Friday, January 14, 2011

"Otantik"


On the rare occasions when I have walked into and through a Wal-mart, I've invariably hit the parking lot a half hour later feeling like I need a shower. The aisles feel grubby; the clientele appear unhealthy; the toxins projected by thousands of square feet of plastics induce malaise; the merchandise for sale only poses as "real."

Hand me the soap already.  I'll be needing the loofah, too.

In dramatic contrast are the feelings I had this past week, as we traveled around the Hatay cities of Adana, Iskenderun, Antakya, and Gaziantep, places where we zig-zagged the streets in a fashion that increased the odds of of stumbling across a homespun bonanza.  We would wander into a bazaar, see nothing but the usual factory-churned, interchangeable shoes, hoodies, brooms, saucepans, knives...and then we'd keep going.  After a bit, after turning twelve more corners, something would change. Things would become less predictable.  We'd see a man throwing loaves, glimpse a head bent over a shoe sole, hear the tick-tick-tack of a coppersmith imprinting a pattern.

One night, just after the sun fell and bitter cold started weasling its way into our bones, after wandering past temptingly-lit shops, we took Just the Right Turn, and suddenly my eyes were caught by something entirely novel:




Nowhere else had we seen this mother-of-pearl inlay being sold in a shop.  Never before had it occurred to us that mother-of-pearl inlay might appeal to a couple of plain-is-better types like ourselves. 

But there it was.  Fancy.  Intrictate.  Ottoman.  Appealing.

Wading our way into the crowded shop, we were greeted by the proprietor, Ahmet.  In short order, he was demonstrating the technique of sedef, from the hand-drawn design to the chipping away of the wood to the laying down of the copper wire to the shaping of the mother of pearl.  Perhaps more affecting than his clear skill and focus was his ability to explain it all in Turkish in a way that we, with our one hundred words of vocabulary, could comprehend.

So quickly, the situation was free of complications.  His words and hands synergized into a wow.
















As we listened and attempted to keep our hands from coveting every item in the shop, I whispered to Groom, "This seems like the right place for you to use your birthday money and finally get that backgammon board you've been wanting."

Instead of the five-thousand-fifty-five prefabricated sets we'd seen everywhere else, this shop only had five--each of them slightly different from the next.  Quickly, Groom differentiated them and found The One.



A day later, again as night fell and frigidity seeped beneath our fleeces, we pushed open Ahmet's door.  With a broad smile and an "iyi ak┼čamlar," I walked in to his shop, looked again at the tea tray propped against the wall--a tray using a design Ahmet retired after one use (take that, Dora the Explorer!)--and told him, "I'm back for that."

Even though he didn't understand me, he understood me.  Not even standing up from behind his table, he asked, "Would you like some tea?  Coffee?"  Oh, yes.  We would. 

Half an hour later, much warmed, having discovered that his father also did sedef and that Ahmet's favorite place in Turkey is a city called Mardin, which he favors because it's a place where Muslim, Christian, Jew, Armenian, and Kurd all live together, shoulder to shoulder, in harmony, I pointed again to the tray.  "Can I buy this from you?"

Of course I could.  But first, Ahmet wondered if I would like to have my family's names inscribed on the bottom of the tray, as a special memento.  Inlaying our names took twenty minutes, after which he knocked ten lira off the price of the tray.






Pushing our way out in to the darkness and clutching the tray to my chest as protection from the wind, I thought to myself,

"Time to lose the soap and shelve the loofah.  This place, this man, this experience...I may never shower again."

16 comments:

sweffling said...

Now, THAT is what I call a 'moment': they are very, very special times in life, when things come together and nothing could be better. I rejoice for you and your husband. Because whenever you look at these two items you will remember, and nothing can take those feelings away from you. Wow! Thank you so much for letting us share it with you.

Vic said...

Jocelyn,
I want to go back to that shop with you. Really bad.
Also, I've been reading and living vicariously through your experiences since you left for Turkey(okay, before that too) but I have been a terrible, terrible lurker. It's because your posts render me speechless. And the stories stay with me.
So know that I'm reading and laughing, and learning new things through you, and I'll try to be less stupid and comment once in awhile. :)

jess said...

Aw, so wonderful! Trust you guys to find the best people everywhere you go. I LOVE that tray, it's beautiful. What a great encounter with a true craftsman AND a loverly person all in one. It makes my heart happy.

Jamie said...

So...
I took some time off and...
YOU MOVED TO TURKEY!?!?!?!?!?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Wow. So gorgeous. And yeah, Wal-Mart does that to you.

Robin Preble said...

Wow. All I can say, is way cool.

kmkat said...

Oh, heck, you could buy a tray and a backgammon set like that at ANY Wal-Mart. NOT. Those things will always be special to you.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

Your description of WalMart is perfect. I have the "eeuuuwwws" the few times I have been there.
But the craftsman-sweffling is right. What a moment of life. And it is halfway around the world from your regular world. That is why you are there.

Enjoy your tea while playing backgammon.

Deborah said...

My eyes are wet. Your Jocelyn way of bringing the reader right into the middle of your experience is something I'll never get enough of. I felt the fatigue, the chill, the stirrings of excitement and the same pleasure at the kind of authentic human contact you are making everywhere you go. Had you been the blueprint for the Travelling American, the world's opinion of your countrymen would have been entirely, profoundly different.

More, please.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

How wonderful to find someone so willing to share his pleasure in his work . Both pieces are beautiful.
REAL souvenirs !

secret agent woman said...

I love stumbling on things like that. We came home with a wooden mancala game, handcarved in ebony with a giraffe on either side. Everytime you pick up that backgammon game, you'll remember this year and that shop.

Patois said...

Wow. Just wow.

lime said...

what a treasure you found. and there is something rather sacred about seeing such art created by one who invites you into the sanctuary so willingly and who shares his skill so generously.

thanks for inviting us to kneel with you.

monica said...

awesome!! what great treats to get and bring with you home ! with your names imprinted and all... I'd say only in Turkey will you find a handcraftsman working wearing a leather jacket like his...

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

What an experience--so personal, to get the story behind it, see it being finished before your eyes. If shopping were always like this, I'd probably enjoy it.

Pearl said...

MAN but I love how you write, Joce.