Snake Churches, an Underground City and Star Wars

With the end of 2014 around the corner, its time to play catch up.  When I began this blog in 2011, I was an avid poster…but travels, moves and wandering got the best of me and about a year ago I fell behind.  Now, with the inspiration of the new year, new studio and much work to be made, I’m determined to become more grounded and settle back into my routines..

With this in mind, here are a few shots from the end of my residency in Cappadocia last fall.  I have now been to the heart of Anatolia so many times that it is becoming as familiar as Istanbul, and with each visit I discover more of the region’s less touristy routes.  In May of this year, I traveled with a friend along a winding road which passed through small villages, carved rock monasteries and ended in an open air museum which was promised  to leave us feeling as though we had walked through a landscape from Star Wars.  We followed a small map marked in pen, and stopped at all the locations suggested by our residency host.  As our rental car traveled along, we felt a bit like players in a video game as we checked off from our list of tasks for the journey; 1) have breakfast in Mustafapaşa 2) stop at the Keslik Monestary and inform the gateman that we were sent from special friends in order to get the 5 lira entry 3) have tea with the gateman after our tour of the Monastery 4) Stop in the “criminal” village of Mazi and find the only man in the village with access into the underground city….and the list went on.

By the time we reached the open air museum at Soğanlı, the last stop on our map, we had found hidden churches, secret wells, archaic doorways, hid out in our car during a wind storm and plunged deep into underground tunnels alone with a with a drunk tour guide who kept running away into the shadows only to jump out again and scare us.  We were covered in dust, exhausted, hungry, but knew somehow that our friendship would be something special after sharing this experience together.

After my residency period ended this fall, I was joined by my boyfriend, and we decided to do the same tour with 2 other artists from my program.  We stopped in all of the same places as I directed us along with the map I had used in May.  When we arrived in Mazi and found the underground city, I was surprised to see a few other tourists, and our guide (fully sober) dressed in an all white suit for the Bayram.  A number of new rooms in the city had been opened, and though the tour still involved climbing up narrow tunnels with only wooden blocks feebly nailed to the passage walls as steps..the experience had inevitably changed since my visit in the spring, and made me realize how quickly Cappadocia is changing through tourism.

At our last stop in Soğanlı, we explored the cave churches, climbed slippery stone steps and picked fresh apples as we walked along the paths between each sight.  During the trip in May, my friend and I had to find solace in our car as a dust storm forced us to miss out on most of Soğanlı’s churches.  But as we watched the dust swirl outside of our windows, I was filled with the joy of a newly formed friendship.  In early October, the calm weather allowed me to climb every step and peer into each crevice, and although the experience lacked the fresh excitement of that windy day in spring, I was discovering what I had not seen months before.  I was also accompanied by someone for whom I was realizing more love for everyday.

With each new experience, I find new love and appreciation for this life and the people I share it with.

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Pekmez Yaparkan

Fall in Cappadocia is a time for harvesting.  All along the village streets, women sit in front of their homes to remove seeds from piles of fresh pumpkins or pick white beans from their stocks.  Crates of grapes are carried home in the back of every tractor and the air is filled with a smell of burning wood as the grapes are boiled down into pekmez..

Pekmez is a kind of molasses made from grape juice, and since Cappadocia grows some of the best grapes in Turkey, you can find this thick syrup prepared in nearly every household in the area.

The process is fairly simple, but long and a bit exhausting.  I was invited into several homes to help with making pekmez during my stay at BCH this September.  The grapes are first gathered into large tarp bags and then stomped continuously until juice runs out from the bags and through a tube and into a plastic basin.  My job was to carry the basin full of juice to a large copper pot where it would eventually be boiled.  We occasionally dipped a cup into the juice as it was pouring out to enjoy a fresh glass while we worked.  When the copper basin was at last filled, it was placed on a fire and cooked until it was frothy and boiling.

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The pekmez is cooked for hours and nothing else is added to it besides a few large ladles of a special volcanic dirt…I was told that this addition is what makes the pekmez so sweet, and without it the taste would be sour.

