When you’re unable to travel, why not revisit travels past.
Today’s artwork feature and blog post comes to you courtesy of Turkey. No, it’s not a sponsored post for Steggles Poultry. It’s my recollection of the wonders of Turkey the country, its sights, sounds, and bombastic tour guides.
As you’ve come to expect, you won’t get any history, culture or top 10 things to do, but I will reveal a small selection of the twists and turns experienced during my time there.
Firstly, my latest colour pencil piece and motivation for this post:
MITTENS CAN BE AWKWARD
The year is 2011CE. Mr Slager and I join a small tour group to visit Istanbul, Gallipoli, Troy, Pergamum, Ephesus and Pamukkale.
Our tour guide’s name is Mitten. Like the hilarious clumsiness of an actual winter mitten, Mitten proved to be a great introduction to the quirky Turkish humour.
Within the first few hours of our tour, Mitten interrupted his Byzantine, Ottoman train of thought to tell us the story of a hapless friend who borrowed his mankini, only for it never to be returned (for reference, a mankini is as described, a male swimsuit. I won’t elaborate any further, and unless you never want to sleep again, I strongly suggest you don’t scour the internet looking for further details).
We all looked at each other in disbelief. “Did he just say mankini?”
Needless to say, we were all left desperately wondering how, who, what, when, where and WHYYYY! We never got our answers, and no one wanted to ask. Truthfully, the whole story sounded so preposterous it’s possible we had just misunderstood some kind of Turkish proverb that held a deeper meaning.
The Turkish love to talk about their country. Their love of country extends to their respect for their flag, which you’ll find displayed everywhere.
Mitten (pictured above) derived much authority from the flag he wielded as our guide. At one point, he received a phone call and had to dash away urgently, presumably to recover his stolen swimwear. Knowing the group would fall into disarray without a fearless leader, he thrust the flag into my hand and dashed away.
And so it was, outside the Hippodrome of Constantinople, I started my tyrannical rule as the Grand Poobah of Turkey tours. Regrettably, Mitten returned only a moment later to snatch away my reign.
MAYBE FRENCH FRIES ARE TURKISH?
Next stop, the Grand Bazaar. Grand indeed. One of the world’s oldest covered markets with over 4000 shops. With such a wide array of shops, it seemed comical the shops were mostly a repeat of the same 5 wares - spices, dried fruit, pottery, fabrics and Turkish delight.
Do you enjoy the excitement of haggling over prices when travelling? Do you take command punching in a low-low price on a rusty Casio calculator? Do you pretend to storm off at the scandalous price of $2 for fake Prada sunglasses?
That’s not me. As you may have gathered from my Baltic post, social exchange isn’t my strong suit. I slipped up at the Turkish linen store, however. I made the mistake of admiring something I had no intention of buying. Given we found ourselves trapped in conversation, we decided to probe into the quality of the said linens.
Slager’s: “Where are these made?”
Salesman: “Ahh Turk, Turk, yes, good quality, you will like very much!”
Slager’s: “I’m sorry, Turk? So you mean Turkey?”
Salesman: “Um, yes, Turk, Turkmenistan. Same thing.”
Slager’s: “Oh so not from Turkey.”
Salesman: “Yes but shipped to Turkey! Very special quality!”
This was the first of many encounters where we would learn that almost anything in the world, particularly anything claiming to be Greek, was in fact invented in Turkey:
Baklava - “Turkish”, Dolmades - “Turkish”, Kebab - “Turkish”, Great Wall of China - “Built in Turkish factory then shipped to China”.
COME, COME MR BOND!
Before we get to today’s main subject, I’ll take a detour to briefly tell you another of my near death experiences (as if Mitten’s mankini wasn’t enough), this time in the city of Pergamum.
Taking one of my favourite modes of transport, the cable car, down from the Pergamum Acropolis, we were greeted by a couple of teenage boys offering us English cups of tea. It was slightly unsettling as they were smirking, we were in the middle of nowhere, no one else was offered tea, and they wanted no money.
Sacrificing cynicism for manners, I accepted. Mr Slager, true to form, refused and instead, looked on smiling awkwardly and whispering through his teeth, “Does it taste like cyanide? You’re probably going to die.“
Well, thank you Mr Bond! It’s exciting to know you wouldn’t take a bullet for me! Thankfully, with a cup of tea in me and the attempts to my life thwarted, it was time to get back on the Mitten bus headed for Ephesus.
ANCIENT CITY OF EPHESUS
Our flagged guru had successfully led us to the place once known as the ‘desirable city’, second only to Rome. Ephesus now lay in ruins with its only inhabitants being a medley of confident gangster cats.
The remains of terrace houses of the wealthy provide a glimpse into what life might have been like back in its heyday. Imagine getting toga’d up for breakfast, swanning down at noon, reclining on billowy pillows while slaves fed you peeled grapes and vinegar laden wine.
Cornelius: “We’re heading to the amphitheatre later, are you coming?”
Artemis: “What’s playing?”
Artemis: “No, I can’t stand that Brad Pitt. Why don’t we go and see Pompeii instead? I’m dying to know how that ends.”
A jigsaw lovers delight, they are still piecing the ruins together today. Apparently, we are up to Ephesus III.
The reference photo for my artwork (courtesy of Mr Slager Enterprises), was taken on the way to the ancient Odeon indoor theatre.
The strong cool blue shadows capture the perfect crisp morning exploring the grandeur of the city’s ruins. The feeling of cool air bouncing off the marbled columns, the hum of Mitten’s history lesson in the background, his flag buffeting in the breeze.
To avoid being swallowed up by a crowd of bloated cruise ship tourists, I moved swiftly to less desirable features like the ruins of public latrines.
Heading into town for your daily poop, you’ll come across many monuments to the Roman gods. You may be ‘moved’ to know there was a poop god. Sterquilinus ‘God of manure’. The Romans sure had a knack for making stuff up.
As you can see from the photo, you had to sit quite close in this pungent communal space. What’s more disturbing was a thing apparently placed in the centre of the toileting room called a ‘Xylospongium’, a communal, I repeat, communal sponge on a stick for…well you can imagine the rest.
Could you imagine in a thousand year’s time an excitable tour group visiting the remains of your house, taking happy snaps of your toilet from behind a velvet rope. The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as their flag wielding guide tells them how, “…he/she would spend hours here, reading things called newspapers and iPads. Of course this activity fell into decline with the great toilet paper shortage of 2020…”
Bodily function aside, there is amazing history in Turkey, especially Ephesus. I loved drawing this memento and being reminded of a place where the everyday mundane things in life, and people just like you and me, have come and gone.
I called my piece ‘Still remains’ because Ephesus is ‘still’, no longer the hive of activity it once was, but it also ‘still remains’ in that it still remains for us to visit, to walk, to imagine.
I sometimes think about that surreal feeling you get when you know you’ve touched something, like a column, that someone would have touched thousands of years before you. Then I wonder…I hope they washed their hands after touching the xylospongium!
And when I hear the sound of a distant flag flapping in the breeze I wonder…where on earth is Mitten’s mankini?
My latest piece ‘Still remains - Ancient ruins of Ephesus’ is available in my shop. Check it out and let me know if it conjures up any awkwardly hilarious travel memories for you!