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.

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THE GORDION KNOT OF HISTORY: Drawing in Museums

I love drawing in museums. The stuff in those cases is laughing at you.

In honor of the recently desecrated Guardians of Nimrud, we repost this classic piece on the importance, not to mention the fun, of museums. Thanks to them, the Guardians are still with us. Read on, and keep reading, to go with them through the Gates and down the garden path, in unexpected company.

ALEXANDER RIDES TO MIDAS

Alexander Rides to Midas

Alexander Rides to Midas (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©2012 Trici Venola.

Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. He was 33.  Alexander died of a bone infection from an old arrow wound.  It’s possible that his immune system was compromised by his grief, bordering on dementia, over the death of Hephaestion, his closest friend, greatest general, second in command and, some say, the love of his life.

Hephaestion Straight Up

Hephaestion

Like the god he believed himself to be, the Golden Conqueror would never age. He won the respect and admiration of his own time and successive generations. In awe and affection they continue to laud him, creating imagery in all media from marble to film.

His actual body was mummified in Alexandria, Egypt, by Egyptian necromancers, and was still in a good state of preservation three centuries after his death, when Caesar Augustus leaned into its glass sarcophagus to kiss the Conqueror and, slipping, broke off the mummy’s nose. But Alexander’s tomb and body disappeared. The Alexander Sarcophagus in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum is the nearest thing we have.

Alexander Sarcophagus Detail

Alexander is still fighting and hunting lions on this museum centerpiece  from the great Necropolis at Sidon.  The stunning bas-relief was created by unknown talent during Alexander’s lifetime. It’s possible that the artist actually set eyes on him.

Alexander SarcophagusThe art commemorates victory over the Persians at the Battle of Issus in what is now Turkey, and Hephaestion is there fighting as well. Scholars argue over who was buried in the tomb, but he may have commissioned the work before his death with an eye toward Alexandrian help in future battles. The Alexander Sarcophagus was discovered, in what is now Lebanon, in 1887 and brought to Istanbul by Osman Hamdi Bey, the great Ottoman statesman, archeologist and artist who built Istanbul’s Archeological Museum.

Alex In Better Shape

Alexander Is In Better Shape (Archeological Museum. Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.

Alexander in MuseumAnd here is the rock star himself, Alexander. This still has traces of yellow paint in the marble hair, rose on the lips. It’s one of several done in the second century BC, when the artist might have had Alexander’s mummy to work from. I find this plausible because the forehead wrinkles are realistic for Alexander but idealized out of many statues.

THE GORDION KNOT

 In the drawing up top, Alexander rubs shoulders with an ancient Cypriot statue of Bes, the God of Plenty, a Hittite lion 5500 years old, and King Midas. A skeletal cohort of Midas– nobody knows who- rests upstairs among swanky grave goods built of boxwood from 740 BC. Midas was  King of the Phrygians, whose capitol of Gordion is near Turkey’s capitol, Ankara. The Phrygians invented a smelting technique that made bronze shine like gold, so yes, everything Midas touched turned to gold. And I thought it was just a fairy tale. Here’s some Midas Gold in the Archeological Museum in Antalya. It actually looks like titanium. There’s also a Madonna whose breasts weep blood, three jolly bronze creatures and a festive phallic bronze pin. I love drawing in museums. The stuff in those cases is laughing at you.

Midas Gold

Midas Gold (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

Gordion is the Home of the Gordion Knot. More fairy tales: Nobody could untie the Gordion Knot. Alexander famously solved this dilemma. He pulled out his sword and cut it.

Alexander Cuts the Gordion Knot

Alexander Cuts the Gordion Knot by Jean-Simon Barthelemy (1743-1811)

The Gordion Knot

A rendition of the Gordion Knot.

Turkey is a veritable Gordion Knot of history. The threads keep weaving in and out, disappearing and reappearing, and I will never ever live long enough to unravel it. In a beloved tale, King MIdas judged Pan the winner in a music contest with Apollo, and a furiously un-godlike Apollo gave him donkey’s ears. The little figures below are Midas Gold and smaller than my hand. I haven’t yet been to the museum in Ankara, now in restoration, but look forward to its re-opening, when I can see Midas’s magnificent wooden furniture preserved and reassembled over years by dedicated archeologists.

