Sunday, October 26, 2014

and then, water

We finally reached Lake Van, and I was overwhelmed by the sight of water. The lake was a sea, the calmest blue, the first I had seen since Tuz Gölü. We walked along its edge until night fell.

nana nana nana nana...

the traces left behind

On our way out of Hasankeyf, we took one last good look at the Zeynel Bey Mausoleum, which was built in the mid 15th century in a style more typical of Central Asia. Remnants of the navy and turquoise glazes on the bricks are still visible, which bring out the elaborate geometric patterns that once covered the structure. I can imagine how stunning it must have been; glittering blue against the orange rocks and deep sky.

Lost in my thoughts, I was suddenly startled by the voice of a man— there was no one around but me and Pedro, and he had wandered off to check out a bird that darted away into the surrounding field. The voice called out again, and I realised it was coming from inside the mausoleum. I walked over towards the entrance to find a cheery man in an immaculate powder blue shirt beckoning me to come inside.

Pedro soon joined us, and after a pleasant chat about history, education, and the inevitable flooding of the area, the man gave us a bag of dried thyme as a gift. The thyme was so fragrant, it seemed to form a cloud that enveloped us. We thanked him, wished him well, and set off.

It was only a few minutes on the road until we pulled over to dip our feet in the Tigris, another mythical river of my childhood dreams— the Tigris, and the Euphrates. I have now seen and stood in both.


flooding history

Hasankeyf lies on the banks of the Tigris river, and has been home over the centuries to Romans, Armenians, and Arabs, though now the town is mostly Kurdish. It was one of the many stopovers on the Silk Road, and has a rich archaeological history. Sadly though, the town is set to disappear under dam waters— though no one knows exactly when. The Ilisu Dam Project has been threatening to swallow up all the homes, caves, and historical sites, relocating people to grey, concrete apartment blocks on higher ground.

Our initial plan was to spend a few days in Hasankeyf to document the people, historical sites, caves, and nature in as many sketches as possible, but we ran into some weirdness at the place we were staying. I am not going to go into too many details, but the owner of the pansiyon was quite unpleasant— for example, when Pedro told a long-term foreign guest that he is a freelance illustrator, the owner, who up until this point pretended that he didn't know a word of English, commented with a grin to the guest in Turkish that freelance really meant "unemployed". His laughter came to an abrupt stop when I shot him a dirty look— my Turkish is very far from fluent, but I have enough. We didn't feel welcome, and at 140 TL a night, the pansiyon was one of the most expensive places we stayed at with the least amenities. Compared to the charming Yusuf bey and his Star Hotel in Akseki, where we spent 70 lira on a bright, clean room, we felt ripped off.

We were sorely disappointed by the experience we had at the pansiyon, that we agreed that one night we spent would be the last, and we woke up early to make a beeline for the next town— but not until we did bit of exploring first.

Once in the silence between the rocks, we were overcome by the beauty of our surroundings, and our frustration eased away. The sun cast long, sharp shadows across the rock faces and the gaping mouths of caves, which up until fairly recently were inhabited. A small herd of goats passed us nonchalantly, their bells tinkling. Soon their billy arrived with a desire for sketchbooks, and a struggle ensued between Pedro and the goat.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the epic rat! Upon exiting our room, our path to the car was cut by a galloping giant rat. I have seen many rats in my lifetime but this rat did not scurry away, it really galloped— galloped with its head high, like a noble lion in the Serengeti. I swear the moment was in slow motion, and that I saw the rat's soft fur shine in the morning sunlight.

"Wow, what a fine rat" Pedro gasped.
"I know!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

a hidden gallery

It was a lucky discovery, to find an exhibition of Orientalist Marius Bauer's etchings at a tiny city museum a stone's throw away from our hotel. The Sakıp Sabancı Mardin Kent Müzesi has a decent collection of objects and artefacts from Mardin's past, and a lovely art gallery in the basement. I had never heard of Marius Bauer, but loved his sketches and etches so much that I ended up buying the book of his work at the museum entrance. Just look at those lines!

I particularly enjoyed being able to recognise some of the places in his work, though over a century had passed since his hand set to the paper.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

a feast after dark

As the sun made its exit, we began our search for dinner, eventually deciding to splurge on a small feast at a trendy-looking rooftop restaurant. To my delight, there were dishes on the menu that I had never heard of, dishes with more of a Syrian or Persian flare— kibbeh and biryani in disguise. The scent of cardamom took me home to my childhood, a cloud of a memory, nonspecific. We ordered a sampler of Mardin specialties and a walnut kebab to share.

I could have been happy with just that little dish of incredible, sweet and sour cherry sauce and a bit of bread, but goodness when the sauce, walnuts, and spiced beef meet... Over the moon, I tell you! Though I enjoyed every bit of our meal, it's the taste of that kebab and cherry that I still remember. The only way to end such a wildly delicious experience was with a dainty cup of coffee with cardamom.

We had to take a walk to digest. At some point, a small truck slowly passed us spraying a noxious gas into the air, which we learned was for killing mosquitoes. The gas burned in our throats and eyes, and as the truck made its way down the street, it left coughing people in its wake.