‘Waking Up’ in Istanbul

 

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Waking up in Istanbul ©photo westcoastwoman

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost,
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

-William Stafford, “THE WAY IT IS”

 

WAKING UP IN ISTANBUL

I am ‘Waking Up’ in Istanbul, the early morning call to prayer just ended. Mixed in with the usual haunting singing and chanting that echoes five times a day, this morning I  clearly heard in English, “Wake Up” as each round was sung.  Lying in bed in the Turkoman Hotel a four story walk up in the heart of the old city, the sounds of others also ‘waking up’ can be heard.

The Blue Mosque is visible from my window so there is little chance of  sleeping through the ‘Morning Call’ that is projected through microphones on strategically placed minarets.  My entire visit has been contained within the month of Ramadan.

This is my first time travelling in a Muslim majority country.  The warmth and respect I experienced from the men and women who practice the Muslim faith will follow me back home.  I personally claim no affiliation to any organized Religion, my beliefs are at this point ineffable, they probably embrace what is at the core of most religious philosophy but I  chafe at dogma or man made rules.

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Turkoman Hotel, Istanbul © photo westcoastwoman

This is the last day of my stay, a visit that started as a suggestion on the steps of a yurt on a remote island in British Columbia the previous summer.  I was attending a Dance workshop and as we sat on those steps, someone suggested we all continue our dance together the next year at an annual Spring gathering in a small Turkish town.  That was a  journey that seemed like a remote possibility at the time. It has been an interesting road both emotionally and physically from those steps to my arrival in this ancient city.

The Call to Prayer punctuated my days, both in Istanbul and in the smaller
village of Gokcedere.  The Calls are heard five times a day and are determined by the position of the sun, starting just before sunrise and ending after sunset.  In Istanbul the Mosques are scattered fairly closely throughout the city and when one prayer is being called the caller at another Mosque waits and it becomes a call and response.  It is mystical and reverent giving everyone no matter what your beliefs, time during the day to stop and really be present to the moment.

The group of thirty women from all over the world that had gathered were housed in a very luxurious hotel built on thermal springs in the valley village of Gokcedere.  I was awakened one night at 2:00 a.m by loud drumming and chanting, a sound that made its way from quite a distance up the hill to our residence. The whole village was no doubt roused from their sleep.  It continued, getting  louder and then the lone drummer and singer was joined by another.  They started playing to each other (and their captive audience), one would call, the other respond. The warm Spring night was filled with the sounds of  drumming and singing when I heard another call join in.  I was not sure at first what the sound was…..a child crying?  I slowly realized it was the howling of a dog.  He was joined by another, then another and we now had a symphony of drum and chant and howl that echoed up and down the valley.  Turkey has many wild dogs that live in the towns and cities and they are cared for by people in the area.  It was fitting that they also should give voice to this impromptu concert.

No one was getting any sleep tonight.  I lay in bed listening to this musical celebration and thought of the sleepy island town I call home.  At home, people would have contacted the police over this early morning wake up call.   I realized as I lay there that I liked having my peace disturbed in this way.  It was part of a moment in time that would never be repeated and as I drifted in and out of sleep the human/canine jam session continued on into the early morning light.  I was brought out of my sleepy trance by the 4:00 a.m. ‘Call to Prayer’ that followed this rare ‘opening act’.

So many stories to tell, the betrayed carpet salesman (that played out over days), the wild taxi ride through the narrow back streets of Istanbul, learning proper and respectful scarf etiquette, lost at night in the maze of cobbled streets… but the one I tell most often besides the ‘Turkish Bath‘ is this one, because it was a constant…a constant reminder of whatever you want it to be.

The Call to Prayer.

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inside the Blue Mosque © photo westcoastwoman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Naked in Yalova (or don’t get caught with your pants down in a Turkish Bath)

 

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Women’s Hamam © photo westcoastwoman

I must be a Mermaid, I have no fear of depths, and a great fear of shallow living”
Anais Nin

Naked in Yalova

“You must have a Turkish Bath in Istanbul!” my well travelled friend advised me before I set out on my latest adventure. Upon arrival in Turkey I continued to hear about   Hamam ( Turkish Bath) as something one must experience and I resolved to book an appointment on my return to Istanbul from the small village where I would spend the next week.