Antalya Museum Intro

Antalya Museum Intro (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

LIONS CAN LIVE THOUSANDS OF YEARS That Hittite lion back in Istanbul has fellows all over what is now Turkey. Aslantepe (Lion Hill) Huge dig near Malatya features a jocular fountain lion and many real pussycats.

Aslantepe Huge Intro

Aslantepe Huge Intro (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

The museum at the University in Elazig was full of artifacts from Paleolithic to Ottoman. It’s the only place I’ve ever been offered a chair, not to mention tea and conversation.

Reyhan in Elazig Muse ©2004 by Trici Venola.

Reyhan in Elazig Muse ©2004 by Trici Venola.

I love the combination of tribal art and ancient artifacts found all over rural Turkey. Here’s a collection from Aslantepe Huge:

Malatya Artifacts

Malatya Artifacts (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

Here’s a Hittite courtroom, drawn in situ in Turkey in 2004. The culprit sat in the hot seat, surrounded by devils– those paintings on the walls– and was judged by a group. Not much has changed in 5500 years, if you consider the paparazzi.

Hittite Hot Seat

Hittite Hot Seat (Aslantepe Huge Excavation, Malatya) ©2004 Trici Venola.

NIMRUD IN HOLLYWOOD The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of the more civilized museums in the world, allowing artists to carry in sketchbooks and work at any time. But they go farther still. I drew this Assyrian Guardian and mapped his beard curls to render when I wasn’t standing up– on feet that felt like two hot anvils pounding upward. But I neglected to render one curl to go by. I went back next day, but the exhibit was closed. At the guard station I explained the problem while flipping pages in the sketchbook. “All I need is five minutes,” I said, and those enlightened people called the actual curator who personally came downstairs, escorted me up to the exhibit, unlocked it and stood there while I drew the beard curl. Now THAT’s a museum!!

Assyrian King at the Met

Assyrian Guardian at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Nimrud Bird Djinn

Nimrud, Bird Djinn

To the right of the bearded Guardian is a piece from a personal puzzle: that male figure with a bird head, wings and a sideways Egyptian stance, symbol of exotica and ancient mystery. This image strides through my earliest memories, associated with Echo Park, with klieg lights across the sky and the smell of eucalyptus, an enduring symbol of Old Hollywood, of Los Angeles, of home. What a shock to discover this dear and familiar figure to be a djinn– a genie, relic of Nimrud, in Mesopotamia, oceans and continents and millennia away from my childhood in California. I was totally immersed in the Middle East, obsessed with moving to Turkey, drawing to learn more. Echo Park had been the furthest thing from my mind. I stood there in the Met with my mouth open while images strobed through my memory. DW Griffith’s silent epic Intolerance, shot in Hollywood in 1916, stunned viewers with its exotic representation of Babylon. See the figures on the gate?

Griffith Intolerance Set

Set of Babylon, DW Griffith’s Intolerance, Hollywood 1916.

Antiquities in the Middle East were being discovered at the same time as the medium of film. DW Griffith’s Babylon featured this same djinn, still parading in Hollywood shopping malls to this day.

Hollywood Highland Center

Hollywood Highland Center, 2004.

One Ramadan, drawing from memory Eastern Turkish women I’d seen on the tram, I was compelled by a certain strength in their features to intersperse them with Mesopotamian deities. After all, these faces are all from the same region.

Ramadan Women

Ramadan Women ©2011 Trici Venola.

Nimrud is on the Tigris, just southeast of the eastern Turkish border. It was originally excavated in the 1850s. One example of our bird-djinn was surely found between then and Intolerance. DW Griffith employed artists from all over the world. One of them knew the image, which was used precisely because of that sense of ancient mystery it conveys. Many more were found at Nimrud in 1931 by archeologist Max Mallowan. The one above, which I used as reference for my djinn drawing, was photographed by his wife, Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie at Nimrud, c1937.

