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Friday, July 28, 2006

Eleven days in Paradise

"Cultural Mosaics" by Timi, writing from Kisvárda, Hungary

What is Paradise? According to the dictionary it is "a place of ideal beauty or loveliness" or "a state of delight". If so, then I have spent eleven days in Paradise itself.

Exactly one week has passed by since I returned from Turkey. One week, but it seems to be a lifetime and now I feel exactly like Melih Kibar's song "Bir de Bana Sor" (Just Ask Me):

Who knows how it came to my mind
I walked around the town last night
The old streets all in their usual places
Friends sitting in the tea house
Calm and joy everywhere
Only I am sleepless, only I am wild
Only I am hopeless, only I am without you

It didn't even start like it should have. My mother had no idea where I was going. I hadn't the courage to tell her because I knew she would be against it. But it's my life and my desires, I knew I had to go. So I told her I was about to visit a friend in Budapest, which was true anyway, that friend was my fellow traveller. On 11th July, 9:55 am our Turkish Airlines flight set off for Istanbul. I was nervous, I hate flying. It's just not natural for human beings. When we landed at Atatürk Airport all my nervousness was suddenly gone and I cannot really describe the feeling that entered me. As if I arrived home, I felt completely safe. My friend Melike and I took the hardest way of getting to the Sultanahmet district of Eminönü: public transportation. First we took the "hafif metro" and then those nice shiningly new trams. We booked the hotel before through the Internet and it turned out to be a nice place with a friendly staff, right behind the Sultanahmet Mosque, so we didn't even have to set the alarm clock, the müezzin woke us up every morning at five o'clock.

Sultanahmet Mosque Istanbul is indescribable by words. A place to see once in a lifetime. And of course, a must for those who feel attached to this culture. I heard it was magical. I heard it was unforgettable. Yes it is, and no, it isn't. As much as I liked the ancient streets and grand mosques of Sultanahmet, I disliked the crowd. Fifteen million people is more than my mind can understand... one and a half of Hungary walking around me each day! What really made me forget the world around was the view from the Galata tower: that's the side of Istanbul that I loved. I loved it's modernity, the developing public transportation with all the latest technology, I loved the shops on Istiklal Caddesi... I loved some things like travelling in the trams, the kumpir we ate once or the way the sea wind was blowing my hair. But still, Istanbul didn't catch me as much as another Turkish city did.

Before I visited the place, everybody told me that "Well, Ankara is a nice place but that's all". I wanted to see it for three reasons: 1. because I needed to do research in the National Library for my thesis 2. I wanted to see Anıtkabir, where Atatürk rests, 3. I wanted to meet Ali amca*. So on 17th July Melike and I went to Ankara by bus. 5 hours in a completely super-comfortable Mercedes bus with a handsome "coach attendant" (if that's their name at all) and while Melike was fast asleep I was admiring the Turkish landscape with is valleys and mountains and I already knew I would love Ankara much more than Istanbul. When we arrived, Ali amca was waiting for us at the bus terminal. I met him in November, on MSN Messenger in a quite strange way. He wrote me a PM on the maNga forum that he read my comments and would like to chat. I said, all right, and we started chatting. A few days later it turned out he was the father of the band's guitarist, Yağmur. And now we were to sleep at their house. His wife, Leyla teyze**, is a small, nice, energetic woman, thinking in a quite modern way. I guess I am the only maNga fan who can say she slept in the electric guitarist's bed at his parents' house....

Me, Leyla teyze, a friend and Ali amca in Ankara

The Anıtkabir was simply amazing. After the three-hour walk in the museum we could hardly hold our tears back. So much love, so much respect for one person. And wherever we went in Turkey, Atatürk was there. In restaurants, offices, on the street. As if he were watching the result of his efforts. I hope he is happy with what he sees from above. Someone told me when I came back that this admiration is not right, it's like admiring a dictator. I do not agree with this. Whenever I looked at an Atatürk photo in Turkey, I felt I was safe, that "Our father" was watching us and guiding us... I was talking about Ankara. Well, the place, for me, is the city I could imagine myself in for a longer period, or for a lifetime even. Parks and green zones everywhere, wide, calm streets, friendly people... Unfortunately we couldn't stay long, after a short 3 day period we had to be back in Istanbul, where a surprise was waiting for us already.

Özgür and us in the restaurantWhen we arrived to Istanbul on the 11th, I sent a text mesage to Hadi Elazzi, the manager of maNga and we arranged a meeting (that was continuously postoned until the last day - well, Hadi bey is an extremely busy, extremly strange guy). So when we got off the Ankara bus, I got a message from Ali amca that he gave my phone number to his son. An hour later my phone rang. It was not Yağmur, however, but Özgür, the drummer. Yağmur gave him the number and he passed it on to the others... He told me to meet next day and so we did, in front of the best place to meet at when in Istanbul: the Burger King in Taksim Square. He came alone. Yağmur "had an urgent thing to do", Ferman had an official programme to attend, Efe's brother was in hospital and Cem just hurt his back, so he was to stand for all of them, he told us. Özgür turned out to be a very nice, very clever guy with an extremly good sense of humour, we talked for 5 hours and then he invited us to dine together (see pic). In the meantime Hadi popped in from the airport and finally I could meet the man I had been coresponding with since December, organising the maNga concert in Hungary. After the meeting was over I started to realise maNga was no more a famous band for me. They became some sort of friends, and I also had the chance to see that famous people are just like us, not worse, not better.

Now that I am sitting here typing this article, with a glass of Turkish tea on my desk, I feel I have spent eleven days in Paradise. Paradise, because I haven't ever felt like this anywhere else. And oh God, how I miss to be back in Türkiye...

Click here for my photos of Istanbul and Ankara

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*Amca means Uncle in Turkish, and is a term of respect used for senior males, even if not a member of your family.
**Teyze means Aunty in Turkish, and is a term of respect used for senior females, even if not a member of your family.

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