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.

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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.

DSC00582

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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.

JUST UNDER YOUR FEET: Drawing in the Corridors of Lord

Tunnels under Hagia Sophia? Here’s my experience with one of them.

Just Under Your Feet ©2001 Trici Venola

Just Under Your Feet ©2001 Trici Venola

The bridal processional walks singing along Akbiyik Street, trailing clouds of incense. Between rows of arches and marble columns, through hotels and hostels, bars and cafes and shops, the grand company spirals up through the bad bald renovation of the Stairway of Lord, chanting with every step, and continues on toward the Four Seasons Hotel. Heavy silks and pearled brocades sweep through groups of backpackers drinking beer and smoking nargile, tourists haggling over carpets and ceramics, hotel check-ins and waiters juggling trays, as the Empress and her attendants and priests walk from her marriage, in the Church of Lord, to its consummation in the Imperial Bedchamber of the Magnaura Palace.  Sometimes I spend so much time drawing these antique ruins that the past becomes superimposed on the present.

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP

Cartoon Asia MinorI found this place back in 1999.  I’d heard about the Byzantine palace they’d found but couldn’t get in anywhere to draw it. I was out on Kutlugun Street in Sultanahmet across from Four Seasons Hotel, crazy, thinking about them building on the ruin before I could draw it. A guy stepped out of a carpet shop. “Do not cry, Madam,” he said, “we have the Magnaura Palace in our basement.”

What they have is a section of the Corridor of Lord, part of the Magnaura Palace Complex. Every structure on the street is built over a chunk of the Corridor. But the Basdogan family at Asia Minor Carpets spent half a million dollars digging out theirs.  I started drawing it that day, and I’ve been drawing it ever since. It’s a spectacular ruin. You can see it under Asia Minor Carpet Shop and from the back of Albura Kathisma Restaurant. Don’t walk where the floor is wet! I love it so much I wrote a story about it. Here’s an excerpt. For our post, I’ve included my Plein Air drawings of the place and some photos.

Tunnel Door

(Fall 1999) …As lights came on I began to see dim walls of pitted stone blocks. At the bottom of the wall to my left was a low arch. One of the electrical cords traveled along the wall and into this black hole. It lit up suddenly. The wall was so thick it was almost a tunnel. I stuck the sketchbook under my arm, bent double, and went in.

Double Door in Lord ©2005 Trici Venola

Double Door in Lord ©2005 Trici Venola. From the Passageway, looking across the Bath at the first room.

It was a little irregular room with a tall vaulted ceiling. Amid the stones of one wall was a broken terracotta pipe. A bath?Rock CU Across was the entrance to another archway. I crowded through it into a narrow passage, rough stone walls going up into shadows, iron prongs sticking out from the stones above my head, hammered into them in some forgotten necessity a thousand years ago.  

Lord Passage ©1999 Trici Venola

Lord Passage ©1999 Trici Venola.

 I walked down the passage on warped wooden planks. The orange electrical cord looped along ahead of me, buzzing, strung here and there with glowing yellow bulbs. At the end of the passage it disappeared through a tall opening in the stone wall. I followed the cord through this opening. I smelled damp earth and age. The yellow lights made aureoles in the dusk.

Indiana Jones Arch

I was in a big dim space, looking down the wooden catwalk at a brick archway about fifteen feet high, plugged almost to the top with rubble. Between the rubble and the arch was a black hole going back forever. The walls on either side were stone. At the bottom were cement sacks and a shovel. Above was a dome made of small red bricks in a spiral pattern. To the left and right of the arch were more pitted brick archways, at right angles to the one in the center. Each led to another spiral brick dome over another archway, each full of rocks and dirt that went off into the shadows. In the center arch, next to the black hole, was a bright square yellow lamp. The electrical cord swooped along to this and stopped. End of the line. I was in Byzantium.

— From ‘Just Under Your Feet’, Encounters with the Middle East, Solas House, Palo Alto. © 2007 Trici Venola.

Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 Trici Venola.

Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 Trici Venola. Dome Chamber, the drawing from that first day.

In this early attempt at drawing old stone. I just outlined every brick. After so many centuries, each one has a separate personality. The cat clearly said, “What are you doing here?”

Open to the Sky ©1999 Trici Venola

Open to the Sky ©1999 Trici Venola. Dome Chamber entrance before the stairs were put in.

The Basdogan Family finished their excavation, three full rooms and the Passage, plus a small cistern behind that broken pipe.They installed two staircases and a plywood floor and topped parts of the ruin with glass, and put in a cafe with a large sign over it: Palatium.  In 2005, obsessed, I drew a schematic of their excavation. Here it is.

Lord Schematic ©2005 Trici Venola

Corridor of Lord Chunk Schematic ©2005 Trici Venola

In the story above, I went into the first room at the bottom of the drawing, up through the Bath and Passage, and into the Dome Chamber at the top, which is Kutlugun Street. The bottom is Akbiyik. Both run parallel along the Marmara slope of Sultanahmet. The shape of the streets is determined by the shape of the Corridor. See?

Here on Google, that big dome conglomerate at the top is Hagia Sophia. That Four Seasons, now gorgeous, was the actual Midnight Express prison, built on the ruins of the Magnaura Palace. You can still see graffiti from prisoners there. The Magnaura was the Imperial Palace from the 4th to the 8th centuries. The galleries were still around in 1200, as this CGI take from Byzantium 1200 shows:

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

Behind hotels along Akbiyik street you can still glimpse tall pointed arches and old stone. Here’s what Byzantium 1200 thinks the inside upper gallery looked like.

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.
According to various sources, including one that quotes an 8th-century Book of Ceremonies, the Empress’s procession walked to her marriage, her ceremonial bath, her bedchamber and back again. I wonder if the actual consummation was witnessed as well.
The Passageway Door ©2005 Trici Venola

The Passageway Door ©2005 Trici Venola. From the Dome Chamber, looking into the Passage.

Drawing down under the street I wonder about a lot of things. There’s the dripping of water, great silence and a sense of waiting. Ghost stories seem sensible here. I heard of something in tall boots that told the carpet shop tea lady to move along, and one night watchman tells lurid tales of spooks running up and down the stairs. I myself saw only a black cat-sized shadow detach itself from a black doorway down there, skitter across the floor and evaporate before my very eyes.

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 Trici Venola

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 Trici Venola. By 2008, I had learned to draw old stone. You do it slowly.

The best story was from an old lady in the neighborhood. In Kathisma Restaurant, next to the entrance to this excavation, there’s a tunnel tricked out to look like a wishing well. The old lady said that when she was a kid, they used to go in there and come out on the Marmara Sea. An adult tried this in the 1960s, but he got stuck and died, so be warned.

