Dear Friends, Fans and Supporters of the Ottoman Princess and Her Sisters:

8 vaka kültür merkezinde

I am so happy to let you all know that a little over two years after the rather distasteful events surrounding the initial exhibition of my installation “Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess” at the Bodrum Castle*, the work’s ‘reincarnation’ as ‘8 Cases’ was exhibited last Sunday at an event organised by the Foça Barış Kadınları (‘Foça Women of Peace’) to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

A lot has happened in between these two ‘one-day-only’ exhibits. First of all, in the aftermath of the castle debacle, the piece found a champion in Sevim İşik, a theatre and documentary film director who has since become a very good friend. Unfortunately, Sevim’s efforts to have the installation exhibited in Istanbul were thwarted by a slide towards authoritarian rule and societal chaos that may be hard for anyone living outside Turkey to get a handle on; moreover, the ‘brick walls’ appeared so suddenly that I began to think that ‘the princesses’ themselves were cursed: First, through Sevim’s efforts, ‘the princesses’ were to be included in an international event at a university in Istanbul; however, a spate of bombings in Turkey led to ‘security measures’ that prevented anyone but students and faculty from entering the campus (hardly my ideal of a ‘public exhibition space’), and then the work was dropped from the program at the very last moment due to ‘funding issues’. Next, Sevim and I approached the staff of a ‘Gender Studies’ program at another Istanbul university, and things looked very hopeful for ‘the princesses’, as we planned an event that would create an intersect between women’s rights and the arts – until another government clamp-down on university ‘activity’ threw a monkey-wrench into the works. In short, it became obvious that a growing climate of fear and repression was not conducive to a public viewing of ‘the princesses’ anytime soon.

Princesses in the Backyard.jpg

So, what happened next? Well, these nine life-size figures spent around a year and a half in our backyard in Bodrum until we moved to Foça last May. It was ‘with great difficulty’ that I managed to convince my husband that ‘the princesses’ were moving with us. At that point, everyone in Turkey was living under a ‘State of Emergency’ that had been declared after an ‘attempted coup’ and then extended at regular intervals thereafter. Tens of thousands of people had lost their jobs and/or went to jail because they were suspected of supporting the ‘coup perpetrators’. What’s worse (yes, there’s worse) is that the events exacerbated the polarization of an already extremely polarized country: Either you believed the president and ruling party’s version of events – i.e. that thousands of people belonging to a terrorist organisation run by an exiled preacher living in the United States had infiltrated all areas of public life and had conspired to overthrow the legitimately elected government in order to install an Iranian-style dictatorial Islamic regime, or you believed, to varying extents, in the theory that the president and ruling party had fabricated a coup in order to seize dictatorial power by instituting military rule, conducting a referendum on regime change, falsifying the results, purging all forms of opposition by throwing thousands of people in jail and/or disenfranchising them economically, and preventing any type of public outcry by implicit or explicit threat that ‘the same thing may happen to you if you don’t watch out’, as they moved Turkey towards an Iranian-style dictatorial Islamic regime.

I suppose it was only natural that in the grand scheme of things, part of me began to feel that pursuing an opportunity to exhibit the princesses – an installation in a public space that tried to champion multiculturalism and increase empathy for those with different socio-political identities, while being critical of the state’s role in perpetuating violence again women – was ridiculously naive and utopian. But then again, the OCD in me was not about to ‘just quit whinging and get on with it’.

Cases from the back at Foça's cultural centre

Instead, I got in touch with someone I had met briefly on a previous trip to Foça, and during our conversation over a ‘get-to-know-you’ tea, I described the ill-fated adventures of ‘The Ottoman Princess and Her Sisters’. Ahmet suggested I speak to his wife, Filiz Kardam, and a group of women she belonged to known as the ‘Foça Women of Peace’. I ended up becoming part of this group, attending weekly meetings, where we did things like discuss feminist issues while sewing toys for poor and displaced children living in Diyarbakır, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish Southeast.

When it came time to plan an event to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, we had a surprisingly long discussion about the “Ottoman Princess and Her Sisters”. We spent around two hours going over two main issues, namely, whether or not we should include ‘The Ottoman Princess’ in the exhibit, and whether or not we should include ‘the two extremes’ – i.e., the woman in full, veiled black chador and the woman in a black bustier holding a cocktail glass.

Case of Sexy Lady.jpg

In fact, I was the one that suggested not exhibiting the ‘women in black’, because I felt, given my previous experience with the Bodrum Biennial, that the ‘veiled woman’ might be an unwelcome ‘trigger’ in a town with a similarly ‘staunchly secular’ profile as Bodrum (whereas, as my husband has pointed out, the ‘cocktail glass and bustier’ would be the ‘trigger’ in some other places) and I didn’t want to cause any problems for the Peace Women, and besides, I felt that the exhibition could still speak to the issues of the multiple identities of and the violence directed towards women without the presence of ‘the two extremes’. Ultimately, however, the consensus was to include ‘the women in black’, but not ‘the Ottoman Princess’. As stated by the woman in our group perhaps closest to ‘the secularist profile’ (and bless her heart for reminding me of this), we should not exclude the veiled woman, because “The whole point is to include everyone.”

