So, WHAT'S Katie up to???

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kybele - Mother of All Things

The first view I had of the Kybele figure was in Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. She's a very impressive figure: matronly, regal, voluptuous, seated on her throne which is flanked by lions. An 8-thousand year old ceramic embodiment of all things powerful, in feminine form. No wonder she is omnipresent in Anatolian art & culture.

Erdogan Güleç's reproduction is of the classic Kybele on display in the Ankara museum.

I think I promised a view from the rear.... undoubtedly, in my humble opinion, her best side.....

Gotta love that bum! & those arms! And from her pose on her throne, you just know that she knows she's the Queen. There' nothing tentative or unsure about her. She knows who she is, and she's great.

Of course, there are many renditions of Kybele. Several ancient ones have been unearthed in various locations throughout the Anatolian Plateau (the high central plateau that covers much of western & central Turkey) and other areas further to the south & east.
Whatever her poses, she has that ample, regal, confident air about her.

Kybele's image is not to be found in Ottoman art. She is from a time long before Islam made its mark on Asia & Europe. She does, however, find her way into images and sculptures, and even every-day pottery from regions like Cappadocia, where people proudly retain their attachment to their Hittite (& earlier) roots.

She is often stylized almost beyond recognition. But something identifies her: her voluptuous hips, her proud demeanour, her nurturing breasts, or perhaps just the proximity of the animals over whom she reigns.

So now, I'm thinking of what Kybele would look like where I live. Surely her presence can be felt. Aside from her more obvious feminine capacity of reproduction, and her ample & shapely figure, what does she look like on our North American West Coast?  There are no lions, of course: so those are out. Perhaps eagles? Bears? Orcas? Or some more docile or less majestic creatures? And what about the trees?

One thing I am feeling these days is that, for all her confidence, Kybele would not be very proud of us. We have not been very careful custodians of her legacy. So for now, the Kybele figures growing in clay from my hands seem to all have their heads bowed in sadness, or turned quizzically to the side.

That's all for today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Turkey, 2012: The adventure continues

September 6, 2012 saw me winging my way from Vancouver towards Istanbul, where I arrived September 7th. I expected to take the comfy night train from Istanbul to Ankara before a short bus ride to my final destination of Avanos, in Turkey's beautiful Cappadocia region.

Taking me from Europe to Asia, still within Greater Istanbul, was a ferry just like the one pictured.
Dozens of these foot-passenger ferries ply these waters daily, along with several car ferries, carrying folks between various city points.  Driving between these points would take at least 10 times longer on average. The ferries share the waters with 200+ passenger tour boats, ocean cruise ships, freighters, coast guard cutters, tugs, deep-sea longliner fishing/packing ships, and tiny wooden dories skippered by single fishermen. How everyone manages to miss hitting each other is a marvelous thing!

The ferry docks are primitive by BC Ferries standards. Some have been recently upgraded for more orderly boarding/disembarking. But most are like this one, with primitive gangplanks hauled into place as the boat touches the wharf.
This station, Hydarpasha, is particularly appealing to me, its exterior being decorated with the lively coloured Ottoman tiles for which the Istanbul region is famous.

Upon arriving at the train station behind the ferry dock, I was surprised to learn that my comfy berth on the night train was not possible. Apparently the train is discontinued for two years while the tracks are upgraded to accommodate faster trains. Lesson #187: Always check the details for every leg of your journey before leaving home!

After a challenging hour finding the street with the various bus-line offices (In Turkey, as in much of the older world, all vendors of a similar type are gathered either on the same street, or in very small little clusters in a particular neighbourhood), I bought my ticket & prepared for the 12-hour overnight bus journey to Avanos. Not exactly a private berth with porter service......

Arriving the next morning in Avanos, I enjoyed the brilliance of the September sunshine while visiting a few old friends and making my way very slowly to the studio of Bei Kaya (Cave Man), my potter friend Erdogan Güleç.

That day's project was the finishing of some wrought-iron stands to hold round-bottomed pots.
Nothing like sipping tea with the left hand while working with the blow-torch in the other! Not to mention the newspapers & other flammables within inches of the flame.  Never mind. When the paper did catch fire once, the welder just stamped it out with his shoe & continued on working. No respirator or mask either; but at least he's working outdoors....

