Oct 252010
 

The Mevlana in Konya


It’s a lovely evening. The air is comfortably warm, the hospitality warmer still. We arrive in Konya from Antalya after dark to find two host families waiting at an outdoor restaurant flanked by two, brightly lit, 900 year-old tombs. Three teenage girls, one wearing a headscarf, all shyly giggling, practice their English with us. Interesting conversations about life, education and religion passes between the hosts and ourselves.

Interfaith Mingling Amongst the Women

Feelie and one of our hosts

Alan and one of the teenage daughters intent in discussion

Konya is the spiritual center of the Sufism. Here, the great poet, theologian and mystic, Rumi, lived eight hundred years ago. Sufism is the most peaceful and spiritual of Muslim sects. The roots of the Whirling Dervishes are here.

The entrance to Rumi's Tomb

The Mevlani Way is an ascetic, spiritual life. Rumi believed passionately in utilizing music and dance as a path to God. This evolved into the whirling ritual, focusing the mind so intensely that the soul is both destroyed and resurrected. Apprenticeship entailed a final test; meditating in the communal kitchen for days without food as meals were prepared around you.

It is evident from the women’s dress that Konya is the most traditional of the places we’ve visited thus far. Many more women with headscarves are on the streets. Most wear the shapeless, full-length overcoat of the devout and there is a hint of ethnicity in their style of scarf and flowery skirts.

As we approach the Mevlana, Rumi’s tomb, its green dome sets it off as different from other mosques. The colorful gardens surrounding the complex are immaculately maintained. Sculpted rose bushes and topiary set amidst lush green lawns give color and style to the sanctuary.

I would love to have photographed inside the tomb. The marble walls are covered with flowing Arabic script and, like most mosques, the ceiling is a delight of design. On display are many elaborately illuminated Korans. The beauty of their calligraphy and wealth and creativity of their gilt illustrations captivate me. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, something, as a professional, I always respect.

Rumi’s epitaph reads: “When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”

Entrance to the school founded by Mehmet Ozdemir

Learning English as the students run up and down the stairs

Entrance to the kindergarten

Lunch is at a primary school built by a local businessman and follower of Fetullah Gülen. This is the first day of school. Garlands of balloons welcome the students. Lunch is with one of the teachers. Peppered by questions from our inquisitive group, we learn that English is taught from the primary level and that the success rate in the Gülen schools is exceptionally high. The vast majority of students pass the national college entrance test and graduate from university.

Music sounds in the hallway. It’s the end of a period and the corridors fill with happy voices. Our group wades out amongst the excited throngs, cameras in hand. We are met with many Hellos, What is your names and Where are you froms. For a quick five minutes the smiling faces of beautiful, happy children besiege us. They make the most of this strange group of visitors who enhance their first-day-of-school enthusiasm.

The evening promises a visit to another school though little do we know what we are in for. A few hours on the bus and we arrive, again after dark, in the small town of Nigde. Here, we are to be divided between the homes of the host families for the night.

A little impromptu performance on the bus by Cem and Serkan

Introductions all around between ourselves and our hosts

Our hosts greet us warmly, taking our bags to their respective cars. Climbing the steps to the school we are ushered into a large, comfortable office for the obligatory welcomings and to again, one by one, recount a bit who we are. The founder of the school, Mr. Celal, a spitting image of Sigmund Freund, leads us into an assembly room where the surprises begin.

Ten, beautiful, young girls in traditional, folk dress, bouquets in hand, flank the entry. Smiling and laughing, they hand each of us a bouquet while welcoming us in English. A mouth-watering aroma wafts through the room as we are shown to our tables surrounding the central floor space.

Suddenly, the girls are lined up in front of an imposing image of Ataturk. Music begins and they dance a well-rehearsed folk dance. We’re delighted!

More introductions follow along with an invitation to line up and be served. Following the dinner of too much delicious, regional food, a tray is wheeled out to the floor and the local master treats us to a demonstration of traditional, Turkish water painting.

In a tray of water, oil paints are dripped onto the surface. The artist uses special implements to shape the drops, adding more, shaping those, until, within five minutes, a lovely image of carnations floats upon the water. Placing a piece of watercolor paper on the surface transfers the painting to the paper and the artist smoothly draws the paper from the tray revealing an amazing painting of life-like carnations.

We are asked to take seats in a row beneath an imposing image of Atatürk, and then are called upon in turn to receive a framed water painting and say a few words.