You may ask, “If the whole point is to include everyone, then why not ‘the Ottoman Princess’?” The reason given was that this figure did not represent a woman who could be found in contemporary Turkish society, and that, in fact, even the word ‘Ottoman’ was a ‘trigger’ – given the ruling AKP’s self-proclaimed ‘neo-Ottoman’ identity and its un-proclaimed attack on the rights of women – and that this would ultimately distract from the message about state-sanctioned violence against women merely because they are women, regardless of ‘what kind of women’ they are. From what I could understand, it was generally felt that the issues that might be raised by the inclusion of ‘the princess’ were on a more artistic/abstract-philosophical level that might not be understood or were beside the point. Perhaps I misunderstood, or perhaps it was I who was unable to explain my intentions/expectations regarding ‘the princess’ (remember, this was a native-English-speaking person with a background in contemporary art conversing in Turkish with a group of Turkish-speaking women without backgrounds in contemporary art).

In fact, in the long saga of the Ottoman Princess, the issue of ‘Ottoman-ness’ has been a much more difficult issue than I had ever imagined. Believe me, it’s not that I wasn’t aware of Neo-Ottomanism as a government policy/identity; it’s that I didn’t realize how the word ‘Ottoman’ alone could conjure up such a visceral antipathy among a certain segment of Turkish society (whereas the blind adulation evoked for another segment I was aware of). It’s as if the discussion of a whole culture and use of an identifying adjective and proper noun have become entirely off limits.

Cases with mom and daughter.jpg

In sum, the journey of the Ottoman Princess has taught me two things:

Lesson No. 1.: That one figure was really loaded with meaning! Without it, the exhibit presents 8 ‘types’ of women (paired by attire, with one ‘covered’ and one ‘uncovered’ woman per pair – with certain intentional variations in the type of head coverings worn) and refers to eight examples of eight legal cases in Turkey in which the concept of ‘unjust provocation’ was used to reduce the sentences of men who murdered their wives. It addresses the issue of how women are subjected to violence solely because they are women, and because of society’s view, reinforced by the state via the legal system, that men should have power over women. It also points out that there are many different types of women’s identities, none of which either incline or prevent women from becoming victims of violence, and it invites people to ‘try out’ all of these different identities for themselves. But with just that one extra ‘princess’ figure, the exhibit, in my mind at least, addresses the more complex concept of identity-formation itself, particularly in terms of how women are perceived and not only how these perceptions are created, but also how they create expectations regarding women’s roles and behaviour in society. Without that one figure, the piece doesn’t raise the question of what it means to be a ‘princess’, or why I, as a woman, am supposed to want to be one.

Lesson No. 2.: We here in Turkey are at the point where we are ready to publicly address the issue of violence against women. However, we are not quite ready to address the much messier issue of identity.

Case of man as woman

And now for some good news:

I sat outside the municipality’s cultural centre on the afternoon that the ‘8 Cases’ were exhibited, and I am happy to say that they attracted quite a bit of attention – which, the aim was to raise awareness, is a good thing. True, for about three-quarters of the people who interacted with the figures, they were just a good diversion, a bit of entertainment for a Sunday afternoon. However, I’d say that the remaining one-quarter were more deeply affected by trying on an identity and then reading that it was the identity of a woman who had been murdered by her husband – who was later excused, in part, for his behaviour – murder – on the grounds that his wife had dared to exercise her own will. I’d also say from the expressions on the faces of the people who read the information that they were not aware of these court decisions – and that they were not okay with them.

Back of Case 1.jpg

A number of businesses in Foça, as well as the gentleman in charge of the cultural centre, were enough appreciative of the piece that they agreed to keep the ‘8 Cases’ on view for a little while longer. Six cases will be in the centre of Foça (two at the cultural centre, two at a design shop, two at a cafe), one in the village of Kozbeyli and one in the village of Bağarası); I’ll get y’all a map by next week, just in case you’re in the neighbourhood…

Entrance (1)_sm

*Immediately before the opening  of the 2015 Bodrum Biennial, I was ‘requested’ to remove the installation ‘Have Your Photograph Taken as an Ottoman Princess’ from the Bodrum Castle on whose grounds the work was being displayed. If not, I was told, the entire Biennial might be closed down. According to the women responsible for the organisation and the female bureaucrats at the castle , either (there were two different stories) my name had somehow not been included in the exhibition list sent to the Ministry of Culture in Ankara, or that the Ministry had not been aware that the installation included text describing court cases in which judges reduced sentences of men convicted of murdering their wives because the women’s ‘assertive behaviour’ – e.g. asking for a divorce, wearing pants – was considered ‘unjust provocation’. Either way, they blamed ‘Ankara’ for the removal. Given that I was later informed by the ‘responsible bureaucrat in Ankara’ that ‘he had no idea what I was talking about’ and that ‘Ankara gave permission for the group exhibition, and any other decisions are made by the local museum’ – which is in line with what I was told by a long-term museum employee – and given the fact that in removing the figures in the exhibit, the museum personnel took special care to ensure that no one could see the female figure veiled and covered in black from head to toe by an Islamic ‘chador’, I suspected that the women involved found that figure personally offensive and did not want to see such a representation of ‘that type of woman’ in Turkey, and/or they were worried that ‘the modern women of Bodrum’ might complain about it, so they ‘made up a good story’ to make sure that didn’t happen. I have suggested this version of events to all of the women involved in the removal of the piece, and none of them has denied that, in fact, this was the case. I have provided this detailed explanation because it pains me to know that women are many still unable to put their differences aside and work together in spite of them. 

“Calendar Boys”: A “Lost” Installation Refound

Calendar Boy 1

When we moved from Bodrum to Foça last May, I had the task of cleaning out my studio. It hadn’t had a good spring cleaning in around 10 years, and being a natural pack-rat (a  good characteristic for someone who makes collages, but a bad one for someone with a small studio space), I found some things I didn’t even know I had.

