Art&Seek Director Anne Bothwell is traveling in Turkey with a group of North Texas artists and writers.
I’ve been in Turkey the last week, tagging along with a group of writers and artists from Dallas on a trip sponsored by the Gulen Institute. We started in Istanbul, and have been to Bursa, Izmir, and Ephesus. This afternoon we leave Izmir for Kayseri. We’ve seen a great many things – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Green Mosque and Green Tomb. And Friday, Ephesus, the ruins of a wonder of a Roman city once one of the world’s great ports.
Why haven’t I told you about them? Short answer: computer problems. But I think that’s straight now, so I’ll be playing catch-up on what we’ve done so far, and sharing what lies ahead next week.
By far the favorite experience of our group has been attending a service by the Karabas Dervis (Whirling Dervishes) at Mevlevihanesi in Bursa. The Dervishes are a sect of Sufi Muslims, a mystical branch of the religion. Their slow spinning movements, set against chanted prayers and live music, are a meditation, an effort to be closer to the divine.
This was not a show, but a service. Women sit on the floor upstairs and men downstairs in the small building. Who had the better view? Kind of a toss up. Upstairs we had aerial view of the five spinners but couldn’t see their footwork.. Down below the guys could see the dancers’ steps as they twirled for 20 minutes at a time, but probably didn’t get the full effect of the group movement .
All of us could see the performers faces, eyes half-shut, jaws relaxed, cheeks smooth, arms stretched out. One upturned hand sending intentions to God, one hand facing the earth like a cloud about to rain down blessings. Utterly peaceful and profound.
The youngest dancer appeared to be about 10, the others all young men. This struck Ben Fountain, a writer in our group, who observed that usually, it’s older people one sees keeping ancient traditions alive. It seemed clear that this is not a dying practice. At least, not in Bursa.
Our guides let us decide whether we wanted to attend the service. We had been on the move since 8 a.m. Thursday and, when we left the ceremony around 11, we still had a four hour bus ride ahead of us. Friday morning, on the road again after 3 hours sleep, we all agreed the last-minute side trip was well worth it.