THE DISAPPEARING BISHOP

Gennadios II meets Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453

Gennadios II meets Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453

I remember that Bishop of Constantinople in 1453, coming in full pomp with all his attendants to meet Mehmet the Conqueror. He handed over the keys to the city, and, according to witnesses, walked into the wall of Hagia Sophia and disappeared forever.

Dragon Lamp G2002 Trici Venola

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

There are these small doors in Hagia Sophia, and many, many tunnels. That must have been quite a processional, all those priests quick-stepping down through secret passages to the sea. They would have worn their best to meet the Conqueror, and carried all their jewels and all their prayers to avoid meeting their Maker.

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Red and blue and gold, furs and plumes, torches, little lamps. The Pilgrim Foot was a common Christian theme.  Fantastical creatures pre-date and permeate Christianity throughout the Middle East, a tradition now echoed only by those gargoyles on Notre Dame.  Perhaps the hurrying processional carried small ivories like this Madonna or the angel at the top of the page.

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Or reliquaries with bas-reliefs similar to these silver ones of Apostles Peter and Paul. After all they were running for their lives.

Peter and Paul ©2002 Trici Venola

Peter and Paul ©2002 Trici Venola. Silver bas-reliefs 7″ high 500-600 CE. NY Met

I drew these little images in museums, most of them in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a magnificent evolved place that allows me to wander with my sketchbook and my mind, in the wake of the grand processional of history. It continues to wend its way along these streets, sun lancing in the arched windows, reflected flames gleaming in the surfaces of old marble bowed with the collective weight of panoply and prayers.

Two ArchesJust under your feet, steps recede into the earth, domes push up weeds, arches bear up under traffic. Forty fathoms below that the goddesses are pagan, the angels’ wings come out of their hips, the lions have nearly human faces. Down and down and down go the passages, the great processionals in a honeycomb of antiquity. Workmen with iPhones jackhammer away, following the pipedream of progress, but they have never found the bottom of Sultanahmet.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola.

— All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, from the Drawing On Istanbul Series. All full drawings done in sketchbook format: 18 cm X 52 cm, drafting pens on rag paper. We appreciate your comments!

This post originally appeared early in 2012 under the title: THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP: Drawing In the Corridors of Lord. I’m closing in on finishing a new book, so instead of the usual week I took a night and upgraded this for you. It’s one of my favorites.

THE COVERED FEAST: Drawing in the Grand Bazaar

 

THE GRAND BAZAAR  I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. I was with a bunch of other tourists, at a dead run, trying to keep up with Mike.

 

Grand Bazaar Fountain ©2003 Trici Venola.

WITH MIKE IN THE GRAND BAZAAR

We charge at breakneck pace through a big arched gate, down a promenade lined with cheap fezzes and fake harem stuff, past all the gaudy scarves and baubles and Vegas gold. We run up through a forest of painted columns on a steep stone incline lined with underwear and carpet shops, Mike’s harem for the day of Americans, eager for exotica and bargains, all staying at Kybele, the hotel he runs with his family in Sultanahmet.

 It’s a rare Turk who loves old stuff. In a country full of antiquities, modernity is prized. But Mike wears antique silver and scarves and jeans. The other merchants stare at him from their suits. The beaded pillbox hat throws them. ‘They don’t know the difference between Fundamentalist and Hippie,’ he snorts. 

Happy Mike ©2001 Trici Venola

We land at tilting tables in the thick aroma of spiced meat and gaze up at the yellow arched ceilings. The Grand Bazaar was started by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461 and has been evolving ever since. It was the first mall and is still going strong. It has over three thousand shops. As many as 400,000 people pour daily through the dozens of arched entrances, but only four of them can fit in some of these shops where there are things like I’ve only seen in museum cases.  After lunch we trot past many merchants. There are 26,000 people working here and they all want us to buy something. 

Mustafa In the Grand Bazaar ©2011 Trici Venola.

They stare with amazed chagrin at the short bearded Turkish man in his quasi-Fundamentalist gear and his train of great big gorgeous American cows. All that money and they can’t get at it. Galvanized, they shriek, “Nize carpet!  A sell you nize carpet! ”  “Leather, Lady? Good leather! ” “Hey Lady!  Dress! ”  “Lady! Lady!” –holding up a pair of panties, making them dance– as we pant up the steep slope and turn left through an archway into another world of carpets and electrical appliances and high heels–high heels? — up a long staircase, across lumpy tarpaper roofs and up a final, very old stone flight of stairs, worn in the middle and cracked on the edges, past a sort of gatehouse where a young man mends shoes.

Mike In the Grand Bazaar ©2000 Trici Venola

Small boys run up and down with round tin trays loaded with tulip glasses, full and empty. The entire Turkish buying ritual is flavored for me with this strong Turkish chai—made in a samovar and served scalding in a small glass. The little tulip glass is presented in a saucer shaped like a flower, with two or three cubes of sugar and a tiny tin spoon. If you don’t put the sugar into the tea, it melts and makes the bottom of the glass all sticky, so I’ve developed a taste for sweet tea.

The Ringmaker ©2000 Trici Venola

At the top of the stairs is a maze of old hallways, some roofed and some catwalked through the open air. We’re at the top of the bazaar. On a roof overlooking a grapevined courtyard is a tent full of textiles.

Osman’s Rooftop Textiles ©2004 Trici Venola

It’s here that I buy Koran covers for my sketchbooks.  Each cover was made by someone by hand, some caravan housewife or lonely goatherd, pieced together from remnants and embroidered and lined, to cover a precious book.

There’s a shop up here full of brass: bowls and pots, old and new, and the scimitar-like crescents from the tops of mosques. There’s a shop full of dangling jingling jewelry, where they sell old silver ornaments by weight and your knees are jammed against your companion’s. I drink my chai and look out past hanging ceramic tent ornaments through a murky window at the cats slinking through sunbleached grass growing on the wall opposite. There’s a place where I find a pair of soft backless shoes, the kind with toes that point up, in glowing red leather.

Up Top at the Grand Bazaar ©2003 Trici Venola

Dusty Old Shop ©1999 Trici Venola

Then down a narrow dingy hall to the very last shop: a closet with two dusty glass cases and some shelves. First chai, then out come small battered newspaper bundles. They could be anything. Last time it was a blackened bronze bracelet, pitted with age, grooved, with an opening just big enough for my wrist. I slid it on and it was mine. I imagined it on a wrist that turned black along with it. “It will clean itself from your body,” said the man through Mike. “I think maybe a toothbrush and some toothpaste,” I said. Mike was horrified. “You’ll ruin the patina!” he exclaimed, “No toothbrush! Just wash it when you wash your hands and it will turn to gold.” I haven’t taken it off much since I got it in Istanbul so long ago. It’s been in salt water and sun and sleep, sickness, love, heartbreak, and mayhem with me, and like everything else clotted and dark in my life it is slowly but unmistakably beginning to show the glint of gold.

