31 October 2013

Avanos Friends & Neighbours

After 13 years of visits to the ceramic-focused Kapadokyan town of Avanos, I have made many pretty amazing friends. Thought I’d share some of them.

Ceramic artist Erdoğan Guleç owns the studio where I live and work while I’m in Turkey. His father and grandfather were both renowned Avanos potters.

Şerife Kılıç lives up the road from the studio, at the very top of the town.  Hers is the best view in all of Avanos. Perfect for breakfast in the garden.

Zekeriya Orman lives around the corner. He started helping Erdogan in the studio when he was a boy, and continues to help on occasion, though he now has a growing family & works for a large local hotel.

Roman Is the local computer wizard. He immigrated from Germany about 15 years ago, and lives in the heart of town with his wife, Aysha, and their daughter Natali.

Also from Germany, Suzanna has been a part-time resident of Avanos with her husband Mikail for more than 20 years. Drawn here, like me, by the clay, the ambience, and the people, Suzanna now makes her home here. She’s one of the few people in Avanos with whom I can carry on complicated conversations in English.

 Ali Fuat Illeez is the best carpet seller in Turkey.

Hakan has a large production pottery in the industrial area of Avanos, where his brother, Gökan makes and fires traditional local ware. It is from Hakan’s shop in the centre of town that I get the beautifully decorated bowls with which I am slowly building my dinnerware collection.

 Edip Akbayram is a kind & humble man, and probably the most famous pop star in all of Turkey. Escaping his very public & hectic life, he spends summers at his house around the corner from the studio.

Ayten is Edip’s wife, and a burgeoning ceramic artist who works during the summers in Erdogan’s studio.

Mediha is a neighbour who has known Erdoğan all his life.

Mercimek is the studio dog.  He gets a bath once a year, when I arrive.

Sadly, Ahmet died last fall.  He was one of the kindest, gentlest men, and the most accomplished potter, I have ever met. 

I have many more friends here. These few have made a special impact.

30 October 2013

Happy Birthday

Yesterday, Turkey celebrated the 90th anniversary of its becoming a republic. A young republic, for an almost unimaginably ancient country. Mustafa Kemel, the Father of Modern Turkey, literally dragged the country into the 20th Century when he took power in 1923. Now revered for this, he is also known to have been ruthless.

Turkish politics are sufficiently complicated to fill numerous volumes.  Suffice to say that, in spite of the present tug-of-war between Islamic, secular, and right-wing Nationalist factions, Turkey is now enjoying relative stability and economic prosperity. The intense fascist oppression following the last military coup in the early 1980’s has lifted considerably under successive democratic governments. It’s a long road (reference the protests & government reaction over the summer in Istanbul & other Turkish cities), but Turkey is striving to improve its global image in areas of human rights, freedom of speech, and justice.
Life in most of Turkey is slower than in much of the rest of the Western world. Turkish culture is a complicated mix of the ancient & the  modern, the religious & the secular. For me, it is the Turkish people’s strength of spirit that makes them so special. And so I am pleased to wish this nation a  Happy Birthday.

24 October 2013

What's the Difference?

Naturally, one would expect there to be many differences between life in a small Turkish town and one in Canada. As winter approaches, my thoughts have roamed towards staying warm here in the high Anatolian plateau. At home in Gibsons, I’d be thinking of which of my abundant clothes to wear to keep out the damp fall chill. Here in Avanos, I’m contemplating how much blanket-weight I can stand on my bed at night to stay warm and still be able to turn over. And I’m timing my showers in the unheated bathroom so I can warm myself afterwards in the still-strong sun. When the water from the ‘cold’ tap actually feels pleasantly warm on your hands in the morning…. well…. you know winter is coming.

And, regardless of the seasons, there are the practicalities of everyday life…..
As I browsed Facebook yesterday, I came across a notice from the Town of Gibsons advising of water works on Gibsons Way, letting people know that there would be interruptions in their water supply.  “How clever”, I thought, “to post such a thing on social media.” People in the affected area probably also received little printed information sheets in the mail or to their doors. Imagine the uproar if the water went off without notice!

This morning, I woke with a start to the sound of a tractor outside my window. First thought: “Gee, those garbage men are early today….”  Next, the unmistakable tinkle of cobblestones being stacked neatly. Then the house shook (which isn’t easy to do: it’s a 300 year old stone house built into the mountainside) with the thudding of a backhoe. Next thought: “Oh RATS! I bet there’s no water!!”  Sure enough, the tap runs dry. So no shower this morning. Guess I have to wait. But how long?  Anybody’s guess.  You’ll certainly never get a straight answer out of the workmen: “Inshallah, soon,” would be the likely response.  So no one bothers to ask. Good thing we have a stash of filled 10-litre water bottles under the sink in the (also unheated) kitchen.

There’s a good deal of chatter in the street at the moment. Everyone seems to be working.  Inshallah, I’ll have my shower before the sun sets. Unless it clouds over first....

18 October 2013

Kurban Bayramı

The 3-4 day holiday of Kurban Bayramı (Festival of Sacrifice) begins about 70 days after the end of Ramazan. A religious-based festival commemorating the sacrifice to God by Abraham (Ibrahim) of a ram in place of his son, it is meant to be a time of sharing. Strictly speaking, it offers the supreme opportunity for Muslims to practise charity, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Ibrahim’s sacrifice is reenacted through slaughtering of meat animals for sharing amongst friends, family, and the poor. Nowadays, city-dwellers pay a fee to abattoirs to have meat prepared in their name for distribution. Because Avanos is a relatively rural community, there is still apparently some local ‘sacrificing’ that goes on, as evidenced by our terrier bringing home a stomach the other day, and a cow’s foot this afternoon: dogs love Kurban Bayramı.

Practising Muslims begin the first day of Kurban Bayramı with a visit to the Mosque. Muslim or not, everyone dons their best clothes and spends the rest of the holidays visiting friends and family, paying particular tribute to the elder generations. New outfits for children mean that their old clothes can be given to the poor.

Here in the clay studio, neighbourhood children come calling, wishing us Happy Bayram, showing us respect by a kiss on the right hand before touching it to their foreheads. In return, they receive a sweet, a kiss, and a “Happy Bayram”. The days & evenings are an endless stream of visitors, allowing us little time for working.

Coupled with Bayram is a 2-day national Turkish holiday.  This means all government offices are closed for the entire week.  Roads are jammed with travellers; airline tickets, bus tickets, and  hotel rooms are as scarce as hens’ teeth. But business is brisk for the many shopkeepers here who cater to tourists. Friends & acquaintances are among the best customers. It’s a time for tea & sweets and autumn garden bounty, shared in the warmth of good company.

Next week, the nation gets back to work. And I can finally get that letter mailed at the post office.
Hot-air balloons rise at dawn