GEZI PARK: Drawing Trees in Istanbul

Benediction

Benediction ©2006 by Trici Venola.

THE WALNUT TREE

My head foaming clouds, sea inside me and out

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

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

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

My leaves are my hands, I have one hundred thousand

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

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

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

–Nazim Hikmet

NazimHikmetRan

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

youngnazim-hikmet-in-prison1

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

Wind in the Leaves

Wind in the Leaves ©2007 Trici Venola.

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

Wall of the Great Han

Wall of the Great Han ©2007 Trici Venola.

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

Looks Like It Grew There

Looks Like It Grew There ©2005 Trici Venola.

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

AyaMoonlight

AyaMoonlight ©1999 Trici Venola.

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

Olive Tree

Olive Tree ©2000 Trici Venola.

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

DSC00049

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

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

aa-turkey-d-mustafa-kemal-ataturk

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

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

Soup to Nuts at GeziPark

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

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

Big Cypress

Big Cypress ©2005 Trici Venola.

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

Boris & The Empty Plate ©2007 Trici Venola.

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

Swiss Hotel & Maçka Park ©2000 Trici Venola.

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

Typical Topkapi Tourist

Typical Topkapi Tourist ©2012 Trici Venola.

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

Boukoleon Snow

Boukoleon Snow ©2008 Trici Venola.

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

Outside Rustem Pasha

Outside Rustem Pasha ©2007 Trici Venola.

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

Ayasofya In Winter

Ayasofya In Its 1463rd Winter ©1999 Trici Venola.

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

Ayasofya Moon

Ayasofya Moon ©1999 Trici Venola.

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

Bony Birdnest

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

Ayasofya Rising

Ayasofya Rising ©2004 Trici Venola.

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

Island Pine and Sea ©2007 Trici Venola

Island Pine and Sea ©2007 Trici Venola

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

Hagia Sophia Agape

Hagia Sophia Agape ©2011 Trici Venola.

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

Gezi Park

Gezi Park, first week of protests

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

992918_10151648691668914_447939587_n

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

womaninred

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

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

Cihangir Barricade 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

article_62d3cba634a91b04_1371349076_9j-4aaqsk

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

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

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

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

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

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

StandingMan Gunduz

Performance artist Erdem Gunduz standing on 17 June.

Standing Man 19 June

The Standing Man Protest 19 June.

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

Protesters Throwing Flowers

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

Tomb Tree

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

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

Have Camera Will Travel

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

Dance In the Woods ©2007 Trici Venola.

Dance In the Woods ©2007 Trici Venola.

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

DSC00261blur

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

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

DSC00281

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

DSC00272

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

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

DSC00264

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

Winter Distance

Winter Distance @2001 Trici Venola.

—-

Signed limited prints from the Drawing On Istanbul Series now for sale at the DrawingOnIstanbul Store on ETSY.com. Buy a gorgeous print and do your bit for the arts!

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

Advertisements

PAPAZOGLU HAN: Painting In Light

A WORKING HAN

Entrance Papazoglu Han

Nobody in the Spice Bazaar believed that Osama Bin-Laden was really dead. I’d heard the news up on the Hippodrome that morning and it froze my blood, because I thought they said “Obama.” Silly with relief, I went up to share the tidings at the Grand Bazaar. My friends from Afghanistan up there hate Bin-Laden worse than I can imagine, since they are from the area where the Taliban blew up those Buddhas. But they thought Bin-Laden’s demise was a government lie. I made my way down the hill to the Spice Bazaar: skeptics everywhere. Finally I ran into some Peace Corps volunteers, and we sang Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, and felt like compatriots. These days Americans must take our patriotic pleasures where we can. I’m sorry to celebrate anyone’s death, but the man did do away with about 3000 of my countrymen.