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KAPALICARSI: THE COVERED BAZAAR 

This antique postcard and the new one above coincidentally show the same view.

Grand Bazaar is, in Turkish: Kapalicarsi, literally Covered Bazaar. In oldtime Istanbul, according to classic Islamic tradition, anything or anyone beautiful and precious was covered. Delightful houses were humble on the outside. Gardens hid behind walls. Women were veiled. Those Koran covers I buy for my sketchbooks follow the same priciple. This had everything to do with how the Bazaar evolved.

Gulersoy Collection. Shoe Sale ©1980 Aydin Erkmen

Women shoppers could not be in an enclosed, Western-type shop with a merchant. So the whole bazaar was enclosed. What a concept! All the precious things covered at once! The stalls were built into the walls of the streets, with wooden covers– divans– flipped up to display the goodies for sale, which were heaped and hung there with no glass barrier: a feast of color and texture to dazzle and delight. The women could bargain out in the open, protected from weather and gossip.

Gulersoy Collection. Divan Row c1850

Through pools of light from the high windows, horses, donkeys, carriages and the occasional camel were all ridden through the Bazaar.  Down each avenue was a trough for water and waste. You can see traces of these still, under the modern floor tiles. Westernization brought imitation of Europe, so shops were built out into the streets, turning most of them into narrow labyrinths. Despite modern electrical wiring these have an undersea feel on dark winter days. I’ve been in the Bazaar in a blackout, though, and you can always find your way because of the windows. Here’s Muhammed in front of his shop Ak Gumus on Yesil Direkli Street up by the Post Office, looking down Sari Haci Hasan Street.

Momo Outside His Shop ©2011 Trici Venola

Here is beloved tissue seller Gemici from the same spot looking up.

Everybody Loves Gemici ©2011 Trici Venola

OLD VIRTUES & THE TOUT POLICE

Many visitors today are intimidated by the loud aggressive persistance of the touts, the guys that stand in their doorways and exhort, charm, plead, annoy and wheedle you into looking. But they can’t follow you. The Tout Police will Get Them, and I’m told it’s a hefty fine. The Tout Police are the last vestige of the old ways. In Ottoman days of yore, pushing ones work or goods was anti-Islam, as was advertising. The Bazaar Greeks were the aggressive traders. Turks would sit silently and smoke nargile while you shopped, only showing what you asked to see.

Traders ©1980 Aydin Erkmen

 

 

Freedom from jealousy and indifference to profit were Islamic virtues. A French visitor to Istanbul in 1830 wrote with astonishment that. after he had selected a wallet, the Turkish shop owner advised him to buy a better one for the same price from his neighbor. It wasn’t uncommon for a shopowner who had sold something that day to send business to someone who hadn’t.

Democracy and Westernization brought the present exhortionate hullaballoo. I find that I have come to view it with affection. The touts can tell where you’re from at a glance, and they have stock phrases. We retaliate. They say, “Excuse Me!” And we say, “Okay, you’re excused.” They say, “You dropped something: my heart!” We stomp on the floor and grind it to bits, grinning. They stagger and clutch at their chests, and nobody stops for a minute. On top of this cacophony, down in the bottom of the Bazaar they call out the exchange, fluctuating figures bawled out in Turkish, letting me know I’m not in Kansas anymore.

COMMISSION MAN Sultan Abdulhamid’s reign, in the early 1900s, brought the Translator Guides. These would follow and buttonhole the  visitor, advising him as to what he wanted. Then they’d translate from the shop owner and take a commission on the sale. They were multilingual with amazing memories, remembering the tourist from visit to visit: where they stayed, what they ate, etc, and they drove everyone crazy. People would buy things just to get rid of them. The modern-day equivalent is the Commission Man, the guy who dogs you on the street trying to steer you to a carpet shop. Most are obnoxious jerks, but some are sophisticated and charming.

Inside the Wall ©2003 Trici Venola.

Democracy also brought Advertising. Turkey’s excessive signage is notorious, but it could be worse. This horrifying photo is what the Grand Bazaar looked like in 1979.

Billboards in the Grand Bazaar ©1980 Celik Gulersoy

This abomination vanished with military coup of the early 1980s. Some general must have had good taste. Shortly afterwards the Bazaar interior was covered with cheerful yellow and painted with classic Ottoman tulip designs by art students. I have drawn this tulip painting many times. It’s beautiful, but  I think they must have all gone mad.

ARCHITECTURE

Old Corner in the Bazaar ©2008 Trici Venola

Istanbul’s Old City is Greco-Roman geometry overlaid with Ottoman clusters. The Bazaar is a fine example of an Ottoman cluster. It was not planned or built all at once but evolved over time, built as needed in a meandering fashion by a nomadic culture.

Gulersoy Collection. Bazaar Roof 1976

It started from two giant brick enclosures: the Bedestens. This famous 16th Century miniature shows the Cevahir Bedesten, or Inner Bedesten, at upper center. The smaller Sandal Bedesten, just inside the Norosmaniye Gate, is harder to see. The streets between are not yet roofed. Notice the Hippodrome with obelisks and Snake Column at upper right, and the City Walls and Marmara at lower right.

Gulersoy Collection. Two Bedestens in Istanbul, 16th-century miniature by Nasuh-es-Silahi.

The Sandal Bedesten was named for thread from Bursa the color of sandalwood. Here’s the Sandal Bedesten now. The renovation is boring but the people are not.

The big one in the center, Inner Bedesten,  is now the Old Bazaar. A Byzantine Eagle at the Southern entrance has given rise to a belief that it was originally a Byzantine structure, but the Eagle could as easily been lifted from somewhere else. These two Bedestens were built by Mehmet the Conqueror, and gradually the streets between were roofed over and the sprawling structure organized into trades. Here’s the oldest photo ever found of the Bazaar’s outside, from 1856. That’s the Blue Mosque at the top. The Sandal Bedesten is below it at left, the Great Bedesten at center, and our old friend Buyuk Valide Han down front, outside the Bazaar.

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar in 1856

The Inner Bedesten was built with stalls for animals, which are now very tony shops. Here’s Nick in his famous Calligraphy Shop, which features a wall of photos of celebrity customers: movie stars, bestselling authors and world leaders, including the Clintons.

Nick’s Calligraphy Shop ©2010 Trici Venola

So the Bazaar continued to evolve. Each section was dedicated to a particular trade. Weapons, shoes, cloth, clothing, brass ornaments, jewelry, gold and silver, perfumes, foodstuffs, and slaves.

