Monday, June 23, 2008

Soccer Everywhere in Turkey

With the Euro football (soccer) competition going on right now and Turkey doing so well, I'm reminded about all the football I saw while I was in Turkey.

Soccer seems to be played everywhere in Turkey! Our first stop on the tour was in Ankara, and one of the first things I saw from our hotel balcony was a soccer stadium. It had another soccer field next to it, and I saw teams playing there as we went past. There is quite a crowd watching the game, too.

The wonderful thing about soccer, and part of what makes it so popular around the world, is that you don't need any specialized equipment to play it other than a ball. Anyone can play it, even the poorest slum dwellers. And they do! I saw kids playing on a bit of street in a slum full of shanty shacks as it was starting to get dark. Kids were playing soccer in most of the schoolyards I saw.

I even saw boys and men playing on grassy areas on a 30-degree slope across from a ancient ruin. The first picture shows the grassy slope that is just to the left of the Temple of Artemis, shown in the second picture. That slope just adds to the challenge of playing!

There was almost always a soccer game on TV. Our tour guide, Bora, excused himself early one night so he could go watch a Turkish championship game. Who could blame him? Another night, when I was feeling restless, I wandered around our hotel and found a roomful of Turks enthusiastically watching a Galatasaray game. Since I've been well tutored by one of my football-loving friends so that I can actually follow a game, I stayed and watched.

Go Turkey!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Terrific Terrifying Music

When we went to Istanbul, we went to the Military Museum to see the Mehter (Ottoman Janissary Band). The Janissaries were the private army of the Ottoman Sultans, and they included a military band whose job it was to help fire up the Ottoman troops, scare the daylights out of the enemy, and show newly-conquered peoples that their Sultan was the new boss. Though it is now pretty much just for show, the Mehter is the oldest military band in the world.

They do cut a pretty impressive figure as they march out.

The band plays lots of deep-sounding drums, the Turkish oboe known as a zurna, cymbals, and other instruments. The zurna and the deep drums give the band's music that characteristic "Turkish sound". Beethoven's "Ruins of Athens: Turkish March" echoes the "turning" march done by the Mehter in the video.

The Cannon and the Soldier

The band plays circled around the "Cannon of the Heroic Private Soldier Seyyid", built by the German Krupp factory for the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II to protect the Dardanelles. This cannon was built in 1889. Normally its heavy projectiles (276 Kg) would be loaded with a winch. At some point the winch was not available, so the Private Soldier named Seyyid carried the projectiles himself in a heroic effort. The statue next to the cannon in the two pictures below is of Seyyid.

Here you can see Seyyid peeking over the shoulders of the band.

In its various incarnations across multiple empires, Turkey has over a thousand years of military history, either as conquerors or conquerees. The splendidness of the Mehter, and of the museum as a whole, shows Turkey's pride in that history.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Glorious Ceramics of Cappadocia

Tourists seem to wear some sort of invisible sign that says "I want to spend lots of money! I especially want to spend money on local or ethnic craft goods! Fleece me!" Any tour or cruise I have been on inevitably lands in some workshop where we are given a complimentary snack and/or beverage, we sit through a detailed demonstration of the local art form, and then we get the hard sell:

Buy Mexican silver jewelry! Buy Indian carpets! Hey, buy Turkish carpets instead! Buy Italian shoes! Indian marble inlay! Mexican blankets! Indian silks! Turkish dolls! Hungarian dolls! Turkish leather! More jewelry! Pottery! Buy it, buy it!

Well, I'm a dutiful tourist; I admit it. I buy stuff. I try to avoid spending too much, but I do want to take home just a little memory or two... or more...

My trip to Turkey was no exception. Our tour group was taken to a leather store, a pottery store, and two rug stores, all of which did the "dining, demo, and sell" combination. That's not even counting all the shopping I did on my own every chance I got!

Ceramics in Cappadocia

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is famous for its earthenware pottery, even back in the times of the Hittites. The red silt from the local river, Kizilirmak (Red River) makes good pottery. We went to a ceramics place called Omurlu Ceramic in Avanos, Nevsehir, Turkey.

One of the potters demonstrated making thrown pots using a kick wheel. Omurlu is a family business, and he has been doing this for most of his life.

He constructed a teapot during his demo. First he made what looked like a tall thin vase, then a fatter, wider pot. He cut the tall thin vase and formed it into a spout, attaching it to the pot. Finally he made the lid of the teapot. The last test was to see if he had gotten the lid to fit perfectly on the first try. He is a master potter, so of course it fit!

