PEACE IN THE RUINS: Drawing the Hospital of Sampson

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Door in the Topkapi Wall

I sat on a hillside covered with wild mustard, drawing Byzantine bricks through chestnut trees just coming into bloom, and the whole world was yellow and green. A sunny day in April, and I was drawing in dead quiet: a 6th-century Byzantine site between a church of the same vintage and wall, shown above, from somewhat later. The mustard rioted all over the hill and flooded down into the ruin, celebratory bursts of yellow against the dark pitted  bricks. Nothing indicated that just over the wall hordes of camera-swinging tourists clogged the street. We love tourists here in Istanbul, their money and presence preserves antiquities. But I was grateful for the silence and solitude. The last public hordes to be in the ruin were a thousand years ago, and I could feel those years.

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Day 1: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola

A breeze came up, fresh with approaching storm. As I drew, an image came clear in my mind’s eye, an image of a foot. A woman’s foot in a pointed slipper: beaded pink fabric on top, leather on the bottom, a ribbon around the ankle.

Sampson Courtyard Walk

Sampson Courtyard Walk ©2014 Trici Venola

It stood on pale marble, near a marble fountain with a lion’s head, down in the very courtyard I was drawing, but clear of weeds. I froze. I let the image come. I thought of Theodora, the 6th-century harlot who became the pious and powerful Empress of Justinian.

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Theodora Alive ©2011 Trici Venola

A small woman with dark hair, in a light dress of powder blue and robes the color of red wine. She walked in the courtyard alone on a sunny day. Did Theodora visit this place? Was she ever alone, or did her attendants stand back in the shadows and let her wander in sunny solitude? Just a pipedream, but it would not let me rest. A mere pipedream of Theodora is as powerful as a banshee, the furious life force projecting down through the centuries. All day and night that pointed toe stood on the marble next to the fountain. For some reason it made me happy.

Mosaic at Sampson

Sampson Mosaic ©2014 Trici Venola

These mosaics were set by sixth-century fingers right into the dirt. They’re dark green and pale gray-green. Think how many earthquakes, fires and wars they’ve survived! Think of the feet that have walked on these chips of marble, the shoes they wore. Below the dirt is a cistern: here’s a well from outside the cafe up top. A dropped stone produces a deep satisfying sploosh.

Sampson WellSo our ruin is the bottom of the structure: the Hospital of Sampson, built by a sainted doctor so adept, it is said, that he healed the Emperor Justinian of a hideous illness with the laying-on of his hand. His reward was the construction of this multistoried structure, a haven for the infirm poor, linking Hagia Sophia and Hagia Eirene.  Being built by master architects in the pre-electric 6th century, it was full of sunny courtyards.

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Day 3: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola

I was allowed to draw the site on the condition that I take no photos down in the ruin. Hagia Eirene’s fabulously aged façade runs straight down into it.

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Hagia Eirene, the second Hagia Sophia (built by Theodosius I) and the Hospital were all burned in the Nika Riots in 532. The Emperor Justinian re-built all of them, and both basilicas stand today. Here’s a section of the ruin at the base of Hagia Eirene. See the slanted bricks running behind the ruined section in front? There must have been a roof of some kind, later incorporated into the new Church and Hospital.

Slant Bricks at Sampson

Slant Bricks at Sampson ©2014 Trici Venola

The Hospital ruin was excavated after WWII. Until four years ago, the structure in front of it was a private home. Its transformation to upscale cafe brought a fresh group of archeologists and students. A catwalk was built down into the site. Weeds were cleared, bits photographed and catalogued and stacked at the edges, large trees cut. Photographs can be seen at the cafe. Then the walkways were removed, and the site allowed to go back to the wild mustard. It’s lovely.

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Day 5: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola

LAYOUT

What did hospitals look like in the 6th century? We have an idea of the floor plan of this one, created in CGI by Byzantium 1200. Hagia Sophia is at the bottom and Hagia Eirene at the top. The Hospital is in the center, linking the two. Our area is to the far left.

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Sampson Hospital CGI recreation, © Byzantium1200. Used by permission.

See the pillars?

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Sampson Hospital CGI recreation, © Byzantium1200. Used by permission.

The Hospital was built right onto Hagia Eirene. That explains those melted-looking brick lumps in  Hagia Eirene’s façade.

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Façade, Hagia Eirene

Here’s a satellite shot of the area from above. The Topkapi wall slants across from top left to bottom right, where the gate is. Hagia Sophia is bottom left, Hagia Eirene is the dome at top right. Karakol Restaurant is next to it at right center. See the Hospital?

Sampson Site Satellite Shot

The Hospital may have fallen into disuse, but I can’t discover when it collapsed or was demolished. It was probably when the Topkapi Wall was built, after 1453.

Peace.Door Detail

Peace in the Ruins.Door Detail.©2014 Trici Venola.

During the Ottoman years, Hagia Eirene was used as an armory, hence the crescent and star emblem over the doorway. Here’s an Ottoman now!

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Day 7: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola, with Mike Akbayrak.

SAINT SAMPSON

Did Hospital come from Hospitable?

St Sampson the Hospitable

St Sampson the Hospitable

St Sampson the Hospitable, aka St Sampson the Innkeeper and Unmercenary, was the son of rich important Romans. Already well-educated, he continued to study medicine, and doctored the sick without charge. When his parents died he set his slaves free, passed out alms and prepared himself to go into the wilderness– which was likely anywhere outside of Rome.

Eventually he went East to Constantinople: Eastern Rome. He moved into a small house, took in strays– poor and sick people– and cared for them. Undoubtedly a good doctor, he was credited with healing hands, if not outright miracles.

The Patriarch of Constantinople, in recognition of Sampson’s great virtue, ordained him to the holy priesthood. St Sampson the Hospitable kept many alive, but died young, around 530, and was buried at the Church of Holy Martyr Mokios in Constantinople.

SAINT MOKIOS

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St Mokios the Unmercenary

Scratch one saint in this town and you find another.  St Mokios was another great physician, one of the Holy Unmercenary Physicians, twenty doctors in antiquity who refused to accept money for their services. They were all canonized.

Synaxis Holy Unmercenaries

Synaxis (Reunion) of the Holy Unmercenaries

Judging by his beard, St Sampson appears second from right in the front row. The earliest precepts of Christianity include acceptance and treatment of the sick, as evidenced by this early painting of Christ visiting the lepers.

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Christ Healing the Ten Lepers, Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenaries

St Mokios was beheaded around 295 for exhorting pagans to convert. His church was built on the site of a Temple of Zeus by Constantine a century later, collapsed and was re-built by Justinian. Poetically, Sampson was interred there. People came to his tomb to be healed. His ghost continued, it is said, to kindly haunt his Hospital. Twice it upbraided a worker for laziness. Imagine the ashen-faced nurse trying to report that to a superior.

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A Hospital in 1123

A huge fire in Constantinople burned so fiercely that the lead sheets on the top of Hagia Sophia melted, it was said, and poured like rain. Fervent prayers to St Sampson preceded a deluge of real rain that put out the fire and saved the hospital. Think of the staff and patients alike shouting in prayer, nurses helping cripples to kneel, others lying muttering with crucifixes, flat on their backs, flickering light on the medical treatises rolled in the pigeonholes, doctors frozen with their instruments, eyes squeezed shut or white all the way around in terror, the air charged, the tension pulled to the snapping point, and the final, overwhelming crash of thunder, the release of rain, the screams of relief and joy, of renewed faith.

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Day 10: Peace in the Ruins ©2014 Trici Venola.

Here’s a splendid cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia, in honor of the Saint.

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The Cathedral of St Sampson the Hospitable in St Petersburg, Russia

Azure and white, with its own reflection pool, it houses this spectacular iconostasis.

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Iconostasis in St Sampson’s Cathedral, St Petersburg, Russia

I think of the actual Saint and his austerity, his love for the poor.

BYZANTINE MEDICINE

Justinian

Emperor Justinian’s famous mosaic portrait in Ravenna, Italy

If you were going to get sick in the Dark Ages, best to do it in Constantinople. It remained a beacon of light and learning in a world increasingly darkened by ignorance and superstition. Byzantine medicine was full of discovery, as well as preserving medical practices from the golden age of ancient culture, all of which influenced Islamic medicine. When the Western world began to wake up in the Renaissance, the information was there, waiting to make the world well.

Angels and Demons in a 13th-century Medieval Hospital

Angels and Demons in a 13th-century Medieval Hospital

By Medieval times, medical treatment in Europe  was largely a matter of prayer, with angels or demons responding to carry off the patient. But 6th-century Constantinople was still lit by the glow of ancient Greek and Roman enlightenment. Byzantine society was educated. Primary school was easily available for both boys and girls, even in the villages. Women played a large part in Byzantine culture. The Augusta Pulcheria, sister to Emperor Theodosius II, had established women on a par with the Holy Virgin Mary and set them on a course of , if not equality, respect.

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Medieval Nurses in Tournai

The legend of Justinian’s healing  by St Sampson, resulting in our Hospital, is likely true. Justinian subsidized private physicians to work publicly six months of the year, a breakthrough in medicine. Our Hospital would have had a Chief Physician: Archiatroi, professional nurses: Hypourgoi, and orderlies: Hyperetai.

MEDICAL STUDIES THROUGH THE AGES

Eudocia

Empress Eudocia, from Saints and Angels © 1999 Trici Venola, Byzantine Museum, Istanbul

A hundred years before Justinian in 425, Theodosius the Second’s beautiful Empress Eudocia, a highly educated Greek, established the first University at Constantinople: The Pandidakterion. It was in the Magnaura Palace, now being excavated  behind the Four Seasons, next to Hagia Sophia, in Sultanahmet. Along with law, philosophy, geometry, astronomy and music, it taught medicine. A hundred years later, the new Hospital of Sampson opened almost next door. It’s conceivable that its fledgling doctors, then as now, interned at the hospital for the poor.

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Birds, from the Vienna Dioscorides Folio, 515 CE

Here’s a gallery of birds from the Vienna Dioscorides, an illuminated manuscript in Greek, created in 515 in Western Rome. Over the following centuries it became a hospital textbook, containing treatments for snakebite and other calamities. It certainly was used in Constantinople, for it was discovered here in the 1560s and identified as the famous textbook.

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Examination of a Leper, Dark Ages manuscript

By the late seventh century, doctors at the Hospital would have had access to The Medical Compendium in Seven Books, a distillation of information by one Paul of Aegina, a respected physician. He appears to have deserved respect, as the Compendium was in use as a standard medical textbook for the next 800 years.

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St Bartholemew’s Hospital, 12th-century

By the 12th century, Constantinople had well-organized hospitals, medical specialists, wards segregated to treat specific diseases, and systematic treatments. They even had women doctors, those Byzantines. Faith was important. After the groundbreaking Hospital of Sampson, hospitals were built next to churches, and later, next to mosques. When medicine failed, Byzantine patients prayed with icons of Cosmas and Damien, patron saints of medicine and doctors. Continued emphasis on charity resulted in medicine being available to all.

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Treatment of Mental Disorders, Medieval treatise

Many other great physicians practiced in Constantinople, but the atrocity of the Fourth Crusade slowed medical development in the 13th century. Still the Hospital of Sampson survived. When the infamous Italian Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, they converted the Hospital into a Western Roman hospital– a hostel for poor and sick pilgrims.

Monks in Hospital

Medieval Monks in a Hostel

This soon organized into a military order and became quite rich, spawning a daughter institution in Flanders. When the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the Brothers of St Sampson fled to Corinth and built a hospital there, a multipurpose unit that, among many commercial ventures, actually served the poor.

Medieval Hospital in Spain

A Medieval Hospital in Spain

ROLLING SAINT LUKE’S BONES

Like those nesting Russian dolls, one fitting inside the other, we come at last to the core Saint Physician. Was St Sampson influenced by St Luke? He was buried just up the hill at Holy Apostles. Both saints had similar stories. Both came from wealthy families, were highly educated, practiced medicine, and gave everything to the poor. A contemporary of Jesus, St Luke healed the sick, painted his pictures, wrote his gospels, grew old and died in Bithynia, now in Western Turkey.

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St Luke in a painting by Andrea Mantegna, 1454

Relics of St Luke  were interred, with Byzantine splendor, by Constantine in 357 at the Church of Holy Apostles in Constantinople, now the site of Fatih Camii in Istanbul’s Old City. Many saints and emperors were eventually buried there, including Justinian and Constantine.

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Church of the Holy Apostles

A fire that destroyed the church left the coffins of the saints untouched. Justinian rebuilt Holy Apostles in 527, just up the hill from the Hospital.  The holy and imperial tombs were eviscerated in 1204 by Italian Crusaders, who grabbed the gold and threw the bones to the dogs in the street. According to an aghast contemporary account, this is what happened to St Luke.

1204 Siege Constantinople Jacopo Tintoretto

Siege of Constantinople in 1204 by Jacopo Tintoretto

Another account has a grim 8th-century priest stealing St Luke’s bones, as well as a painting of the Virgin by the saint, to save them from the Iconoclasts. Still another says St Thomas the Apostle spirited St Luke’s painting to India around 50 CE. The legend of St Luke’s artistic endeavors includes as many True Paintings as there are True Relics, but it did result in his being Patron Saint of Artists, and for this I salute him with this post.

