Mardin : Honey colours, dust and tea

Mardin Travel Blog

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View up at Mardin with Citadel on the hill top seen from cemetary.

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.

Interior of the PTT building. Mardin is full of very elegant architectural surprises in a small place
  ’Danger!’ or risk aversion.  No, I just thought, and thought again as to the reasons for wanting to go and took note of information from a friendly contact (an American university lecturer working in Suli) who amongst other comments observed that ‘my biggest concern in advising you to come this direction wouldn’t be the safety so much as it is that during Ramadan there simply might not be that much to do.  Things will be pretty quiet - on the streets, in the bazaars etc’.  So factoring expense Vs experiences against the shallowness of obtaining that ‘great story in the pub’ visa stamp I decide to focus more time on Eastern Turkey and kick back and enjoy some çay in Mardin.
Accidental photo - my mug weren't supposed to be in the shot :)

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.

patchwork vista

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.

  The hidden family life of Mardin presumably humming on behind them.  Occasional rivulets of discard waters from no discernible source trickle down and braid together, collecting dust and ants along their course.  Little landslips of every day littering.  Crushed plastic bottles, little fallen showers of smashed green glass.  Split, drying figs, fruit pit stones, piles of bruised and mulched tomatoes commingled with the heavily seeded stalks and cores of capsicums.  Large, rusting canisters of sunflower oil placed as ineffectual litter cans.

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.

Honey coloured buildings in Mardin
  The poor little chaps are harried and clop along bearing their masters and their wares.  These creatures have the patience of centuries.  Beyond the small 17th Century heart of the original ’Revakil Çarsi’ (market) alleys thrown over with high awnings and covered mini-markets draw you in and past the usual assortments of clothes, enough shoes and sandals to re-heel the entire 55,000 population of the town a hundred times over, metal works, woodworks and tailoring outfits etc… a few pigeon sellers too.

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 Bazaar Roof (abstract)
  Buckets of the sludgy blood red dolmates (tomato) paste whose culinary purpose I’m yet to decipher.  Various dried flower heads also a mystery to me.  Crushed, dried chillies in many a firework orange and red hue.  Piles of rice types.  Buckets of black olives.  Artistic pyramids and other arrangements of honey yellow and pear green cakes of what I take to be soap.  A cottage industry in this town it seems.

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.

Stacks and sacks of loveliness
  A theme of over self-restraint, mild frustration and dietary atrophy that begins to dog my daylight experiences of the country at this time.  A surreptitious nibble of fresh bread consumed down an empty alley.  A packet cake scoffed with inadvisable haste when the coast clears on Yeni Yol Street for a good 500 metres in either direction.  Necessary to beat hunger back out the door.  Yes, as a tourist mostly it is accepted that you can… or you will anyway partake of food and water at will.  But it feels wrong.  Very wrong.  Out here under the uncaring sun.  I can’t give up my water ( I remember Harran) but food… almost without my noticing begins to slip off my menu between the hours of 7.00am and 18.45pm.

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.

Some ornate relief carvings on one of the several very attractive mosque minarets in Mardin
  A glowing moon, a sliver past half formed shines bright above the flat patchwork of green and brown and gold agricultural flatlands that run South without interruption until they are swallowed by a hazy skyline.

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.

Now that's what I call parellel parking! :D

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.

  Arnold pulls up.  Off to the monastery.

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.

Head priest in Baroque Superhero costume :)
  Two head priests stand either side of the monastery hall alternately chanting Aramaic from large tomes assisted by a gathering each of young male novices of varying ages.  The audience, initially at least, composed of a handful of head scarf adorned middle aged women and four tourists.  The numbers swell later on.  A teenage lad dressed in ankle length white cotton robe with a narrow red sash, embroidered and fringed with gold, crossed over his shoulders offers a censer to one and then the other priest for receipt and burning of incense.

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.

Ulu Cami minaret at night.
  One head priest now dressed in such a spectacularly overwrought and colourfully embroidered cape and costume that he resembles some kind of Baroque superhero - just no underpants on the outsides of his trousers.

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.

dothoin says:
Must be one of the most literary blogs I've ever read Steve ...very descriptive portrayal of one of my favourite countries; Turkey
Posted on: Sep 15, 2009
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View up at Mardin with Citadel on …
View up at Mardin with Citadel on…
Interior of the PTT building.  Mar…
Interior of the PTT building. Ma…
Accidental photo - my mug werent …
Accidental photo - my mug weren't…
patchwork vista
patchwork vista
Honey coloured buildings in Mardin
Honey coloured buildings in Mardin
Mardin Bazaar Roof (abstract)
Mardin Bazaar Roof (abstract)
Stacks and sacks of loveliness
Stacks and sacks of loveliness
Some ornate relief carvings on one…
Some ornate relief carvings on on…
Now thats what I call parellel pa…
Now that's what I call parellel p…
Head priest in Baroque Superhero c…
Head priest in Baroque Superhero …
Ulu Cami minaret at night.
Ulu Cami minaret at night.
The rather incredible looking hist…
The rather incredible looking his…
Lots of these tunnels connect the …
Lots of these tunnels connect the…
Pigeon which rhymes with religion …
Pigeon which rhymes with religion…
Mardin Door 1
Mardin Door 1
Mardin Door 2
Mardin Door 2
Medrassa Window
Medrassa Window
Bazaar streets
Bazaar streets
Sultan Isa Medresesi
Sultan Isa Medresesi
Fountain in my favourite tea garden
Fountain in my favourite tea garden
Mardin Door 3
Mardin Door 3
Wood work shop interior
Wood work shop interior
Pigeon hutches in the many stone …
Pigeon hutches in the many stone …
The old boys at the market.
The old boys at the market.
Donkeys trot along the streets of …
Donkeys trot along the streets of…
Observing mass at the Deyrul Zafar…
Observing mass at the Deyrul Zafa…
In Church
'In Church'
Mardin
photo by: Stevie_Wes