Gulersoy Collection. The Shoemakers’ Market

The trades were organized into guilds. Each kept to its own area of the Bazaar. Here’s the Presentation of Artisans to the Sultan, back in the day.

Gulersoy Collection. Artisans Parade for the Sultan at Ay Medani c1550

The present Bazaar is zoned by what is sold where. A store in the silver zone can’t sell you gold.

Mao of Grand Bazaar

Many businesses are passed down from father to son for centuries. Here are several generations of the Sengor family, who have been selling carpets on Takkeciler Street for a very long time. I drew the mother and grandfather from photos.

Sengor Family in the Grand Bazaar ©2003 Trici Venola

Another old photo from the end of the 19th century:

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar c1880

This has got to be where Shark Cafe is now. Here it is from the other direction.

I went all over the Bazaar with my book of old photos, conferring with groups of fascinated salespeople and taking pictures. The engraving below is likely near the mosque up on Yaglikcilar Street.

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar (Women in White)

That big dark center arch probably went in an earthquake. Here’s the spot today:

Here’s another place I love:

Gulersoy Collection. Grand Bazaar (High Arch with Cat)

There are 13 hans within in the Grand Bazaar. You go up or down a twisty little alley, your shoulders brushed by lame, beaded fringe, bunches of shoes and so forth, and come out into a courtyard surrounded by fascinating shops. Many pussycats live in these hans, fed and sheltered by generations of shopkeepers.  

Each han has its own personality. This little one, Chukur Han, has a plaque stating it’s 19th Century, but the wall and archway look to be much older. See the carved Roman chunk above the window and the little column shoved in sideways?

Window at Cukur Han ©2010 Trici Venola

I found this when visiting my friends Emin and Nurettin at Nurem in Chukur Han, wholesale traders and manufacturers of suzanis (embroidered tribal hangings), ikat (woven fabric that resembles tie-die), and patchwork.

The Ikat Princes ©2011 Trici Venola

The present bazaar boasts its own post office– the PTT– a police department, and modern plumbing, as well as the mosque and fountains which have been there for centuries.

On Fridays, the Imam’s sermon is broadcast, and half the bazaar gets out in the aisles to pray. Rather than prayer rugs the faithful use pieces of cardboard, rising and falling in salaams to Allah, while people step over them and business goes on as usual.

Gulersoy Collection. At the Mosque ©1980 Aydin Erkmen

In 1894 Istanbul suffered a terrible earthquake. The Bazaar lost much of its architecture, which accounts for wonderful pictures like this:

I always wondered what happened here and now I know. Here’s a photo from 1894:

Gulersoy Collection. After the Earthquake, 1894

SECURITY The Bazaar is not and never has been open at night for any reason. During the reign of Abdulhamid, police had to break in because of a fire. In 1913, poet Pierre Loti was locked inside and had to talk his way out. And in 2006, a friend left my birthday present in his shop and could not for love nor money get in any of the four entrances he tried.

Gulersoy Collection. In the Bazaar, 19th century by Trezio

Nowadays, you’re safer in the Grand Bazaar than most places. Merchants eager for happy tourists brook no thieves. A few years ago, a mob of men, women and children flailed and stomped a purse snatcher before the guards could do anything. The battered thief was lucky to escape with his manhood intact.

The Coca-Cola Kiosk ©2009 Trici Venola

THE AESTHETIC POLICE

The Aesthetic Police: a concept of a group with total power who would enforce charm and good taste on benighted areas worldwide.You could call them in, and the hideous shopping center that’s replacing that fine old tree-hung neighborhood would be stopped in an instant. Hideous restoration would cease. Trees would be trimmed properly and not amputated into bad sculpture. Billboards would be obliterated. There would be a death penalty for littering.  Aesthetic Police: I always thought that this was just an expression. But then I encountered Celik Gulersoy.

Gulersoy Collection. Artisans Parade for the Sultan at Ay Meydani, c1550

President of Turkey’s Auto Club for many years, he was a force in the community. He stood down an Istanbul governor who was armed with bulldozers and a prime minister, saving those 17th-century houses behind Hagia Sophia, now Konuk Hotel. He created the chandelier-hung Istanbul Library there in Sogukçesme Street and found the Byzantine cistern that is now Sarniç Restaurant. He created Green House Hotel and its fountained garden. He longed for a generation of young people who would value and nurture trees, as the Ottomans did. He fought tree-butchers and asphalt-layers and excessive signage and all those who would uglify and kitsch up the Great Mysteries of this ancient place. I never got to meet Mr Gulersoy, but I wish he was King of the World.

Celik Gulersoy loved the Grand Bazaar so much he wrote a book about it: The Story of the Grand Bazaar. A battered, borrowed copy provided much of the material shown here. Thanks to Gazanfer Bey, manager of Konuk Hotel, and the Staff of Istanbul Library, I now own the last copy in Istanbul. Many thanks to them for their help in researching this post. All the time I was writing it, I was hearing that song from Kismet:

Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing jingalinga                                                       Baubles, bangles, bright shiny beads!                                                               Sparkles, spangles, my heart will sing singalinga                                               Wearing baubles, bangles and beads!                                                                  

I’ll glitter and gleam so, make somebody dream so….

–Robert Wright and George Forrest, 1953

Yasmin at Cafe Ist ©2003 Trici Venola

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All Trici Venola’s drawings are Plein Air, drafting pens in sketchbooks 7 X 20″ / 18 X 52 cm. All drawings are part of The Drawing On Istanbul Project by Trici Venola. All modern photographs ©2012 Trici Venola. Thanks for reading this post. We love your comments.

SUNKEN PALACE: Drawing in the Basilica Cistern

Sideways Medusa ©2012 Trici Venola.

Far below Yerebatan Street, down in the Cistern, hundreds of marble columns march off in the vaulted dimness, each one holding up its bricked arch and, above it, the pavement. They’ve been holding up the street and everything on it for 1500 years. At the base of one column is a massive upside-down marble face, a head of Medusa, sunken on her stone snakes in the coin-strewn shallow water. Moss greens her face like uplighting. Why is she here, and why is she upside down? It’s another Byzantine mystery.

THE WELL OF THE CISTERN

Ben Wachs & the Well of the Cistern ©1999 Trici Venola.

Huge, humped, immutable, Hagia Sophia has been there for fifteen centuries, anchoring the neighborhood which has settled haphazardly around it on this side of the hill where the Straits of the Bosphorus run into the Marmara Sea. Across from Hagia Sophia, on the corner of Yerebatan Street and the tramline,  is a tall pitted rock thing that looks like a giant barbecue chimney. It’s a well going down to the Basilica Cistern, a sixth-century underground reservoir built in 532 by Emperor Justinian.