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One of many depictions of St Luke painting the Virgin, from the Byzantine Museum in Athens

An excited recent post from Padua, Italy, reports the saint’s entire skeleton found in a lead coffin there, including the skull which spent a time with Charlemagne.  Did some abject Crusader, fired with remorse or venality, pick up the relics and pack them off? Charlemagne pre-dated the Fourth Crusade by four centuries, so what about those stories of the Skull being at Holy Apostles? While the bones continue to cause fuss, the spirit of the great physician and evangelist of the New Testament has never left us. It undoubtedly inspired Sampson.

Peace In the Ruins

Peace in the Ruins.final. ©2014 Trici Venola.

So much for corporeal splendor! St Sampson the Hospitable, Justinian, Theodora, Pulcheria, Eudocia, St Mokios, Constantine, St Luke. Glorious physicians, empresses and emperors lying together in the street, ignominious piles of greened bones stomped by blood-crazed Italians raging under a smoke-blackened sky, devolving into the rumor of divinity.

Peace.Cat Detail

Peace in the Ruins.Cat Detail. ©2014 Trici Venola.

Their works fared better. All over the Middle East is the visual history of Constantinople, of Justinian and Theodora, in churches standing and savaged, in the foundations of the mosques, hospitals ruined and rumored as well. The study of medicine continues in universities worldwide, continuing the work of one gorgeous dedicated Greek girl. And worldwide is the legacy of the Unmercenaries: medical care for the poor. Despite the railroading of medicine by the rich in so many countries, free clinics keep springing up. The marriage of medicine and faith continues in Islam and Christianity and Quantum Physics, in the study of psychosomatic medicine, in the emphasis on mood as it affects the immune system. As always, the light that burned in Constantinople still flares and flickers like a torch in the winds of ignorance, but has yet to be put out. Down in the courtyard the cats play in the ruined fountain, but under the weeds the lion still roars.

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The Lion Fountain at Sampson ©2014 Trici Venola

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All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. All drawings © Trici Venola, 1999, 2014.  Peace in the Ruins was created with drafting pens on rag paper and measures 50 X 70 cm. Other drawings were done with drafting pens in sketchbooks measuring 18  X 26 or 18 X 52 cm. Special thanks to the excellent and cordial staff (and cats Hatem and Duman) of Karakol Restaurant next to Hagia Eirene, Topkapi Complex, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, and to Theo, for showing me, on a dank cold January day, this site. We are none of us much without the others.

GHOST CHURCH: Drawing Theotokos in Chalkoprateia

Workshop

5th century AD: Furious clamor as police descend on Constantinople’s Chalkoprateia, the Bronze District, where Jewish artisans live, creating and selling bronze items. Screaming in outrage, bearded Jews in caps are dragged from their shops, beaten, banished. An earlocked apprentice frantically holds up an unfinished bronze shield in futile defense as Imperial soldiers burst into the workshop. The synagogue is emptied, soldiers posted at the door, sacred items hurled into the street. The Augusta has finally bullied her brother the Emperor into turning the Chalkoprateia Synagogue into a church.

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Last week, Berkin Elvan Riots, Istanbul

There’s a civic earthquake going on in Istanbul right now, over authority and religion and the way people want to live: rioting and explosions, horrific images in the news, chanting in the distance, yelling in the night. This is nothing new in this city. The same things have been going on here for centuries of political heave and surge: angry crowds jostling; people pummeled by Imperial police, falling in the streets; banners flying over faces ragged with rage; smoke and screams filling the air, all over authority, religion and the way people want to live. A lot of this happened right here in Sultanahmet. Now it’s kept peaceful for Tourism, but blink your eyes and it’s the fifth century: rage and fire; clash of swords on bronze; a dropped loaf of bread; a toy wagon trampled into the dust.

Nika Riot

532, Nika Riots, Constantinople

Fish Lamp

Fish Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola.

THE IMPERIAL VIRGIN Her name was Pulcheria. She lorded over her brother Theodosius II and the people with an iron fist clothed in the sanctification of consecrated virginity. She built churches and cared for the poor, but she hated Jews. She forced them out of one area after another, suspended all construction on synagogues within the city walls. The Chalkoprateia Synagogue, built in 318, was closed and its congregation banished. With fatal irony the confiscated synagogue was consecrated as Theotokos, the God-Bearer, in the name of Holy Mary, that Jewish Virgin that Pulcheria so identified with herself. It would be her only child. WIth successive reigns, Theotokos in Chalkoprateia rose in glory, at one time Constantinople’s greatest church. It survived centuries of triumph and disaster, eventually becoming a mosque. Today there is only a broken pillar, a buried chapel and two weedy walls to mark it.

Altar looking down

Peter Paul and Peacock 2002 Trici Venola

Peter, Paul, and Peacock © 2002 Trici Venola

GHOST CHURCH Little mysteries: the stub of a pillar, its break rounded with age, sticking up through the sidewalk next to a parking lot. Across the narrow street, another pillar-sized lump, mortared all over with stones. Nearby, two arches stacked in front of a staircase going into a hill, with a brick barrel-vault ceiling, leading up to a  bright pink-stuccoed wall behind a mosque. From the harsh recent restoration, you’d never dream how old it is. A block away, another pillar stub sticking out of the sidewalk. This one is a different kind of marble.

Clues Shots

L to R: pillar stub, double arch, barrel-vault, second pillar stub.

Across the street, a haphazard pile of rubble, mortared here and there to lumps of Byzantine brick.

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Through a chink in the mortar, a flashlight glimpse of a Byzantine brick arch down below the street.

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A door-shaped area on a plaster wall showing the antiquity beneath.

Old wall thru plaster A sealed iron door in an old wall under a row of hotels. A hoary wall rearing up between a parking lot and a restaurant terrace. A ragged ruin over the Basilica Cistern, its windows Ottoman, its foundation Byzantine. Just hints, clues in a puzzle.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola

Once consecrated as holy, a place cannot be de-consecrated. So says a dear friend. Since he is a Canon in his church, with a lifetime spent studying such things, I listen to him. If so, then there is a certain parking lot in my old Sultanahmet neighborhood that is holy as all get-out, and on three theological pillars to boot: Muslim, Christian and Judaic. Before that, there was most likely some Pagan altar with flute and drum, an ancient withered seer behind the statue of the god, angels with wings coming out of their hips…

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Walking around here for years, mentally lining up all these clues; speculating on some great temple all across the hill, its perfect Greek geometry leveling the lumpy streets. We must create our picture from minute fragments. Like sex in the movies under the old moralistic American Production Code, we have to make our guesses from the architectural equivalent of a hairpin on a pillow: that lone pillar stub sticking up out of the cobblestones. Our hairpin, so to speak, led to St Jacob’s Chapel, hidden under a building near the foot of the hill. Going down!

Going Down

ST JACOB’S

Once lush with fresco, most of it is bare dirt-encrusted brick, an octagon chapel around a massive solid brick octagon pier, lime-mortared, indestructible. God knows what it held up. A baptistry? An obelisk? A statue?

Arch Pier

Its owners have taken excellent care of St Jacob’s since they acquired the property in the 1930s, and many scholars have studied it. Traces of frescoes remain, still lovely.

St Jacobs Garland ©2014 Trici Venola

St Jacobs Garland ©2014 Trici Venola

Jesus ArmeniaFifth-century frescoes are rare in Istanbul. They may have looked like this Jesus, from an early-Christian Armenian church.

Here’s a first take on St Jacob’s done back in 2007, a crumbling frescoed halo catching the light, a kindly cowled face imagined for no reason, in the shadows where once there was a doorway leading… where?

In St Jacob's Chapel ©2014 Trici Venola

In St Jacob’s Chapel ©2014 Trici Venola

Friends opened a hotel next door. They found Byzantium in their basement, too.

Flashlight glimpse

Just down the street is Zeynep Sultan Camii (Mosque), its wavy roof echoing that of Kalendarhane Camii up the hill. While drawing it back in 2004, I learned that the neighborhood was called in Byzantine times Chalkoprateia, and that it was the Bronze District, where Jewish craftsmen created and sold bronze items. Kalendarhane was restored in the 18th century… Zeynep Sultan was built in 1769. Was it built on the site of a vanished church? Or was the church over St Jacob’s Chapel?

Zeynep Sultan ©2004 Trici Venola

Zeynep Sultan ©2004 Trici Venola

As usual, sources differ as to whether the octagon chapel is St Jacob’s or St James. Was there, perhaps, another chapel? Same size, nearby? A little digging produced this schematic from the 1960s, based, say St Jacob’s owners, on one from the 1920s.

Panagia floorplan

It’s astonishing how accurate this is, considering that the authors did not have access to Google Maps. Some merged screen dumps produced this overview of the area:

TheoChalk Comp 3a

See the parking lot at center? The tramline runs down the right, and Hagia Sophia, not shown, is just beyond it. The Basilica Cistern is under that large rough pale area bottom center. That tiny circle top right is Zeynep Sultan’s dome.

Here it is with those little clues. Hm.

TheoChalk Comp 3b

Hours of manipulating images produced this superimposition. And cold chills.

TheoChalk Comp 3

Holy Mother of God.

THE IMPERIAL VIRGIN

Fifteen years of walking about this neighborhood, tea in carpet shops, coffee and gossip, friends, errands, parties, informal tours, drawing, and all the while this great slumbering ghost sprawled across the hill. These shabby old bits I call clues were part of an edifice so important by the 8th century that it held an alleged Girdle of the Virgin. This is hotly contested by at least one Byzantine scholar, but I like to think about St Mary’s robe floating in the ether of a Byzantine collective memory, down under the tourist eateries, travel agencies, and Ottoman plaster.

The Cambrai Madonna from the Met.

The Cambrai Madonna from the Met.

The mid-5th century was early days for the great Christian empire. Constantine the Great, who declared Christianity the official religion, had only been gone a hundred years. The city had been Constantinople for only a century, full of Pagan echoes, in the sacred fantastical animals, in the worship of the saints. The great Theodosian Walls, those hulking savaged monuments still standing, were new, built by Anthemius, Regent of the Eastern Roman Empire, named after the crowned child, Theodosius II.

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

The weak young Emperor Arcadius was dead, and his hated sensuous Empress Eudoxia was dead as well. Their son Theodosius II was crowned at age seven, but it was his sister who ruled: Aelia Pulcheria, granddaughter to Theodosius the Great, the Emperor who set up the Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome in 390, who built the second Hagia Sophia that was burned in the Nika Rebellion of 532. All three generations had the same cold pale eyes.

Pulcheria and Theodosius II

Pulcheria and her brother, Theodosius II

Pulcheria was nine when she began to train her little brother to be Emperor. In stark contrast to her scandalous mother, who wore bangs like a courtesan and flaunted her infidelities, she took a Vow of Chastity, consecrating her virginity to God. Her piety was undeniable, but she was also menaced by Anthemius the Wall-Builder who was determined to marry into the royal family. The Vow protected her. She blocked all his avenues and made her sisters swear virginity, too. It must have been grim: three dour princesses stitching altar cloths in a palace forbidden to men and levity of any kind.  Anthemius might have been a better ruler, but at 15 Pulcheria sacked him and proclaimed herself Regent, declaring herself Augusta, Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire.

THE CULT OF THE VIRGIN

Nestorius

Patriarch Nestorius

Easter Sunday, 428, a church by the Theodosian Walls, filled with the elite. Heading in a grand processional toward the Sanctuary, Pulcheria ran smack into Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople. He barred her from entering the holiest place. Her womanhood made her unfit, he said, only men were pure enough. “I have kept myself pure as gold,” said the Consecrated Virgin, “as clean as fleece. Haven’t I given birth to God?” “You are a sinner,” he said, “you have given birth to Satan.”

This was the beginning of a hammer-and-tongs feud that lasted years and shaped Christianity forever. Nestorius accused Pulcheria of adultery, of cheating on Christ with men, dogs, infidel. Pulcheria retaliated by declaring that she was as Mary, Mother of Jesus, and that Mary was divine, the Mother of God, giving rise to the Cult of the Virgin.

Bleeding Mary ©2000 Trici Venola

Bleeding Mary ©2000 Trici Venola

The dignity and power of women in Christianity took shape under the blue cowl of Mary’s robe. By the time she was done, an insult to Pulcheria was an insult to the Theotokos, to the Great Holy Virgin Mother herself.

11th-century Mary in Hagia Sophia

11th-century Mary in Hagia Sophia

Pulcheria was a powerful force in shaping the future of rule of kings, investing awe and holiness surrounding kingship. In taking on Nestorius she gave women a powerful new status in the new religion, ensuring that Mary was right up there with her son. The Cult of the Virgin has been at loggerheads with Christianity ever since, but here in Byzantium, through their identification with Mary, women gained power.

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Theotokos means God-Bearer.

Nestorius, in addition to quashing women, tried to quash theater, circus, games, mimes, and exotic halftime dancers at the Chariot Races, not a good idea if one wants to stay popular. His attempt to micromanage the monasteries pissed off the monks. At one memorable sermon, the monk Basil loudly derided Nestorius and was roundly cheered by the congregation. At last Nestorious was declared a heretic and exiled, leaving Pulcheria ensconced on her chaste throne. He railed at Constantinople from the Holy Land, becoming one prong of a fork in the faith: Jesus Human and Christ Divine, two natures in one person: Nestorianism, was on one side. Jesus Christ Entirely Divine, which became Monophyism, was on the other. This argument was still going strong a hundred years later in Justinian’s time and after. Many, many riots in the streets.