Reigning supreme over the atölye (studio/atellier/workshop) this year is Erdogan's sculpture of the Kebele -- the goddess of all things to do with nature & fertility & protection & family & the earth. In short, as I like to call her, "the Queen of everything"!
The original of this sculpture sits on a pedestal under a plexiglass cover in Ankara's National Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, where Turkey's history is chronicled, from pre-Neanderthal times, through the Hittite period, Assyrian, Mongolian, Greek, Roman & various other occupations, through Ottoman days, to the present. Erdogan's Kebele replica stands (sits) at just over two feet high, is made of local white clay, and is surprisingly lightweight for her size. And if you think her front is voluptuous, you should see her absolutely wonderful rear!

All for now. The adventure continues as I get down to work in the atölye.......

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tales from Turkey, #5

Before I continue the clay-related part of my blog, I'll give a bit of a travel update. I am leaving Turkey for Canada in a couple of days, and can easily continue with the clay stories when I'm back home.  Besides, I retrieved some outstanding pieces from the still-400-degree C kiln (yes, that's super hot!!!!) moments before leaving Avanos for the airport, and didn't have time to photograph them before wrapping them in an old bath-towel for their journey.

I arrived last night in Istanbul, to a sultry but breezy evening of about 23 degrees.  Sultanahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque) glowed pleasantly in the darkness. I thought I was fortunate being given a room with a bath for the same price as one without, though I knew they would not do that if someone hadn't erred and overbooked the hotel...... Fortunate it seemed, until I realized my only window opens onto the hallway, and not onto the street, so I have virtually no ventilation.  No matter: I have a nice fan.

Neither had I counted on the morning noise. And, since the first flights out of Istanbul leave at 6 a.m., the 'morning' starts at about 2:00! The unlocking & locking & banging of doors, thumping of heavy baggage on the marble stairs, and loud voices in English, German, and French (obviously oblivious to the echo-factor in the tiled hallways), permeated my fitful sleep. And, beginning at 7:50, the endless stomping of hiking-boot clad feet on the uncarpeted stairs up to the breakfast room two floors above. At 8:30 I finally gave in and joined the breakfast crowd.

After my pleasant late-night sit on the rooftop watching light little clouds float by the moon, imagine my stunned surprise to see buckets of rain pelting the windows, blown everywhere by the howling wind!  Those light little clouds have grown into one huge one, and socked themselves in over the city so tightly that the Sea of Marmara, about half a kilometre away, is completely invisible. Grrrr!! Not a pleasant backdrop for a day of visiting the Istiklal shopping street and sipping tea with my friend Seda. The hotel has umbrellas available; but with the 30 naut 'breeze', I'm not sure how much good an umbrella will do.  Now, wistfully, I remember that $2 bargain-store plastic poncho nestled in my drawer of 'travel stuff' back in Gibsons.  Another Grrrr!

With the Kapali Çarsi (The Grand Bazaar, but literally translated as "Closed-in Market") being kapali (closed) on Sundays (which today is),  I guess I'm off to brave the elements across the Golden Horn to visit my friend.  It's not cold, so the wet is more of an issue than the chill.  My biggest decision appears to be whether to take the practical approach my mother would have advised, and wear my sensible sneakers to keep my feet (sort of) dry, or give in to the rain and bathe my tootsies in the Istanbul street rains wearing my water-happy flip flops.  Or maybe the decision is, "Do I hoof it? or pay for a taxi?.......

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tales from Turkey, #4

My gosh, I've been awfully remiss in keeping my blog of late! Not a good way to keep followers interested! I promised some pottery-type photos......

