13.03.2013 - 13.03.2013 18 °C
We awoke, but not totally afresh as the walls are paper thin and there were people afoot last night in the hotel. It seems there are only businessmen staying here, if the attendance at breakfast was any indication. The girls and I were the only females in sight, either amongst the staff or the clientele. Turkish hotels and pensions often provide breakfast and even though it wasn’t officially included in our room rate, I felt for the price we were paying, I would swallow my pride and ask if we could have it included. The manager agreed, or at least I think he did – we’ll find out when it comes time to pay the bill upon checkout. We never know what we’ll get with a meal in Turkey, even if we order something we think we’re familiar with. While Abby was hoping for pancakes, I assured her it would be ‘anything but’ and would likely include a number of olives. It turned out to be a buffet, with several types of olives, some cheeses, buns, halva, boiled eggs, pink sausage, cucumbers, tomatoes, rolled Taquito-type things, jams and tahini paste. And the darkest tea you’ve ever seen – Ben thought it was coffee before he tried it. When I went back to help Abby select some more halva (a crumbly nut butter sweetened with sugar), I noticed something off to the side, warming in a dish: it turned out to be yayla corbası, a warm soup made of yoghurt, eggs and rice, seasoned with mint and paprika. I felt I had to try it. The 100 ml I took back sufficed to feed the entire family – again, like the cold yoghurt drink called ‘aryan’ that the Turkish love, it seems to be an acquired taste. Upon filling our plates and sitting down, we noticed we had already made a gaffe. You are to use a communal basket to hold your buns rather than placing them directly on your plate. And, taking community one step further, we saw four businessmen sharing a single heaping plate of all the foodstuffs rather than each having their own. In that way, it’s a more intimate culture.
But enough about food (our go-to subject)...we piled out the door determined to learn something about Konya and its famous citizen, Rumi, a thirteenth century Persian poet, jurist and Sufi mystic. While he is ‘big’ in Iran, Turkey and neighbouring areas, his importance transcends national and ethnic borders (according to Wikipedia). His poems have been translated into many languages and he was even described as ‘the most popular poet in America’ a few years ago. He died in Konya and was buried there. His shrine has become a place of pilgrimage, even to this day. Following his death, his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes; they are most famous for their dance known as the Sema ceremony, where they twirl themselves into a trance during worship. The building where he’s buried is now known as the Mevlana Museum and encompasses several tombs, a mosque, a dance hall, and former dervish living quarters and school. When we arrived at the museum, we quickly determined we would learn nothing without the audio guides so rented two (tripling the entrance price). We could then understand some details of Rumi’s life and the dervishes’ existence. When we heard he is known for five poetic works, Hannah voiced the opinion that that did not appear to be very many for such an important guy. We then learned that one of his great works, the Masnavi, has 26,000 couplets alone and took him ten years to compose. Some others are even longer! OK, so it seems he was more prolific than we first thought. One of the quotes we saw on tourist literature attributed to him was “Either seem as you are or be as you seem” which seems to be a bit more cryptic version of “Walk the walk and talk the talk.”
Rumi is actually ensconced under the Green Tomb, a large green pencil-shaped appendage shooting out of the roof. We needed to cover our shoes and don head scarves (not Ben) before entering. When inside, we could see several pilgrims praying among the Turkish and foreign tourists. It truly seemed to be an important site for them. It was interesting to see samples of the Koran with beautiful calligraphy and gilded work, reminding us of the Bibles monks had illustrated several centuries ago. Mosques are generally large, open spaces and the building housing the tombs of Rumi and various other Mevlevi leaders appears similar. They were all together, next to each other, with Rumi given more distinction and room than the others. The walls and ceilings had painted designs in many colours and there were various items from the dervishes’ life displayed. However, it was all simpler and plainer than we expected. Other buildings showed how the dervishes occupied small quarters, known as cells, where they studied and meditated. While we would have liked to observe a dervish ceremony, they are only held on Saturdays in Konya; we may have more success in Cappadocia, our next stay.
The afternoon held two museums for us, one we stumbled upon when we went closer to see an intriguing building. It housed a large diorama of miniatures depicting life in Konya between 1914 and 1930, a time which included WW I and the Turkish war of independence. It didn’t seem to get many visitors and we only became aware of it when the guide invited us to come to the ‘free museum.’ It was indeed free (you never know) and worthwhile. The second, the Karatay Medresesi, was promoted to me by the tourism centre as a place to learn about the history of tiles in Konya. Well, who could resist that? Truth be told, while we initially liked the large partially tiled dome inside, we were a bit underwhelmed by the few items on display. Abby said afterwards, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “I’m sure glad we didn’t miss THAT, Mom, good call!’ The afternoon was finished up with the three of us girls going window shopping – the many sweets are hard to resist, especially when the vendors give you samples to try. I succumbed to these tubular wafer cookies ingested with a creamy coconut filling – they surpass Turkish delight in my books.
We walked back to the hotel, noticing abandoned chai glasses on store fronts or on the steps in the main square – these are later picked up by the tea shops who service these areas with mobile tea ‘waiters.’ During our walk, I was struck by the many juxtapositions I saw between the modern and traditional cultures in Konya: old men holding prayer beads in one hand and a cell phone in the other; window displays showing full, ankle length skirts alongside faded skinny jeans; pairs of young men wearing Nikes and walking arm in arm; traditional wedding dresses displayed beside the white ones popular in North America. Beyond the museums and mosques, that is where the real interest lies, in observing the people of Turkey. In this country, it is very common to see groups of men gathering together. The spectrum traverses from boyhood till past retirement age. Thus it is that we see men sharing meals, playing backgammon, and holding conversations over chai. There are women too, but their groups seem not as plentiful. I do not want to give the wrong impression as we see families out as well; it just seems to be more of a man’s dominion. I’ve told Ben he should just join in but he feels an affinity for us (and for the English language, I expect).