Malatya Reprise

Attached are snippets of my time from an email I sent to a friend:

The day before yesterday, as you know, I was in Malatya. I hired a cab after breakfast. He was a well dressed, handsome Turkish man in his late 20s, early thirties. He had the most amazing blue eyes. I often wonder if they shock me as they do because they are so unexpected and at the same time, blue and green eyes, shockingly so, seem to be very common. He spoke little English, but we got on well. Some taxi drivers talk to excess, even when you don’t share a common language. Mehmet didn’t. He asked simple questions in a combination of English and Turkish and I replied likewise. We drove out to Battalgazi–the site of old Mitelene under fierce spring light. It was the first time I used sunglasses since Oman.

The drive was downhill, probably about 600 feet as altitude goes. There were many small canals, gravity pulling the water home, plane trees with gravy white bark and luxurious seven pointed leaves provided shade.

Our first stop was the old Seljuk, Ulu Cami. We walked around, found the groundskeeper’s son, named Sabri, who lives in a rabbit burrow like home on the side below the mosque. He grabbed the keys, unlocked the door, literally rolled out a welcome mat and said, “Hos Geldiniz,” which is Turkish for ‘Welcome!”

The mosque had eight parallel aisles, most of the piers–supporting pillars–are a newish basalt–the mosque has been restored considerably, but done very well. There are no naves in mosques, as there are no priestly processions to need one. So, you get eight parallel rows for prayer in the old style-Damascene mosques. You’ve already seen the photos, but here’s the link to where those of the Ulu Cami start, just in case. This is the first Seljuk mosque I’ve seen in Anatolia that shows movement away from the old Damascene, rectangular floor plan. It’s still a rectangle, but this was the first I’d seen that had a pishtaq, or iwan–an entry portal. But what was so odd about this one is that it wasn’t in the front of the mosque, as they usually are. The iwan was in a central courtyard, which is even stranger. Iwans are very common in Persian Seljuk and Ilkhanid (Muslim Mongols in the late 13th early 14th century Iran) mosques. But Iwans are triumphal entry portals and facades, not mean to be hidden in a recessed courtyard. An oddity I must research more.

I wondered, while admiring its rich faince tiles–I so love that color and the tiles and I haven’t seen nearly enough!–if this was one of the first attempts to utilize this most magnificent of expressions in mosque architecture. There was a woman’s prayer hall at the back of the mosque, very much in the mold of a Jewish Synagogue. This was the first ‘bayan mesjiti’–woman’s prayer hall–I’d seen in a Seljuk mosque as well. A handful of old muqarna cornices survived in the ‘bayan mesjiti,’ but they were in poor condition. The dome was nicely done, supported by four squinches and eight small windows in the zone of transtition let in the light. The dome had a wonderful checkboard pattern of brick and turquoise tiles, a pattern which wrapped around in a gorgeous swirl of color, finally morphing into a Star of David, one interlocking triangle blue and the other black, with thuluth inscriptions weaving the triangles togehter.

Right now I am in a cafe, sipping tea and listening to live musicians play Turkish music. It’s really magnetic, soulful and melancholy music. A splendid end to an almost perfect day–of which I will write more tomorrow or this weekend.

I broke off the narrative and discussed some personal matters and picked it back up here:

I dropped a few lira into the donation box at the mosque and walked outside. Mehmet asked a young boy where a certian turbe was. The boy hollered something back at him in Turkish and sped off on his bike, yelling, I assume, “come on! Follow me!”

We saw two minarets, not terribly inspiring, but still nice, three mausolea and an old ‘konak’ in a terrible state of disrepair, supposedly being renvoated for tourists. As I was the only one on this gorgeous day, I thought, “well, they’re renovating for no reason. No one else is here.” I didn’t even see any tourists in the city center later that afternoon while having tea in the meydan–the city square. Of course, I loved the fact that I WAS the only one there. It was all mine, disrepair or not!

We were done about 2pm and I then dealt with some administrative stuff, bank account, uploaded photos, stuff like that. I took a short nap–I had two relatively sleepless nights before that–and then walked into the city center. I sat on the roof of a tea house for a few hours, scribbling away, and had lunch. I had ‘tavuk sote’ and ‘coban salat:’ shepherd’s salad and a delicious chicken dish that came out in a shallow iron bowl–broiling over with a tomato sauce, onions, green chilis and arik–kind of like fajitas back home. Damn good stuff.

After that I walked around, took some photos, chatted with two old men who spoke English who ran a jewlery store and asked all kinds of questions about America.

The last bit of the email was kind of unconscious jotterings from my travel journal:

Old man casting a line out into a river. Strange seeing a Muslim man with a skullcap fishing. Why is that? Tractors stir up dust on roads adjacent newly planted fields. Beans, potatoes, wheat, barley (Turks do like their beer). An aquaduct looms ahead of us, growing larger and larger until we pass beneath it.

Grapevine trellises surround saltillo-tiled roof farm houses. Apricot orchards are everywhere. Green leaves with a taste of orange on the ends droop in the harsh alpine sunlight. The Mitelene Valley is one of the finest pastoral landscapes I’ve ever seen. So fecund, so much potential, so green and alive.

Flowers like purple bluenbonnets amidst a sea of green grass. It’s semi-arid now, between Malatya and Sivas. Wow, dry. Dusty. Caliche looking rocks, pristine snowcaps in the foreground.

Hills are mostly sedimentary now, the igneous is buried deep now, or has eroded. Which erodes faster, igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic rock? There is a lot of thurst and uplift evident, however, like these hills have been tossed about by some petulant child-god in a fit of pique. Conglomerate litters the river bottoms now. The water grows dirtier and dirtier. We just crossed the Kizilirmak–the Red River. Every country must have one of those, eh? The rocks look like they have a patina on them. I wonder if there is copper in the soil? Woudn’t they mine it if it were here? What other ores oxidize into a greenish hue? Need more verbs for mountains. Climbing, soaring, towering, etc. . . overused, but so goddamned true! Wow, those rocks look like giant orange dominoes.

The pass was 1,750 meters. What is that in feet? I don’t even remember. Grown so accumstomed to metric. What is a mile anymore? My life is measured in kilometers now. If it can be measured at all.

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