Terre Sanitate offers some appreciative comments

With the last gift given, music swells, fireworks in front of us gush twin fountains of sparks while cannons on either side engulf us in confetti. I am beyond words.

It took me until the next day to get all the confetti off

A late night ensues as we each go to our respective host’s home. Yolanda, Serkan and I go with a doctor and his wife along with another couple; Turks living in London. We talk about everything, learning about each other’s cultures and religions. For the first time this entire trip, Serkan is fading.

Breakfast is late for a change. We gather, along with our hosts, at the home of a family with a large, abundantly productive garden. Long tables are arranged beneath a grape arbor planted by the host’s grandfather’s.

Casey makes a point

Once again, we are treated to incredibly warm hospitality as we partake of the bounty of the garden. Conversation ranges over a myriad of topics, always penetrating and pertinent to today’s world. It is difficult to express how fortunate I feel to be able to meet people of the Muslim faith on this level. We experience nothing but respect, warm hospitality, dialog, interest and polite acceptance of our differences.

Mr. Celal, the founder of the school, gracious host and Sigmund Freud lookalike.

As we reluctantly take our leave, handshakes, hugs and traditional kisses on both cheeks abound. I feel a glimmer of understanding, not through words but through direct experience, of the philosophy and teachings of the Fetullah Gülen. If our experience reflects some basic principles of Islam, then the world is a less dangerous place and the future brighter still.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

Oct 132010
 

The ancient Roman Library at Ephesus

While grape vines and plump clusters of fruit shade us from the morning sun and orchards of figs and almonds stretch to the steep mountains a mile away, our group sits at one long table, sharing breakfast as an ages-old fortress stands sentinel from a high ridge. In this idyllic setting, exhaustion from prior intense days disappears with cups of thick, Turkish coffee.

A fortress overlooks the valley from the right-hand peak of the mountain

Olives, cheese, tasty, ripe tomatoes and bread slathered with local honey, complete the meal. Upon arriving in Izmir, Biblical Smyrna, Turkey’s third largest city, we were whisked from the airport to this lovely setting on our way to tour the ruins of an ancient city.

A cornucopia of produce for sale at the restaurant's roadside stand

Efes, its Turkish name, was a major crossroads of the Roman Empire. Formerly a port city, silting over the centuries has pushed the Aegean Sea over three miles away. The apostle Paul walked these streets, preaching his gospel to the Ephesians two millennia ago.

It must have been an impressively, beautiful city with broad streets, tall, elaborately carved, marble buildings, numerous statues, gushing fountains, two large amphitheaters, one holding 25,000, and one of the greatest libraries of the ancient world.

The smaller of the two amphitheaters

The facade of the library

We spend hours wandering the ruins, peering through broken doorways and climbing ancient steps. Ephesus was a diamond in the emperor’s diadem, a city of wealth, power and knowledge.  Excavations are still underway.  The city is much older than the Romans and there is much left to unearth.

This mosaic gives a taste of how the houses and buildings were decorated

The larger of the two amphitheaters

We return to the shade of the orchard restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, I snag an empty, pillowed platform used for traditional family meals, and doze off. All to quickly, we’re off again, this time to a small, ceramics manufacturer specializing in exceptional, definitely not cheap, hand-made pottery.

I watch the demonstrations, photographing the women painting the vases and plates while Bruria Finkel, the artist of our group, puts on a demonstration of her own, turning a bowl. The showroom displays thousands of dishes in numerous styles but Yolanda and I pass while others buy. We loaded up on ceramics while in Mexico last year.

Hand-painting the ceramics at Art Ceramics

Bruria turning a bowl

From the heat of the coastal plain, we drive into the cool mountains immediately to the south of Efes where, according to legend, Jesus’ mother lived out her days. As we climb, I catch occasional glimpses of the dramatic Aegean coast, a deep, blue sea colliding with rocky cliffs.

The shrine is near the top of the mountain shaded within a thick wood. Pilgrims from around the world make their way here. The surface of a long, high, rock wall, is blanketed with prayers in the form of millions of slips of paper; dazzling white against the forest in the late afternoon gloom.

A nun exits the purported House of the Virgin Mary

A tiny section of the high wall covered with prayers

Returning to Izmir with the setting sun, we meet our sponsors at a local restaurant. We are beginning to understand the reason for the cultural exchange: it is not simply to meet local leaders and learn about Turkish culture, but also to gain an understanding of the Gülen Movement, an Islamic group seeking interfaith dialog and understanding between peoples.

