Kapadokya (Cappadocia)

Trip Start Nov 09, 2006
Trip End Nov 22, 2006

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

We stayed two nights in the small town of Nevşehir. For 16 of us, the first morning there started off with a stunning hot-air balloon ride over the region. (Wake-up call: 4:45AM.)

The balloon company uses a basket that holds 20 passengers, plus the pilot! The pilot gets his own compartment in the middle, and the passengers are divided as evenly as possible among 4 more compartments. What a treat! The sunrise and views couldn't have been more amazing. So bizarre to think that people lived in these formations. We saw lots of small holes in the rocks. Turns out they were pigeon holes. Way back when, pigeons were raised and cared for in these formations so that the residents could collect their dung for fertilizer. It's illegal to do that now that these areas are protected, but there were still pigeons about.

The first stop of our full-day tour (after the balloon ride) was the Göreme Open-Air Museum, where we saw some remarkably preserved frescoes and wall-paintings in churches carved right into the volcanic tuff. We also stopped at a number of scenic overlook points, as well as the Fırça family pottery store in Avanos and the Yüksel Halı carpet shop in Nevşehir. We learned how a variety of carpets are made and how silk is spun, and we were treated to lunch and a carpet viewing, which was quite fun. Amy had her first Türk Kahvesi (Turkish Coffee). We also learned that we really liked the carpets; one will be arriving to our home soon.

The pottery shop was quite cool as well. It was under ground and we watched as one of our hosts threw a plate on a wheel. The painting and detail work that goes into some of the pottery was mind boggling...so much so that Amy had to have a piece of the Hittite pottery!

We had an interesting experience at one of the scenic view-points. A few of us walked past the end of the vendor booths to a particularly nice viewing area. We could see a number of homes carved into various formations, both near and far. A local man hustled up to us, gesturing to one of the nearby ones, and saying, 'Turkish house! Turkish house!' He motioned for all of us to follow him, but the others warily headed back to the bus. The two of us said, 'Why not?' and followed him in. He spoke very little English, but Nathan was able to communicate a little bit in Turkish. He showed us the living area, which was beautifully decorated with carpets on the floor and the walls, and he brought out a stringed instrument called a saz, or bağlama, and played a song for us. He showed us the kitchen, which had the original fire pit but was also wired with a fridge and a stove. We thought we were short on time but we gave him a few lira for his time and snapped a couple pictures with him. Before heading back to the bus, we took a self-timed group photo. As the light flashed on Nathan's camera while the timer counted down, the man made us laugh by showing off some of his limited English: "Tick, tock, tick, tock. Cheeeeeese!" After we sprinted back to the bus to make the 3PM meeting time, Amy showed Metin the movie she made of the man playing the saz, and he said, 'Everyone in Turkey plays music.' Ah, well. We enjoyed it.

Finally, we went to a whirling derviş sema (ceremony). It was not as dramatic as we thought it might be, but it was still interesting.

Known to the west as Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlevi Order was founded by Mevlana Rumi in the 13th century. The Order wrote of tolerance, forgiveness, love, and enlightenment. They are not theatrical spectacles but sacred rituals. The ritual, known as the sema, is a serious religious ritual performed by Muslim priests in a prayer trance to Allah. Mevlevi believed that during the sema the soul was released from earthly ties, and able to freely commune with the divine.

Dervish means "doorway" and is thought to be an entrance from this material world to the spiritual, heavenly world. The Whirling Dervishes played an important part in the evolution of Ottoman high culture. From the fourteenth to the twentieth century, their impact on classical poetry, calligraphy and visual arts was profound. Rumi and his followers integrated music into their rituals as an article of faith.

The first part of the ceremony is The Sema, which represents a spiritual journey; the seeker's turning toward God and truth, a maturing through love, the transformation of self as a way of union with God, and the return to life as the servant of all creation. The Semazen (with a camel's-felt hat representing a tombstone of the ego; and a wide, white skirt symbolizing the ego's shroud), upon removing his black cloak, is spiritually reborn to Truth. The semazens stand with their arms crossed, ready to begin their turn. Each rotation takes them past the sheikh. This is the place of Mevlana Rumi, and the sheikh is understood to be a channel for the divine grace. At the start of each of the four movements of the ceremony, the semazens bow to each other honoring the spirit within. As their arms unfold, the right hand opens upward to receive God's grace. The left hand is turned towards the earth in the gesture of bestowal. Fix-footed, the Semazen provides a point of contact with this earth through which the divine blessings can flow. After the sema, verses from the Koran are read, the men put their black cloaks back on and leave.

The music was, of course, mesmerizing, and the man who was singing had a beautiful voice. Nathan had a lot of trouble staying awake during the sema along with some others, but was still glad he went.

All in all it was a long but wildly great day.

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