A COLLISION OF EMPRESSES

Augusta Eudocia ©1999 Trici Venola

Augusta Eudocia ©1999 Trici Venola

Theodosius II, more interested in manuscript illumination than politics, let his sister lead the Empire. At 19, he told her that he didn’t care what they made him marry so long as it was beautiful. Athenais, a gorgeous Greek girl beggared by the death of her father, flung herself on the mercy of philanthropic Pulcheria, probably to avoid becoming a whore. Pulcheria took a look, heard the exquisite Greek, and married her to Theodosius II. He fell passionately in love. They re-named her Eudocia.

The beautiful Eudocia soon gained popularity over thin-lipped ascetic Pulcheria, who began to loathe her. Eudocia and the chief minister, Eunuch Chrysaphius,  convinced the affable Theodosius II to give his relentless sister less credence, causing Pulcheria to move out of the palace, but her tentacles continued to creep toward her enemies. Eudocia wasn’t just a pretty face: she sponsored education, founded a university. But eventually Theodosius was persuaded away from her. She proclaimed herself a supporter of Nestorianism and left for the Holy Land, to die in sad obscurity. But oh, she had been loved, by her husband and by the people. Portraits abound. There are several in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum. She’s still beautiful.

Pulcheria 1

Augusta Pulcheria

After her brother’s death, Pulcheria returned to the palace and fought the Eunuch. The Senate refused to grant her sole rule, so she found a weakling who wouldn’t try to sleep with her, Marcias, and married him. Then she executed Chrysaphius. Pulcheria continued to build churches, feed the poor, import relics, persecute Jews, and proclaim the divine nature of Christ and her own implied divinity. For her pains she was canonized. For her elevation of women throughout the Empire and down through the ages, she deserves it. This aescetic, grandiose, furious, passionate, selective philanthropist is now a Greek Orthodox saint. There’s a school named after her right here in my neighborhood, Sainte Pulcherie.

THEOTOKOS IN CHALKOPRATEIA was heavily mosaiced and lavishly frescoed. It was tall and imposing, but has vanished utterly.

Martyrdom St Lawrence Ravenna

Church of Galla Placida, Ravenna.

Here’s the north aisle, heading toward Hagia Sophia. While this Hagia Sophia was being built, from 532 to 537, our church was the Seat of the Patriarchate of the Eastern Roman Empire.

North Aisle

The famous mosaics, covering the Life of the Virgin, were destroyed in the 8th century by Iconoclasts, but the Relics of the Virgin remained in its walls.

SanMarcosCeiling

St Mark’s in Venice

Here’s  a wall along the south aisle.

South Aisle

The gilded coffered ceiling and the doors of silver, electrum and gold were sold off by Emperor Alexios Komnenos in the 11th century to finance a defense against a Norman threat. Before Alexios, Theotokos’ interior likely resembled this:

SantaMariaMaggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome: 5th century interior, 18th century neoByzantine ceiling.

This parking lot is the nave, and we’re walking toward the altar, which faced east and Hagia Sophia.

NaveUnder Latin rule from 1204 to 1261, our church became a cathedral occupied by priests: Sancta Maria de Cinctur, or St Mary of the Shingles. Workshops probably made shingles in the area by then, or perhaps the priests had them. Considering what the Latin Crusaders did to Constantinople, we can only hope. Here’s the surviving 4th or 5th century Byzantine wall.

Original Wall Ground

Mehmetpasha It’s still standing because in 1484, 31 years after the Ottoman Conquest, the ruined church, nee synagogue, was converted to a mosque by order of one Lala Hayruddin. In 1755, by order of Vizier Mehmet Said Pasha, the mosque was restored and re-consecrated as Acem Aga Mescidi. Down the street, in 1769, Zeynep Sultan Mosque was built and consecrated. In 1814 this fountain in the street was built. See that Byzantine wall next to it? And the tribal carpet for sale next to that? These juxtapositions are why I live here. And, of course, tripping over the occasional Ghost Church.

Fountain and wallBy 1936, Turkey’s zeitgeist was not religious, and the mosque was abandoned, slowly falling into weedy disrepair. It’s been derelict since 1936, subsumed by the city. If you go up to the terrace at Alemdar Restaurant to watch the Dervishes whirl in front of Hagia Sophia, you can see this from the stairs: the last relic of the altar of Theotokos in Chalkoprateia.

Original walls 3

The street running from one pillar stub to the double arches has always been spooky at night, in a high, cool, grey, waiting kind of way.

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It’s probably just imagination.

Copper Cross, Mosaic ©2002 Trici Venola

Copper Cross, Mosaic ©2002 Trici Venola

SO HOW OLD IS IT, ANYWAY?

This post was a real bitch to research. Each successive layer of information contradicts the last. As near as I can figure, here’s a rough timeline for our busted pillar.

318- Synagogue begun.

379-Rebuilt Synagogue unfinished but open.

Emperor Theodosius criticized by the Bishop of Milan, St Ambrosius, for allowing “A synagogue in the heart of the Queen of Cites”

395 Synagogue burned. Repaired, but when?

Bronze Eudocia ©2013 Trici Venola

Bronze Eudocia ©2013 Trici Venola

450 457 Synagogue converted into Church by Theodosius II at insistence of Pulcheria. Consecrated: Theotokos in Chalkoprateia

476 Theotokos damaged in great fire.

484 Theotokos repaired by Empress Verina. Emperor Zeno took some credit.

532 Nika Rebellion burned Hagia Sophia. Theotokos seat of Patriarch until Hagia Sophia opened in 537.

c570 Theotokos damaged in an earthquake and repaired by Justin II.

867-886 after the Iconoclasts were gone, the dome was redone. Lavish redecoration including gold doors.

11th century: Gold doors, etc sold to finance resistance to Norman invasion.

1204-1261 Theotokos converted to a cathedral known as Sancta Maria de Cinctur or Holy Mary of the Shingles.

1484 By order of Lala Hayrudin, the church was converted into a mosque, but what was it called?

1755 Vizier Mehmet Said Pasha placed the pulpit in Zeynep Sultan.

1814 The Basilica was called either Sayyid Umar Agha Mosque OR Acem Aga Mescidi Mosque, described as being built next to a fountain.

1936 Derelict and abandoned.

Pillar Stub

The only piece that doesn’t fit is that ragged old ruin above the CIstern. I found out what it is, but that’s another post.

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

So why, why is this important? It isn’t even my history. I haven’t a drop of Jewish, Greek, or Turkish blood. So what. The history of this place is beyond any one people: it’s the history of the whole world. As a friend says, it’s a matter of respect. Hell, it’s a matter of awe. Seventeen hundred years of toil and care, smoke and love and holy water, men and women in anguish and triumph– it matters. It matters so much that there was a temple here, that there was art here, that there was worship here. Blood of sacrilege, blood of sacrifice, Blood of the Lamb…That high, stone-cool waiting feeling of the streets in the dead quiet of night is from layers and layers of living that all happened here, a concentration of experience. If you say Constantinople over and over, faster and faster, slurring the sounds, it becomes Istanbul. To paraphrase Casablanca, it’s like any other place, only more so. Our parking lots are really cathedrals.

Eudocia on a Weight, Byzantine Museum, Istanbul

Eudocia on a Weight, Byzantine Museum, Istanbul

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All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, ©2000-2014. Early Christian artifacts drawn at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Archeological Museum in Istanbul, the Archeological Museum in Antalya. For purchase of sketchbooks and other original art, write care of this blog.

Special thanks to Suleyman, custodian of the Last Wall of Theotokos in Chalkoprateia, next to his terrace at Alemdar Restaurant. Their Dervish show is aces. Special thanks to the custodians of St Jacob’s Chapel, who wish to remain anonymous. And thanks to all the Byzantine scholars who have generously made their work readily available, on the Internet, to someone not affiliated with any university. We are none of us much without the others.

SNOW CAFE: Drawing Plovdiv in Winter

The Gossips ©2009 Trici Venola

Oh, it’s cold now in Istanbul. Days like diamonds: brilliant sunshine, icy in the shadows. The sun fools you into wearing a lighter coat, and then it sets. Such a fantasy, Istanbul, amid seas and waterways. But its magnificent trees, butchered for years now by misguided municipal pruning, look in winter like spindly desiccated fingers sprouting from wizened fists. All I can think about is how it feels to get off the train in Plovdiv and look up, up, up into the exquisite embroidery of those natural trees against the sky.

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

I found Plovdiv quite by accident. I just needed to go someplace in Bulgaria by train, because the bus had become impossible.

Bulgarian Turkish BorderGRIM CROSSING  Bulgarian/Turkish border, Winter 2007, 3AM. Turkish side. Dark and cold. Dogs and uniforms under guard towers. Leaping light from huge bonfires at the edge of a crowded parking lot piled with our opened suitcases. The ground glittered: sugar, slashed from people’s packages, littered with dark islands of flung spices. At the bonfires, yelling uniformed men hurled bottle after bottle of confiscated booze and watched them explode. People were crying. My seat-mate had lost all her sugar and spices, bought cheap in Bulgaria for her restaurant in Istanbul. Laughing, shouting customs agents had ripped them out of her luggage. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. We all kept our heads down, praying to be allowed to repack our belongings and get back on the bus to Istanbul.

The Girls from Kosovo ©2004 Trici Venola

Long ago before the laws changed, it was possible to live for years in Turkey on a tourist visa. One simply left the country for one day every three months. The bus was cheapest.

Border Check

The border crossing could go into six hours at that time, what with all the queues and checkpoints. A friend had asked me to buy her four bottles of Johnny Walker and two cartons of cigarettes, advertised on the Internet as legal. Trudging along the row of duty-free border stores, my seat-mate and I saw 4-packs of whiskey, labelled “4 for the price of 3.” I bought the smokes, but the bus driver told us that the Turks were confiscating alcohol over one bottle per passenger, so I bought only two and asked my seat-mate to carry the other one. We got back on the bus and crossed to Turkey, where we ran into that Inferno-like parking-lot luggage check. We were allowed to keep our one bottle each, but one of my cartons of cigarettes was confiscated by our friend the bus driver. Back on the bus, the air turned thick as the entire bus illegally smoked my swiped carton.

Cops ©2007 Trici Venola

We were eventually told that sixty Turkish customs agents had been arrested for corruption, and their cohorts were taking it out on the rest of us. When I got back, sick from smoke and sleep deprivation, I gave my friend her two bottles and one carton. She said, “What? Why, I would never have put up with that, I know my rights. I’m an American.”

After that, I quit the bus for the train. You can lie down on the train.

MARILYN MONROE IN PLOVDIV

Spelled “Merilyn” to avoid the long arm of MGM, this cigarette campaign was all the rage a few years ago. I also bought Ray Ben sunglasses. Drawing in a cafe, it thrilled my Los Angeles soul to see it snow and snow. I was less thrilled later, when I realized my boots were too slick to go anywhere.

Marilyn in Plovdiv ©2009 Trici Venola

Compared to the bus, the night train border crossing was a picnic. Still it had left me groggy. I got off the train, that first time, and staggered up out of the underpass to see trees. Huge thunderhead trees. I cried out loud at the sight, there in the street. In Bulgaria, the parks are lush and the trees gloriously crowned.  I loved Plovdiv so much that I went there thirteen times, every three months for three years, until I got my Turkish Residence visa. I’d take the overnight train to Plovdiv, walk around all day, and catch the midnight train back to Istanbul.

Fashions in Plovdiv ©2008 Trici Venola

In my favorite cafe, trees grow up through the roof, and there’s ham for breakfast. Every trip, I’d draw myself awake. I saw the same people winter and summer, but this fellow, I saw only once.

A Cat and A Drunk in Plovdiv ©2008 Trici Venola

Sure, you can get pork in Istanbul. After all, Istanbul is an international, eclectic, tolerant city. But their hearts just aren’t into serving pig. One friend told me “they say the air stinks of pork in Plovdiv.” I hadn’t noticed, I was eating pork ribs, juice running down my chin. Someone needs to do a T-shirt: I GOT PORKED IN PLOVDIV.

Snow Cafe ©2010 Trici Venola

PAGEANT OF NAMES

Roman Theater in Plovdiv

Reading Plovdiv’s history, I see a regal figure enduring a continual costume change, its integrity as eternal as its ancient walls. Little old Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe. It’s so old it fell to Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, who gave it one of its ancient names: Philippopolis.

Recently discovered Roman tunnel on Nebet Tepe Fortress.

Some sources say it’s 6000 years old, some say 8,000. A city on a plain, at the Maritza River, with seven rocky tower-like hills. Nobody knows the name of the original Neolithic settlement. The Thracians called the city Eumolpias, after the son of Poseidon, and then Pulpedeva. Later, under Roman rule, it was a major crossroads and cultural center, called Trimontium, after the three largest hills.

©2014 Jodi Hilton

©2014 Jodi Hilton

Plovdiv’s Roman ruins are plentiful and immaculate, like this well-preserved stadium under a shopping center. The most famous is the Roman theater, still open for business, clinging to a rocky cliffside.

Roman Theater Plovdiv ©2009 Trici Venola

In the Middle Ages the city was Byzantine, once again called Philippopolis, as the residents sang songs of Alexander’s heroics 1300 years before. After the Byzantines, Slavs called it Peldin, Plepdiv, Ploudin. Ottomans seized the city in the fourteenth century, re-naming it Filibe, from “Philip.”

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

Here’s a Byzantine arch attached to a Roman wall, and below it, the layout for a drawing of the gate. It was just too darned cold, so I finished in August.