Two year-old Mehmet with his mother

Me, taking a turn a carving kebap, man was it hot!!

Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish intellectual now living in Pennsylvania. His writings have inspired a movement, said to have the sympathies of 75% of Turks. One of its primary goals is education. Later, we are to visit several schools and a university built by the movement.

Following another evening of interesting conversation and too much good food, we reach our hotel and crash, Yolanda and I sleeping through breakfast. Little is planned for the next day; lunch, a stroll through the bazaar, dinner with local families.

Streets of the modern, port city of Izmir

Izmir's bazaar

An antique shop in the bazaar

Along the waterfront in Izmir

An ancient urn at Izmir's archaelogical museum

An ancient urn in Izmir's Archaeological Museum

A bronze life-size athlete from the late Hellenistic period-Izmir Archaeological Museum

The following day, we fly to Antalya, a resort city on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast. As the plane approaches, a large, sapphire bay appears with an immense, mountain range thrust steeply from the sea; a western barrier disappearing into the haze. The Taurus Mountains are one of Turkey’s important ranges. Around Antalya, its tree-less peaks rise abruptly to over 11,000 feet. This is something I find over most of the country: Turkey is very mountainous but from the base to the peaks they are mostly bare. Strange.

The Taurus Mountains from Antalya

Along the coast, Antalya is a postcard of Mediterranean beauty. Red tile-roofed, stone houses beneath a clear, blue sky tumble down the hillsides to an azure sea. Small harbors dot the coast along with broad beaches. The covered terraces of restaurants provide welcome relief from the heat along with awesome coastal views.

We stop for lunch at one of Antalya’s wonders, Duden Waterfalls. Spring-fed waterfalls cascade through a narrow defile amidst a series of rock grottos. Copious trees shade outdoor restaurants along the river while the rushing water furnishes natural air conditioning.

At one of the restaurants at Duden Falls

Selling ice cream is a performance in Turkey, sometimes a way too expensive performance

A leisurely lunch ensues; delicious, grilled fish, fresh from the Mediterranean. To our regret, we must forego exploring Antalya’s Mediterranean beauty and ancient wonders. Local leaders await us for dinner in Konya, a mountainous, four-hour drive north and the former home of Rumi, Islam’s most revered poet.

Despite the valuable insights Turkey’s historical sights provide into its history and culture, the privileged meetings with the people of today’s Turkey round out our experience in ways not accessible to the average tourist. We leave Antalya anticipating another fascinating evening.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

Oct 062010
 

The entry to the European style Dolmabahche

I’m near exhaustion. Serkan, though, shows no signs of slacking. It’s been two days of intense touristing and after rising at 4:30 am, our group is on a plane bound for Izmir. Serkan, our guide, is the energizer bunny. His shiny pate matches his disposition. He exudes hospitality.

Serkan Yildirim

Yolanda and I are touring with eight others; Allan Grinnell and his wife Feelie Lee, both professors at UCLA: Frank Sanitate, a speaker on time management and his wife Terre, who works with interfaith groups: David Finkel, a retired judge and constitutional law professor and his wife Israeli-born, Bruria, an accomplished artist www.bruriafinkel.com:  Cem Eruyan, born in Turkey and now living in LA: and Casey Crosbie, the youngest of the group who grew up herding cattle on a ranch in South Dakota, now traveling the world. We are on a cultural exchange sponsored by California’s Pacifica Institute; a group of Turkish Americans seeking to build bridges of understanding between peoples. During an introductory dinner we learned that our proposed itinerary, along with our preconceptions about Turkish customs, could be thrown out the window.

We rise early the first morning for a typical Turkish breakfast of tea, bread, honey, olives, cheeses, tomatoes and cucumbers, and are to tour the Dolmabache Palace before the hoards of tourists arrive.

This is our first taste of Ottoman opulence. Built in the mid 1800’s it is an entirely European edifice: think Paris Opera. The palace is an enormous complex of lavishly decorated state and private rooms, 285 of them, set majestically along the Bosphorus. The Ceremonial Hall is an eye-boggling work of decadence. Its vast dome supports the largest crystal chandelier ever made, weighing 4.5 tons and containing 750 lights. Three thousand artists spent 3-4 years completing the gilt, faux marble and elaborate flourishes of this gigantic room alone. And yes, the Sultan mortgaged his empire to build this architectural masterpiece.

