Friday, February 25, 2011

Tango & Ski Festival in Bursa

This past weekend, I went to the 3rd Tango and Ski Festival on Uludag Ski Resort. A ski by day, tango by night, sleep little kind-of-weekend. I met my friend, Robin, there, who also teaches at Bilkent University, as well as some Turkish friends I've made through the Ankara tango community. I've been looking forward to this event for a year, ever since I learned of it, as it seemed specifically tailored for me!

Uludag is the original ski resort of Turkey, and is outside of the city of Bursa, an old city known for its part in the Silk trade. It was an epic journey to get from Ankara to Uludag. Friday night, my flight left Ankara at 11pm, and finally after several buses and taxis, I arrived at the ski lodge at 2:30 in the morning. An early rise the next day, and then a full day of skiing, a tango workshop, and dancing into the wee hours of the night. Only to rise early on Sunday, and ski all day once again, before taking taxis and buses back down to a hotel near the airport. Robin and I caught an early flight back to Ankara on Monday morning, and I was able to waltz, or shall I say "tango" into work (still bearing a day's worth of sticky skiing sweat, of course) by 9:30am. It was a whirwind, but totally worth it.

There were about 160 dancers there, filling up five different hotels on the ski hill. Forty Greeks from a tango club on the island of Lesbos were present, as well as tango dancers from all over Turkey. There were about 10 of us representing Ankara. Some of the Ankara gang:

During the day, tango workshops were offered by well-known tango couples from different cities of Turkey. I could only peel myself away from the ski hill for one of these afternoon classes. But it was my first tango class in English, and I can't emphasize enough what a treat that was!

The skiing was fantastic.The resort was bigger and the runs were longer than I expected. And it was spring slush, second best to powder. And fun to do something totally different with friends I normally see during nighttime, donned in fancy evening wear.

Now time to change from ski pants to tango dress and heels. The milonga was to be held in an Apre Ski bar on the ski hill from 9:30pm-4am.

A milonga, by the way, is what you call an evening of tango. It involves fancy dresses, a bar, a DJ, and the social etiquette of various men asking you to dance throughout the night. With each man, it is custom to dance three dances in a row. The first is to feel out each other's energy, the second is to experiment with some more difficult figures, and the third is to be one in energy. It kinda sounds like the "three cups of tea" concept now that I think of it. Half the reason I love tango is for the challenge of learning to follow so many different types of leaders. The female always follows the male as he choreographs on the spot. It is her job to not anticipate what he might do but to make it appear as if she has thought of the same step at the same exact moment. I can't tell you how many times on the dance floor, a man has reminded me that it's my job to follow, which of course I intellectually know, but the hardest part of the whole dance is to let your mind go and not anticipate. I like to respond to such a man by asking him if he has ever 100% followed anyone, to encourage him to have empathy for how difficult it is to follow. The woman can only do so by reading small cues from his body, so he must send clear signals. Hmmm, sound familiar? Other than being a giant metaphor for relationships and life, tango is super zen, yo.

Okay, philosophy aside. Pure fun: Because the bar was a ways up the mountain, the Festival provided us with free snowmobile rides up the hill. So under my tango dress, I had to wear my long underwear and boots, straddle the snowmobile and tightly clutch my tango shoes and the person in front of me as the snowmobile driver, who drives just as fast and crazy as the taxi drivers here, flew up the mountain. It was so fun!

It was so funny to see people's expressions as they got off the snowmobiles and walked into the bar. But I'm now 100% sure that the coolest way to arrive at a milonga is by snowmobile!

The inside of the bar was like a cozy ski lodge, with fireplaces around the edges and wooden floors.

Around 1:30 in the morning, three couples from different cities in Turkey put on a show, each dancing three dances. I recorded the couple who taught my workshop, because I really liked their style. They seemed to truly be dancing for each other, feeding off each other's energy, oblivious of the crowd gathered, not there for the show.

Despite a late turning-in, I rose at 8am the next morning to hit the ski slopes again. Another bluebird day.

Even though it was a lot of effort and planning to make this weekend fall into place, it was totally worth it. I felt so charged and glowing all week. I could definitely live in a Tango Ski World for a long time without getting bored.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Photo Shoot on a Winter's Day in Ulus

Going Away Gathering in Eskisehir

Eskisehir is over 200km west of Ankara, but the cool thing is the "fast train" connecting it to Ankara, which will eventually be built all the way to Istanbul. The new train is swanky, and it's a cheap, quick weekend getaway. This past weekend, some eight friends and I headed there for an overnight, to celebrate our friend's heading out to begin a grad program in Australia. This was kind of a going away party. I went to Eskisehir for the day with Wowie last year and saw some of the sights; this trip was more about hanging out with everyone than seeing everything.

After a kofte feast, we walked around the old quarter of town, and though everything was closed because it was late in the day and Winter season, the pastel-colored, restored Ottoman houses were abound.

Within the old quarter, we came across the Anadolu (Anatolian) University World Education Cartoon Museum, which was open and full of warm heaters. There were some great political cartoons about Turkey as well as some laugh-out-loud cartoons commenting on human nature. Here are a few greeting card reproductions I purchased:

Since Eskisehir is home of Anadolu University, it's also a cool university town, and not too far from the Ottoman houses, there are going-out strips, and a cafe-lined river (in the spring you can pay for a pseudo-Italian gondola ride from a white-and-black-striped-shirt pseudo-Italian guy).

Once the sun went down on Saturday night, we hit the bar strip. And in between a bar and dinner, we were "accosted" by a street celebration, a sending off parade for a young man about to to his compulsory military duty. You come across these celebrations often at airports and bus stations, and they are complete with fireworks, drums, and traditional Turkish live music.

On Sunday morning, while the rest of the world was sleeping in, I ventured off by myself to wander the streets. The only sign of life on this sleepy sunny morning were the cats.

I did come across an interesting find in a small market that has been the hot topic of conversation at lunch this week. It was a small yellow-colored box bearing the picture of what looked to be a royal Ottoman woman. The back of the box had an English translation; the ingredients were a mix of spices and herbs, such as cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, cumin, etc.

The description of the product read:

"Mesir Paste which was made of 41 different kinds of herbs and spices by the period famous medical doctor Merkez Efendi who worked as an administrator in Sultan Mosque and its social complex was told the make Masir Paste in 1522 with the order of Ayse Hafsa Sultan who was Yavuz Sultan Selim's wife and Kamuni Sultan Suleyman's mother. Mesir Paste helped Hafsa Sultan get cured. Therefore, it was ordered to toss off the dome of the Sultan Mosque so that the public could benefit as well. Mesir Paste Tossing Ceremony which is held every year on Nawruz Day has come up to those days as a traditional celebration."

I wondered what exactly this paste cured, so I bought some to take home and ask my Turkish friends. Well, at lunch the other day, my question was met by laughs as I was told it is "Turkish viagra." That makes a lot of sense if the Sultan's mom and wife asked a doctor to design it. They wanted little Sultan babies. None of my Turkish male friends wanted to split some for the promise of a wild afternoon of teaching, for they all assured me they "didn't need it." But most of the ladies tried it. It's actually really tasty, though I didn't notice any new vivacity in my teaching that day.