Families work late into the night, and wake early in the morning to continue until all the grapes are stomped and boiled..resulting in an abundance of sweet golden colored liquid to be sold and consumed with nearly every meal for the coming winter months.  the entire process takes days, but I found it to be such an enjoyable event with lots of time to visit with family, friends and new guests.

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A page from my sketchbook, “Making Pekmez” September, 2014

I managed to make a pekmez drawing in the midst of the one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever been apart of…sitting under a tarp in the rain, while pots of pekmez boiled in front of us, sketching continuously even though the smoke from the fire burned our eyes, eating fresh potatoes cooked directly on the coals, and dipping bread into a bowl of pekmez cooked just hours before..an indescribable moment that can only be attempted to capture through drawing.

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Birthday in Benares

As I spend my 29th birthday in the midst of friends and family, in the quiet peace of the Wyoming prairie, I can’t help but remember and contrast my experience of turning 28 in India.  One year ago, I woke up on my birthday and walked into the thick Indian heat to see a flooded Ganges River just outside my hotel room.  We had arrived in Varanasi the night before after “escaping” a more than dysfunctional residency program in Goa.

I suddenly found myself on the start of an adventure, in the company of two new friends, and beginning another year in a city where thousands of pilgrims come to be reborn in holy waters.

I wrote my family early in the day to check in…

“”Varanasi” is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”

Mark Twain wrote this about Varanasi, also known as Banares, where I am celebrating my 28th birthday.  We arrived last night and will be here for a week.  It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and also one of the holiest.  Hindus make pilgrimage here to bath in the holy waters of the Ganges, and if you happen to be lucky enough to die here, you will achieve instant enlightenment.  Public cremations are common….I’m not sure I’m ready to see that.  

What I was also not prepared for was the noise, poverty, filth and lack of personal space, but this was the India that I heard about and was expecting.  We were overwhelmed by the confronting nature of the city, and also enthralled by the pure foreignness of it all.  It is such strange and challenging places that make me feel the most alive and aware.

We celebrated the day with lassies in clay pots, exploring winding ally ways, walking across flooded streets to the Burning Ghat, and getting henna tattoos, which labyrinthed up from my fingers to my fore arms…my entire experience of Varanasi is filled with surreal and startling images.  I couldn’t ignore the extreme presence of death in the city, exemplified as I celebrated the day of my birth.  I will never forget this strange and wonderful time, marking my 28th year, which would be full of adventure, family, travel, struggle, and love.

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Monsoon Colors

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Some flight home, on some date, some day-trip to a friend’s home

in a nice neighborhood, some old men who sell figs in a damp

market, wave gently and nod by, a boy on his tractor,

breathless and heavy, with Monsoon colors in his hair

Sleeping Positions.

An excerpt from a poem by Catherine Reeves

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“Monsoon Colors” Mixed Media on Paper, 2013

Summer in India

On the 1st of July I flew from Turkey to India, where I would spend the remainder of my summer.  I have always been intrigued with India, and somehow knew I would find myself there at some point in my life.  Thus I made no hurry to book a flight or plan a trip, but instead let India come to me.  So, after receiving an acceptance letter for a residency program in Goa (something I had applied for amidst a huge pile of applications) I suddenly recalculated my plans and plunged into the unknown.

The 10 weeks of my Indian adventure were a blur of beautiful shrines tucked into moss covered walls, the smell of incense and rain, alluring fabrics, jasmine wreaths piled up in markets, old Bollywood music playing in some nearby home, hindu shrines with flashing neon lights and the endearing Indian head wobble…not to mention the ever-present cockroach in my kitchen or shower, pulsing mangos, a constant coil of pain in my abdomen and the disturbing appearance of something growing underneath my fingernails.  India was both stunning and difficult, strange and wonderful, playful and dark, the best and worst of everything.

Now, more than 6 months later I find myself trying to sift through this jumble of surreal experiences, but with a smile of extreme fondness on my face.IMG_2370

Parting

…is such sweet sorrow.

After 3 days in Istanbul, I departed for my residency in India, and Sarah for her program in Hungary.  We spent our last night drawing dueling portraits among the lively crowds in Kumkapi.  Sarah, I’ll see you this summer in some undetermined place…lets keep the adventures coming for years to come my friend.

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