One of those things was a series of photographs of an installation I had done while I was at Hacettepe, back in the days before smartphones and wifi, when people still took photographs with cameras that had film and that you could hold in your hands and shuffle around to look at. (Didn’t that used to be fun?)

I am happy to have rediscovered this piece. It was installed in a room/alcove near the entrance to the university’s faculty/grad-student cafeteria. The actual cafeteria was upstairs, but the line to get in was so long that it went all the way down a flight of steps and past my exhibit – so it was as if I had professors and grad students lining up for my exhibit nearly every day!

I have no memory of a title, but I hope that I named it “Calendar Boys”.  At any rate, that’s what I’m calling it now. It consisted of a bed covered in pink plush, with a pink plush pillow, pink plus slippers, and a pink plush-covered book hanging over the bed, which was sitting in the middle of the gallery/alcove that opened on to the “lunch line”.  The back wall was all windows, and on the other two walls I hung 12 framed black-and-white photos (6 on each wall) of classical Greek and Roman statues – all male nudes.

The installation was set up to encourage people to walk around and look at the photos on the walls

Calendar Boy 4

and then to lie down on the bed and look at the pictures in the book.

Calendar Boy 3

The pictures in the book were the exact same pictures that were on the walls, except that I had coloured the ones in the book (with a bit of sepia-toned and watercolour photoshopping) to make them look “more realistic”.

Calendar Boy 5

Basically, the book was my version of a “pin-up calendar” – except for women: “Twelve Months, Twelve Naked Men”.

Calendar Boy 6

(There are 10 more, but these should be enough for you to get the idea.)

As with most of my work, this installation had more questions than answers.  The ones I started out with were:

“Why are ‘nude’ statues ‘art’, and ‘naked’ pictures ‘pornography’? Or is that even true?” and “Why is it ‘normal’ to look at pictures of nude/naked women, but ‘not normal’ to look at pictures of nude/naked men?”

After the piece was installed, I had another question:

“Was anyone actually looking at it? And if so, who?”

Since I couldn’t be hanging out unobtrusively in the background every minute of the entire week of the exhibit, that question was going to be hard to answer. Luckily, I was able to get some feedback from the gentleman responsible for managing the activities in the building – who, it turned out, was also very curious about the exhibit, and who was better placed than I was to be able to keep an eye on what was going on in the gallery space (and who was also kind enough to let me take his photograph while he was lying in the pink plush bed, wearing a pair of pink plush slippers, looking at the “Calendar Boys”).

According to my informant (I no longer remember his name), although not so many people were as inclined as he was to enjoy the comforts of pink plush, quite a lot of people – mostly women, and mostly when the lunch line was gone, so there was no one watching – were going up and looking at the pictures on the walls, and then opening up the pink plush book for inspection…. (Note to myself: If I ever recreate this piece, I will have to use a bigger bed, so that the only way to get a hold of that book is to get into bed with it.)

Calendar Boy 2

The Atlantic…

water oil pastel 15 Oct 2017If you remember, “more water drawings” was on my list of “10 ideas”, and I have stuck to my resolution of not having any more ideas until I use up the ones on my list.

These two oil pastels are the first I’ve done since getting back from Portugal last month. It was refreshing to be on the Atlantic instead of the Mediterranean (or Aegean) for a change, but I was the only one in the water without a wetsuit – which might explain while I was only in the water for about two minutes.

In fact,  now that I look at these drawings, I realize I had forgotten that I was not the only one in the water without a wetsuit: The man on the left with the green towel also went for a swim for a couple of minutes.

In fact, his towel was blue, but there was already too much blue in his drawing for me. And in the interest of full disclosure, he was facing the other direction when I photographed him. And he was further up the beach. And the guy next to him – wasn’t.

(A digital camera and Photoshop are my 21st-century equivalent to 19th-century sketching in oil pastels… But I still love the oil pastels.)

water oil pastel 13 Oct 2017

 

 

“Top 10 Ideas From Amongst Which At Least 1 Must Be Chosen Before Another Idea Is Had”

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You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything in a while, and that I haven’t posted any pictures of nice-and-shiny artwork, or even rough-and-tumble work-in-progress.

Of course, you may not have noticed, because you were busy doing things in the actual, three-dimensional world rather than (how shall I put this?) “spending time enjoying your vibrant, virtual community”.

Although you could be forgiven for assuming that my not posting can be chalked up to my “spending time enjoying my vibrant, virtual community”, you would be mistaken.

In fact, I have also been busy working.

And not just in the dosh-producing sense of the word, but also in the “production of creative material” sense of the word – although mostly, in the “travelling” and “thinking” senses of the word.

Yes, travelling counts as “creative work”, in the same sense that “research on background” and “sketching” count as creative work. In my case, I like to think that it especially counts, because in addition to just taking the opportunity to refresh the eyes and this sorry old brain with new sensory information, I use the time travelling to take photographs that I use the same way that some artists use sketches – and on occasion I even sit down and do some old-fashioned sketching myself.

Portugal - View from the restaurant 1

Thinking also belongs in the “creative work” box. Despite what some people think. (Here I must interject a memory: While visiting a friend at Hacettepe University one day many years ago, I got involved in a conversation that ended in a now-well-known contemporary Turkish conceptual artist explaining to me, “But Deborah, she (a now-well-known contemporary Turkish painter) isn’t a conceptual artist, so she doesn’t need to have an idea.”