Layout Arch ©2008 Trici Venola

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

Next to it, a tall gabled house boasts an enormous door. I banged on it one icy day and met Krasi, who was ensconced with colleagues in a toasty back room of what turned out to be a museum: The House of Dimitar Georgiadi. I gratefully accepted tea and a spot on the couch.  “Oh, you live in Istanbul,” they said, “Here’s a book by your countryman.” They handed me a book written by an American in the 1800s. A sentence leaped out: …there were still traces of chemises on the small skeletons scattered through the rocks and trees…  It was an account of the conflict leading to the Battle of Philippopolis, which expelled the Ottomans in 1898. The city has been “Plovdiv” ever since.

Warrior Trappings in the Museum ©2009 Trici Venola

Upstairs in the museum are glass cases with all manner of things. I gathered that the people who wore this clothing, shot these guns, were fighting Ottoman forces. Krasi and her colleagues welcomed me many times and I was able to get this drawing of all-felt guerrilla clothing and weapons. I imagine the fierce young men in the mountains, nothing to do but decorate those guns and fire them.

THE ICE PALACE

Lucien Chevallaz and Tree Hugger ©2009 Trici Venola

In 1892 Lucien Chevallaz, the moustached gent on the statue above, created Tsar Simeon’s Garden: a large rambling park full of giant trees, floored in winter with thick snow. The drawing above was done before snowfall, but on the trip when I got stuck in the cafe, this was how it looked.

An Ice Church ©2010 Trici Venola

Me, Snowed In ©2010 Trici Venola

Walking was so slippery I couldn’t risk it. I had no Bulgarian, my phone didn’t work there, and I had only enough money for the day. So I stayed inside. Not much of a view in there. I was miserable because all I wanted was to see Old Town in the snow.

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

But from all those one-day trips, Krasi and I had become friends. She sent me these pictures she took on that day, and permission to share them with you. Thank you, Krasimira Marinova! Here she is in summer.

Krasi in Summer ©2010 Trici Venola

This is how Old Town looks in snow. Fairyland!

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

It’s full of these multistoried gabled wooden houses, centuries old and lovingly maintained, many of them built in Ottoman times by Turkish merchants.

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

I’d never seen woodwork like this, combining long curving planes and sharp angles.

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

The Old Town covers the biggest of Plovdiv’s rocky hills, stone streets lined with ancient walls, huge trees and these storybook houses.

©2014 Krasimira Marinova

DARK CRYSTAL CHURCHES

There are Christian churches all over Plovdiv, preserved behind the Iron Curtain, now flourishing. These old churches are dark and beautiful with the glint of gold and crystal, Orthodox Christian churches with icons that help me to imagine how the Byzantine churches were here in Istanbul, before they became mosques.

Dark Crystal Church ©2008 Trici Venola

I wander through them in pleasant melancholy, lighting candles to my mother and aunts, to departed friends and lovers. I wasn’t raised with such traditions but find them comforting and appropriate.

Church Wanderings ©2008 Trici Venola

Bulgarian moneyThere are mosques in Plovdiv, pagan temples, and synagogues, although most of the Jews departed for the new state of Israel. They were able to because 20th-century Plovdiv saved its Jews: in 1943 Cyril, Archbishop of Plovdiv and future Bulgarian Patriarch, intervened to prevent 1500 deportations to the camps.

Decades after the god-proscribing Soviet rule, the tone of Bulgaria is Christian. Saints decorate money and civic buildings. On a recent side trip to Sofia, I found a spectacular subway saint, and a tomb worth sharing.

Subway Saint in Sofia ©2013 Trici Venola

GOODNIGHT SWEET PRINCE

Prince Alex’s Tomb ©2013 Trici Venola

Attracted to its chartreuse roof I drew this before I went inside. And in there, I found the tomb of the original Handsome Prince, beloved Prince Alexander Battenberg, 1857-1893, First Prince of the new country of Bulgaria.

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aleksandar_IRespected for his diplomatic and military skills, he ruled for only five years before being deposed at gunpoint, forced to resign because of dealings with Russia.

The Prince fell in love with Viktoria, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, but the other side of the family blocked the marriage. The disappointed princess, doomed to a short marriage and one miscarriage with another prince, eventually married a gigolo and died destitute and alone. Just look at her expression: she knows he’s a rotter, but she’s determined to wrest some semblance of happiness from life.

Viktoria

Left: Young Viktoria. Right: Viktoria and last husband.

johanna

Johanna, Countess Hartenau

Prince Battenberg fared better but not for long. After his forced abdication he married Johanna Loisinger, an opera singer everybody liked, and retired to private life. They had two children before he died. As the Countess Hartenau, patroness of the arts in Vienna, she outlived him by fifty years, dying in 1951.

The Battenbergs were a large and influential family. Because of anti-German sentiment, the British branch of the family changed their name to Mountbatten. Yes, Lord Mountbatten who helped India get ready for independence and who was blown up on his yacht by IRA terrorists. Lord Mountbatten carried on the family popularity: his murder brought down the wrath of the entire world on the Irish Republican Army.

Beloved Prince ©2013 Trici Venola

As to Prince Alexander, his only failing seems to have been a lack of ruthlessness. “Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest–” or at least the memory of two great loves.

SKULL CARAFE

Krum the Horrible, Medieval Woodcut

At the other end of the spectrum, a thousand years before Prince Alexander, Khan Krum the Horrible reigned over the Bulgars. No shortage of ruthlessness here! You remember him, don’t you? That 9th-century ruler who declared war on the Byzantines. He kept at it until Emperor Nicophorus had to suit up and gallop off to Bulgaria ahead of the Byzantine Army. Krum surrendered, but not until after he’d driven Nicophorus crazy. Berserk with rage, Nicophorus kept slaughtering, forcing Krum to summon allies to defeat him. The Bulgar forces found Nicophorus dead on a dung-heap after the battle. Krum beheaded him and had his skull made into a silver-lined beerstein, with which he drank his own health until the end of his days. Medieval artists did their best, but I always picture Krum as looking like something out of Frazetta. He certainly inspires art like this:

Painting by Frank Frazetta

Bulgarian Bar Girls ©2007 Trici Venola

VIRTUAL JUSTICE Eleven PM always found me exhausted on the train platform. Plovdiv’s train station is 19th-century grandeur that went through the Iron Curtain. In winter it’s grim and cold. Nobody speaks English, the bathroom is permanently broken, and the train to Istanbul is always late.

Train Station PlovdivFebruary 2010: In the tiny ticket office, four clerks huddled around a space heater. None of them wanted to tell me anything. Above them, grimy walls went up forever into peeling paint covered with frost and cobwebs. It was the back of the back of beyond, a Central European Kafka Gulag nightmare. Then I noticed they were riveted to a beat-up old computer, and on it was a DVD. They were not cold, they were not even there. In this grim technological desert, they were watching Avatar. State of the art, and you couldn’t get it online or in stores, it was still in US theaters but not yet in Bulgaria. It was the scene where the collective is trying to bring someone back from the dead. On Facebook, I had read endless griping from LA friends about Avatar. It was quite the fashion back home to hate this movie. But out here in the all-too-real world, Cameron’s archetypes and tableaux of war and oppression spoke to sympathetic ears; that blue tribal communion was gorgeous, a dream of freedom, beauty, triumph over hideous uncontrollable forces. I was glad to see this harbinger from my old hometown, and equally glad to be free of those LA attitudes. The longer I’m gone from the place I was born, the more I feel like myself. In this alien land full of strangers, where I can’t even speak the language, I feel at home.

Coffee Cup ©2009 Trici Venola

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All drawings Plein Air © Trici Venola. All photos copyrighted as noted. All drawings done with drafting pens in sketchbook format: 7 inches by 20 inches closed. Thanks for reading. We love your comments.

2013 in review

Turning In the Light

Turning In the Light ©2013 Trici Venola

THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT! It’s lovely to see you, all 25,000 reads, Stateside and in Turkey and in the UK, and astonishing that we are still being read in all through the Balkans, Scandinavia, Asia, Europe. I love that there are so many readers in Greece and that one has become such a good friend, thank you! Greetings and thanks to our readers in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and welcome Morocco! I wonder if the single read in several African countries was a tourist, and happy I’ve gotten to visit Africa at last. I don’t know how I picked up 151 reads in Brazil, but if the Mad Brazilian Hatter has anything to do with it, thank you Du! We had 27 reads in Peru, a place I’ve only seen from repeated viewings of Motorcycle Diaries, God love you all. It thrills me that our very first reader, Anne Weiner, is still reading and commenting, thank you Anne! Yes, I get a real glow on, knowing that all across the great Russian plain, across those Arabian sands, down in the steam and swelter of the Amazon, people are reading this blog. Thank you, and thanks to all the people about whom it is written and drawn. We are none of us much without the others.

Soup to Nuts at GeziPark

Soup to Nuts at Gezi Park ©2013 Trici Venola

HAPPY NEW YEAR! If you’d like to see more, the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog, and I must say they’ve done a good job. Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

MARRAKECH: Drawing the Kasbah

All my life I wanted to go to Morocco. Everybody in my generation, it seemed, hit that old hippie trail and came back glowing with wonders. Crosby, Stills & Nash released “Marrakech Express,” conjuring up exotic imagery enjoyed by everyone, it seemed, but me. And for years: See some piece of delicate furniture with an exquisite filigree pattern, it’s from Morocco. A soft brown robe with a hood, perfect for coming from the hot tub at night… “Oh, I picked this up in Morocco.” Hooded robes, hooded eyes, French accents, fezzes, intrigue…oh, to be on that train…

The Old Hamam ©2013 Trici Venola

The Old Hamam ©2013 Trici Venola

At last, I got to go. And when I came back, I loaded up the movie Casablanca and watched it yet again, and you know, they nailed it. People don’t dress that well,  and nobody is as beautiful as in that movie, but those production designers knew their stuff.

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Musee Said, an old palace in the Souk.

Around 1975 a friend described sitting up all night on a rooftop in Morocco, drawing and dreaming.  He strongly suggested I do the same. It only took me four decades, but here’s the view from Riad Twenty, our digs in Marrakech. In a single life-changing stroke of fortune, someone gave me a holiday there and told me I could bring a friend, so I invited my sister Penelope, who lives in California. We hadn’t seen each other in seven years.

The Souk from the Roof

The Souk from the Roof of Riad 20 ©2013 Trici Venola

This recent summer in Istanbul was challenging, with no end in sight. Tourism took a powder after the Great Gezi Park Gassing, and money was tight. My new book, Drawing On Istanbul 2, months delayed, was still at the printer when I left. I knew I’d come home to a pile of bills, and I’d been unable to line anything up to take care of them. So I went on this magnificent holiday and forgot about coming home. A nice trick if you can do it. This will change me, I thought. The person I am when I get back, she’ll know how to deal with it. That person is now me… and she did. The book is taking care of everything. At the bottom of this page, you can see about getting one, and now I can tell you about Marrakech.

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Sheltered by the Atlas Kabe mountains, watered by their snowmelt, it’s a prized and cherished garden spot, full of exotica. In the three-hour drive from the airport in Casablanca, our guide Hicham told me that the French loved Morocco for its fertility and warmth. We drove past many cactus farms, encouraged by the King to promote economic stability. Eight ethnic groups, said Hicham, normally fight, but now there is peace since all owe allegiance to the King. I noticed two things right off: minarets here are not spikes but square towers with domed tops, and the cactus is that pale green paddle stuff. After so long in Istanbul’s congestion, my cramped eyes felt like they were stretching.

RIAD20_COURTYARD2

Riad 20 courtyard, from their website.

RIAD TWENTY: In the middle of Marrakech’s Old Medina or souk– the marketplace– is this classic Moroccan family house, two tiers of tiled rooms around a central courtyard with a pool and a tree, sparkling white with curlicues and patterned tile, beautifully restored its owner, designer Robert Bell. DSC00992MonkeyPenny and I breakfasted each morning on the roof with Butterbones the cat, who started out shy and grateful and wound up a howling demanding banshee. Hicham would show up to ask what we’d like for dinner and to suggest a trip or drive us somewhere. Saida the chef, Fadawa the maid and Rabir the houseboy would bustle around making us feel special. We were so safe and spoiled in the riad that we had to remember Robert’s warning to take care outside. The transition was immediate from this island of calm to the souk, a cacophonus labyrinth of narrow steep-walled streets, alleys leading off into mysteries, all thronged with trade.

Seven Arcs Passage in Kenaria  ©2013 Trici Venola

Seven Arcs Passage in Kenaria ©2013 Trici Venola

SnakesSince those halcyon hippie days, two generations have grown up in Tourism, and the atmosphere is bracing: yelling hucksters in striped djellabas, bemused tourists in shorts, donkeys pulling carts, guys sharpening knives, beating drums, little old covered ladies begging, and motorbikes, the scourge of the Middle East.

DSC01175Whole families crowded onto one bike, young guys being important, old men being speedy, power women in full chador and hijab, all blowing exhaust. One must walk single file far to the right in the narrow streets to avoid getting bumped. Then a short passage and wham! Peace:

DSC01127 … and these daggers I love.

Daggers at Musee Said  ©2013 Trici Venola

Daggers at Musee Said ©2013 Trici Venola

The people take good care of anything green. Parks are plentiful and clean, and here’s a tree growing right in the middle of the marketplace for 200 years.