Avanos has been the centre of clay production in Cappadocia for literally thousands of years.  The wheat farmers to the south and east stored grain in huge pots made here.  Vintners to the south used Avanos (historically known as Evranos, and various other names) vessels for their wine. Avanos güveç (Turkish stew) pots are renouned for their durability. The commercial clay and pottery production zone is in the 'sanay', or industrial area. We visited the Mumtaz clay production workshop, and next to it the industrial site of Chez Hakan, a local pottery shop that exports garden pots & decorative pieces all over the world. (apologies for the graininess of these pics, but the air was pretty dusty.)
 The clay arrives at the workshop as dry chunks dug from the hillsides above the Kizilirmak (the Red River, for obvious reasons), is crushed by hand, seived to remove stones, and then soaked in water in huge stone tubs to form a disgusting gooey sludge.  After the clay has soaked up enough water, it is pushed through the machine at the left which presses out the lumps. The de-lumping and mixing used to be done by hand (or rather by foot), but the pug-mill makes the process much faster, not to mention more appealing.
Final clay preparation is always by hand.  Getting the right consistency is critical to making good pots.
And likely the best living potter in Avanos at present (though his arthritis keeps him from working much) is 86 year old Ahmet.  This piece will form the bottom third of a huge storage pot.  Each remaining part will be added on after the part below it has been allowed to harden for a day or so; and the resulting pot will be about 5 feet tall.
 Görkan, co-owner of this workshop, shows off the far less ambitious pots that are destined for the southern US, likely for use as garden ornamentation.
 Regardless of its size or function, each pot must be trimmed and generally cleaned up before it is ready to be fired.
 Avanos industrial kilns are wood-fired, and hold massive amounts of pots. The pots in this pic are still hot from firing; and they are but the bottom layer of a load that was stacked all the way to the ceiling of the kiln.
Back at the pottery shop, Hakan spends evening hours trimming, burnishing, and putting pierced designs on small pieces that will then go back to the sanay to be fired. And that's after he's worked in the shop all day! The shop is open 365 days a year, all day & into the evening; and Hakan is there every day. When there are no customers, he's decorating pots. It's difficult to make a good living as a pottery shop in Avanos.  But, after years of saving and hard work, the addition of their large Sanay workshop and expansion into American and European markets has made Hakan and his brother Görkan one of the more successful families carrying on this thousands-years' old tradition in the cradle of civilization.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tales from Turkey #3

As promised, here's an account of our second day of sightseeing.  There is SO much to see and absorb here that two days is only time enough for a brief overview and a couple of highlights; so that was our plan.  Seems to have worked out just fine.
In case you've been having a hard time imagining exactly what üchisar castle looks like, here is a shot of it to put things in perspective.  It truly is a castle built out of the existing rock.
Imagine seeing this while sipping your morning coffee..... There must be something we could learn about sustainable building from this....
I just love these chimney caps.
As I said, our second day of touring began with a visit to Pasabag, and the famous Peribacesi, or Fairy Chimneys. It's lucky that Cappadocia is not an earthquake zone, or these fragile-looking formations of tufa and basalt would have long since tumbled into oblivion.
Although people once made their homes in caves in these rocks, they have remained uninhabited since the 1950's at least.  The tufa is rich in silicone dust, which is extremely hazardous to breathe.  Even later houses made of natural stone are whitewashed inside to limit the stone dust hazard.

Following Pasabag, our trusty driver, Ismail, took us the short drive to Göreme and its outdoor museum. The museum is a UESCO World Heritage site, comprising a huge collection of churches carved into the stone.
Although these caves are doubtless many thousands of years old, it was not until about the 10th century, when (now Saint) Gregory began the monastic tradition of Christianity, seeing this tucked-away region as the perfect area for quiet contemplation and a simplified austere lifestyle for Christian monks.
Early church decoration comprised very simple designs painted with the readily-available iron oxide onto the stone walls, ceilings, and niches.
Notice the Byzantine-style cross, chicken, and what appears to be an enormous cockroach......

Later adornment was much more complicated, rendered in many beautiful colours.  Several of these frescoes remain in remarkably good condition, thanks to their location in windowless caverns that are rarely visited.

After Göreme, we ventured off to the underground city of Derinküyü.  Above the ground, this community sits on a flat and fairly uninteresting plain of wheatfields, with only one high point to be seen for miles around.  Under the ground, however, is quite a different story.  Initially only one level below ground, the caves are thought to have been permanent homes to the Hittites who lived here a couple of millenia before Christ.  Later, however, the "city" was dug out to at least 5, and perhaps up to 8, levels under the earth, forming a refuge where many hundreds of people could escape the armies and tax collectors of everyone from Ghengis Kahn to the Romans.

School, anyone?  Students sat on these long benches, while the teacher taught from a raised platform.  At the end of the room is the teacher's sleeping quarters, while the students' dorm is through a small door off to the left.

This photo, actually from the neighbouring city of Kaymakli, illustrates some of the vessels used for storage of grain, water, wine, and preserved food.