On the other hand, even I sometimes “live too much in my head” and forget that just thinking about a thing doesn’t actually get the thing done. (In that way, “art” is a lot like doing laundry and cleaning the house…) So, when that lightbulb-reminder went off in my head again yesterday, I decided that I was not allowed to have any more ideas until I use up the ones I already have. These include:

1. Sitting down in my studio and doing some more oil pastels of people in the water, using the photos I took in Georgia, Portugal, and the Turkish Mediterranean coast as sketches.

more surfers

1a. “Shooting” some video interviews of people and their relationships to the water that I can edit to use in an installation with the above-mentioned drawings; interviews to include “individuals who attempted to migrate from Turkey to Greece by sea”.

2. Writing and illustrating a children’s book about “The Adventures of Yellow Dog”. In it, the erstwhile Yaprak is transformed into a doggie who had to leave her home for reasons she is too young to understand, but ends up making friends with a chicken and learning to swim.

2a. And then there’s the sequel, “Yellow Dog and Her Friends”, in which Yellow Dog and her chicken-friend, over much objection from their families, end up visiting one another at their respective homes – and nobody gets eaten.

3. Going back and doing some large (for me) oil-stick drawings like the ones in the “swimmer” series I had started a few years ago and then had to abandon because “the princesses” had taken over my “outdoor studio” so there was no room to work out there anymore.

4. A “film project”. (I have this “wild hare” of an idea to organize a festival, or something, of films on “cultural heritage”… please don’t steal this one…)

5. Paint some more wooden furniture. (This is not as easy as it sounds – if you place the emphasis on “wooden” – because everything these days seems to be made of pressboard and the like. Boo-hoo.)

6. Continue making temporary trash sculptures. (This one should be pretty easy; there’s a lot of trash out there.)

7. Something to do with food! (I’m not there yet…)

8. An illustrated travel book…

Portugal - View from the restaurant 2

9. Painting a mural on the top row of kitchen cupboards. (This was agreed with my husband before we got new kitchen cupboards. The choice was not between whether to paint or not, but between what to paint: 1. Beach scene; 2. Abstract painting of the vastness of the universe, with lots of gold leaf and light blue; 3. Tropical paradise. And the winner is… “3, Tropical Paradise”!

10. Two paintings (oil stick on plywood, 40x40cm, of flower blossoms on a mainly black background with a lot of line drawing done in gold leaf) “commissioned” by my husband in return for making him not hang a painting in a spot that I didn’t want it to be hung in.

There.
A list of 10.
A nice, round number.
“Top 10 Ideas From Amongst Which At Least 1 Must Be Chosen Before Another Idea Is Had”

Re-furnishing…

Table 1+2 a

Hey, I like that I am using a template of an old blog post for this post about recycling…
Or is it refurbishing? More like refurnishing…

It has been several months since the movers carted our stuff out of our place in Bodrum and up to our place in Foça. (Well, geographically up , but then physically down – the three levels from our street to our garden.)

Although most things have long since been put in place – up from the garden and into the house – there is still “the ex-furniture issue” – also known as “the question of furniture reincarnation”, i.e. how to incorporate the remains of the Yerleşim Cafe into our new abode. (FYI, the Yerleşim Cafe brought installation art and espresso to Turgutreis way back when, but I just tried googling it and it apparently no longer exists.)

In previous incarnations the cafe’s kitchen counter/bookcase was cut up into garden furniture and end tables, among other things, and the cafe’s tables became, well, tables – with the only transformtion being accomplished with another layer of paint.

In this incarnation, the tables have once again become tables – but they’ve been snazzed up thanks to my new favorite possession, an electric sander. Also, in this life, they have titles!

Here’s  “Islands on the Map”, followed by “Tide’s Turning”…

Table 1Table 1aTable 2Table 2a

If you’ve got any wooden items desiring a make-over, feel free to stop by…

Art Activity and Embodied Consciousness from Enrique Martinez Celaya

“I eliminated from my painting anything that anybody has ever said that I was good at. So if I was good at drawing, I took it out. If I was told I had facility with color, I took it out. And then I said, “Well, if I give up all these things, what is painting, for me?”

That is exactly what I did back in 1990 during my first year in graduate school at MICA when a visiting artist came into my studio at Mt. Royal, looked around at my paintings, said, “Nice,” and then proceeded to engage me in conversation about Baltimore or something else without another word about “my art”. When I asked him why he didn’t want to talk about “my art”, he said he didn’t think it was necessary, because I was already, in his exact words, making “perfect paintings”- so he had nothing to say, I should just keep on doing what I was doing.

That “keep up the good work” was what prompted me to “eliminate what I was good at” to find out what was left. Paradoxically, the moment I decided to head off in an unknown direction was the moment that I knew I had a direction.

But what’s most interesting to me all these years later about the words above is that they are not my words: They belong to Enrique Martinez Celaya.

I had never heard of this “physicist, philosopher and painter” until a few days ago when a friend sent me a link to an interview he did with Krista Tippet for her radio program, “On Being”. Quite frankly, I was a bit wary when I saw the image that came with the link, but trusting in my friend’s judgement, I started listening to the interview. From the very beginning, I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. The way he described working in his studio, how he thinks about art – I just kept thinking, “Yes!

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you may have noticed that I very rarely post work by other artists (and if you’ve only started reading recently, you’re probably wondering if I even write about art at all!). That’s “my bad”, and I will try to devote more time to this in the future. Sharing “some consciousness” from Enrique Martinez Celaya seems to me to be the perfect place to start.