The Tree in the Medina ©2013 Trici Venola

Tree in the Medina ©2013 Trici Venola

BURNING HEADS We got there just before Aid al-Adha, or Kurban Bayram in Turkish. This is a Muslim holy day celebrating the Sacrifice of Abraham. Remember, God asked him to kill his son Isaac? As Abraham obediently got ready to cut Isaac’s throat, God relented and let him kill a sheep instead. So once a year, all over the world, sheep and cows and goats all die ritually. The family buys the best animal they can afford, and many hire a professional to do the slaughtering. The meat is shared with the poor.

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What this looks like in Marrakech is streets full of doomed sheep, slashed with red paint, in carts, tied in gardens, carried over shoulders. The morning of the day is full of baaing, which gradually dies out as the air fills with the coppery smell of blood. Later that day and the next, every shop is closed and the streets are full of people burning heads and hooves. They’re burned until they are white bone and then used for all sorts of things.

Burning the Heads  ©2013 Trici Venola

Burning the Heads ©2013 Trici Venola

Bone and curly sheep horns show up in furniture, as paperweights, as the design element of the curlicue and in musical instruments, like those shown here with their maker, famous bass guitarist Mustafa. All over the Medina, guys looking through my book recognized him.

The Music Maker  ©2013 Trici Venola

The Music Maker ©2013 Trici Venola

The day after Aid al-Adha, a little brat in the street threw a sheep’s testicle onto my sketchbook as I was showing this drawing of an alley to Penny. I threw it right back at him.

Crooked Alley House  ©2013 Trici Venola

Crooked Alley House ©2013 Trici Venola

After I drew this, I walked into the drawing and discovered that the bottom of those houses built over the streets look like this:

DSC01156

JARDIN MAJORELLE

Jardin Majorelle's Brochure

Created by painter Jacques Majorelle and opened to the public in 1947, the Jardin became derelict after he died. Yves St Laurent and his partner Pierre Berges bought and began restoring these gardens in 1980, and it’s too bad the word “fabulous” is so overused.

Blue Bamboo Pavilion  ©2013 Trici Venola

Blue Bamboo Pavilion ©2013 Trici Venola

One can wander all day in the stands of huge bamboo, cobalt and emerald everywhere, worlds of color, hanging flowering vines over dark and pale pools streaked with red carp. Imagine the parties there! Through the zigzag branches of enormous exotic cacti glow the flat blue, violet and lemon walls of the Berber museum.

Berber Treasure  ©2013 Trici Venola

Berber Treasure ©2013 Trici Venola

Inside, this set of jewelry, a Berber family’s entire wealth in silver, amber and stone, stands glassed and glowing with a dozen others in an infinite starry night. The room is actually tiny, mirrored all around, the low black roof pierced with thousands of pinholes. I stood two hours to draw this, undisturbed by the guards although no photos are allowed, and made many friends.

GOATS IN TREES, HAPPY WOMEN

Berber Village with Students  ©2013 Trici Venola

Berber Village with Students ©2013 Trici Venola

The Berber Refrigerator  ©2013 Trici Venola

The Berber Refrigerator ©2013 Trici Venola

Mountain PussycatThe Berber are tribal people native to Morocco. They seem well liked by everyone. We saw many of their villages salted throughout the mountains. The highway runs along a river below towering mountaintops. Along the lushly forested river are enchanting restaurants: suspension bridges rock above the water from the highway to the tables below. The color of the land goes from ochre to blood to rose to peach, all overlaid with pale green vegetation and slashed with cobalt blue paint: on tables, pots, tree trunks. We stopped for lunch and played with a raffish orange cat at the edge of a stream. Penny even made it to the top of the waterfall while I elected to stay and draw the Berber Refrigerator: the water hits the whirligig, spins it and sprays onto the cooling bottles of soda.

Taliwaugh

Most of the structures out in the country are built of taliwaugh– I’m spelling phonetically here– handmade mud bricks. After a few centuries, this rounds and erodes and sinks back into the land.

Camel Plow

We saw many women’s collectives along the roads. At one in Marrakech, we had bought Argan oil, famed for its good effect on skin. Now out in the hinterlands were the ragged-leafed Argan trees, native to Morocco, drought-resistant, endangered and protected by Unesco and the nice profits from their oil. Here’s one full of goats.

Goat Tree  ©2013 Trici Venola

Goat Tree ©2013 Trici Venola

The awful truth is that Argan oil is extracted from undigested pits harvested from goat shit. Goats climb the trees to eat the fruit. Traditional methods involve boiling, pounding and straining by many well-employed women.  I pulled this photo off the Internet, which hastened to inform me that there are nice sterile machines to make Argan oil. Fooey on them, I’ll take the traditional method, and my skin likes it too.

Argan Oil Production

Argan Oil Production, from Wikipedia.

After much driving we came to Ossauria, a coastal which gradually came out of the mists to greet me as I drew. The fort is five hundred years old. I thought the French had built those spherical cornices, but they’re Arab. Hm, could the French have gotten this architectural inspiration from the Arabs? The French were here from WWI until the ‘fifties, when they were booted out. But there remains a vivid French presence: in aesthetics, in language, in voices and faces. Even the King is partly French.

Fortifications at Ossauria  ©2013 Trici Venola

Fortifications at Ossauria ©2013 Trici Venola

A lot of people didn’t want their pictures drawn, but Fadawa our maid was happy to pose, and very proud of her braces. Women everywhere were smiling through braces which have recently been made affordable. 

Pretty Fadawa with Braces  ©2013 Trici Venola

Pretty Fadawa with Braces ©2013 Trici Venola

Leading to the Marrakech Kasbah is an eleventh-century gate covered with fifteen-year-old wooden restoration and topped with storks’ nests occupied all year, for the storks never leave Marrakech. Just as I finished a little girl leaped up on the two cement blocks and posed for a second, long enough to catch her in the drawing. I crossed the street and showed her. I was hoping it would be all right when she reached up, threw her arms around my neck and kissed me.

Storks On the Kasbah Gate  ©2013 Trici Venola

Storks On the Kasbah Gate ©2013 Trici Venola

TIMTAM HOUSE

The TimTam Door  ©2013 Trici Venola

The TimTam Door ©2013 Trici Venola

TIMTAM HOUSE A doorway in a wall of the souk leads through many passageways to a tea garden of filigree and tile and tall flamelike canna lilies, and beyond to high arched windows, balconies, skylights. This is TimTam House. The owner, Yunus, told me that it was built in the 19th century by the Minister of Justice, and that it was quite plain. Yunus’s grandfather bought it in 1936. The exquisite decoration is all from 1942. While in America they were creating the movie Casablanca, in Marrakech they were creating this.

In TimTam House  ©2013 Trici Venola

In TimTam House ©2013 Trici Venola

“My grandfather was more generous with artisans than most, said Yunus, and he got –” he gestured to the high filigree walls. Artisanship like this is rare, now. After his grandmother died, the family converted the house, now subsumed by the Berber Market, to a garden restaurant and carpet shop. Penny and I had spent hours in the garden, enjoying actual face time. Seven years ago she came over and took us along the Mediterranean coast and up to Kapadokya. We don’t see each other often, but when we do, we swing. Here she is on our last afternoon together.

Penny at TimTam House  ©2013 Trici Venola

Penny at TimTam House ©2013 Trici Venola

I had a few more days after she left. Back in TimTam, missing her and drawing in the garden, I kept wondering if they would ask me to move to make room for the paying customers, but everybody treated me like Picasso. Passages lead to the center of the house, now a carpet shop, where I spent five hours drawing patterns and talking with Abdul and Jamal. Then I ran into that colossal door, the 19th century original to the house, the Minister of Justice’s door, now leaned up against an interior wall. I spent my last day drawing it, imagining the sun and storms and desperate faces it has seen. Walked home in the dark so happy that I easily avoided a common peril in the souk with its eight-foot-wide streets: being run into by an old man in a djellaba on a motorbike.

DSC01096

THE HIGH ATLAS

Dawn Clouds at Atlas Kabe ©2013 Trici Venola

Dawn Clouds at Atlas Kabe ©2013 Trici Venola

As Hicham drove us toward the mountains, I was drawing masses of dawn clouds over the plains when I saw a great shoal of cloud foaming across the horizon. Above it could be seen the tips of the mountains, the Atlas Kabe: High Atlas.These mountains are the reason for the Sahara, as they block the clouds. Snowmelt from them runs down and waters Marrakech, the jewel of the plains.

Into the Cloud ©2013 Trici Venola

Before the Cloud ©2013 Trici Venola

 We drove into the first rain I’ve seen here. The car surged up past pine forests, stands of silver birch, the occasional explosion of a palm tree, whole mountainsides pebbled with fruited cactus.

Berber Village with Trees  ©2013 Trici Venola

Berber Village with Trees ©2013 Trici Venola

Donkey Rider 2

The rivers are mostly dry this time of year, but the riverbeds are thick with trees. The land is every shade of peach, and the tiles on the houses are green. People came in and out of the mist. The road twisted upwards into the clouds. Rain starred the windshield. We drove along switchback curves, unimaginably high. On one side, the mountainside was barely visible. On the other side, a sheer drop into solid white. Lurching from side to side I fixed my lipstick, in case I met God.

Berber Village 3  ©2013 Trici Venola

Berber Village 3 ©2013 Trici Venola

Berber houses are long low rectangles punched with a row of square windows. Being built of the mountains they are often barely discernible against the land.

Mountain RetreatGroups of them are built on the barren hillsides, in the lush river valleys, straddling the very spines of the mountains, both sides of the houses dropping off into swirling clouds.

Barren Mountainside  ©2013 Trici Venola

Barren Mountainside ©2013 Trici Venola

On the highway these have evolved into towns. In one, we drove right up to a kebap place. Hicham squinted through the window at the sheep’s carcass, hung up on display. He grunted and we drove away. “Looks yellow,” he said, “not good.” We breakfasted further along, in a bustling town of steep mountainsides, fruit stands, tractors, tour busses, cardboard over puddles of rain. A tiled room with a balcony over a riverbed, intended as a cool refuge from the heat, but in the rain it was full of steaming people. We had meatballs, and let me tell you, ground beef patties cooked with sliced tomato and red onion will hold you all day.

Rainy Mountain Cafe  ©2013 Trici Venola

Rainy Mountain Cafe ©2013 Trici Venola

Hicham had given his water bottle to a kid by the side of the road with car trouble. I kept asking him if he wanted water, and he kept laughing and refusing. “You’re a Bedouin,” I said. “I am,” he said. I had been joking. I knew his mother was Berber, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and red cheeks, he said, from the altitude. But his father was Tuareg. What is Tuareg? “Bedouin,” he said, “they walk the Sahara from end to end, they know no country.”

Hicham  ©2013 Trici Venola

Hicham ©2013 Trici Venola

No Umbrellas Here

Many women along the road were wearing robes of purple and lavender and rose. In the infrequent rain nobody carried an umbrella, walking in laughing groups to school. We passed a couple of little kids bundled into bright yellow snowsuits, two women in magenta hijab, many people in Berber blue, a pure cobalt blue, dyed with indigo. The road twisted on up, tiers of highway above us glimpsed through bits of mist. We stopped for pictures next to a few buildings huddled between the road and a sheer drop, staring across space to bare grey mountainsides rising to a jagged ridge high above.  Far below was a smear of green: a Berber village. Back in the car, we looped on up toward the summit and at last flashed past a sign on a shuttered shop: ALT 2260 M(eters). Then the mist vanished and the world turned gold as we sailed down the desert side of the mountain. The river widened, and all the green bushes and trees in this world were there. The mountains were rocky moonscapes in dark red, dun, grey.

Village at Mountain's Foot  ©2013 Trici Venola

Village at Mountain’s Foot ©2013 Trici Venola

At the foot of the mountains, after I drew the settlement above, Hicham turned left and drove out through flatlands.

Rock Village

Donkey CartIn a small town, he drove up to the mosque and parked. Here is the mosque, he said, gesturing to the rounded minaret, and here is the car, so you can find it. This was Ait-Benhaddou. Beyond is the Wazizih desert and then the Sahara. We walked through the town and came out of a doorway halfway up a hill. I stopped in shock. Across a wide white wash rose a mountain of towers. Spiky-topped towers pitted with rounded windows and doors, ridged with eroded carving, fringed with emerald palm trees, rising there at the edge of the desert. An Oz of sand. Hicham had driven us to the Kasbah.

The Kasbah at Ait-Benhaddou  ©2013 Trici Venola

The Kasbah at Ait-Benhaddou ©2013 Trici Venola

I spent the next three hours drawing. We crossed the wash on a bridge crowded with tourists. This was disconcerting as I felt I was at the end of the earth, but tourists are why such places survive. Everyone in the Kasbah was either working a guesthouse or selling souvenirs. It seemed appropriate. Kasbah means residence, but thanks to the movies I associate it with a marketplace. Some of the towers are occupied and some are ruins, but you can walk up into them. Climbing up the narrow streets and steep stairs, I looked into a face of delicate beauty, a classic Berber boy’s face, wearing blue and topped with a huge black turban. I’ve seen a face like that on a postcard and wondered where in the world…

Street in the Kasbah  ©2013 Trici Venola

Street in the Kasbah ©2013 Trici Venola

I climbed up the rocks above the ancient town and sat looking down into the towers. They looked like huge sand castles. People there said they are 300 years old. Nuts, said Hicham, a lot older. I drew until it was time to leave. Walking down through the towers I found them rounded like caves inside.

