Sunday, December 30, 2012

Whirling Dervishes

Konya, the first city I visited during my short trip, is the birthplace of the Mevlevi Order. The origin of the order is attributed to Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet who spent most of his life in Konya. According to a legend, one day when he heard shahaadah - the Muslim declaration of faith - he opened his arms and started to dance in a whirling movement. After his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also called The Order of Whirling Dervishes. The name comes from the famous way in which the dervishes worship God - by dancing. They pray by rapidly whirling on their axis, which imitates the revolving of planets in the Solar System around the Sun. Although the tradition had its hard times in the past, being declared as illegal by Atatürk in 1925 and banned for many years, nowadays it's still nurtured and the Mevlevi ceremonies (Sema) figure as one of the main attractions in Konya. Thanks to my friend Nur, who hosted me there, I could watch this amazing spectacle on a Saturday evening.

Considering the popularity of the Sema ritual, I was surprised to discover the performance is free of charge. Nur, her mum, her sister and I arrived to Mevlâna Kültür Merkezi after 8 pm. Seeing the flocking crowds, we knew that it would be difficult to secure the best seats. The circle-shaped auditorium was filled to capacity; people sat on the stairs and right in front of the scene or stood behind the chairs on the top level. We took a seat at the top, hoping to get the full picture of whirling white figures. To my disappointment, the security requested us to move to the very front rows. I didn't really fancy watching the ceremony from so close, having a barrier separating the scene from the audience obstruct my view. But when the dervishes entered the scene, it turned out there were no bad seats to observe the performance - I would have loved to have seen the luminous constellation of whirling dancers from above, but at least I could watch it from close-up and notice some subtle details.

The ceremony starts with a musical introduction, where traditional Turkish instruments are used. After the recitation of prayers, the dervishes enter the scene. They are dressed in white skirt that produces the spinning effect, white pants worn under the skirt, white jacket and a black robe, which they remove before whirling, as a symbol of passing from death to life. They also put on a tall, conical hat. Every item of their clothing also has a meaning - the white gown symbolizes death, the black robe - a grave and the head covering - a tombstone. After a lengthy recitation of prayers, the master of the ceremony, one by one, lets the dervishes start the whirling. They spin in a counterclockwise direction, at first with their arms crossed on their chests. Soon they open their arms and raise the right one to the sky (receiving God's blessings) and turn the left one toward the ground (giving what he receives to the fellow men). In the beginning their movements are slow, but quickly the whirls become increasingly dynamic; the dancers rotate in continuing spins, slightly titling their head, which helps them withstand the whirling movement for a lengthy time without feeling dizzy. They also move their feet is a special way - the weigh of their body rests on their left foot, which they use for rotating in short twists; the right one helps them move their bodies around the left foot. It helps the dervishes perform this movement is a very smooth way. The dervishes can move even up to 40 spins a minute!

Today the Sema Ceremony is considered as art, which in 2005 was safeguarded as the first Turkish Masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Personally, I was fascinated. The ceremony touches your heart and charms with its simplicity; after short time one could also feel taken into a dazy trance. Now I wish I could move the dervishes to Ankara to enjoy this sublime performance every weekend.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My home for one year

Turkey is a country that captivates with its stark contrasts. It's somewhere between two cultures where Middle-Eastern exotic intermingles with European modernity. On one hand it shocks with strict inhibitions still maintained in rural areas, on the other, it positively surprises with its progressive, sophisticated appearance that can be seen in major cities. So is Kırkkonaklar, my neighborhood located in the south-western part of Ankara and one of the city's most modern districts. To some extent it lives up to its name, which translates as "forty residences." My five house mates (Polish, Italian, Welsh, English and Ukrainian) and I are based in a four-story flat; in a two-level apartment where each one of us has their own, spacious room and access to various amenities. There's also an excellent terrace which is probably going to know many a party in the summertime. The house is in no way different from what all of us are probably used to in Europe. Maybe with the only exception being occasional problems with heating and electricity supply.