So, below are some paintings along with some quotes from the “On Being” interview.  (To find out more about Martinez Celaya, here is a link to his his web site.)

“I think paintings are odd, in the sense that it seems to us that everything that is important is on the surface and visible. Unlike, say, science: we expect that we have to go in deep to understand what’s really at play in an equation or something. But that’s very deceiving. I think paintings have a complexity, a relationship to presence and reference in the work of art, the tension between what seems to be and what is… Rather than just be representatives or embodiments of a consciousness of the producer, they themselves having some consciousness: I guess animated, open engagement. There’s nothing intelligent I can say about it other than a feeling that I have that this is the case…

Enrique Martínez Celaya, The Fourth Angel, 2010, Oil and wax on canvas, 30 x 24 inches, Private Collection, Ocean Ridge, FL

One of the most obvious examples, I think — and it happens to me every time I encounter any work by Van Gogh, no matter where it is, and the moment I see it, something happens. There’s an intelligence at play in the work itself and a sense of something I can only describe as a consciousness in that work that engages me, forces me to be a witness, forces me to be a conversation partner, places me in a very unstable place. And there’s an instability in that exchange that is more, simply, than just looking at a bunch of marks and thinking of how Vincent might have made them or something like that. And this is a rare thing, I think. But I will suggest that somewhere around that, one could construct the definition of what art is, as opposed to an art activity. It’s when something has the capacity to embody consciousness in a way that it can be unfolded…

Enrique Martínez Celaya, The House (from the Sea), Oil and wax on canvas, 2015, 19 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches (framed), Collection of Lydia Cheney and Jim Sokol, Birmingham, AL

“When you go to a museum, and you look around, most works are forever trapped in their moment in a way that they are completely historical. But then the great works of art are always ahistorical. Regardless of the historical condition, they speak to you in the present…

Image result for enrique martinez celaya

“It seems that both in science and art and anything — in anything, the truth is not screaming that much. And I think that you have to be attentive, silent enough, be able to look and listen very, very carefully. And even then, you have to be very lucky to hear something…

“Even though sometimes people don’t realize it. I think that one of the most important ways in which (a background in science is) alive is the treatment I have towards my studio. I approach it not as a factory, which has become very much the way of artists looking at the studios in the last 40 or 50 years, but rather as a laboratory, as a cross between laboratories and a monastery, that kind of hybrid place…

“Many of my experiences with academic art and art theory has been the tendency to want to be scientific — or pseudoscientific. And when I came to art, I came to art without apologies. And that gave me a great deal of freedom…

“A lot of people talk about art as freedom when, in fact, it is the constraints that allow the possibility of art to happen. And color constrained under the pressures of these relatively small dimensions is beauty under compression, which is always an exuberant form of beauty…

Enrique Martinez Celaya, The Nebraska Suite, No. 17, watercolor on paper, 2010

(When asked about “what it means to be human, this is his response:)

I think the thing that is most pressing that comes up when you ask that question is compassion. I think — not because it comes naturally but because it doesn’t, to me. And I find that at this age, with four kids and with a world that everywhere one turns — and not just in the news, in just about every encounter with every — every person is carrying something. And I think what I’m reminded constantly is, to be human is to be aware of that, more than intelligence, more than anything else. And it’s increasingly urgent and increasingly hard to remember that.

 

Running with the Cows (or, “Til the Cows Come Home – Georgia Road Trip, Part 10)

For a long time I’ve been meaning to write about the Cows of Georgia. I’ve been meaning to write about them, because they were one of the ubiquitous features of our trip to Georgia last summer.  But that was a long time ago. So many ridiculous items (‘coups’, orange-haired presidents, dictatorial referendums, etc.) have taken their places on the daily agenda since then that the cows just sort of got left by the side of the road, so to speak.

In fact, during our trip, the cows were more often occupying the center of the road than the side of it. But since the time I decided to write about the Cows of Georgia and the time I actually got around to writing about them, I’ve had a lot of time to wonder why it is that I find cows so fascinating.

Picture: “Hanging out the Laundry” (it’s a box)

Box_ÇamasirOpen

I have an ex-boyfriend who grew up in a small town in Germany who once told me he had always wanted to have a cow for a pet. At the time, I thought that was sort of strange. Now, however, I can see the attraction. In addition to the side-benefit of daily dairy products, cows are definitely more human-friendly than cats, and while not quite as cuddly as doggies, they’ve got big, beautiful eyes that they obligingly turn in your direction the minute you point a camera at them – unlike doggies, who instinctually manage to look in the other direction the second you press the shutter (or tap your touch screen).

Picture: Collage with Cows

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The cows in the collage above are photocopies of paintings I did of (duh) cows. They are actually pretty small (about 10x15cm), and I did them all in one sitting because I was tired of people looking at me like I had two heads when I didn’t nod yes when they asked, “So, you do oil on canvas?” I made a dozen or so, and hung them in a “3-person-exhibit” at the Gümüşlük Art House shortly after I had first moved to Bodrum. The other 2 ladies exhibiting were as suprised as I was when a French tourist came in and bought almost all of them. “What? Don’t you have cows where you come from?” asked one of the ladies. All I could do was pocket my cash and smile. “Actually, we do.”

But we don’t have them on the beach. At least not on Long Island.

Kadıkalesi is the first place I ever saw a cow wandering on the beach, and I was fascinated. It was not an uncommon occurrence, either. In the wintertime, when the beaches were empty of tourists, they’d be hanging out with their kankas, enjoying a bit of beach grub.