The small part of the south facade outside the Ceremonial Hall, facing the Bosphorus

In front of one of the opulent gates, the first of many group photos. Serkan, I and Yolanda, Alan and Feelie, Casey, Terre and Frank, Bruria and David. Cem's taking the picture.

The Jewish Museum is next on the itinerary. 700 years ago, when the Spanish were driving out or forcibly converting Jews, the Ottoman Sultan welcomed them to his empire. Jews from around Europe and Russia found refuge over the centuries. A thriving community exists today. The museum, in a lovely, old synagogue, documents Jewish life in Ottoman and contemporary Istanbul. It is an eye-opening look at religious tolerance under Islam.

The interior of the old synagogue now the Karakoy Jewish Museum

Jews from around Europe sought refuge in Ottoman Turkey. The 1492 decree of Bayezed II in the upper right reads: "...the Jews of Spain should not be refused but rather be welcomed with warm feelings, and those who move against this decree and treat the immigrant bad or case any damage, however small it may be, shall be punished with death sentence...". Referring to the king of Spain, the Sultan also stated: "You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler; he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!"

An afternoon of perfect weather calls for a tour on the Bosphorus. For several hours we cruise between Europe and Asia. High hills, covered with dense forests of trees and apartments, rise on both sides. Tiny, quaint harbors dot the coast.

We pass beneath the impressive Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges like San Francisco’s Golden Gate but for the elegant mosques, high, labyrinthine, stone walls of Byzantine fortresses and the fact that they connect the continents of Europe and Asia.

The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

The Bosphorus Bridge

Afterwards, we want rest, but are to join a local family in their home for dinner. We also need to gather the gifts we’ve brought for them. But no, we’re late and traffic is terrible. Arriving around 8 pm, the family of four; father, an engineer, mother, a German teacher and their two beautiful daughters, fifteen and ten, show us true Turkish hospitality. Though they speak little English, we smile, laugh and share as Cem and Serkan translate. Loving-kindness abounds. Following Turkish custom, everyone in turn tells a little about themselves.

Vuslat and Hatice Aygun with daughters Zeynep and Zehra

Dinner then begins with a delicious, spicy, lentil soup and ends with sweet, sticky baklava and copious amounts of tea. It’s now 10:30. I’m very tired, others seriously jetlagged. Presents though, are a must before we leave. Each of us receives a heavy bag of five, beautiful books about Turkey and Turkish arts and crafts. We’re overwhelmed and feeling badly that we hadn’t the time to pick up flowers let alone our presents for them. As we leave, they load us even more with boxes of Lokum, Turkish Delight.

The next day begins early as well. We have to beat the hordes to the Topkapi Palace, for hundreds of years the traditional home, harem and administrative center of the Ottoman emperors.

A five or six hundred year-old fountain outside the Topkapi Palace

The Imperial Gate and main entrance to the Topkapi Palace

Entering the second courtyard of the palace through the Gate of Salutation

The Divanhane, where the Imperial Council met

Inside the Divanhane

A multitude of magnificent marble buildings, each beautifully decorated with elaborate carvings and elegant, Arabic calligraphy, are spread along a hill overlooking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. The kitchens prepared as many as 6,000 meals a day!

The hordes lining up to get into the rooms displaying the crown jewels

A map showing the extent of the Ottoman Empire at its peak

Here lie the crown jewels of Turkey. Displays of magnificent, emerald, ruby and diamond-encrusted golden chalices, swords, jewelry, dinnerware, and toiletry sets line hall after hall. A highlight, the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, is an eighty-six carat monster the size of a small egg set in silver and surrounded by forty-nine multi-carat diamonds.

Grilled kebap served on a plank with a view of the Sea of Marmara

A vendor makes me a candy on a stick

Weaving a rug in a Sultanahmet store window

The immense interior of the 1,700 year-old Aya Sophia

For over 1,000 years, the Aya Sophia was a church. Converted into a mosque after conquest by the Ottomans in 1453, the beautiful mosaics were covered over. Islam does not permit humans or animals to be depicted in a mosque. These have recently been uncovered.

The afternoon and evening become a blur of too much good food, impressive ancient sights like the Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque,  the 1,500 year-0ld Aya Sophia, and exhaustion. Getting to bed too late again, I don’t fancy the 4:30 wake up call. Ephesus though, south of Izmir, where St. Paul preached, beckons.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com