Ait-Benhaddou on a Postcard

Ait-Benhaddou on a Postcard

At the edge of the wash, some Tuareg guys were hustling dune buggy rides to the Sahara. They wore traditional pale blue robes and big black turbans, and their dune buggies were the sort where the wheels look like coke cans turned on the side. I realized I was walking in the actual desert. The white sand was silky, fine, clean, softer than California beach sand. I did not want to wash off my sandals.

Sheep and Sugar Cane

The ride back was quieter as I was drunk on the day.

Berber Village on a Postcard

Berber Village on a Postcard

Long loops of road through the golden afternoon, then silence and grey as we zoomed into the cloud. As we hurtled up, above us shone a spectral image: silhouettes of moving cars glowing through the fog as if across a lit street between dark buildings. It was a shaft of light up on the summit. It took less time to return as we had used up every camera device in the car. All through the long drive back through the gathering dark I couldn’t speak a word, but I was smiling, because at long last I have been to the Kasbah.

Two Women Magenta Hijab

All drawings Plein Air, done in sketchbook format, dimensions 18cm X 26. All drawings and photos (unless otherwise specified) © 2013 by Trici Venola. Riad Twenty is available for holiday rental, and Hicham is the manager. You can find them at www.riad20.com.  

DRAWING ON ISTANBUL 2 is NOW AVAILABLE! through Amazon.com, any minute.

HERE IN ISTANBUL: In Sultanahmet, at Jennifer’s Hamam in the Arasta Bazaar. Elsewhere, ask at your local bookstore. DOI2 is available through Citlembik Publishing. You can buy a signed copy from me personally at any of these upcoming events:

NOVEMBER 30 (Saturday) 3:30-5PM at GREENHOUSE BOOKS on the Asian Side at Hilmi Pasha Caddesi No. 2/B, Kozyatagi, Kadikoy, Istanbul Turkiye 216 449 3034 http://www.greenhousekitap.com

DECEMBER 1 (Sunday) 4:30 PM at MOLLY’S CAFE on the European Side in Galata at Sahkulu Sokak No 12, 90 212 245 1696. Directions: head down from Tunel on Galip Dede. Take the second right past the Dervish Monastery and continue on down to No. 12.

DECEMBER 5 (Thursday) Official Launch Party at KALAMAR RESTAURANT in KUMKAPI, 7:30 PM. Caparis Sk. No: 15, Kumkapi. 90 212 517 1849. http://www.kalamar.com.tr. From the Shore Road (Sahil Yolu or Kennedy Cad), turn in at the Kumkapi Gate on the Marmara Sea. By tram, go toward Bagcilar, get off in Beyazit and walk straight down the hill on Tiyatro Caddesi to the famous row of fish restaurants at the bottom. PLEASE COME!!!

KYBELE HOTEL: Drawing in the Power of the Goddess

BASTION OF CHARM

Mike's Lamps ©1999 Trici Venola

Mike’s Lamps ©1999 Trici Venola

DSC00524Kybele Hotel, one block from Hagia Sophia in Sultanahmet at 35 Yerebatan Caddesi, next door to the Yoruk Collection. Far below in the shadowy Basilica Cistern is the giant upside-down stone Medusa. Moss greens her face like uplighting. Up here in the street, all is brilliant color: Kybele is painted turquoise and gold, pink and purple. It’s designed to make your eyes happy.

Slow Pan Kybele ©2004 Trici Venola

Slow Pan Kybele / Yoruk ©2004 Trici Venola

DSC00530Why write about a hotel? And why have I drawn it so much? Because it matters to me. But then it matters to a lot of people. It’s their porthole on Istanbul. From Japan to San Francisco, from Moscow to Paris to New York, diverse, eclectic and interesting people all find a home in Kybele. From this spot, in the center of the oldest part of one of the oldest cities on earth, you can see the whole world.

A Winter Day at Kybele ©2000 Trici Venola

A Winter Day at Kybele ©2000 Trici Venola

Bigwig, A Poet ©1999 Trici Venola

Bigwig, A Poet ©1999 Trici Venola

Charm isn’t something you can manufacture. It has to evolve. It comes about when every single thing in a place matters to someone. Kybele is probably the most photographed hotel in Istanbul, with a wall of rave reviews culled from hundreds. In a district fraught with amusing taste, theirs is impeccable. People work here for years. The maids are important. The waiters are important. The managers and the chauffeur and the chefs are important. And they all treat you like you’re important.

Laura 99

Laura 99

Kybele Lobby 99The place is immaculate, the food in the restaurant good, the music an eclectic mix. Kybele’s famous hanging lamps inspired lookalikes all over the city, lamp shops on every corner.

Kybele’s sixteen rooms are always full. People come back year after year. Architects, archeologists, artists all congregate among the antiques in the lobby. Its creators, brothers Mike, Alpaslan and Hasan Akbayrak, form a perfect blend of art, logic and mysticism that carries over into the decor and general feeling of the place. When they sold it last July 1, shock waves went through the international community. Like many others, my first reaction was to think I would die of sadness. Yet everyone was still sitting out front playing backgammon like always. A cloudy summer day, with a hot breath of storm.

Mike In the Clouds ©2013 Trici Venola

Mike In the Clouds ©2013 Trici Venola

So I sat there in shock and drew Mike and his sons, kids I watched grow up. These faces cheered me right up.

Ozi and Timur 2013 ©2013 Trici Venola

Ozi and Timur 2013 ©2013 Trici Venola

I was there so long that I got to meet the new owners. We should have known that, like everything else in its history, Kybele would attract the best.

Gözde Birer ©2013 Trici Venola

Gözde Birer ©2013 Trici Venola

Ismail Take One ©2013 Trici Venola

Ismail Take One 2013 Trici Venola

Far from an ending, the sale is a continuation and expansion. The  brothers Akbayrak and their legendary carpet and jewelry business are still next door, at Yoruk Collection. The staff is unchanged. And there are these interesting new faces at the hotel helm.  We all love this place, and so I’m celebrating its people and spirit here. In these perilous times, we need every little island of peace and beauty we can get.

Mike & Nihat ©2007 Trici Venola

Mike & Nihat ©2007 Trici Venola

THE POWER OF THE GODDESS

Susie and Ayda ©2007 Trici Venola

Susie and Ayda ©2007 Trici Venola

Kybele from Çatal Hoyuk

Kybele from Çatal Hoyuk

Kybele. A name that conjures up a dancing procession with cymbals and bells. She’s the ancient powerful Anatolian Mother Goddess of Asia Minor, inspiring temples, sacrifices, orgiastic worship. Aspects of her later incarnated into Artemis and then into the Virgin Mary. Images of the goddess abound on the Internet, but in all her many forms, Kybele is female power. Ruler of hearth and home, she arrives in a chariot pulled by lions, accompanied by wild music, by wine, by smiles.

Mike & the Hittite Kybele ©2004 Trici Venola

Mike & the Hittite Kybele ©2004 Trici Venola

There have always been powerful women around Kybele. For starters there are Susie, Gamza and Kazumi, who married Mike, Alp and Hasan.

Susie Oh La La ©2004 Trici Venola

Susie Oh La La ©2004 Trici Venola

Their mothers and friends come in and out from Germany and Turkey and Japan. Their kids grew up independent and interesting, and there have always been fabulous guests. So naturally two of the three new owners are power women as well. Here’s Nur Katre. I haven’t heard her music yet, I haven’t read her writing. I’m betting it’s good.

The New Owner ©2013 Trici Venola

The New Owner ©2013 Trici Venola

Kybele Tympanon, Louvre

Kybele Tympanon, Louvre

Nur’s parents, Gözde and Ismail Birer, seemed nice enough, except I couldn’t talk to them. That damned language thing. A pal, Elizabeth, was at Kybele, she spends her summers resurrecting and reconstructing wooden furniture from the Court of King Midas, circa 740 BCE, found in tumuli near Ankara, and stays on her way in and out each year. Kybele sold, I said. Nobody had told her. I was sitting with Gözde and we were trying to converse without much luck.  But Elizabeth is fluent in Turkish, and she began to translate. Half an hour later we were gasping for air, laughing up in the garden. A newspaperwoman, politically awake, very funny. Ismail as it turns out is an expert in antique textiles, very dry, aesthetically adept. All thoughts of our precious place going to boring strangers had fled. What a relief!

Gozde and Ismail with Cats ©2013 Trici Venola

Gözde and Ismail Birer with Cats ©2013 Trici Venola

It’s mostly women who make the textiles sold at Yoruk Collection and for that matter everywhere: women weave the carpets and embroider the suzanis, women tie the tassels and bead the hats. Tribal art represents years of the lives of women. They love women at Kybele, and we know it.

Dreams In Lace ©2004 Trici Venola

Dreams In Lace ©2004 Trici Venola

GENESIS

Mike's Famous Rug Lecture ©1999 Trici Venola

Mike’s Famous Rug Lecture ©1999 Trici Venola

Alpaslan On the Medusa ©1999 Trici Venola

Alpaslan On the Medusa ©1999 Trici Venola

The Akbayrak brothers were selling carpets and textiles in Sultanahmet when there were only four stores. Back then, the Sultanahmet was shabby and dusty, but the trees, innocent of municipal pruning, were huge and healthy, and the antiquities were appropriately blackened with age. You had to beg someone to help you find a carpet salesman. Mike, Hasan and Alpaslan Akbayrak opened the Yoruk Collection on Yerebatan Caddesi, just down the street from the Basilica Cistern. They were wildly successful. Japanese collectors found them. American diplomats found them. They bought two splintering Victorian wooden houses next door, gutted and rebuilt them, painted them vivid colors and filled them with antiques, in order to give their carpet customers a nice place to stay. Kybele Hotel opened in 1992.  It has seldom had an empty room or a dull day since.

TV and Elizabeth

Anthropologist & Find ©2000 Trici Venola

Anthropologist & Find ©2000 Trici Venola

Among the earliest tribal textile dealers, Kybele and Yoruk Collection set the tone for Sultanahmet, championing handwoven textiles like ikat, hand-embroidered suzanis, gorgeous stuff now collected all over the world. The textiles at Yoruk Collection are mind-boggling. And some of the jewelry is that stuff you’ve seen in the movies: The Other Boleyn Girl and others.

DSC00560

The Brothers Akbayrak ©1999 Trici Venola

The Brothers Akbayrak ©1999 Trici Venola

Breakfast at Kybele ©1999 Trici Venola

Breakfast at Kybele ©1999 Trici Venola

FINDING MY WAY HOME    I stumbled into Kybele ahead of my luggage one morning in September of 1999, angry, discouraged and sad. I was in Turkey to draw, but of course I had fallen in love, and it was not going well.

A big earthquake in August had scared tourists, and Sultanahmet was empty. A contact at the Turkish Tourist Office in Washington had put me in touch with a travel agency, after I explained my plan to draw in Turkey for three months and put the stuff up on my website. There wasn’t any money for projects like mine, but the agency contacted hotel owners. I paid for my own trip, but they asked hotels to contribute housing. Kybele was the first one.

Mike & Kate 99 2

An all-night fight with my boyfriend had left me numb. Still I noticed lamps hanging from the ceiling like fantastic fruit. The bearded hippie on the desk wore an embroidered cap and invited me to breakfast. I followed the glowing lamps through the lobby. My mood lightened with every step. The place looked like the love child of Oscar Wilde and Isadora Duncan.

Little Girl Selin ©1999 Trici Venola

Little Girl Selin ©1999 Trici Venola

A small girl with a huge white hair-bow burst into the breakfast room yelling GunAYdin! Good MORNing! The hippie was Mike, the little girl was Hasan’s daughter Selin, and I was home.  My troubles skittered away like spiders in the sun. I should worry, I had friends.

Akbayrak Family October 99 ©1999 Trici Venola

Akbayrak Family October 99 ©1999 Trici Venola

I have been drawing Kybele Hotel ever since. Through besotted love and manic joy, catastrophic illness and recovery, career change and homesickness, through TV interviews and groups of those fascinated as I am, by the layers here of culture and time, through the long, slow, joyous attempt to understand this place, Turkey, at the center of the world, the hotel has always been there and I have kept drawing it. I should worry, I have friends.

The Mosque Alarm Clock ©2000 Trici Venola

The Mosque Alarm Clock ©2000 Trici Venola

STAFF

Ali & Sedat ©2009 Trici Venola

Ali & Sedat ©2009 Trici Venola

Apo, Kybele’s excellent chef. We all learned his name in a hurry.

 Apo

And, since he’s standing next to Apo down in the kitchen wielding a big knife, we learned Huseyin’s name pretty fast, too.Huseyin Chef's Helper

Adnan 2013 ©2013 Trici Venola

Adnan 2013 ©2013 Trici Venola

Once I complimented Kybele’s Driver, Adnan, here on his cheery demeanor, which takes some doing when you’re driving all the time in Istanbul traffic. This is a town where taxi drivers can be psycho. “It’s just my face,” he told me, “I am 24 hours smiling.”

Dursun is unobtrusive, but wherever he goes, it’s clean, and you have whatever you need. I missed drawing Emir, but he made up for it with this smile.

Kybele-Dursun

DSC00576

Emir yesterday.

Kybele’s thousands of lamps used to be kept in order by an old man who crawled around in the ceilings, wiring everything so that they could be turned on in batches. He eventually went to the Big Light In The Sky, to be replaced by Huseyin, shown in the Kybele garden.