I never did see a cow on the beach during the summer tourist season, but I did get to wondering, and after a couple of cows made their way onto trays that formed a wall installation with a couple of naked Greek statues and some Ottoman women on their way to a hammam (and I am really sorry I don’t have a picture of that), I finally did a picture I called “Cows on the Beach”. It was inspired in part by the witty lady from the exhibit in Gümüşlük.

Picture: Cows on the Beach

Welcome to Turkey

But away from the cows of the Aegean and on to the cows of the Black Sea…

Picture: Cows in the Highlands

georgia-mitrala-cows-3191

Yes, there were cows hanging out by the sea in Georgia, and in “the lush Georgian highlands”, but like the ones in Turkey, they were solitary, or with at most a single friend or family member. The ones inland on the way from Üreki to Kutaisi were in herds.

Nothing wrong with that. Kinda makes sense. “Herd of cows”… (“Heard of cows?”… heh-heh-heh….)

But herd of cows on a highway? Well, no actually…

Returning from Kutaisi, we had apparently hit cow rush hour, and the traffic was horrendous. It was moving in a maddeningly slow pace, and what’s worse, in the wrong direction.

I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but I just don’t have the energy to tease it out. It’s bayram, and the heat wave from Libya has arrived at our doorstep and is expected to last until the end of the holiday.

And then there’s another national holiday coming up, I’m sure, in a few weeks, marking nearly a year since we started out on our Road Trip to Georgia. In fact, the anniversary is not to mark our road trip – but don’t get me started on that, because I don’t have the energy for that, either. Enough to say that last year, we had accidentally decided to take a holiday abroad at a very interesting time. This year, we’re doing it on purpose. And when we get back home, all I want is for everything to be normal again. And I don’t want to have to wait until the cows come home.

I hope you all have enjoyed joining me on this vicarious, virtual trip around Georgia and some of Turkey. I know I promised lots of things that I didn’t deliver on (like a description of Zafer and the Laz Beach Party at Limanköy, and more photoshopped bathers, for example), but like I said, and as you know, a lot of things have happened over the past 365 days. To keep up with me on this journey we call – well, this journey we call something or other –  feel free to sign up for my Blog, which, I promise, will from now on no longer engage in 10-part series of anything.

And for now, just a few more cows… 

Picture: Cows on the Highway

Cows

Picture: Cows Still on the Highway, Receiving a Good Talking To

Cows getting instructions from my husband

Picture: Cows on the Highway (but at least heading in the right direction now)

Cows in the right direction

Picture: A Smiling Cow on the Highway

Cow smiling

Picture: Cow in a Collage

Nature out of Balance

Picture: Another Cow in a Collage

Toredor

Georgia Underground (The Caves of Prometheus) (Georgia Road Trip, Part 9)

I have been in search of diversion since July of last year, if not longer. Considering that 2017 already looks like a year I’d rather skip altogether, I think I’ll just continue trying to secure a little more diversion – this time in color.

When we left Ureki (See Georgia Road Trip, Part 8), it was with some regret. Harun and I may not be what you’d call “beach people”, but we are certainly “coastal people” (heck, we’re even “bicoastal”: alternating between the west of Turkey and the east of the US), and there we were, about to head inland.

Literally.

Inside the land.

Underground.

The entrance to the Prometheus cave is rather  unassuming, and I imagine that it was discovered in the same way that many of the underground cities in Cappadocia were discovered – i.e., a farmer out in his field spies a crack, digs it open a bit, and: “surprise”!

Like the underground cities in Turkey, the Prometheus cave is now a national park site. Unlike the underground cities, you can only see the caves as part of a tour – a 2-km underground walking tour. For a little extra dosh, you are supposedly able to make part of that tour by boat, or so I had read, but the boat tours require a certain amount of water that was lacking while we there – the hottest and driest part of the summer – which is also the perfect time to spend some time in a cave.

(A literal cave. As far as figurative caves go, from now until 2020 sounds all too appealing.)

And now for your visual entertainment, may I introduce…

The Caves of Kutaisi

dscn3290An unobtrusive entrance…

dscn3293
An immediate surprise…

dscn3296An underground tour route…

dscn3305
Filled with ups and downs…

dscn3315
Some subtle lighting…

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And some less subtle lighting…

dscn3327No photoshopping required…

dscn3332

(For the lowdown on all things cavey, you can check out the website of the  Georgia National Parks Service. And FYI (given, I believe, that Georgia is relatively new to capitalism in general and tourism in particular), the park officials will let you camp out overnight within a stone’s throw of the ticket booth and the WC, as long as you wait until the official closing time to pitch your tent. Not taking them up on their offer was only our second-worst decision regarding accommodations in the Republic of Georgia. For our worst decision, stay tuned for Part 10 of the Georgia Road Trip.

Georgian Beaches (Georgia Road Trip, Part 8)

When Harun and I planned our Road Trip to the Republic of Georgia, well, as Lou Reed once said, “those were different times”. I know I promised (you and me both) that I’d keep up with the story of the road trip, including photos during and artwork after, but what with coups, bombs, witch hunts, elections, more bombs, even more bombs, and a few mass shootings for good measure, well, it really is hard to concentrate, whether we’re in Turkey or the United States. In an effort to wind up the Georgian Tale before it becomes just a vague memory, let’s move on from Kobuletti to Ureki.

And let me say this: Ureki is better than Kobuletti.

Ureki has magnificent magnetic black sand that is supposed to be good for you.

