armchair at a gas station where we ate lunch:

And this concludes our awesome Spring Break travels. This may have been my favorite part of Turkey so far, and I look forward to returning to this part of the country next year.