AGATHA CHRISTIE? That Gordion Knot again! The most prolific and well-known mystery writer of all time was no stranger to Hollywood, since so many movies have been made of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express which begins in Istanbul, where she often stayed on her way to and from her husband’s digs in Mesopotamia. I had always associated Agatha Christie with floral dresses, trains, lorgnettes, a detective with patent-leather hair. But here she is in the dusty winds of the Middle East. She funded many digs, used up her face-cream cleaning ancient sculpture, and was an inveterate shutter-bug. She photographed many of the considerable Mallowan finds and wound up on many a museum plaque, along with all those best-seller lists.

Big Faces Agape

Big Faces Agape (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©2012 Trici Venola.

Turkey is a mystery I will never solve, but it sure is fun trying. One way is to travel, and another way is to go into the museums and draw. When I get fascinated by a piece of art and draw it, I learn more and more about this place. Everyone was here, many at the same time. Check out these strange bedfellows from the 2nd century AD, at the Archeological Museum in Antalya.

Unholy Trio

Strange Bedfellows.detail (Archeological Museum, Antalya) ©2000 Trici Venola.

Priapus, God of Sexual Enthusiasm, was as popular with the ancients as he is with us. The one on all those postcards is in Selchuk, along with many other aspects of love.

Eros & Priapus

Aspects of Love (Selchuk Museum) ©2012 Trici Venola.

There’s Priapus actual size– fist-sized–  at right center. He’s in a glass case with a light you press for two minutes of illumination. I kept pushing the button so I could see to draw, and when I looked up a large crowd was standing behind me, staring into the case and giggling.

THE BYZANTINE FANTASY ZOO

Dragon Lamp at the Met

Dragon Lamp at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

It turns out that a dragon was a symbol of Christianity. So was a foot, which represented pilgrimage. Drawing in the Met, I realized that Christianity had spread all over the Middle East long before Islam. It incorporated all the fantastic animals of the Shamanistic religions that preceded it.

Peter Paul and Mary at the Met

Peter, Paul and Mary at the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Thanks to the movies, the co-mingled Egyptian animal-human gods are old friends. But who ever heard of a Senmurv, a rocking-horse-like winged creature with a peacock tail?

Byzantine Trappings

Byzantine Trappings (Archeological Museum, Istanbul) ©1999 Trici Venola.

Bosch Delights.Detail

Hieronymus Bosch, Hell.detail, 16th century.

All the early Christian exhibits are full of these strange co-mingled creatures: bird-headed lions, griffins, dragons,  hippogriffs, pigs with wings. By the Middle Ages, artists were using them to populate Hell, most famously Hieronymus Bosch. The ancients combined lions and eagles and bulls. Bosch used animals he saw in Holland: frogs, birds, cats, mice, rabbits. Gradually these disappeared from Christian art, and all that is left of them now are those gargoyles on Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Gargoyles

Gargoyles, Notre Dame, Paris 2000.

Heaven got the winged deities. The visual depictions of angels evolved from those Shamanistic figures, from fiery six-winged Seraphim to Cupid-inspired cherubs. And this powerful winged male figure: our dear and familiar djinn with a human head: the Archangel.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

The Archangel Michael, by Guido Reni, 16th Century.

A PRIDE OF LIONS

On the Steps of the Met

On the Steps of the Met (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art) ©2002 Trici Venola.

Not every fabulous museum denizen is in a glass case. Derek here posed on the steps of the Met with all the insouciance of one of the stone lions within, while I was able to delight nine-year-old Faisal by drawing his incipient mustache.

Assyrian Lions

Assyrian Lions (The British Museum, London) ©2006 Trici Venola.

Lord Elgin was the British ambassador to Ottoman Istanbul. Distressed at the rural peoples’ indifference to antiquities, he bought as many as he could afford, bullying an old friend into building an entire wing at The British Museum to house them, and bankrupting himself in the process. This is now a cause of discord between Turkey and England, but in the end the glories are preserved.

The Lion from Xanthos

The Lion from Xanthos (The British Museum, London) ©2006 Trici Venola.

In The British Museum, while drawing these lions from Xanthos, I was surrounded by schoolchildren. In uniforms, with sketchbooks, little Harry Potters all, saying in those lovely accents, “Are you actually drawing those lions? Truly?”  Yes, I said, these lions are from Xanthos, a city in Turkey. They were astonished, they were entranced. They had not known that Turkey is the Asia Minor referred to in the museum. My sketchbook at that time had pictures of the British Ambassador to Turkey, our Anglican Canon, the chandeliers in the British Consulate, and Cappadocia.