Ureki has an Azeri kebabci who has his sheep meat shipped in daily on a bus from Azerbaijan to Tbilisi (and who uses fresh coriander in his salad, which is good news for those of us who don’t have the “makes-coriander-taste-like-soap” gene).

Ureki has cheap and cheerful Georgian wine in plastic bottles sold on the street and outstanding wine in real glass bottles available at the corner markets, of which there are many.

Ureki has hotels where instead of a sign reading “no food or drink from outside allowed on premises”, you will most likely find a very large refrigerator where hotel guests are expected to store all the food and drink they’ve purchased from outside and brought onto the premises. (As the best of our hotel’s Georgian Cuisine consisted of what I can only call gruel – although it was damn good gruel – this is a very good thing. Another good thing was that in addition to gruel, our hotel came with a caretaker who spoke rudimentary Turkish from her erstwhile days taking care of old people in Ankara, and she came with a sister just a phone-call away with even better Turkish, since the phone call was to Ankara, where she was still taking care of old people.)

Ureki has touts on the main drag who will help you find a hotel. (This was helpful for us, considering we were among the masses of non-Georgian tourists for whom the Georgian alphabet is very curly – although it would have been more helpful if we had a better command of Russian, which is the language of Georgian tourism, which leans heavily on cars full of families from Russia and Armenia. We managed with “da”, “nyet”, finger-counting and a phone call to a Georgian health-care worker in Ankara.)

Ureki has a parking-area-cum-campgrounnd that is shaded by sweet-scented pines and is right on the edge of the beach. (I can recommend it highly for parking, but less so for camping. Let’s just say that when we decided to make use of its camping potential – along with a number of others with TR plates in amongst the RUSs and AMs – we were treated to a bit of all-night entertainment from a few friendly Georgians who managed to strategically place themselves next to our tent and endulge in a rather boisterous, vodka-fueled party; they were even more friendly in the morning, once they had taken up their hotel-touting positions on the strip – greeting us with a “Good morning, Turk! Perhaps you would like to stay in a hotel this evening?”)

So, now, here are a few lovely photos from the beach at Ureki. (You will notice, I took a few liberties… )

Photo 38 (Ureki No. 1): Green Umbrella

Gurcistan Beach 1 - green umbrella.jpg

Picture 39 (Ureki No. 2): Black Sand (and Parachute)

gurcistan-beach-2-black-sand-w-parachute

Picture 40 (Ureki No. 3): Beach Boy

Gurcistan Beach  3 - umbrella boy.jpg

 

 

 

 

Kobuleti, Kobuleti – It’s Better than Bodrum AND Antalya… (Georgia Road Trip, Part 7)

I hope you enjoy reading something that I can assure you is lighter and more uplifting than the current international bestseller, “Woe to Us: How I Learned to Survive the Elections and Love The Donald”….

To pick up the nearly lost thread of my Georgian Road Trip saga, I’d like to point out that the best thing I did before Harun and I hit the road for our marathon trek around Turkey and across the border to the northeast was to find this web site for what I guess is the Georgia National Parks Service. The site is a bit unwieldy, but that’s because it’s got so much information- places to stay, caves to explore, valleys to traverse…

Basically, I was looking for camping spots in the mountains, near the water and to the southeast of Tbilisi. It was up in the air as to whether or not we were going to make it as far as Tbilisi – if we could find enough to interest us without going so far afield, then we would avoid Tbilisi, even though it is the capital and even though we’d heard it was more interesting and less expensive than Batumi, which we had been told to avoid as being a typical “border town” – a sort of Georgian Tijuana, I suppose.

After studying the great Georgia National Parks Service website for clues to some kind of an itinerary, I came up with 2 possible first stops: either Mitrala National Park, or Kobuleti. The 4-hour wait on the Georgian side of the border while Harun was being alternately grilled and stalled by the Turkish border police (who I suppose were being extra careful because of “fleeing attempted-coup perpetrators”) decided it for me: Kobuleti.

There were two main reasons for this:

  1. A Turkish gentleman who also had a fellow-traveller ‘waiting’ in customs recommended Kobuleti as “better than Bodrum and Antalya”

  2. By the time Harun finished ‘waiting’, it was already evening, and it didn’t feel like a good idea to be driving up a mountain in Georgia in the dark, particularly when:

    a. we’d been warned about the poor conditions of roads in Georgia, and

    b. the Georgian alphabet looks like this: , ლ, etc.    (which, I think you can appreciate, is not something I expected to be particularly helpful in pointing me in the direction of either Mitrala or Kobuleti or anywhere else, for that matter).

In fact, as it turned out, Kobuleti was a big enough place (in the Georgian scheme of things) that the road signs marking the way to Kobuleti actually said ‘Kobuleti’ in addition to ‘ქობულეთი’ – which was rather helpful, indeed. What was rather less helpful was that, as we soon found out, the poor road conditions in Georgia were equally matched by poor road signs.

Please note that this does not necessarily mean there are no road signs; in fact, as we made our way down the (I must say, in this instance, well-paved) road to ‘Batumi -ბათუმი’, we began to see many signs for’ქობულეთი – Kobuleti. Unfortunately, none of signs appeared to be indicating anything that looked remotely like something that could be the road to ‘ქობულეთი – Kobuleti’ – which should have been the main road running up the Georgian Black Sea coastline – either because the signs had no arrows to point to a road, or because the arrows pointed to place where there were no roads. At least not that I could decipher.