Although the streets of Kırkkonaklar are lined with bottom-up, mass-housing blocks and new ones are springing up everywhere, there's also another side to my new neighborhood. Side by side with the flats inhabited by richer people are juxtaposed gecekondular - primitive settlements build hurriedly and occupied by lower income groups. These rickety shacks aren't in short supply and whichever point you look from, you're almost sure to find one. Never before have I had such a close peek at these informal settlements. Looking at some of them, it seems obvious that nobody paid enough attention to make the house safe for its inhabitants. However, considering the fact that their construction took only one night, some gecekondular still look quite well-made.

I take a shortcut, go down the slope, climb another slope. Anybody from my neighborhood in Bydgoszcz who complains about having to walk 100 m up a gentle slope on the way back home should come to  Kırkkonaklar. It's slope after slope after slope.

No supermarkets here, so I buy my food in a corner shop where even without owning up to it, it's obvious I'm a yabanci. The sellers are quite patient with my staggering Turkish (it's still a big compliment).

A half-an-hour bus ride takes me to Kızılay, the bustling heart of Ankara. The time of the journey depends mainly on the time of the day and the number of passengers boarding the bus (they have to validate their ticket and they do while the bus is still on the bus stop and it won't go until all passengers have done this duty). The bus schedule is a mystery, so sometimes I wait for one minute until it comes, sometimes I curse under my breath because I arrived thirty seconds too late and the next one comes maybe in five minutes, maybe twenty. Welcome to Ankara. Have a nice stay.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Let's go

Contrary to appearances, squishing one year of life in 70 liters isn't such a challenge.
Last half an hour in my room, last one hour in Bydgoszcz, last seven hours in Poland, last fifteen hours on the Old Continent.
I'm still thinking whether I haven't forgotten anything.
Destination Ankara.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow

There's something in my travel style of last months that I find extremely worrisome. Before I wanted to be on the go at no end, discover new places, travel with no route, wander aimlessly, get lost, but happily. But how many months have passed since my everyday looked like this? I have to own up to it, I think I've settled too much into a conventional, comfortable and worry-less life - in France, in Scotland - and actually I liked the fact that tonight I wouldn't have to search for a clandestine place to rest my wearied body, go dumpster diving or freeze my ass outside waiting for a ride on a road where a car passes every half an hour. Of course, I love uncertainty and bruising encounters much more than ever-present comforts and total lack of surprises. Sometimes I feel remorse for these lost opportunities but recently... I just don't feel like. Because where I am, I already have great companions, because I came to a place to spend time with a friend instead of straying, because I don't really need adventure and adrenaline at the moment, because leaving this security is too daunting and the perspective of traveling suddenly doesn't seem exciting at all.

Same happened in Sardinia. I came to see my friend, but didn't want to stay confined to only one city all the time. Eventually I had no zeal to explore anything. Strange, isn't it? I changed my mind when Asia told me about her recent trip to Bosa. She described it in such loving detail and awe that I was aching to go. The fact that I could stay there with Asia's Turkish girl friends added up to my excitement - and I wasn't wrong - the time spent with Tuğçe and Deniz was another proof showing that Turkish hospitality is second to none. Never-ending discussions about life and traditions in Turkey and slideshows with photos of Tuğçe's family, hometown and neighboring areas; accompanied by ayran, pilaf, lokum and other Turkish delights (not only the sweet ones) definitely enriched my stay and provided me with useful information just weeks before leaving for Ankara. Unfortunately my wonderful host had to leave early for work the following day, so we couldn't spend too much time together. In the morning I meandered Bosa's streets and byways on my own.

In spite of its location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, chronic water scarcity has plagued Sardinia since ages. The usage of ancient water pipes marred with leaks combined with suffocating heat and drought during the summer bring about one of the most serious water shortages in the Mediterranean area. Bosa is not an exception; water going off for a couple of hours even during the daytime isn't something exceptional. But it has something that other Sardinian towns lack: being set along the peaceful banks of the only navigable river on the entire island; Fiume Temo (55 km). Tirso, the longest river of Sardinia (152 km), puts it to shame, but it's thanks to this tiny stream that Bosa is surrounded by lush verdant green rolling hills; that it had been already flourishing when other Sardinian locations were getting their first inhabitants; that fishing and agriculture play an important role in local economy.