One member of our tour group answered his challenge to go up and try it. She has done pottery as a hobby for many years, so she did a pretty good job, though she had some trouble with the kick wheel. Hobbyist potters in the U.S. generally use electric wheels, which they expect to keep going around without being kicked!

We also saw demonstrations of making white ware, the fine ceramics that are beautifully glazed in fine detail with lustrous colors. The clay for white ware is much firmer and withstands the higher firing temperatures needed for the fine glazes. Here a potter spins the clay down over a mold that is attached to an electric wheel.

This plate shows the various stages of coloring, glazing and firing.

One of the big, complicated vases can take multiple months to make! I can't even imagine working on drawing a single design for months, but I'm not a master craftsperson like this woman...

Here is one of the big fancy vases finished, similar to what the woman was drawing in the demonstration workroom. A vase like this costs thousands of dollars just because of the intense skilled labor involved.

They had many beautiful pieces on display in the demonstration workroom.

For a color junkie like me, though, the main showroom was heaven.


My favorite pieces were the ones with the turquoise and dark blue glazes. This has always been one of my favorite color combinations--even when I was a kid, my bedsheets and curtains had turquoise and navy prints on them. The turquoise and blue pieces here just glowed in the light, with a depth of color that captivated me.

Even the ashtrays were beautiful!

After much wringing of hands and squeezing of wallet, I finally settled on a small plate and a tiny bowl from the following display:

My two little pieces didn't look like much compared to the magnificent vases and other large pieces in the showroom, but when I got them home, they still glowed. Ahh.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's a Tuff Life in Cappadocia

The Cappadocia region of Turkey is famous for pottery and carpets, but it's especially famous for its rocks. The volcanoes in the area, Erciyes and Hasan, spent millions of years belching out tons of volcanic ash and lava. Over time the layers of ash compacted, hardened, and became a soft crumbly rock called tuff (also called tufa). Because this rock is soft, it is easily eroded by water, wind, and sandstorms.

The landscape in Cappadocia is straight out of a sculptor's fantasy. Towers and turrets, caves and caverns abound.

During the last few thousand years, humans have helped the erosion along by carving into the rock to make homes, churches, and roosting holes for pigeons. Even entire towns were carved into the sides of hills.

In the picture below, people had been living and carving in this hill for so long, without knowing where other people were carving, that it weakened the rock too much. Eventually the whole hill face broke off and crashed down about 50 years ago. The village has been rebuilt nearby (on the ground).

The hotel I stayed in, Cappadocia Cave Suites, was built into existing caves that had been carved into a hillside (the government now restricts new carving to avoid further overcarving problems like the collapsed village above). The picture below shows the remains of an old Christian church whose outer wall had collapsed previously. The hotel room is right underneath it. Builders shore up or augment the caverns with blocks of stone (more tuff) and concrete.

Here is an area where humans haven't changed the landscape quite so much (though the small trees in the foreground are part of an orchard of fruit trees):

Note the size of the poplar trees at the bottom of the ravine in the following picture. They are probably 30-40 feet tall.

Ashes Aren't Just Ashes
The location in the picture above is known for the thickness and whiteness (purity) of the uppermost ash layer (because it was late in the afternoon, there isn't so much light down in the ravine, so the colors aren't as vivid). Other layers are different colors. Red layers indicate ash that had a high amount of iron in it, while yellow layers indicate a high sulfur content.

Sometimes you see larger pieces of rock (lava) that were caught in between layers of ash and then eroded into view. Look for the little dark rock about halfway up the tower:

The layers have different hardnesses as well. That's why erosion leaves the "mushroom caps", or seemingly-loose rocks perched atop a rock column. The harder layers don't erode, while the softer layers erode out from under them.

Up, Up, and Away
Flying up above Cappadocia in a hot air balloon provides a very different perspective of the lava and tuff rock formations. From here you can get a much broader view of the various layers. For example, it's easy to see that thick white layer of ash across a wide area that includes many ravines:

It's also easy to see how the lava created a huge flat surface, and how water created valleys as it ran down the rock (and you can see the snow-covered volcano in the distance):

Farmers have planted everywhere they can find a flat surface, including on top of the ancient lava and ash flows and down inside the water-carved valleys. Volcanic soil is very fertile if you can find a big enough space to plant.

Towns huddle at the bottom of the carved rocks:

Cappadocia is a true wonder of the world. For the gawker, it's an amazing place with fantastic formations every way you turn. For the day-dreamer, it's a place to imagine castles, camels, and embracing lovers. For the artist, it's Nature's Art on a grand scale. For the geology fan, it rocks!