Big Church in Goreme

Big Church in Goreme (Goreme, Cappadocia) ©2006 Trici Venola.

What these kids loved was the open air museum in Cappadocia. They would not let me turn the pages. They wanted to know the story of every single pigeon cave in the cliffs, every window, every cave church. “These are pigeonholes? Real ones?”

Cave Church Door

Cave Church Door (Ortahisar, Cappadocia) ©2006 Trici Venola.

“Look at this, it’s old Father Theodosias’s church, look here, where he prayed, the stone is worn there, that’s Arab painting up top, you can see-” When I looked up, there were a hundred kids there, parents, teachers, docents… now THAT’s a museum!

Turkish Flashback

Turkish Flashback ©2000 Trici Venola.

THE GORDION KNOT There are plenty of Hittite lions in Cappadocia, too. All of Turkey is one breathing, palpating, interwoven fist of historical threads, pulling in the whole world. We live at the center, then and now. And what’s all this history for? Well, for starters history gives me hope. In these perilous times it’s reassuring to realize that the ancients, too, often thought– with good reason!–that the world was ending. It’s relaxing, when distressed by the antics of some fruitcake potentate or crackpot group of terrorist thugs, to read of the same a thousand years ago and know that these lethal fools too shall pass. History is humbling: no matter how unique I feel, I learn of legions of others. Wandering through the museums, looking at familiar expressions in ancient bronze and marble and clay, I feel at one with the great tide of humanity: following that Gordion thread, seeing it disappear into the knot, wondering if I will ever see it re-emerge, or if I must wait for another incarnation. One day I may have all the answers, but by then the questions probably won’t matter anymore.

Syrian Bronze Sphinx

Bronze Sphinx from Syria (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art)©2002 Trici Venola.

All drawings Plein Air. All drawings © Trici Venola, created with drafting pens on rag paper in sketchbook format, standard size 18 X 52 cm / 7 X 20 inches. All drawings part of The Drawing On Istanbul Project. Original drawings are for sale. If you see one here and love it, contact  Trici Venola. We love your comments.

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.

TIGERS IN EPHESUS: Tribute to a Departed Friend

THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER

Plein Air drawings all, done on-site and at the time.

The Great Virgin & St John ©2007 by Trici Venola

A few years back I went to Ephesus with my friend Cynthia from Maui. We are exactly the same age, both born in the Year of the Tiger. We both love cats. She even has cat eyes! Cynthia’s former husband had run off awhile before, leaving her in the unfinished mortgaged dream house in the middle of the jungle, all alone. After a year she still felt lousy and came to Turkey with a friend on the Sufi Dervish spiritual trail.

Konya Dervishes ©2005 by Trici Venola

Sufism’s genesis was in Konya, and it was in Konya that Cynthia found true spiritual healing in the form God chose to best get her attention: Hakan, a handsome young carpet salesman. Sound familiar? That old story leading to heartbreak? Surprise, they made it work.

Lewis Smoking Nargile ©2005 by Trici Venola

It took some doing. Hakan went to his friend Lewis at the Consulate in Ankara. “I’m in love and there’s a problem,” he said. “How could love be a problem?” asked Lewis. “No permission,” said Hakan, “Nobody believes us.” He explained the huge and visible age difference. “How old are you?” said Lewis. “Oh, about five,” said Hakan. “It was then,” Lewis told me later, “that I knew how much I liked him.” Lewis met Cynthia and told Hakan, “If you don’t marry her, I will.” He stood up for them at their wedding and got Hakan a visa. Hakan and Cynthia moved to Maui and started an import business. She and I went on holiday together on a break during their umpteenth buying trip. Cynthia needed girl time while Hakan stayed with the relatives in Konya, lovely people who adored Cynthia and lived with the TV always on and the halogen light always overhead.

