Sunday, March 21, 2010

Unforgettable Ankara, Part 1

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do."~Rumi

I couldn't believe my good fortune: I had been invited to participate in an international art exhibition in Ankara, Turkey! What was even more amazing was that I was invited by Raja Bailey, the wife of Canada's Ambassador to Turkey, Mark Bailey. I would be staying at their official residence in Ankara, a city of 5 million people, for a whole week. I had never traveled to this area of the world....what a fabulous opportunity! I packed some small paintings and brought them with me, a total of six of my paintings to add to the cache of artwork for the show.

This exhibition had a two-pronged objective. The first was to raise money for a NGO organization in Ankara that would help to educate young girls. The second reason was to celebrate International Women's Day. What a unique adventure:) I was thrilled to be included! Participating artists came from Syria, The United States, South Africa, Kosovo, Turkey and of course Canada. I was very grateful to Turkish Airlines who flew us to Istanbul and then on to Ankara. I have flown with a great many airlines in the past year and a half and I was extremely impressed with their service. I will not hesitate to travel with them again when I return to Turkey.

As soon as we landed in Ankara I was struck with the temperature and similarity in climate with the area of Ontario that I live in. Throughout my time there the days were cool and overcast with the occasional sunny day. Only once did it really rain in earnest.

Customs in Istanbul was chaos but eventually we did make it to Ankara and were picked up by Husnu, our driver. He proved to be such a lovely gentleman, who spoke excellent English and was very professional. He had a twinkle in his eye and told us a lot about Ankara, Istanbul and the country itself.

Ankara at night
(camera was hand held with no flash, in a moving vehicle)

Little signs of home were seen everywhere

More echoes of Canada in the residence

We met Raja and Mark at the residence and settled into our rooms. The residence was beautiful, comfortable and the staff were all so friendly and welcoming to us. After the week they all felt like family. We unpacked our artwork, selected where the work would hang and then enjoyed the next day with Raja in Ulus and downtown Ankara. We stopped in at a framer's in the downtown core. The poor framer was inundated with the task of framing 23 pieces of art within 8 hours. I don't know how he did it, but he did it! Needless to say when we left he shut down for the day:)

While Raja, Louise, Piril, Barb and Vicky talked with the framer and chose matte colours I wandered around the shops and asked in broken Turkish if the shop owners would mind if I took their photos. Everyone was very nice and agreeable. Tea or çay is ubiquitous in Turkey, and while I was shooting these shopkeepers tea was taken around to different shops and distributed to the gentlemen.

One of the men working in the electrical shop

The other electrical shop worker

After leaving the bewildered framer we traveled to a downtown market before moving on to Ulus, the oldest section of Ankara where there is a large market and a variety of wonderful shops selling all manner of Turkish goods. We perused some vendors selling everything from figs to nuts to tea and herbs. Turkey is famous for many exports, including pistachios, figs, hazelnuts, textiles and Turkish coffee. It was hard not to spend all of our Turkish lira within the first day!

Figs, walnuts, hazelnuts and sultanas

Bolts of fabric in the fabric shop, downtown Ankara
Heading into Ulus. The streets of Ankara were VERY steep in parts

There was a beautiful mixture of aromas
and textures in Ulus

We spent a fabulous afternoon wandering the winding streets of Ulus. It was a glimpse into how I imagined Istanbul might be. It had so much culture and quiet beauty. Side streets wending their way upwards, brightly coloured shutters and doors, and the people were very amenable to having their photos taken.

As far as being vegetarian in a new was reasonably easy to eat meat-free. Almost every restaurant made modifications or something for me that I could eat, which I appreciated. Kebabs seem to be the speciality in Turkey, usually with lamb or some kind of meat. I was surprised that they didn't have vegetable kebabs on menus anywhere. However, I usually made do with a type of flatbread and tomatoes, or a salad, or both. The best part however was the Turkish coffee and apple tea or elma çay, that many cafésserve after the coffee.

I loved the way that this man was reclining

I learned a few basic phrases and words in Turkish that helped me get by with simple interactions with other people and shop owners. Between Mehmet, Husnu and Piril I jotted these sayings down and it made moving about in the city and getting by much easier. I never felt helpless though as basic hand gestures can always help you out in a pinch even if two people are not able to communicate effectively in the same language.

Ankara is a very "Westernized" city and most of it is relatively "new" as well. Other than Ulus and older sections, the city really is very recent compared to Istanbul. I have heard that visitors from countries to the east see Ankara as a very Western city, and visitors from the West see it in the opposite light. Personally I took it for what it was, a bustling city that seemed to never end, filled with families and unique lives, lovely people and new friends.

Gourds hanging at a stall in Ulus
Looking down a street in Ulus

Traditional tea served where we had lunch.
At long last, Turkish Coffee!!!

The turkish coffee that I finally tried was delicious. Normally I don't put sugar in my coffee but with turkish coffee you really must. It offsets the intense bitterness very well. The grounds are at the bottom of the cup extremely fine grind that distinguishes this type of coffee from others.

I will post more photos and stories soon from this amazing journey to Ankara....

"Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent."~Rumi

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