So, WHAT'S Katie up to???

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.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Summer Projects

After our return from Arizona, one might have thought I'd have used all that inspiration to create some marvy pieces in a pre-historic southwestern theme. Not yet.  Those images are still percolating somewhere in the nether-reaches of my mind, and will appear who-knows-when in who-knows-what.....

In the early summer my attention invariably wanders to my full garden, with its shady green niches and overflowing flowerbeds. Since there is too much growth to see any weeds (thank heaven!), I spend a lot of time looking at things, and tweaking -- moving this little thing here, trying that little thing there, and wondering what I can do to make things more interesting for me, for the birds, and for passersby.

I managed to create a new welcoming energy at the entrance to our house, even with limited space and more limited budget. Widening the entry on either side of the old cement footpath using found slate slabs and beach stones proved to be great exercise, and the result is pleasing, and much safer.

I used my studio time to create accessories for other people's gardens.

This waterbath for our feathered friends is one of five I've taken to Woods Showcase gallery in Gibsons' Sunnycreasy Mall.  I think there are only two left, which is gratifying. I like stoneware for outdoor pieces, since we can use it year-round.  I do store the baths over the winter, since the birds don't need them then.  But I could leave them out all year with no fear of weather damage.

Birds may not need baths during the winter, but they do appreciate being fed.  My stoneware feeders have nice wide trays, eaves to keep the rain off the food in the tray, and they are easy to fill and clean out, as the roof-lids slide up easily to completely open the top of the feeders.

In the same vein as my feeders, my stoneware birdhouses are weatherproof. The perches and entrances are rain-protected by the overhanging roof, which opens with ease to clean out the house for new tenants. Square models hang easily on a tree or wall: round houses are designed to hang free, like the feeders.

Of course, every garden should have some critters in it.  I chose terracotta clay for these because I like the colour, especially for amphibians. In a protected location like a porch or covered deck, terracotta winters outside beautifully in our wet coast climate. It even does well in the rain.  But the combination of being soaked and freezing will cause damage.

I'm usually blessed with a large population of Pacific Tree Frogs -- but not this year.  I missed their overwhelming choruses in the early spring, and miss seeing them sunning themselves on the phlox leaves by my deck in the later summer mornings. But, no mind.  I conjured up some frogs of my own.

They are a far cry from the 1.5 inch tree frogs, being anywhere from 4 inches to 6 or more inches long.  But, they seem to be popular with visitors to the Woods Showcase shop.

A nod to my Arizona trip, and to warmer climes in general (the Gibsons weather being so horrid for the month of July), I thought some lizard-ish types might be useful.  And who knew? Maybe they'd call up some sun!

This little fellow sits in a water fountain at Woods Showcase, until someone gives him a good home.

Finally, since every garden has its faeries (or so I'm told), I created a couple of those as well.

This little sprite (who's actually not so little, at almost 12 inches tall) is attracting lots of attention at Woods Showcase.  He'll look great tucked under a shrub peeping out amongst the flowers.  But, like all the terracotta pieces, he'll enjoy the shelter of the covered deck or a spot indoors over the winter.  He has been water-sealed, and can take the damp (unlike me!), but his terracotta clay body is still porous, and staying wet in the freeze-thaw over the winter could crack him or cause his beautiful green skin to flake.

And so ends Salamander Studio's summer session of work.  Stay tuned for tales from Turkey, where I am once again privileged to stay and work in the studio of my good friend, ceramic artist Erdogan Güleç until mid October.