Not wanting company? Just roll this huge stone door across the passageway, lock it into place, and, voila! The peep hole in the centre does double duty as a spear hole, should the visitors prove especially undesirable.  
These cities could house hundreds of people for up to a month; although two or three days was the average stay.  Lookouts were posted atop the only hill in the area to warn of approaching intruders, allowing plenty of time for the town's inhabitants to take refuge in the underground warrens.  Air and supplies entered by way of well-disguised and circuitous 'wells'.  Smoke exited similarly, making the location of the populace difficult to pinpoint.  And of course the entrances were well camouflaged. And these folks could well have been some of the first users of composting toilets! 
In all likelihood, it was more trouble that it was worth for marauders and passing armies to extract taxes and 'assistance' from these hardy, well-hidden folks.

Our second day of touring ended with a brief visit to Avanos' commercial pottery production zone.  But, I'll leave that for tomorrow's post.........

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tales from Turkey, #2

I've spent the last couple of days playing tour-guide for 4 Canadian friends.  Two are from Vancouver, and two are from Gibsons.  They are thoroughly enjoying their visit to this amazing country; and I must admit that trips are more special when one makes connections with 'real' residents of a place.
Ismail, our driver for the two days of touring, was ever so patient with us wanting to stop everywhere and taking much longer than expected at all the sites we visited.
Our first port of call was üçhisar, the highest town in the vicinity.  This photo shows some of the older houses as seen from the high viewpoint.  If you look closely, you can also see a cave or two in the rocks.  These could be former homes, animal shelters, storage units, and even dovecotes, depending on their height from the ground & potential for building stairs inside the rock formations.
Within the castle that tops the town are myriad caves and passageways, now only explored by the many tourists who visit the site each year.
A pathway encircles the castle at its base, for those of us who don't wish to pay a fee to enter the main part of the ruin. (This is Nick Caputo, by the way -- former owner of the Flying Cow Restaurant in Gibsons, and now property-maintenance guy extraordinaire.)
Nick's partner, Julia, sports smart headgear for the intense heat.  Behind Julia are the beautiful volcanic tufa formations and dovecotes of "Pigeon Valley". For many centuries, resident rock doves (our very common pigeon) have provided fertilizer for the grape vines and other crops in this semi-arid region.
Our day ended with a stop in Göreme, a very touristic town that has made the most of its unique surroundings.  This collection of caves and windows is actually a rather unique hotel.  They've done a remarkable job of preserving the exterior rock features while reforming existing caves into comfortable guest rooms.
And, most definitely, Coca Cola is international, and adapts its advertising accordingly.  I couldn't resist photographing this Cappadocian take on the ubiquitous beverage.

Our next day of touring took us a bit farther afield, to get up close and personal with the legendary Fairy Chimneys, 10th century Christian churches carved into caves, and one of the several underground cities in the region.  Stay tuned for more photos tomorrow.......

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tales from Turkey 2011, #1

Time to stop procrastinating and get down to the serious work of daily writing.....

I arrived safe and sound in Istanbul on September 13 and zoomed down here to beautiful Avanos in the heart of Cappadocia, where I began my annual clay sabbatical on the 15th.
Since I've been thinking "tiles" lately, wondering what on earth I can do with my own kitchen backsplash, I began by doing up some 6" terracotta pieces with whimsical (read: juvenile) images.

The designs are intentionally very simple, using the very gritty red clay, white slip, and some thickly applied copper oxide (which will remain black on firing).  Carving and sgraffito in this clay is rough at best, because the clay is so coarse; so keeping the designs simple is necessary.  This is the same clay used for the güveç pots that must withstand high and very uneven temperatures when cooking the traditional Turkish meat and veggie stew over open fires. The coarse grog (bits of previously fired clay, rather like sand or gravel) 'opens' up the clay body to allow expansion & shrinkage with heat without cracking. These are extremely durable pots, and the clay would make for tough tiles.  However, I'm not sure I'd want that coarse a texture on my kitchen walls.  I might...... but haven't decided yet.

It's hard not to be influenced by the traditional Hittite designs, like the stag, when doing these.  The designs are everywhere; and I find it hard to call up shapes and images from back home when I'm here surrounded by all this ancient artwork.

At the risk of offending my Turkish friends, some of whom have very beautiful homes, I can't help but alter the perspective when sketching these great houses.  There's barely a square corner or a straight line to be found -- surely a renovator's nightmare!  But every brick, every stone block, every roof tile simply oozes with character and wonderful textures, making these houses a wonderful subject for clay work of any sort.