Basilica Cistern

There are many cisterns in Istanbul but this is the biggest ever found.  Yerebatan Sarayi, or Sunken Palace, the cathedral-sized Cistern runs beneath the entire street and all the buildings, clear to the great dome of Hagia Sophia looming above the trees and tram lines like the top of a glacier.

Hagia Sophia and Neighborhood c 1909

Across the street from the Well is a tall Victorian building, listing like a determined drunk, painted egg-yolk yellow. This is the office of the Tourist Police. Some of them patrol outside under the peeling yellow gingerbread, holding machine guns.

Yerebatan Street is covered with buildings. All of it–hotels, restaurants, shops, machine-gun toting police, mosque, carpet salesmen, shills, postcard sellers, trolling taxis– is held up by the magnificently engineered masonry down in the dim green Cistern: 336 columns marching in perfect order off into the shadows, bloated carp gliding into the watery shadows, expanding rings from the continual dripping of water from the vaulted brickwork above. There is some evidence that the Cistern originated under Constantine and was expanded under Justinian, but it is Justinian rules down here; the scale, grandeur and endurance all testify to that.

Cistern 1 ©2012 Trici Venola.

The water originally fed from the Belgrade Forest via the 4th century Valens Aqueduct, up to 100,000 gallons. Over the centuries various Sultans have repaired it, but then it was lost under the coagulating Ottoman city. The Cistern was re-discovered in 1968 and restored to its present condition in 1985. The government dug out 50,000 tons of mud, put in some reinforcing concrete piers and built walkways and stairs and a ticket office. Before then, the area was covered with wooden houses. People used to send Grandpa down to the basement to catch fish for dinner. They took this for granted. Doesn’t everyone fish in their basement?

Basilica Cistern 99 ©1999 Trici Venola.

There’s an angry account from a Western visitor whose host took him down by boat in the latter 1800s. “He doesn’t even know what he has,” he fumed. But all I can think is how lucky he was to see it by boat and torchlight.

“So I’m sitting down there drawing the Medusa,” I told my friend Mike, back on that first visit back in ’99, “and every tour guide is saying that she’s upside down so–”

“So she won’t turn you to stone?”  he said. Mike’s from the neighborhood.

“Yes!  And there’s another Medusa below the column next to her and it’s sideways— is that why?”

“No!  They just needed a piece that big.  Those Byzantines, they used everything the Romans left lying around.”

COLUMN OF TEARS

Column of Tears ©1999 Trici Venola.

At the top of the column you can see where a section has split off.   There’s another column just like this, lying in chunks up at the Forum of Constantine, now up the hill next to the tramline in Laleli, discounting a fatuous theory that the “tears” represent the 7000 suffering slaves who built the Cistern. This column was probably used because it was damaged. The entire Cistern was built of material scavenged from pagan temples. None of it was meant to be seen. Many columns are pieced together, and none of them match. Capitals are Corinthian or Ionic or plain Doric;  there’s one column carved with flowers. The granite columns are smooth, but the softer marble ones are bubbled like liquid: in 1500 years they’ve taken on the look of the water around them. The Cistern was not built for beauty, but the Byzantines can’t have been insensitive to how beautiful it is.

Site of Pillars in the Cistern ©2012 Trici Venola.

In museums all over Turkey are fabulous carved pediments from the tops of ancient temples. But no columns. All over Istanbul are cisterns built by the Byzantines to provide water to a thirsty or besieged populace. It’s easy to match the pediments with the columns. Other columns were sliced up by the Sultans, like carrots for a casserole, and used to pave bakeshops and mosques.

Beginning Pillars in the Cistern ©2012 Trici Venola.

So last week Security stopped me with my little stool en route to draw the Sideways Medusa and said in Turkish, Are you nuts? Two cruise ships in town, and the Medusa was jammed. So I drew this less popular view across the tops of some arches, a nice warm-up view. Still didn’t catch the water, but I may drop in a huge carp anyway. Five hours here.

Pillars in the Cistern WIP ©2012 Trici Venola.

This drawing works a lot better with the darkened pillar in the middle. Plein Air drawing means drawing from life, drawing the light. The Cistern is wonderful to draw because the light never changes. But there isn’t anything to sit on. The drawings back in 1999 were done sitting on the clammy cement walkway. Now, after thirteen years drawing in the neighborhood, I got permission from Security, and something to sit on. Nice guys!

Pilars in the Cistern ©2012 Trici Venola.

Here’s a second take on the Medusa, back in 1999. My first take is…well, I’m saving it for later. I’m mortified to notice that in these early takes, for some reason I drew nostrils and pupils in the eyes, although she doesn’t have any. This sloppy documentation is annoying, but all I can say is that I don’t do it anymore, which is probably why the drawings take about five times longer.

Alpaslan On the Medusa ©1999 Trici Venola.

Friends of Kybele Hotel will recognize a younger Alpaslan Akbayrak. I’ve always found him fun to draw, but have no idea why I put him on the top of the Medusa. Since Alp is right side up, know that he won’t turn you to stone.

PERSEUS AND MEDUSA

Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini, Florence, Italy.

Now about that stone-turning:

In the original ancient Greek mythology, The Gorgons were three daughters of ancient sea monsters. Winged, with snakes for hair, they hated men. One was mortal: Medusa, a beautiful priestess in Athena’s temple. Athena caught her lover Poseidon, the God of the Sea, ravishing Medusa. She cursed the girl, giving her hair of snakes and a face that would turn anyone to stone, including Perseus, the hero she loved. The love was not returned. Perseus, darling of Athena, was sent to kill Medusa. Like modern hunters he had huge advantages: he was granted invisibility, winged sandals, a good sword and, from Athena, a mirrored shield. By looking into it he sidestepped the stone curse and beheaded Medusa. She was pregnant by Poseidon, and as her head was severed, two magical beings sprang from her body. One was Chrysaor, a golden giant with a sword, and one was the winged horse Pegasus. After that, Perseus got to ride Pegasus, but doomed dead Medusa did achieve mortality: she decorated shields for thousands of years.

Medusa by Michelangelo Caravaggio, 1597

As to why she’s upside down and sideways: It may be possible that the Christian builders wanted to demystify or desanctify the pagan idols. I noticed that someone took the trouble to excise whatever was written on the scrolls of the square sections of these pillars. Then again, it might be that they were simply never finished.