Huseyin in 2004 ©2004 Trici Venola

Huseyin in 2004 ©2004 Trici Venola

Aysha and Huseyin’s mother, Muberra, are Kybele’s longtime housekeepers.Aysa and Muberra

DSC00578

Vefa 2009Vefa has been Kybele’s manager since I can remember. Be nice to Vefa! He’s the guy who books your room. Also on desk is his cohort, the charming Chetin. It’s a good idea to be nice to him as well.

The night man is and always has been Elvis.

Elvis 99His real name is Taner, and he works very long shifts. Many jet-lagged conversations have I had with Elvis down in the lobby at 4AM. Once I got all the way to the airport without my passport and called, frantic. Elvis located the passport and sent it by taxi to the airport, telling the driver enough so that he could find the total stranger with zero Turkish, the one bouncing up and down with anxiety, and I made my plane. Here’s Baby Elvis in 1999.

Hasan wEzzie 2009Vefa’s brother, Hasan, started at Kybele when he got out of the Army in 2001. Now he’s all grown up and married and a Daddy and everything. He grew up here: poignant memories of Hasan heroically carrying all of the suitcases, backpacks, shoulder bags and purses of an entire party of pretty girls up Kybele’s steep stairs all by himself in ONE trip, earning many oohs and aahs.

Baby Hasan

I drew him with the tiny abandoned kitten he and Serdar found in Kybele and kept alive until they could foist her off on me. I still have her, fat and demanding, but cute.

Elvis 99

Elvis in 1999

Serdar started at Kybele when he was seventeen. A tall rangy kid, always with the latest wild hairstyle. He learned English a lot better and faster than I’ve learned Turkish, and he applies it daily now at his swell job in Canada. Here’s Serdar in 2004.

Serder Working Late ©2004 Trici Venola

Serder Working Late ©2004 Trici Venola

And here he is at his wedding in 2011.

Serdar and Tachelle ©2011 Trici Venola

Serdar and Tachelle ©2011 Trici Venola

StormStorm would talk your ear off. He was a good worker. His problem was that he had too big  a brain. It was full of thoughts that slopped over continuously in floods of talk. Storm picked up English overnight. He sharpened his thoughts talking to the Kybele customers as he worked. He was entertaining as all hell.

There wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity for him, but a visiting philanthropist from Arizona noticed the brain (with a nudge from Alp) and sent him to school in America. Such things don’t happen very often. Storm worked his butt off at school and aced the courses and got scholarships. He works in Silicon Valley now. He came for a visit awhile back. He said the weirdest thing about being where he is is that everybody is very very smart.

Happy Mike in Winter ©2001 Trici Venola

Happy Mike in Winter ©2001 Trici Venola

Sukru and ApoŞükrü, shown here with Apo, a man of many affectionate nicknames: “Jay Leno,” and “Sugar” being a few. Şükrü’s son Serkan started at the hotel very young. When still a teenager he could deal with anything. He could talk down a fight, eject a drunk without a scene and still bring you your cappuccino before it got cold. Today, after the Army and some odd jobs, he’s back at Yoruk Collection. Here he is with his new wife, looking positively merged. She’s a talented graphic designer, so fast on a Mac that her nickname is “Speedy Gonzales.”

Newlyweds Merged 2013 Trici Venola

Newlyweds Merged 2013 Trici Venola

Sultanahmet is full of little boys who work: carrying tea trays, shining shoes, selling roses. Most of them are Eastern Turks, working to help the family. Alpaslan told me one day that they had hired dozens of these boys, but that they’d all flaked out after awhile. All except one. Erkan started with Kybele when he was 13. He learned English and Japanese and exquisite social skills, grew up and got married and has a lovely family and is the manager over at Yoruk Collection. Here he is in 2009:

Dreamboat Erkan 2009 ©2009 Trici Venola

Dreamboat Erkan 2009 ©2009 Trici Venola

GUESTS AND FRIENDS

Erkan and Ali Sanci ©2000 Trici Venola

Erkan and Ali Sanci ©2000 Trici Venola

There are no elevators, and there are no televisions in the jewel-box rooms. Nobody seems to miss them.

Hasan in the Turkish House ©2004 Trici Venola

Hasan in the Turkish House ©2004 Trici Venola

DSC00567

Kelly 13

Upstairs in the Garden is the Turkish House, a highly ornamental structure of carved painted wood that houses the multi-lingual Kybele library. The Turkish House is built like traditional old country houses: a row of cabineted rooms.  Once there were some Peace Corps volunteers staying there, en route from Romania. Over breakfast in the elegant garden, one of the girls described going in and out of her flooded apartment building in the dark with two flashlights tied to her hips, wading through floating things she didn’t want to identify.

Birds & Cages ©2004 Trici Venola

Birds & Cages ©2004 Trici Venola

Alp and Rayan 99

Alp and Rayan 99

Between dangerous assignments in Iraq in the early 2000s, a photographer caught his breath at Kybele. He was fascinated with the pair of doves nesting in the Garden amid Mike’s collection of empty bird cages, and I did this drawing for him. I wish I had some of the photographs he took of them. He described taking pictures of Saddam Hussein’s palace after that bird had flown.

Raymond and Ajata were madly in love and expecting their first child. She was eating everything in sight. They went back to Paris and I never saw them again. Here they are on the verge, forever happy.

Raymond & Ajata ©2004 Trici Venola

Raymond & Ajata ©2004 Trici Venola

Lynn from Kentucky took up textile dealing at seventy.

Our Sweet Lynn ©2007 Trici Venola

Our Sweet Lynn ©2007 Trici Venola

Marta from Moscow is a frequent and welcome visitor, along with her growing family.

Marta ©2013 Smetana

Marta ©2013 Smetana

Mr Pete ©2013 Trici Venola

Mr Pete ©2013 Trici Venola

Mother Mary ©1999 Trici Venola

Mother Mary ©1999 Trici Venola

Mr Pete drives a Harley and always brings T-shirts for the staff.  Below, Mother Mary was  so called because she and Mike figured she was old enough to be his mother. When we lost Mother Mary, there was a large wake at Kybele. This picture was passed out with the mourners. Mother Mary’s husband Father Bob remarried, and the entire family comes year after year.

At Mike's w Father Bob ©2004 Trici Venola

At Mike’s w Father Bob ©2004 Trici Venola

Jeannie and her partner Rhonda had the most beautiful hair anyone had ever seen. Big blonde, sleek black. They brought belly-dance tours over from Canada, stayed at Kybele, dancing like a couple of goddesses. Everybody fell in love with them and stayed that way.

Jeannie ©2004 Trici Venola

Jeannie ©2004 Trici Venola

Japanese architects have for decades been stabilizing the Byzantine architecture of Hagia Sophia. Legendary Turkish architect Mimar Sinan buttressed it in the Renaissance, and now it’s the Japanese helping it stay vertical. They send all their architectural students there to study. That’s them out walking on the roof, and that’s a clutch of them over there in the Kybele lobby under the lamps. One day I’ll have to draw them.

A Sucker For Kids ©1999 Trici Venola

A Sucker For Kids ©1999 Trici Venola

Half the staff speaks Japanese, not to mention Hasan and Kazumi and Selin.

Hasan en Famille wCats

Bernie the BirdThe Akbayrak kids are all multilingual, and a League of Nations they are. Selin, the little girl with the big white bow, grew up so smart it is scary. I sat next to her at the computer one night a few years ago. She was chatting online in Japanese, watching a video of a teenaged girl band in Tokyo singing in English, conversing in Turkish on one side and commenting in English to me on the other. It’ll be fun to see what she does with her life.

Alp's Daughters

Zeynep 2004Alp and Gamza’s daughter is studying fashion design in New York. I used to call her Brown Sugar because of her hair. Zeynep drove everybody crazy, she had so much energy. Whatever she does in life will probably involve numbers.

Mike and Susie’s daughter Yonca married Mlado from Serbia.

Yonca at Kybele 03 ©2003 Trici Venola

Yonca at Kybele 03 ©2003 Trici Venola

Maya One ©2009 Trici Venola

Maya One ©2009 Trici Venola

New Year’s Eve a few years ago, they expected their first child. Over in the corner were Susie’s mother from Germany, Kazumi’s mother from Japan, and Mike’s mother, Turkish. Waiting for Mlado’s mother to arrive from Serbia, all gabbled away in their three languages in perfect communication. Maya, shown here at one month, is the proud owner of Maya’s Corner, that purple and pink kebab place between Kybele Hotel and Yoruk Collection. Now four, she bustles in importantly. Yes, this is my shop, she says.

Mike Christmas Bling ©2004 TV

Mike Christmas Bling ©2004 TV

Necla and Cat ©1999 Trici Venola

Necla and Cat ©1999 Trici Venol

Lolling Alp ©2000 Trici Venola

Lolling Alp ©2000 Trici

Long ago I made a couple of books of pictures I’d drawn of the place. These sat on the piano for years, gradually falling to pieces as scores of jet-lagged people leafed through them. People still find the books near the piano and since I jammed a new card in the back, I get emails. I send them here, to the blog.

Alp Christmas Bling

Alp Christmas Bling ©2004 TV

Perfect Evening Stagger ©2000 Trici Venola

Perfect Evening Stagger ©2000 Trici Venola

Hasan Christmas Bling

Hasan Christmas Bling ©2004 TV

It’s only two months since Gözde and Ismail and Nur bought the place but it seems they have always been there.  I shared Iftar with them there, they like it so much. Vefa and Chetin are still on desk. Everyone else is where they ought to be. The family is still next door, at the Yoruk Collection. They left my books on the piano. The Eternal Backgammon Tournament continues. That seems to be the way it will be. So I upgraded the copy on my commemorative Kybele drawing in the new book in the nick of time before it went to press. Here it is, and it looks to stay this happy.

Kybele Medly ©1999-2013 Trici Venola

Kybele Medly ©1999-2013 Trici Venola

Weeks ago, I went over to Kybele to draw the lobby for this blog.

Kybele Lobby ©2013 Trici Venola

Kybele Lobby ©2013 Trici Venola

DSC00569I worked for hours. As waves of nostalgia surged up and threatened to drown me I couldn’t help noticing that the framed picture at left is hung exactly in the center of the wallpaper design. Not a trick missed!! Then Gözde came over and we had a cappuccino. My Turkish is improving, and so is her English. As always, I found it difficult to leave. I have always enjoyed the company of the Goddess.

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All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. Drawing On Istanbul 2 is now at the printer’s: stay tuned. Original art is for sale from the Drawing On Istanbul Series: send me a message via this blog if you are interested. Prints are available at the DrawingOnIstanbul Store at ETSY.com. We love your comments.

GEZI PARK: Drawing Trees in Istanbul

Benediction

Benediction ©2006 by Trici Venola.

THE WALNUT TREE

My head foaming clouds, sea inside me and out

I am a walnut tree in Gulhane Park                                                                          an old walnut, knot by knot, shred by shred                                                            Neither you are aware of this, nor the police

I am a walnut tree in Gulhane Park                                                              My leaves are nimble, nimble like fish in water

My leaves are sheer, sheer like a silk handkerchief                                    pick, wipe, my rose, the tear from your eyes

My leaves are my hands, I have one hundred thousand

I touch you with one hundred thousand hands, I touch Istanbul                   My leaves are my eyes, I look in amazement

I watch you with one hundred thousand eyes, I watch Istanbul

Like one hundred thousand hearts, beat, beat my leaves                                            I am a walnut tree in Gulhane Park                                                              neither you are aware of this, nor the police

–Nazim Hikmet

NazimHikmetRan

NAZIM HIKMET RAN, 1902-1963  If you say his name on the street in Turkey, everyone will look up. Often described as a romantic revolutionary, he was frequently arrested for his Communist beliefs and spent much of his life in jail or exile. He spent quite awhile up the street from Gulhane Park in the prison made infamous  by the movie Midnight Express, now a swanky Four Seasons Hotel. I wonder if he wrote The Walnut Tree there. His passionate determination is much admired, but what makes him loved is his literary voice, immediately familiar, direct and clear. I’m not a big fan of Communism, but I sure relate to his rage at nuclear war and persecution of all kinds. It was Nazim Hikmet who wrote that Byrds song I Stand At Every Door, the one that sent shivers up everyone’s spine, of a little girl nuked at Hiroshima, set to music by Pete Seeger and sung at  sit-ins throughout the Peace Movement. This was the man who said, “Living is no laughing matter.”

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Turkey is rich in trees. There are so many you can’t believe it. I’m from that desert: Los Angeles, where trees improve your property values. Trees are a big deal to me. It’s human nature to take something for granted that comes easily. But I know that it takes forty or fifty years for a tree to get big, and plenty of natural water and light for them to be beautiful. When they are cut down, or made ugly with chainsaws, it puts me in a state of mind I can only describe as savage. I try my best to keep my actions positive. One way is to celebrate the trees that remain by drawing them.

Wind in the Leaves

Wind in the Leaves ©2007 Trici Venola.

To fight something, don’t dwell on it. Cease to fight at all. Concentrate instead on what you want to replace it. Concentrate not on what you hate but on what you love. Here’s what I love: the glorious trees of Istanbul, the wonderful trees of Turkey.

Wall of the Great Han

Wall of the Great Han ©2007 Trici Venola.

They are everywhere. Shooting perkily up out of an old wall, greening a grey landscape, dappling a seared cement square with cool shadows.

Looks Like It Grew There

Looks Like It Grew There ©2005 Trici Venola.

It took me years to learn to draw foliage, and it was everywhere. First, I treated it as a decorative element, whiting it out.