Rustem Pasha & Friends ©2011 Trici Venola

I’d been down at the Spice Bazaar every day, doing this drawing of Rustem Pasha and friends. Rustem Pasha is the name of the mosque, and the friends are Çukur Han (in English Chooker), on the right, and Papazoglu Han (Papa ZOE loo), on the left, both grizzled old classic workplaces from Medieval times, both gloriously unrestored. You can look at their surfaces and see a history lesson. So it was a year ago that I ran into Papazoglu Han to use the loo and stopped dead, stunned by the sight of Byzantine herringbone brickwork. This is supposed to be a 16th century Ottoman han.

The upper stories are Ottoman, with pointed arches picked out with brick trim. But this ribbed section behind the wiring looks Byzantine. Papazoglu Han is a decrepit old structure festooned with plastic, a working han, not tricked out for Tourism, not picturesque or sentimental. It does have an immaculate lavatory up on the cardboard-congested second floor, tended by an old fellow usually dozing in the sun. I’d always been preoccupied by navigating the perilous cement stairs. And I’d missed the classic structure of the place, the double row of dome-topped, arch-fronted enclosures around a central courtyard, the unmistakable age and integrity of the original walls.

THE PATINA OF DAILY LIFE I hate the Taliban because they make the world ugly. The Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban, like Istanbul’s palaces and temples, were works of art built to inspire awe. But the beauty of these antique hans is a different sort. It’s the patina left by people going about their dailly lives, homely familiarity taken for granted…for centuries.

While thinking such thoughts, I paid my 50 kurus for the loo to dozy old Osman and had one of those moments when you know all plans for the day are scrapped because there’s got to be a drawing of what is right in front of you. Osman happily agreed to a portrait, and sat rock-steady, grinning, for half an hour. Word spread around the Han, and handsome young men appeared, understandably saying that they, too, should be immortalized. But it was ravaged old Osman with his Adidas hat who got struck with the Art Stick that day, Osman and nobody else. I went downstairs, sated with portrait yet needing a background, and ran back into that chunk of herringbone brickwork. I saw that it would fit on the page so that the bottom came to a point exactly where Osman’s hat was, with the arches on either side. Sometimes it works like that, sometimes the thing just composes itself. Here’s what I got in the next two days, and am I glad I scanned it before it was finished.

Osman in Papazoglu Han WIP ©2011 Trici Venola

Now to the Byzantines: the herringbone pattern is formed by the bricks wrapping each arch. Where they come together, it forms a seam. See here on the right of the picture, next to that pipe?

Details like these are usually plastered over, but Papazoglu Han has lost much of its plaster coating, revealing its bone structure. The second-floor bricks are straight across, leading one to speculate that the foundation is indeed Byzantine, added onto by the Ottomans.

KABITZING WITH HISTORY While I was drawing, the manager of the Han came out to see what was going on, along with other Han denizens. There was a castle here in Byzantine times. This whole neighborhood around Rustem Pasa is full of crooked passages, steps going down below blackened arches, and lumps of unidentifiable masonry. Where does this door go?

“Konstantin, Konstantin,” muttered the old men. A voice in English started translating from the Han manager. He said that yes, the old men were right, it was Byzantine, very old Byzantine. Our volunteer translator, who had worked for the Turkish Consulate in my hometown of Los Angeles, said that they were all claiming that this structure had started life as part of the walls or part of the castle complex, making it, oh, fourth-century: Constantine.

We had quite a little crowd there in the courtyard, including Paris the Dog, a recent immigrant from France. Among the kabitzers was Yeshua, the fat jocular proprietor of what I called the Happy Sparkle Store, jammed into the middle of the courtyard, that sold shiny paper and plastic party stuff. A Turk named Yeshua? Or Joshua, he said. But that was Jesus’s name, I said. “Yes,” said Yeshua, “That is because I am a Jew.” From Toledo, descended from refugees from that other hideous spawn of religious fanaticsim: the Spanish Inquisition. Thousands of Spanish Jews came en masse to Turkey when this han was new, and their descendants are still here, adding to the historical texture of this land where doors go down to Constantine, buildings have ancient Greek foundations and there are satellite dishes on the roofs.

The challenge was to draw the herringbone bricks AND the ad hoc electrical wiring in front of it. Just look at this wiring! Of course, electricity was not invented when the hans were built, so these clusters are very common, the bane and delight of drawing antique masonry. There’s a tea kitchen behind the herringbone wall, and the tea boys kept me well supplied for the week that I was there.

NUTS AND BOLTS  I was drawing as fast as I oould, completely engrossed in keeping track of two sets of proportions: bricks and wiring. I used the grid-and-unit method, where you mentally make a cross on the paper, line up everything by that and measure everything off of the first thing you draw. In this case it was this little brick with the red stain.

Papazoglu Han.Detail: Brick Seam ©2011 Trici Venola

And all the while my eyes were being pulled up, up, because what I was saying wouldn’t all fit in one drawing, there was another one coming.

What is this drawing about? What is the center? What’s the element that compels me to dedicate a chunk of my life to it? If I’m very  lucky, I get a circumstance that combines two elements in perfect balance. Here, it’s the slightly manic look on Osman’s face, under that modern hat, and that antique brick seam under the wiring. But part of what I wanted to show was the way the bricks wrapped the first-floor arches, while the second floor bricks were straight. So here’s the wrapped arch, and the arch above, with Mr Mehmet standing there watching me draw him. This drawing was a lot easier to do, but took just as long. I was finishing it up when the Taliban took its loss. I was celebrating life with a work of art when someone who had destroyed so much life and art was removed from the world.

Ottoman Up Top ©2011 Trici Venola

PAINTING IN LIGHT Through many centuries of misbegotten monsters, these bricks have stood. I live pretty simply in order to be available to draw them. Years ago I taught in Disney’s Visual Development division. Very rarified in there. They were just introducing computers into the creative process. I got to show top talent how to use a Mac as a primary art medium, rather than as a glorified copy machine and art enhancer. Disney let me do all-day seminars with just a few people, on a strictly voluntary basis. Contrary to  expectations, the people most interested in learning how to create in a new medium were the oldest artists there. Joe Grant, former head of Disney, was still going strong at 92, and he was fascinated, wound up making them buy him his own Mac. It was the young artists who were the curmudgeons. “Yeah,” one said, “but can it do this?” –flipping his animation cards at me– “And what about texture?” It’s true that getting texture into your digital art prints is a challenge. But there’s a trade-off, and it’s that you’re painting in light. It’s like painting with stained glass, painting on a Mac, and your flip cards, kid, don’t glow in the dark. When I first came here to Istanbul I was mortified, after being so successful in a new field, to be struggling hard to hold on here in this alien culture that didn’t give a hoot about me. But there’s a trade-off, because I’m painting in light. Much like those early days of digital art, I get to do something that nobody else is doing, with severe limitations, in a place that’s changing so rapidly that it seems to vanish almost before the ink is dry, leaving only these filigree shadows of what was. It feels right and important to take the time to draw them. In every culture since the beginning of time there has been an old man dozing. Tyrants come and tyrants go, and I just keep drawing.

Papazoglu Han ©2011 Trici Venola

All drawings Plein Air. All art ©2011 Trici Venola.

Prints of the drawings in this post are available at the Drawing On Istanbul Store on ETSY.com. For purchases of original art, contact Trici Venola through this blog. Thanks for your interest. We love your comments.

When I Drew Rustem Pasha

by Trici Venola on Monday, 17 October 2011 at 00:33

The following is compiled from emails to friends last March.

From 7 March 2011

 From their emails, some friends back home think I’m in Rural Turkey.

I live in a city of 20 million people they tell us is only 15. I’m in a 1940s apartment with 10-foot high ceilings, orchids blooming next to the computer, a big geranium-covered balcony over other balconies, and five cats. It’s two rows of apartments back from a spectacular view of the mouth of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, across from the Old City, Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium, the Center of the World for 2000 years, layers of antiquity overlaid with a frenetic young culture obsessed with technology, surrounded by water on three sides which I can see if I walk outside and around the corner. I go over there to the old city a lot these days to draw.