The Medusas are all the way at the end of the Cistern and would always have been below the waterline. The sideways one may be resting on a split-off or damaged section, while the famous upside-down one has no pupils or nostrils; was she unfinished? There’s another one just like them in the sculpture garden at the Archeological Museum nearby. All three Istanbul Medusas look very much like the ones at Aphrodisias, an ancient Roman resort about three hours east of Ephesus. Scholars believe they were created by the same artists. It’s easy to imagine the unfinished blocks with Medusa faces on one side simply included with a shipment of scavenged columns for the Emperor’s new project.

MEDUSA 99

First Take Medusa ©1999 Trici Venola

Here’s my first-ever drawing of the Medusas.  I  must have noticed that Upside-Down Medusa really doesn’t have pupils in her eyes. I’m always saying Draw what you see, not what you think you see– perhaps I didn’t understand it, so it just “wasn’t there.”

Oh, those early drawings!  I remember the amazement and longing to share it all with back home. So beyond my skills. Pulling art for this post, I went into that first book from 13 years ago and thought, damn, I must have had either overwhelming arrogance or overwhelming faith to base an entire life on what was in there. I’ve been drawing all my life, but in 1999, 15 years working digitally had atrophied my analog drawing skills, not to mention I’d been drawing mostly out of my head. But I’ve always drawn from life whenever possible, always been seduced away from abstraction by the sheer glory of the way things look really, when you really look.

Medusa One ©2012 Trici Venola.

Looked up from the book and here I am in Istanbul with twelve years of framed art on the walls, a row of sketchbooks four feet wide full of art that has made friends all over the world. I traded a whole life to be able to draw better, and I can. Found myself cackling wildly. You can get very, very good at something if you do it all the time.

Two Carp ©2012 Trici Venola

All drawings Plein Air; drafting pens on rag sketchbook paper 52 X 18 cm / 7 X 20 ” All art ©2012 by Trici Venola for The Drawing On Istanbul Project.

GREEN MAGIC: A Summer Day in PLOVDIV

GREEN MAGIC

Boris (Nicolay) and the Empty Plate © Trici Venola 2007

The trees in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, are huge green thunderheads. The parks are magnificent, with paths running among lush grassy hillocks dotted with flowering bushes and amusing statues. There is no litter. The Roman ruins are immaculately preserved and the churches have icons. Their unique Old Town, picturesque without being kitsch, is full of tall old wooden houses with high angles and sweeping curves.

In Old Town Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

I discovered all this when on a visa run from Turkey in 2007. For years I’d done the one-day visa trot via bus, a marathon ordeal involving two border crossings in the same 15-hour period, always at the worst possible time and when I was most broke. But as long as you left every three months– that was on a US Tourist Visa– and got that visa stamp, you were legal. This is changing: soon tourists will have to leave for 90 out of each 180 days. Happily I have residence status now, but in 2007 I was grateful simply to take the train instead of the bus. You can lie down on the train. They wake you up at the border and you go through the usual bureaucratic checks. Then a little sleep until 8 AM, and the delights of Plovdiv. I’d walk around all day, get on the train back to Istanbul  at 11PM, and do the whole thing in reverse. I couldn’t afford to stay away a week, or even a few days, but I sure liked Plovdiv. I went there 13 times, in sickness and health and all weathers, one day every three months for three years.  Here I go again, and this time, I’m taking you with me.

Japan in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

The first time was in May 2007, after a grisly forced move to a fixer-upper in a strange Istanbul neighborhood. I stumbled off the train, and everything was in Cyrillic. I knew nothing about the town. But I saw a double line of huge plane trees leading away from the station. They had commenced radically “pruning” all the trees in Istanbul the year before. Imagine cutting off both arms at the elbow to trim a cuticle. I’d nearly lost my mind over it. Now, bemused and scratchy-eyed with sleepiness, I stumbled along in the amazing shade between two stately rows of plane trees marching down the middle of a divided street. I had forgotten that green smell of big trees, how the air is fresher near them. Stoned on oxygen, I stopped right there and drew the building on the left below. Kept going and found this interesting juxtaposition: a beautiful girl in her first flush of attention from the world, and a woman who had looked like her, or so it seemed.

The Face She Deserves © Trici Venola 2007

I found a money-changer and a cafe with trees growing up through the roof. I sat there drinking coffee and coming awake. In Paradise. The coffee cost what it had in Istanbul in 1999. The Cyrillic menu had pictures on it. I realized I could get ham and eggs. Real. Ham. And. Eggs. Lazzarin, said the napkin. I was to spend thirteen mornings there over the next three years.

Lazzarin Cafe Day & Night © Trici Venola 2007

Some hours and half this drawing later, I staggered out of the cafe back to the line of plane trees, followed it to a park, lay down on a lush grassy hill surrounded by birdsong, and fell asleep.

Lovely Tree in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2009

Hours later I woke, hungry again, and walked to a restaurant in the trees. I stayed there for hours, eating pork ribs, drinking coffee and drawing into the dusk, until it was time to take the train home. I had fallen in love with Plovdiv.

Summer & Fall at Lazzarin Cafe © Trici Venola 2009

I could hardly wait to go back. The following August, it was time again. My life in Istanbul was largely a matter of survival, and going away for even one day was so freeing…all I had to do was draw and catch the train. I hadn’t felt like that in years. The second trip, I walked a different way after the cafe and found a giant walk street lined with shops, casinos, restaurants, and this bronze clown.

Bronze Clown in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2007

At the very end of that day, exhausted, I found the Plovdiv Old Town and I was a goner. I knew I’d come back again and again.

Angel Spot © Trici Venola 2007

The city is on a flat plain near a river. Jutting abruptly up from this plain are several steep rocky areas. One is a park entire, topped with radio towers. Another is Old Town. One side features the famed Roman Theater, a working theater with frequent productions. Three local women about my age told me in English about them.

Plovdiv’s Roman Theater © Trici Venola 2009

This drawing took most of a hot August day in 2009, and I learned a lot from onlookers. Plovdiv locals all seem to know the history of the town, which the Romans called Trimontium: Three Hills. And they’re proud of it. Coming out of Old Town is a pedestrian underpass which has table-sized stone blocks as the sidewalk. I was so tired it didn’t register, but coming up the steps I ran into two local guys who sent me back to see it, and was I glad. It’s a Roman street, and on it is the mosaiced lobby of a Roman apartment house, now an art and theater center with catwalks over the mosaics and a lively art scene. They will always have one of my books.

High Angles in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2007

The steep stone streets of Old Town are flanked by the angles, gables, windows and gates of Plovdiv’s historic wooden houses. I’ve never seen woodwork like this, with long stately curves inside and fantastic detail everywhere, the most draw-able stuff imaginable.

Ottoman Wooden Interior © Trici Venola 2007

The centuries-old fanciful woodwork is a legacy of wealthy Ottomans, and here are some now, as Coney Island cut-outs.