My destination was the Turkish village of Gokcedere, Yalova where I was to attend a workshop.   One afternoon following a bus excursion my seat mate Caroline mentioned she was going to the local Hamam before dinner. I expressed interest and when we reached the hotel headed down together into an older part of town. As we walked and talked it was revealed that neither of us actually knew what was involved in Hamam but both naively agreed that this would no doubt be an ‘authentic’ experience.

Our first assignment was to actually locate the women Hamam, signage was minimal and even when located it was in Turkish. Once inside there was no doubt that this indeed was going to be an ‘authentic’ experience. No pampering North American  mood music or lush white robes offered here. We were confronted with two no nonsense local women.  Hanging on the wall behind them were numerous signs in Turkish that I assumed explained everything we needed to know.

Caroline took charge, held up her bathing suit and through sign language deciphered that we should put them on and head into the marble catacombs below. It was at this juncture I realized perhaps I should have done a little research as to what exactly was involved with Hamam. Caroline somehow deduced that we had not paid for a ‘full treatment’, more lira was exchanged and down we went to the pool area.

The building was ancient and the marble stained by years of running water and bathing bodies. There were two circular rooms attached by an archway, marble sinks located every six feet that contained bright plastic coloured bowls. The only other participant, a large voluptuous naked Turkish woman had filled her sink and was pouring water on herself as she sat on the floor.

Caroline and I sized up the situation and decided to take our cue from the only other customer and by the time one of the attendants had made her way down to check on us Caroline had her suit off and was filling her sink and I had mine down around my knees getting ready to fill mine.

Standing naked except for a tangled bathing suit at my knees we were  confronted by a loud angry attendant attempting to communicate to us in Turkish some transgression that was not obvious to either of us. Frustrated by our lack of comprehension she grabbed a Turkish sign off the wall, held it in front of her and continued to berate us.

Desperate to translate what was being said I searched the signs on the wall behind her looking for anything in English. The only English sign in the entire building said “No Photos or Videos”. Even in the heat of the moment I found it amusing that anyone would think it appropriate to take photos or videos in the baths and at the same time it crossed my mind what a priceless video this would make.

Out of the corner of my eye I observed our large naked companion had risen to her feet and it was revealed that she was not completely naked, she had some form of bikini bottom on.  It became clear this was our problem and we quickly remedied the situation.

Now, half-naked we attempted to soak in the too hot pool, lie on the burning hot marble that resisted cooling even when doused with buckets of cold water and breath in a sauna that was just this side of suffocating.

The large local woman was led away to have done to her whatever we had each paid an extra 30 Turkish lira to have done to us. It was decided I would go first and when the attendant (the same one who had scolded us) came to collect me, I followed dutifully  behind.

We travelled a narrow marble cave like opening to a small room and into a rather awkward situation. There were two marble sinks and our fellow bather was still in the room pouring water on herself. I was motioned to hoist myself on to what looked like a picnic table draped with a red plastic tablecloth. My look must have said “you got to be kidding me”  because she then threw a bucket of water over the plastic thinking  that should appease me.

I am not sure what words were exchanged between the two women but eventually the attendant and I were left alone in the room. What happened next would best be described as having your whole body scraped with sandpaper, totally, front, back and face. Unable to communicate with her verbally I mostly endured and sometimes used sign language as we navigated the procedure.  Grateful when it was over I positioned myself at the side of the table about to hop off when without warning a bucket of water was poured over my head leaving me gasping for air. I made my way back to the baths, gave Caroline a little smile and warning and off she went.

We were planning on a bit of shopping afterwards but Caroline’s comment as we left was “I would like to get back to the security of the hotel” which had us both chuckling. Authentic it certainly was, fodder for a great story and I must say my skin had never felt so soft.

So my well travelled friend, I did Hamam in Turkey and survived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wanderlust, Dance and Blogging


©photo credit westcoastwoman

 

” I had known almost every pleasure and discomfort, all the happiness and all the suffering that can befall man as a social animal. Useless to give you the details: the repertory of possible events in human destinies is rather limited, and they are nearly always the same stories. I will tell you that one day I found myself alone, all alone, fully convinced that I had completed one cycle of existence. I had travelled widely, studied the most esoteric sciences, learned more than ten trades. Life treated me a little the way an organism treats a foreign body: it was obviously trying either to enclose me or expel me, and I myself thirsted for ‘something else.’

Quote from Mount Analogue by Rene Daumal

Reading this rather quirky and inspiring allegory for the journey of life before setting off on my own journey/adventure in a few days.