Triple H (if H means either X or oil)
Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
45Trip End Aug 01, 2006
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
"Well, strange southern belle/Yosemite Sam hybrid," I might answer, "In one word: Kirkpinar ."
While scouting a possible itinerary for this trip while still back at home in the winter, I kept my eyes peeled for any local festivals we might chance upon, as those are some of the more fun experiences to me. They offer a chance to really cut loose not just with tourists, with the locals playing their roles to cater to any way we will spend the almighty dollar, but also with the locals themselves, who really come out to party and celebrate. One of the most bizarre festivals that I found, coinciding nearly perfectly with our time in Turkey, was Kirkpinar , the 624-year-old Turkish oil wrestling festival held annually in Edirne , a small town near the Bulgarian and Greek borders. I had resolved early on that this is one festival we were not going to miss.
Arriving a bit too late in the day, with Nina the Scot in tow, to arrange both our transit out and see any meaningful part of the tournament, we contented to try the bus and train stations again, having marginal success until the Turkish English teacher we ran into informed me through translation that, while exceedingly polite, the train station personnel could not actually sell me a ticket. No problem, tomorrow's another day, today we do need a place though and damn all the hotels are booked. Though we saw virtually no other foreigners, the loads of Turkish wrestlers from all about the country and their posses in town forced us to the only rooms left in Edirne , at the 6th place we tried. Exploring a bit later, we quested and found a place to catch both Germany-Argentina (settled in PKs , though everyone outside the US looks confused unless you refer to them as "penalties") and Italy-Ukraine (which I wish could have been settled less embarrassingly than 3-0).
In an impressive show of self-discipline, we tried to take care of tickets out the next morning before dashing off to the festival. Unfortunately, instead of tickets, all I got was unwilling tea with a troupe of police officers at the railway station, but we decided don't worry chicken curry and off to the races we went!
The central plan leading up to the festival was for me to find a way to participate. After all, there are about 1600 entries total, what's one more. Trying to grease the wheels a little in advance, I'd emailed the event organizers and had an enthusiastic invitation to come participate in a special exhibition match in my capacity as an ambassador by virtue of my successful career as a professional wrestler in America (hmmm ... I have no idea how they came to that conclusion!). In order to look the part, back in Istanbul, I'd carved out a special oil wrestling beard. Some of the pictures do it much better justice than a description, but imagine rakily angled sideburns cutting across my face to connect to my pencil-thin creepystache , a soul patch in circular form, and two symmetrically facing Nike swooshes on my chin, with a finger's width inbetween to form a hollow heart. I looked goood . And certainly authentic. I knew I'd certainly get worked in competition to a degree of pain I could scarcely imagine, but what a crazy ride huh!
I might mention here that the tournament does have a few rules, but really, only a few of them. Largely no-holds-barred, eye gouging and testicle twisting are commonplace and encouraged ... the only move I could see that was disallowed was touching the fair. We were in Turkish Anchorman street fight. Knowing this intellectually ahead of time, but not seeing these practices in action until we arrived, I was not altogether disappointed to find out that we'd arrived a day late and the exhibition match needed to happen yesterday, now we were too deep into the tournament. Pity. But as they say, if you can't falsely pose as one professional, pose as another, and as a proud, cheap-digital-camera-carrying professional journalist ("my nice camera is in the shop so this'll have to do to meet my deadline, my editor is a real hardass ), reporting on behalf of the "Berkeley Daily Times", I acquired my press pass and photographers' jersey and got down onto the field where the real action was.
I say action, and mean action: it was quite athletic, but this wasn't your average high school wrestling meet, unless perhaps you went to high school in the ancient Ottoman Empire. These guys (huge, hairy, covered head to toe and inside out of their clothes in olive oil, and clad only in customized, tight, studded leather capris with their last name embroidered on the rear), would start by marching up and down the field to the beat and tune of the flutes and drums off to the side, arms and legs swinging all akimbo, and somehow pair up with one another and a referee so that there were over a dozen matches at once on the slick grassy field. They would begin by shaking hands and, either by custom, regulation, or strategy, forming a standing arc shape with each's hands on the other's shoulders and both leaning forward into it. The match would begin and they would push and turn against each other until one would slip or tire and fall to all fours, with the other landing just behind and eager to exploit his advantage. The second fella would, lightning quick, mount the first, shove one arm elbow-deep down the back of the bottom's pants, the other down the front, and root around until he found something to hang onto and leverage. Are you seeing the reasons for all the oil?
While it is not difficult to drop your competitor to his knees from the starting position, or even get him down on his belly, it is considerably more of a challenge (especially while oiled up) to get him on his back to signify the end of the match. To speed this along, the one with the upper hand would follow that "Stop, Drop, and Roll" pattern that I would remember as "Mount, Dig, and Squeeze". With the top's hands full of, erm , "leverage", it's simple physics and anatomy to subdue his opponent. Eventually, one of the wrestlers (usually the fondlee , though I did see some miraculous escapes and turnarounds as well as the exceptions to the rule) would end up on his back and lose within a few minutes. Some were even shorter, and the most painful to watch were the stray 45-minute evenly-matched testesachel -squeezing sessions. Needless to say, I got great photos with my full access pass, though I had just cleared out my camera memory card and mused that if I lost my camera and someone picked it up they'd form a quick impression of my preferences, with an entire camera just chock full of sweaty, oily, half naked men wrestling, and nothing else.
At the end of the day I was quite satisfied that fate had seen it fit to pose me as a roving reporter rather than as a wild wrestler with leather pants, ready to be molested by other Turkish wrestlers. We made like a rubber ball and bounced, and had just enough time to catch the two games at our adopted bar-restaurant (England and Brazil both lost, meaning that in any case forward Ryan had beaten me by the slimmest of margins in our World Cup pool, his predictatory performance only slightly less pathetic than my own) before catching a taxi to the border town of Kapikule , sleeping like the BOMZh we truly had become in the train station for a bit. We were told we couldn't buy tickets until 3am even though the train was due in at 2:30, finally capturing the enormous drunk train man asleep in his office and making him mightily struggle to write us out a pair of tickets, just in time for the slowest emigration process ever because the Turkish guards who needed to do the passport stamping simply stood there looking at us for two hours. In a slow but sure way, we were finally off at 5:30am for a journey into the unknown: crossing the Balkans overland, without a clue beforehand how to pull this off.
Moral of the Story: I've known Turkish Delight. I enjoy Turkish Delight. Kirkpinar , Sir, is a really strange type ... of Turkish Delight. More like Turkish Deli-riouslyHilarious .