Ottoman Cutouts © Trici Venola 2010

Right in the center of Old Town is a Byzantine gate in a Roman wall, flanked by tall angled wooden houses.

Hissar Kapiya, Byzantine Gate in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

It took me a few tries to draw Hissar Kapiya, but I got to meet Krasi, now a friend for years, who worked nearby:

Happy Krasi © Trici Venola 2010

Philip of Macedon

At the very top of Old Town’s hill is the ancient stone fortification over the river. Yes, ancient. Little old Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is over 8000 years old, in fact the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe. Another of its former names is Philippopolis, since in the 4th century BCE it fell to Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

Shriveled Stone Wall © Trici Venola 2007

Wooden Krum the Horrible

The land that is now Bulgaria and the land that is now Turkey have had their differences. Early in the 9th century CE, Krum the Horrible, the Great Khan of the Bulgars, went to war with  Byzantine Emperor Nicophorus of Constantinople, who went insane in the struggle. Khan Krum won. He found Nicophorus dead on a dung pile and made of his skull a silver-lined beerstein, with which he drank his own health to the end of his days. You can read all about Krum the Horrible in this History blog by Bruce Ware Allen.

Krum the Horrible

That second trip, I lingered in Old Town until dusk. Afraid I’d miss the train. I gave up all thought of trying to find my park restaurant in the trees. I walked back to Lazzarin Cafe and ran into a group of artists and poets. They made a big fuss over my sketchbook, which almost made me cry, I was so tired and they were so nice. Here’s a drawing of Sugar, and a first take on Hissar Kapiya.

Sugar and the Gate © Trici Venola 2007

After that the trips blended one into the other, a continuous flood of happy images always in May, August, November and February. I was stunned to discover, in pulling art for this post, that there are over forty drawings. So we’re dividing them up into Summer and Winter, large so you can read the comments on them. Something about Plovdiv loosed poetic feelings in me. Blame it on the trees!

Old Men in Plovdiv © Trici Venola 2008

Guys playing chess under the trees asked me to join, but I begged off to draw them:

The Chess Players © Trici Venola 2008

These guys remember the Iron Curtain. I wonder what it feels like for them to hear church bells again?

And Kissed My Hand © Trici Venola 2008

Two years ago, I got my Residence visa, and my trips to Plovdiv ceased. Right now in Istanbul the air outside is so hot and thick you can chew it. There’s a heat haze between my balcony and the one next door. The city seethes unceasingly, dozens of millions exhaling in the heat. Up in the bazaars, cats lie exhausted, ironed flat into the shade. Heat shimmers up off the vast cement of the new improved Hippodrome. All over Istanbul, people struggle for shade, but Istanbul’s wonderful trees are mostly pruned down small, these days, some into lollipop shapes and some just dead, amputated trunks jutting leafless into the sky. This ruthless pruning makes no sense to me, but it’s the way they do it here, and much as I love Istanbul, I can do nothing about it. Thank God I have a coping secret. I close my eyes and think of Plovdiv. Somewhere in the world is a town where they love trees as much as I do.

Church Spot © Trici Venola 2008

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All drawings Plein Air. All drawings pen and ink on sketchbook paper, full size 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 inches. All drawings © Trici Venola. We love your comments. Thanks for reading.

ROMAN MORTAR: Drawing the Sphendone

VISUAL HISTORY 

During difficult times I seek solace in history. It’s the only thing quiets my mind. The world has ended so many times, and yet here we still are. I love living in Istanbul because a lot of the old stuff still looks old. I can actually see the evidence of centuries on these monumental witnesses to cataclysm and triumph. I draw them before the restorers arrive and eradicate all that. I draw a portrait of a place at a particular moment in its history, warts and all: scarred, worn, magnificent. And so to the Sphendone, bulwark of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, brickwork so old it looks like lumpy striped stone, now as dear and familiar to me as the bamboo patches on our old hill in Los Angeles. The more I learn about  it, the more I love it. It’s been holding up the whole neighborhood for almost two thousand years.

The Sphendone in 2007.

BUILT TO LAST Leviathan bulkhead of Istanbul’s Hippodrome, the Sphendone looks like the prow of a giant ship powering out into the Marmara. The first time I saw it, in 1999, I did not at first realize that it was made of brick. I didn’t know that brick and mortar could become one rock. During the Middle Ages, the formula for Roman mortar was lost, to be re-discovered as hydraulic cement, which hardens under water. Does the durability of the Sphendone have to do with its being full of water? Because when the History Channel opened up a little door in it a few years ago and went in, they had to do it by canoe.

The Fountain Arch in 2005

EXPLORING WITH LINE Back in May of 1999, rendering a whole stone wall was beyond me. I’d been drawing with a Wacom pen on a computer for too long. I was good at portraits, but I had to sneak up on this architectural stuff, drawing corners and windows, small bits of the whole I longed to capture.  I tried to draw the cavelike arch openings, filled with dirt and old shoes, as you can see to the right of the houri in this walkaround drawing from that first trip. I remember that the little lady in the upper right corner lived across from the cave arches, had a blue tattoo on her chin, and was delighted with her portrait when I held it up.

Around Town One ©2004 Trici Venola

By November of that year, after constant drawing in the sketchbooks, I was able to render a longshot of the South Face of the wall, along with this little girl who lived behind the doorstep I sat on for three sessions. I remember that my eyes had gotten infected, and I had to trade my contact lenses for glasses that weren’t strong enough. Later I came back with lenses and increased the level of detail– and by then, I could.

Sphendone ’99 ©1999 Trici Venola

EVOLUTION OF AN ARENA Byzantium’s great  Arena, the Hippodrome, was created in the late 2nd Century by Roman Emperor Septimus “The Libyan” Severus, the boy who brought us the Circus Maximus and other points of interest in Rome of that same era. The size of our Istanbul Hippodrome is only eclipsed by the one in Rome.

severus

The Hippodrome was enlarged early in the 4th Century by Constantine the Great.

ConstantineBy the early 6th Century, the huge arena held 100,000 people, all gaping at Future Empress Theodora in her salad days, writhing naked and beset by swans in a parody of Leda.

Theodora Alive Crop

Theodora Alive.detail ©2012 Trici Venola

Chariots tore around the track, now roughly followed by the current road. Down the center ran the Spina– the Spine– a flat stone ledge that stuck up a couple of meters above the floor. Its many ornamental sculptures blocked sections of the action, heightening the suspense. The central ornament, still standing, is the Egyptian Obelisk, erected in 390 by Theodosius, lauded here in previous posts Standing the Obelisk and Chariot Parade. You can see the Spina at right in this painting.