(By the way: Harun is The Driver, I’m The Navigator. I’m always The Navigator. It’s my job. It’s been my job ever since I was old enough to read a map, because like Harun, my dad was always The Driver, and if my mom were The Navigator, we could find ourselves driving down the road to somwhere in the middle of Queens, instead of Manhattan, NYC – which for anyone not familiar with New York, would be sort of like finding yourself on the road to someplace in Indiana instead of NYC – not that I am intending here any slur against Indiana, it’s just that Indiana is on my mind today, thanks to a little hasty research on our new US Vice-President Elect… but I digress…).

Under the circumstances, I was able to find one sign that had an arrow that actually did (sort of) point to a road -which – are you surprised by this? – turned out not to be the road to ‘ქობულეთი – Kobuleti’, but to – who knows? – perhaps the Georgian equivalent of Howard Beach (which, by the way, is nothing like Bodrum or Antalya – or Kobuleti).

This is when my visual communication skills came in handy. Before the road took us completely away from any kind of civilization, we found ourselves driving past one solitary individual walking down the side of the road – perhaps the last guy out after locking up one of the darkened, deserted warehouses along what was not the road to Kobuleti. We pulled up alongside him, I offered him a drawing pad and a lead pencil, and in what could have passed for confusion in any language – eyebrows drawn together, hands waving in circles, rising tone on the final syllable: “Kobule-ti?”

In response, we got a reasonable lead-pencil facsimile of a traffic circle or intersection and a long road stretching out – need I say it? – in the opposite direction from where we were heading. “Madloba” – I might have said, had it been a few days later (other than Kobuleti and some other lovely place-names, “thank you” is the only Georgia word I was able to acquire), and thus we headed away from Howard Beach and through the dusty side roads of Batumi back towards the coastal highway and our first stop actually inside Georgia week after we first started out on this Georgia Road Trip.

As it turns out, Kobuleti is not nearly as big as Antalya. It is not nearly as big as Bodrum. It is not even as big as a lot of places that are not nearly as big as Bodrum. Had we blinked, we might have missed it.

Perhaps if I knew some Russian, I might have noticed the little cardboard signs tacked up in front of some houses that I later figured out translated into “Room to Let”. As it was, all I could do was tell Harun to “pull over” in front of a shop that was announcing itself as the ‘Istanbul Perdeci’ – or something or other. It really didn’t matter if the place was selling curtains (“perdeler”) or not, what was important was that somebody in there most likely had something to do with Istanbul and thus would most likely: a. speak Turkish and b. be willing to assist non-Georgian-speaking Turkish-speakers in finding a place to lay down their (our) weary bones in Kobuleti.

(Here I must pause to pat myself on the back for my skills as The Navigator, which involve being able to ‘read the cultural landscape’ in addition to being able to read a map.)

In the space of time it takes to make a single phone call, we had a room at the lovely ‘?? Hotel’. The ‘??’ was conveniently located 2 doors down from the Istanbul Perdeci, both of which were on the main road through Kobuleti, which we also learned from Our Man at the Istanbul was just a block away from the beach.

Our Man at the Istanbul also introduced us to a Georgian fast-food-cum-bakery that was conveniently located 2 doors down from the Istanbul Perdeci in the opposite direction of the ‘??’ So, after a little haggling with the proprietors of the ‘??’ – once again using drawing pad and pencil as facilitators – we dumped our bags in a clean and modest room just a block away from the beach and headed out to enjoy our first greasy-doughy-cheesy-Georgian fast-food delights, which we held in our hands and ate as we walked towards the beach in the dark.

To bring this little narrative to a close, I will just say that despite our initial referral to Kobuleti as the Bodrum or Antalya of Georgia, we did not enjoy a beach holiday here. We arrived in the dark, and the next day was clouded over, so we ended up driving back towards Batumi and checking out Mitrala National Park, where, unbeknownst to Harun, I was planning to engage in a little ‘zip-lining’ through the trees. In fact, just as we got up to the start of the ‘zipper’, it began to rain, and so we ended up heading back to the ‘??’ where we had left our bags, and the next morning, we decided to head north out of Kobuleti in search of an even better beach.

I am afraid you will have to wait for the next installment of the Georgia Road Trip to get a glimpse of a Georgian beach – but here are some pics of the beautiful Mitrala National Park on a foggy, rainy day…

Picture 31: Castle on the Way Back to Batumi georgia-castle-3142

 

 (I suppose I could have Photoshopped out the apartment blocs in the background, but then you might not get the sense of how much Georgia and Turkey have in common…)

Picture 32: Castle on the Way Back to Batumi, againgeorgia-outside-castle-3145

(You will notice the not-bright-blue sky. Just another day on the Black Sea…)

 

Picture 33: The Luscious Landscape of Mitrala National Park

georgia-mitrala-green-w-blue-sky-3161(Now admit it, isn’t a bright-blue Photoshop sky just the ticket?)

 

Picture 34: Resident Guide at Mitrala National Park

georgia-milli-park-guide-with-knife(Note the knife… a little bit of Photoshop and we’d’ve had that glinting…)

 

Picture 35: Resident Cows at Mitrala National Park

georgia-mitrala-cows-3191(Cows were a theme on this Road Trip.)

Picture 36: Resident Residence at Mitrala National Park

georgia-mitrala-for-rent-3190(Had we only known, we might have stayed here. Enlarge and you can read the tel. no…. Just sayin’…)

 

 Picture 37: Fog at Mitrala National Park

georgia-fog-3159No Photoshop here. But I promise you lots of Photoshopped beaches if you return for the next installment of the Georgia Road Trip… Just sayin’…