Wandering winding, medieval streets of Bosa's centro storico will make you feel as if you're really in Italy - all because they're so full with life. I'm sure if I understood more than just very basic Italian, I would definitely become the third party in locals' two-way conversations. Many doors and windows are open ajar and there are noises coming from the houses as well - a lively family discussion during the pranzo, very loud football fan shouting profanities at his team losing a goal, the clinking and hissing tools used in home workshops. There is laundry hanging on the balconies or outside the windows. Many houses are adorned with flower pots placed in front of the main door or on the windowsills. And these colors! Bosa's houses lining its steep, maze-like lanes are flooded with bright, saturated hues and are a staple to the area. While in Sassari I barely ever had the urge to take my camera out, in Bosa, one after another, I shot pictures of violets, blues, rusts, greens, pinks, turquoises and ochres. The houses continue all the way to the hilltop, which is crowned with the ruins of old Castella Malaspina. From there only one color speckles the distance - the red of tiles covering the roofs. Another wonderful view presents itself from the right bank of Fiume Temo, near historical Ponte Vecchio, where I debauched myself at gelato alla Nutella, watching the world at the foothills of Malaspina Hill go by.

Despite its picturesque beauty, the town wasn't at all untrammeled by tourists. Just like in Sassari, you won't see massive crowds there. But unlike the major city in the north of Sardinia, Bosa has some life to it. Its very relaxed atmosphere definitely left me with a positive impression of the place and made me remember the island as a destination where not only millionaires venture.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sassari, the ghost town of Sardinia

Before my arrival in Sassari, Asia, who's temporarily living in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, gave me a warning: "it's like a ghost town. There's absolutely nothing going on here." Her words couldn't express the atmosphere in the city any better. Although I barely ever experience boredom when I travel, in Sassari I really had a feeling that even my not-so-vibrant home town makes more exciting destination for a visitor and offers a bigger variety of activities. I arrived in the biggest city in northern Sardinia at midnight-ish, on 1st November. The old town was almost people-less, which made the city appear sad and forlorn. "Holiday," I thought and turned a blind eye on the sleepy image of Sassari. Later, every time we went out at nighttime with Asia and her friends, I noticed a slight improvement in the nightlife of Sardos, but I wasn't thrilled. There were tourists and locals on the streets - but still far cry from Bydgoszcz, where when the lights go out, the streets seem too narrow for the life that's crammed itself into them. I was surprised to find out that a mass of clubs or bars are open only during the summer season, especially when the Erasmus students are in the city.

The former appearance of Sardinian flag, consisting of four black heads of blindfolded Moors on a white background, separated by St George's Cross was supposed to symbolize the stupidity and ignorance of Sardos. If you compare this conviction with local people's mentality, you can easily conclude that such pattern wasn't chosen for nothing. The demeanor of Sardos definitely doesn't fit the stereotype of bubbly, loud and outgoing Italians. Most of the locals I met seemed quite grubby, narrow-minded, reluctant to accept anything that doesn't fit in their mindfield, with malevolent attitude towards visitors. It has never happened to me elsewhere that locals would react aggressively when told there's something you don't like about their city, stupidly squeak "aaaaaaaa turista!!!!!!" upon finding out I'm not from Sardinia or shout their heads off "that's a tourist in the northern Sardinia. And she's totally lost. Hello! What's your name? Comment tu t'appelle?"

Sardos from Sassari are proud of their origin, love their land that is gorgeous for its sea and nature and are deeply connected to it, but they sadly admit - there's nothing to do there. Many young people go to the mainland for education or work; they wait for an opportunity to leave the island and as soon as it presents itself, they seize it. In the summer season sandy beaches and translucent sea attract wealthy tourists from all over the world, but then the warm months are over, numerous resorts become totally deserted.

I always used to undervalue my city, but having seen Sassari, I finally started appreciating my own neck of the woods, which doesn't happen very often. The sleepy streets of this town of 130 thousand inhabitants reminded me of Bydgoszcz ten years ago, devoid of places where people go wild at nighttime or relax during the day. If you think the place you come from is boring, come to Sassari and you'll change your mind. Saying this, I can't forget about the sole exception, which is all Erasmus students I met there. What this piece of Italy lacks in iconic attractions, activities and friendly locals, it more than makes up for it with this bunch of people from all over Europe  who found themselves in this drowsy town and don't fail at making its ever-present boredom more tolerable.

Ticket booth

Please note that apart from two exceptions the schedule is convenient only for connections to continental Italy.