Alexander-von-Wagner-The-Chariot-Race

The Chariot Race by Alexander von Wagner

The absolute best way to imagine the Istanbul Hippodrome in its heyday is to watch the famous chariot race from MGM’s 1959 blockbuster Ben-Hur. It’s all over YouTube, knock yourself out. See the Spina in this film grab below?

BenHurChariotRaceMGMChariot racing took on political aspects with the emergence of the Patrician Blues and the Plebian Greens. Sports riots are not a new thing: after Theodora grew up and became Empress, one almost destroyed the city.

THE NIKA REBELLION

Nika-Schnorr_von_Carolsfel

Empress Theodora

532: Smoke-sabled skies, a copper sun, the palace burning, blood and noise, mobs of people slaughtering each other in what has come to be called the Nika Rebellion. Emperor Justinian quelled the riot at the behest of Theodora, who refused to leave the city. “Purple makes a fine shroud,” she famously said, fingering her royal garments, “leave if you like.” Justinian bought off the leaders of the Blues, and his ferocious general Belisarius laid waste to the remaining rioters, executing thirty thousand rebels out on the edge of the Sphendone. Buried where they died, their bones are said to sleep behind its arches to this day.

Sphendone. Fountain Arch ©2004 Trici Venola

AFTER JUSTINIAN By Fall of 2004 I was able to render an entire arch. I’ve always loved this antique Ottoman fountain and modern brick terrace juxtaposed with the looming savage East Face of the Sphendone. That lump of brick in the middle remains from the bricking-up of the arches after an earthquake of 551. Behind them is a series of concentric chambers opening into a main corridor. Bear in mind that the present ground level of the Hippodrome, up top, is several meters above the original floor, which was filled in over the centuries. Here’s our Fountain Arch in 1982, behind the clothesline to the right:

Sphendone 1982. Anonymous

And here it is in February of 2005.

Chariot racing was never the same after the Nika Rebellion. But Byzantines and Ottomans alike loved spectacle as much as we do today. Lions, gladiators, elephants, dancers, actors wearing huge masks, fire-eaters, and acrobats capered through the regimes, held up by these massive Sphendone arches. Here’s a CGI recreation of what the place looked like in 1200, reproduced with permission from the fabulous Byzantium 1200 website.

Sphendone ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

The arches at the bottom are the ones that are still here. By the 16th century,  the Hippodrome was reduced to this:

These surviving pillars are scattered all over Istanbul, chopped into paving, in Ottoman ruins of baths and bakehouses. Some possibly survive intact, in the Islamic Arts Museum and in the Blue Mosque. The Spina is buried under the present surface, still ornamented by the Egyptian Obelisk, the remains of the Serpent Column of Delphi, and the 11th Century Obelisk. Over the Sphendone is the Sultanahmet Technical and Industrial High School, built around the turn of the 20th Century. Here’s a satellite view of the Hippodrome today, with my outline in white indicating the original size. The Sphendone is at the bottom, below the red roofs of the school.

Hippodrome ©2012 Digital Globe

WALKING AROUND THE SPHENDONE On the West Face is a small metal door in a stone lintel. It looks like something out of The Hobbit, and so does this drawing I did of it in 2004.

Sphendone.The Hobbit Door ©2004 Trici Venola

This is where the History Channel went in. Here’s a long shot of the street. See the tops of the arches?

When I drew the door, I did it on a Sunday for fewer cars. Construction workers on the building opposite yelled at anyone who tried to park there. I don’t speak Turkish, but those guys loved the sketchbook.

Later I came back and took pictures, and just look at all the artifacts here.  This little window has a Star of David to its right, most likely in its previous incarnation as an Islamic symbol.

This next thing was probably inside a house. But before that? I’ve been told there was a mosque in here, and government offices. The top of this Roman arch has been cut to resemble Ottoman architecture and the inscription cemented on.

Here’s another bony old arch showing through modern brickwork.

Not so long ago, this entire wall was covered with houses. The government ripped them down, but left the skin behind.

DRAWING THE ARCHES Now here’s a refresher on where we started, back in Constantine’s time, when all the arches looked the same.

Sphendone, Walking Through Byzantium, ©2007 by byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

Then earthquake, mayhem, cultural upheaval, fire and conquest. And now, like people in a family, simple survival has given each arch individual characteristics. I thought two drawings would set me at ease, but my fascination with the visible history of the Sphendone continues. I wish they would light it at night and leave it alone. Now that I’ve learned how to draw those first arches I saw, I can’t. A cafe known in the neighborhood as Ugly Mushroom has been allowed to build a plastic-shrouded, television-blaring structure that blocks the magnificent cavelike arches along the East Face, where you used to be able to smoke nargile while contemplating the 1700-year-old brick and mortar. So I moved south, and drew this Parking Lot Arch. On Wednesdays, there’s a Farmers’ Market here.

Sphendone.Parking Lot Arch ©2006 Trici Venola

Delicious produce below, and the shouts of sports players in the school yard above. Here’s the South Face with the Parking Lot Arch over to the right in 1935, hidden behind a house:

Farther along in the South Face is an even more evocative Ghost House Arch.

Sphendone. Ghost House Arch ©2006 Trici Venola

Gladiators and rebel martyrs long gone, that’s a piece of a commode up there just below center. The two arched windows up top belong to the high school. This antique structure– festival bones, water and brick and blood– functions as its foundation. They just drilled right into the solid old Roman ruin. See here, on the right?

If this structure wasn’t serviceable, it would never have survived so long. But survive it does. I sat in a playground full of shrieking children to draw Ghost House Arch. And as the South Face rounds over into the West Face, there’s this Wooden House Arch.

Sphendone.Wooden House Arch 72 ©2006 Trici Venola

Sublime, isn’t it? Just look at the runnels in that brickwork from centuries of storms. This house survived because it’s several meters in front of the wall, although from a distance it blends right in. The building up top belongs to the high school. I drew this one in 2006 to great acclaim by the neighbors. Immediately to the right of the house was a group of vociferous scarved women who refused to be drawn, but who ran over cackling from time to time with cups of tea and yells of delight at the progress. How I miss them! I used to live two blocks from here. These wooden houses are about two hundred years old. There was one across the street, but one night in a storm it collapsed. The next day it was almost gone, carried away for firewood by these indomitable scarved duennas of the neighborhood.

Witness to so many lives lived and passed out of recollection, this brickwork gives me peace. My terrifying problems seem as ephemeral as storms on old brick. They may erode the shape into something unforeseen, but the Sphendone still stands. Roman mortar– it hardens under water.

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All drawings © Trici Venola. All drawings done on site. Standard size is 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 in, drafting pens on rag paper. We love your comments.