Dervishes Near Konya © 2006 by Trici Venola

Cynthia traveled with a coffee maker and Hawaiian coffee that dissolved spoons.  She had the kind of high-cheekboned, big-lipped blond beauty so beloved by trophy collectors. Wide hips, a lot of good makeup, tons of jewelry, lots of fringe and swishing skirts and cleavage, trailing rose perfume, and these Turkish men just put up their paws and howled. She was ten pounds overweight then and only looked more alluring. We had a great time in Ephesus. “They make a big fuss of us here,” she said with satisfaction.

Cynthia Odalisque © 2005 by Trici Venola

The ruins of Ephesus are near Selchuk, so we went there. Selchuk is in the province of Izmir, Anatolia, and full of old Roman chunks, Byzantine and pre-Alexandrian wreckage, and the purported last home of the Virgin Mary, which Cynthia was crazy to see. We approached between mountains, turreted ruins on their peaks. Fairy-tale storks nest all along the tops of Selchuk’s ruined Roman aqueduct, each tower topped with its bristling nest and the tall jointed black-and-white stork families, little storklet beaks sticking up. Drawing them, I mused on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, The Marsh King’s Daughter, imagining… Egyptian princesses flying with the storks, long black hair trailing behind them, the one princess dropping down, down into the marsh, the lotus flower bubbling up later with the savage beautiful daughter of the Princess and the Marsh King.

Storks in Selçuk © 2005 by Trici Venola

ST JOHN’S BASILICA Cynthia, jet-lagged, holed up in her room and I wandered Selchuk, drawing. The castle looks down on the town from its hilltop above the vast rambling ruin of St. John’s Basilica, built over his tomb by Justinian and Theodora and later wrecked by earthquake, scavengers and Tamerlane.

Weedy St John’s ©2007 by Trici Venola

Over the tomb is a flat marble platform, erected by the Turks, with four marble pillars framing the original dark, pitted old headstone scored

St John’s Headstone © 2005 by Trici Venola

with Coptic crosses. The ruin meanders all over the hill, stairs going up to nothing, massive chunks of masonry tilting up out of the ground, and some gypsies trying to sell fake old coins. One showed me a hipbone and kneecap sticking out of a wall of dirt, as well as some buried mosaics.  Sadly they have now replaced and corrected the old sign that described how Mary came to be in Ephesus. In embossed painted metal, it said:

…AND JESUS LOOKING DOWN FROM THE CROSS SAID TO JOHN TO TAKE HIS MOTHER INTO HIS HOSE.

St John’s Mood © 2005 by Trici Venola

From St John’s you can see the square double-domed mosque built from stones hauled from the ruined basilica, and beyond it on the marsh the remains of the Great Temple of Artemis, a wonder of the ancient world.

The Great Temple of Artemis was burned in 356 BCE, the night Alexander the Great was born, by a fame-seeking madman whose name escapes me. Alexander declared that Artemis allowed her temple’s destruction because she was preoccupied with his birth, and had it restored. But as the powerful religion of Artemis lost ground to the Romans and then the Christians, the temple fell into disuse. Finished by an earthquake, it was scavenged to build St John’s, Selchuk Mosque, and Hagia Sophia. Only one pillar remains pointing to the sky. Of course there is a stork’s nest on it.

Great Artemis 72A CONVERGENCE OF GODDESSES This great granite statue of Artemis now lives in the museum at Selchuk, eerie and powerful. In its niche around the corner from the massive marble images of Caesar Augustus and his Empress Livia, crosses hacked and burned into their foreheads, and other effluvia from Ephesus. This Artemis is not Apollo’s kid sister Diana. This Artemis  wears a paneled dress and a high crown covered with triple images of creatures: three sphinxes, three bulls, three bees.. Where her chest would be are masses of breasts or bull’s testicles or penises entering vaginas, depending on what you read. I lean toward this last: life creating itself. All of the ideas, though, represent powerful fertility. Some sources claim that the stone polyps really represent the sacrifice made by her priests, who castrated themselves to serve the Goddess, echoed later by Catholic priests dedicating their manhood to the Church. Whatever the Great Mother Artemis has on her chest, she is not human. Alien, squarejawed, a tilted blank gaze and the cryptic closed smile of a Kore, a concentrate of power, purity and fecundity distilled by time into Virgin; