Mardin : Honey colours, dust and tea
Mardin Travel Blog› entry 206 of 268 › view all entries
Mardin. A quaint little destination in its own right, but originally no more than a pit stop on a plan for me. A plan to dip my travel toes over the border into Iraqi Kurdistan. A little adventure within an adventure. But if a month and mores soul searching, researching and indecision can be summarised so quickly, I pull the plug on this little foray at the last moment. My family (had they known I was heading that way) would undoubtedly have issued a sigh of relief at this point. Just as they did three months ago when Iran refused my visa application a day or so before the electoral sh*t hit the proverbial fan.
The reasons for not going in the end? No capitulation to needlessly exaggerated fears of personal security.
Whilst the majority of the commercial and social life pulse along the central ‘Cumhuriyet Cadesi’, if you wish to gain a genuine sense of the look; the true composition of Mardin you will have to delve upwards, downwards, along and around its maze of sloped alleys, stairways and lanes. Imagine being in a gigantic, exploratory game of ‘Snakes and Ladders‘. Built upon the flank of a large hill, crested with the obligatory castle remains, Mardin if viewed from afar would - I imagine - appear somewhat like a manmade termite mound rising from the valley plain. The uniformity of colour. It’s desert, dust and honey-coloured buildings stacked row upon uneven row up the hill side. The best views of the town and some of my favourite quiet moments in Mardin are acquired standing atop the flat concrete roofs of peoples’ homes ( goats, sheep and chickens vying for feed in the yards below) or sat on the rocky crest of a silent southerly cemetery.
I enjoy my time strolling around the back streets. Winding passageways often connected by low arched ’Abbara’; stone passageways whose purpose historically was to connect streets and separate parcels of land belonging to the same families after whom they became named. The occasional encounter with shy children who mostly stare at me as if at an apparition. ’Marhaba!’ I smile. ’The tourista ghost just spoke!’ their eyes say. The bolder kids shout ‘hello hello what is your name’ from windows high up. Broken step alleys lead and spin me in willing circles and figures of eight. Passages past innumerable doors of all shapes, ages, sizes and states of disrepair. Wooden, splintered, broken, rusted, painted metal, bolted, dented, chained, locked and/or busted.
Stroll long enough anywhere south of the high street and you will find yourself in the narrow byways of the bazaar area. It’s not as seductive to my senses as the fabulous Urfa bazaar… but hey, it comes with donkeys! Always reasons to smile.
Often the pleasantly aromatic vision of propped nylon or cloth sacks perfectly peaked full of textural and taste promise. Dried coriander, pumpkin, honey-melon, sunflower and sesame seeds, dried finely crushed mint, the stringy earthy brown candyfloss bundles of raw tobacco.
Mardin, as a curious follow through on my experiences in Urfa, is where I begin to struggle a little with what can only be called ’Ramadan Guilt Complex’. An inability to be seen - overtly at least - consuming food in broad public view. Which becomes more of a problem than I’d expected. I eat poorly enough sometimes as it is on The Road so this is bad news.
But as I said earlier. Sitting back and sipping çay is the way to do things in Mardin. Nobody seems to mind me and I’m not alone in this guilty little pre-sunset pleasure on the good number of occasions I bring myself to the terrace of the Çay Bahçesi ( ’Tea Garden’). Time once again for me, my book and I to take in the stunning views of the plateau that runs South from Mardin to the Syrian border. A simple and most beautiful landscape even with its mild tones of arid desolation during the summer time. Skirted with rocky hills to the East as Mardin’s periphery tapers away. The few large, soft looking brown hill mounds that cradle little satellite villages at the town’s base capture most perfectly the evening colours and shadows as the sun, unseen to the West, tapers down too.
I’m almost alone in the Çay Bahçesi. By seven o’clock everyone has rushed home to their families for the breaking of fast. To my right a small kite is being let out and up from somewhere within the sun-baked labyrinth of houses below and teased into the sky. It jumps and quivers and flutters higher… higher… improbably higher still. Its long red tassled tail rustling in the breeze. I have seen many a carcass of a kite today straggling from power lines and trees. I hope this one does not get tangled with the moon.
At 6.30 the next morning you find Camila and I hot stepping it through Mardin’s lower sprawl. A left, left, right, down, up, right, right, left, down kinda dance. Kinda dash. We have a rendezvous with Arnold, Ronan, the luxury of their hire car… and God. All the above, people (G*d excluded although He may have been present) whom I met at the Tea Garden last night. Cantering along as quickly as the entire weight of my baggage will permit I find myself singing ’As Time Goes By’ ( ’A kiss is just a kiss, you must remember this…’) to help shift any lingering doubts Camila’s labouring under after having copped off with our hotel manager last night. A very careful slide down a slope of dust and refuse and we’ve hit the main road.
Camila (from Colombia) and I are tagging along with our French pals as they have been fortunate enough to have been invited to observe the Syrian Orthodox Sunday Mass at the Deyrul Zagaran Monastery. It sits about 5kms out of Mardin. The monastery at one time was the home of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate and so the religion’s most important site. The Patriarchate has since been moved to Damascus. The mass will be two hours long and delivered almost entirely in Aramaic, the ’dead’ language of the people and times of Jesus of Nazareth.
It’s a fascinating moment to witness. The ceremonial trappings. The ritual orchestrations and gestures. The outfits and décor.
Whilst the mass glides through its various phases, formations and chants are changed. A lot of activity happens, in true theatre style, behind a curtain painted with a ‘naïve’ art rendering of The Last Supper that is drawn open or closed as required.
I must confess that the moment that moved me the most was when halfway through the Mass some slightly incontinent old lass let a blasphemous fart roll sonorously out of her bowels to commingle with the language of The Lord. Of course several of the (presumably bored out of their minds) kids set up a teeny-sized tempest of giggles and laughter quite beyond the power of their mothers’ frowns and threatening gesticulations to abate. This wonderfully human moment also catches me off guard and I struggle for five minutes to suppress violent giggles (given away by the turbulent rocking up and down of my shoulders) and the embarrassing and evident fact that I’m a thirty year old heathen who sees fit to laugh at bowel movements in the presence of G*d… a person whom I’m sure though also appreciates the purity of joy contained in a child’s laughter and smiles.