Just now I’m drawing in the Spice Bazaar in Eminonu at the Galata Bridge. I’m drawing Rustem Pasha Mosque, and today did not go well. I sat on a campstool on a manhole cover next to a cafe in a parking lot for four hours and blew it, so I have to do it again tomorrow. I have to draw Rustem Pasha because it is like a pain every time I look at it until I do. Until I draw it. Here’s the drawing I finally did: Rustem Pasha & Friends ©2011 by Trici Venola.

The mosque rises above the right-angle joining of two long buildings topped by many domes. The masonry is rubbly stone layered with red brick. The vintage is Medieval. The windows piercing the stone on the building to the left, Papazoglu Han, may have been standard when the buildings were new, but centuries of reinforcement with marble and wood have made them different sizes and personalities. Most of them have black cross-hatch iron grills on them. Above them, arches of brick are visible in the texture of the stone. There’s a lot of green growth erupting from patches of the masonry on both buildings, and the domes are whiskered in places.

The building to the right, Chukur Han, has pairs of windows with pointed arches built in the brickwork. Both buildings are two stories, with a store under each dome. At the corner, there’s a Coffee World, a local chain that serves chocolate spoons with every cup. The other stores sell spices, dried fruit, nuts, candy, tea, restaurant supplies, hardware, lunch and so forth. The spices and dried food are mounded in open bins, the place is jammed with people shopping, the ferries are loading and unloading just across the highway zooming with cars, old people feed pigeons on the square, lunatic seagull shrieks and ferry horns blowing, guys jumping in and out of cars, parking them, and in the middle of this daily melee, the charming old mosque.

It was built by Mimar Sinan, Suleyman the Magnificent’s great architect of the Renaissance. From the ramp to the Galata Bridge you can see it below Sinan’s great Suleymaniye Mosque on the hill. Sinan said that Suleymaniye was his masterpiece, but Rustem Pasha was his heart. It’s got a fine dome with many clerestory windows and one minaret, the view I’m presently drawing. It’s built high, over many shops and courtyards surrounded by arches and workshops (these are called Hans), some functioning and some fallen into ruin. High Medieval walls loom above narrow passageways going up to the mosque, where you duck into a dark enclosed stone staircase leading up to a high airy courtyard of marble pillars and arches and fabulous Iznik tiles. I love Rustem Pasha for the same reason everyone else does, because as Sinan felt, it does have a heart. It’s small, highly textured, accessible, and covered with the wonderful tiles in many different patterns, most of them cobalt and turquoise and white. There’s one right next to the door, a souvenir tile from a hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, that looks to be from a few hundred years ago. It’s a lone picture tile stuck into the middle of a frieze of identical floral ones.

It’s naive art, and I was drawing it because I love it. People coming out of the door after prayers were laughing and telling me they love it too, and one of them told me it was Mecca. Six minarets all round the edge, the requisite pairs of doors, the sacred oil flasks, the fountains, and in the middle, the big sacred black cube: Mecca. I’m hunched on my stool thinking how much I’d like to be drawing inside but it’s got to be forbidden, but I’m drawing away and people are coming up and telling me what the picture means and buying my book (I have a book of drawings I sell out of my handbag, sold about 1000 so far) and the Imam (priest) comes out and invites me to draw inside anytime. So I did but froze to death, it’s still too cold.

So today I spent out in the sun, trying to capture the charm of this place, but I’ll have to go back tomorrow and try again. I quit, disgusted with blowing the drawing but on the whole happy to care enough to do it over and have the time to  do it. I bought cheese and olives and walked across the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, fishermen on both sides, ferries and tankers and cruise ships and seagulls and the heaving teal sea, Japanese tourists everyone is being extra nice to, because of their disaster. Walked along the piers toward home past a decayed Byzantine chunk of old church pressed into service as a parking lot I should draw before it’s demolished. Walked up the steep hill to home.

Tomorrow night I’m going to an art opening, see some swell new work, talk to the artist, a professor friend from New York about art tours. But tonight I made soup, my Winter Soup staple that lasts five days, and watched a movie like I do most nights. Some days I take people on tours, some days I take people shopping, some days I work on the computer all day. I have 27 sketchbooks full of drawings and a few stories.  I live really quietly, but I live in Byzantium.