AyaMoonlight

AyaMoonlight ©1999 Trici Venola.

Then I tried to draw each leaf, which can work but didn’t for me. Finally, with this olive tree,  I realized that leaves are a texture, treated the clumps of leaves as single shapes and lit them accordingly.

Olive Tree

Olive Tree ©2000 Trici Venola.

When I learned that, the drawings got better. And as I ceased to take trees for granted I began to draw them more.

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All the world knows now that  Gezi Park, behind Taksim Square, was slated for destruction by the government, to be replaced by a shopping mall tricked out to look like an early 19th-century Ottoman barracks torn down in 1940. This banner in Cihangir shows the proposed mall, with graffiti trees added in the subsequent protests. This banner has since been removed, and a huge portrait of Ataturk draped over the Cultural Center up on Taksim Square.

MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATURK  Winston Churchill, after losing his entire army to the Turks at Gallipoli, said that a general of Ataturk’s status comes along once in a thousand years, and it was just his rotten luck to be up against him. The way in which the Turkish people revere Kemal Ataturk can hardly be overestimated. If you combined George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, all the Kennedys, and Martin Luther King,  Americans might feel that way about one single person.

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Ataturk, hero of Gallipoli and the Turkish War of Independence, was the founder of the Republic and a human being. He was called a drunk in his lifetime and he said, yes, that’s true, and kept putting the country together. As he was dying, in the late 1930s, there was no effective treatment for alcoholism. The fledgling program of AA was not well-known outside of a few people in America.

Atat_rk6Ataturk continued to work despite the crippling disability and died in 1938 of complications caused by the disease, leaving behind the first secular Republic in the Middle East and an iconic collective memory. Conservative Muslim Prime Minister Erdogan’s widely-reported recent dismissal of Ataturk as “a drunk” sparked outrage and a spew of anti-PM graffiti signed “Sons of the Drunk.” Because of this polarization with the current government, and because there is no new unifying symbol for Turkey, Ataturk was taken by the Gezi Park Resistance as their symbol. This is particularly ironic because many women in the park were covered, and Ataturk declared war on headscarves. The current government has restored headscarves to the public venue, legalizing them in state buildings including schools. Here are a couple of people in Gezi Park displaying Turkish Patriotism.

Soup to Nuts at GeziPark

From Soup to Nuts in Gezi Park ©2013 Trici Venola.

Ataturk also loved trees. He once chided a gardener for truncsating a tree growing into his house, said to leave it alone, rather they should move the house. He was concerned that Ankara, necessarily made capital of the new Turkish Republic by its protected central location, was so arid. Traveling frequently by car from Istanbul, he stopped always under a lone magnificent tree by the side of the road. And then there came a day when, to widen the highway, they had cut it down. The great general and statesman probably felt the same as we all do when this happens: the sense of helpless fury, the utter incomprehensibility of someone doing that to a living tree, the hopelessness of that empty space where an hour ago was a living spirit of green and giving, not to be replaced in a human lifetime. I think he must have felt all this because he did what I do. He cried.

Big Cypress

Big Cypress ©2005 Trici Venola.

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS  Chopping crowns off trees, along with the branches, has become a regular Turkish custom.  It wasn’t always. School children told me that the Prophet Mohammed said, “To cut off the top of a tree is to cut a head.”  The Ottomans loved trees, planting avenues of them, surrounding all the mansions and monuments. The Grand Bazaar was surrounded by tree-shaded gardens. All of them have vanished now. “You’ve got to control trees in a civic area,” says a French friend, native of the land that invented pollarding, the practice of making grown trees into lollipops. It makes me wonder about towns in Bulgaria, where the trees are as big as thunderheads. How do they do it? I believe they leave them alone, and tend to their plumbing.

Boris & The Empty Plate ©2007 Trici Venola.

THE CROWNS OF THE TREES  Gulhane Park, of Nazim Hikmet’s walnut tree, is a rolling greensward on the grounds of the Topkapi Palace in Sultanahmet. It’s got lots of tall trees, a rare thing in Sultanahmet where most of them have been truncated. Parks have been literally cut in half– Kadirga Park near Kumkapi comes to mind- by the removal of all the branches off of many of the trees, but Gulhane Park, Maçka Park, and Gezi Park and many others still have their crowns.

Swiss Hotel & Maçka Park ©2000 Trici Venola.

I drew the plane tree at the top of this post in 2006 to protest the truncating of the Sultanahmet trees. This particular tree survived the renovation of the entire square behind Yeni Camii- Mosque- in Eminonu. The government cut down all the others and demolished all the little hobbledehoy cafes for a modern generic terraced area there in the Spice Bazaar. The ends of the great tree’s branches have been cut off. This has an aesthetically disquieting effect, as the natural growth twists and turns until the ends, when all the new growth points straight up as if drawn by a ruler. Locals say it’s 450 years old. UPDATE December 2013: It grieves me to report that the tree did not survive. It’s still there, but not a leaf in sight all year. It likely lost its taproot when the government tunneled out a parking structure under it.

Typical Topkapi Tourist

Typical Topkapi Tourist ©2012 Trici Venola.

The huge tree at right in the picture above was planted hundreds of years ago at the Topkapi Palace by one of the Sultans. The trees below, planted in the early 1960s, shaded the sweltering ruins of the Boukoleon Palace until last year, when they were cut down to stubby sculpture. I miss them.

Boukoleon Snow

Boukoleon Snow ©2008 Trici Venola.

A tree’s roots are as deep as the tree is tall. Tree roots are holding Istanbul up out of the Bosporus. Cutting them can collapse your ruins, make way for landslides, weaken your foundations. But the main reason I hate seeing the trees butchered is quite selfish: I like to look at them.  “Oh, they’ll grow out,” people say airily. Yes, after I am dead. After the tourists have gone home. And they’ll look awful in winter for years to come. And aesthetics are not taken into account by the chainsaws. So when I see a natural tree, without the bunched-fist look of a grown-out stump, I draw it. It takes forever, but it’s worth it.

Outside Rustem Pasha

Outside Rustem Pasha ©2007 Trici Venola.

I went nuts when they shortened the trees in Sultanamet. Boy, was I glad I had drawn them when I could!

Ayasofya In Winter

Ayasofya In Its 1463rd Winter ©1999 Trici Venola.

The Byzantine architectural detail behind the tracery of those branches is an art lesson in itself.

Ayasofya Moon

Ayasofya Moon ©1999 Trici Venola.

There are still plenty of trees around Hagia Sophia. One plane tree was spared entirely.  One day they may be allowed to grow out again. They’ll never look completely natural, but they do recover in about ten years if allowed. The current practice is to cut the branches just about every year. And I mean cut. Candy-ass terms like “crop,” “prune,” or “trim” don’t begin to describe the amputation of living leafy trees into stump sculpture. I see I am going to have to post one picture of this. I’m going to use one that proves the chainsaw-wielders have heart.

Bony Birdnest

But oh, if they were trained! It’s a good way to create jobs for unskilled labor. Imagine if those guys, with all that energy, were sent to Forestry School! To learn to plant! To nurture! Just imagine!

Ayasofya Rising

Ayasofya Rising ©2004 Trici Venola.

Back in 2006, nobody seemed to notice or care that the trees were so denuded. Many actually died from the radical cutting, standing barkless and grim for years before they were removed. So I talked to the guys on the street. Let’s talk about this miracle, I said to many a carpet tout, photosynthesis. A tree eats from its leaves. The leaves take light and gas and turn it into air. They eat carbon dioxide and create oxygen. This is why trees in a city are a good thing, since people breathe oxygen and choke on carbon dioxide. Trees without leaves cannot do this. The dying tree immediately puts out a spray of leaves to survive, and people say “Look! It’s coming back!” To a Californian tree-hugger, this is like saying about a woman with her lips, ears, breasts, arms and top of head cut off: “Look! She’s really all right! She is trying to smile!”

Island Pine and Sea ©2007 Trici Venola

Island Pine and Sea ©2007 Trici Venola

But she does smile. The trees keep trying to give us what we need. This miracle happens every day, all around, everywhere I look. It keeps me sane.

Hagia Sophia Agape

Hagia Sophia Agape ©2011 Trici Venola.

A city of 20 million and counting needs all the air it can get. People living near parks tend to feel better.  Plenty of trees in the city makes it a better place to live in, better air to breathe. Shade is nice too.  Shade in fierce sweltering August, shade to walk in, shade to sit in. We need our trees. That they are most beautiful with the hundred thousand leaves, the hundred thousand hands, reaching out to us, making air! –that’s just a bonus. We need every leaf. And I thought I was the only one who thought so. Now I know I’m not alone.

Gezi Park

Gezi Park, first week of protests

Everyone will tell you these days, It’s not about the trees. Not anymore. But that’s where it started. Regardless of what side you’re on, the imagery coming out of Turkey these days is stunning. The Gas Mask Dervish:

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The Woman in the Red Dress, hair flying up as the gas hits her face, now performance art in Santa Monica, California:

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Performance Art on the Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, California.

The Barricade at Cihangir, where actual young Turks protest another shopping mall under a giant ad of a hypothetical young Turk brandishing a credit card.

Cihangir Barricade 2

Two women in black chadors, wearing masks of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. The Prime Minister exhorting people to go home.

imagePeople walking across the bridge at dawn to join in Taksim Square:

The BridgeAn old lady in a headscarf, pulling grimly on a catapult.

Çapulcu Gramma, viral on Internet. Please provide credit if you can.

Çapulcu Gramma, viral on Internet. Please provide credit if you can.

Masked police blackly stalking through swirling clouds of gas, bashing in all directions.

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Police Clearing Gezi Park. ABACA/ABACA/Press Association Images

The Prime Minister striding across the world stage, handed sheaves of red carnations, carelessly tossing them in relays into a huge crowd of fanatical supporters.

AKP-Rally-5An interlude of black humor: this screen dump was gleaned off of YouTube, with an ad for guest suites popping up on a video of police chasing people near the Istiklal.

Istanbul Is Waiting for YouThe Pianist in the Rain, playing twelve hours for peace in Taksim Square until he collapsed in exhaustion.

Piano Man DawnThe Mothers ringing the Square: hundreds of women handfasted in the rain while their children stayed in the park.

MothersThe Standing Man, cloned into infinity all around the world, silence echoing, in front of a leader eighty years gone, joined nightly now by hundreds in Gandhian silence.

StandingMan Gunduz

Performance artist Erdem Gunduz standing on 17 June.

Standing Man 19 June

The Standing Man Protest 19 June.

And as I write, late at night on 22 June, new images described on Twitter as gas creeps up onto my balcony half a mile from Gezi Park: hundreds of wet red carnations litter Taksim Square, brought to honor the dead from the protests and dropped as people fled the water cannons.

Protesters Throwing Flowers

Across the Golden Horn in the tourist area of Sultanahmet, you’d never know there was any unrest. Still hordes of tourists canceled, alarmed by images of violence. But the rest of the world has become violently, exuberantly aware of Turkey. The tourists are now coming back. They have to. The imagery alone might compel them.

Tomb Tree

The Tomb Tree at Corlulu Ali Pasha ©2004 Trici Venola.

I asked a bunch of people what they wanted. Later someone sent me an anonymous message in English, signed Çapulcu: in Turkish Marauder, which was adopted by Gezi Park protesters after the Prime Minister called them that early on.  It said: What do I want? I want trees with tops. I want trees with tops everywhere. I want historic landmarks saved and incorporated back into daily living, like the Post Office and Haydarpasa and the SeSam Cinema Building and the Spice Bazaar.* I want preserved ruins and monuments with historic integrity. I want tolerance for all religions, races, sexual preferences. I want a place that doesn’t look like any other place on earth, because it couldn’t happen anywhere else but the center of the world. I want Turkey, as it is, was, and can be, the land that always was, the Republic that can be free. 

Have Camera Will Travel

(*Note: Haydarpasa Train Station was put at risk after its roof fire burned unchecked some years ago. It may become a hotel. SeSam Cinema Building is to be torn down and replaced with a mall. The police used water cannons for the first time at that demonstration. People are upset at losing the magnificence of everyday life here to hotelization and generic globalization.)

Dance In the Woods ©2007 Trici Venola.

Dance In the Woods ©2007 Trici Venola.

In the course of the Gezi Park Occupation, the trees in Gezi Park became billboards for resistance.

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I don’t know what these signs say, but I do know that they all express a desire for freedom in one form or another.

DSC00270Here’s John Lennon saying “Imagine” 33 years after his death.

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The spirit of every maimed and murdered tree in Istanbul rose up in Gezi Park and blew a big raspberry at the Forces of Chainsaw.

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The government has not said what they will do. Of course they can do as they like. Just now, I am happy to say that they are laying in new grass in Gezi Park, cleared a week ago and worn to the dirt with protest.

DSC00255I hope the government does the right thing, and listens to the people who live in the area and need the green space, as well as other things that make their lives worth living.

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I devoutly hope that these trees, now stripped of their messages, will not end up as a bunch of sad stumps. But if they do, the images from Gezi Park have already flown out into the media, and some of them are so scorching that they will continue to reappear again and again. That’s one way these trees will always live; in the media. We humans can’t breathe it, but we can use it to ensure that we will from time to time be able to come up for air.

Winter Distance

Winter Distance @2001 Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air, © Trici Venola for the Drawing On Istanbul Series. Most photographs by Trici Venola. If you see an uncredited photo and know the photographer, please let me know so I can credit them. We love your comments.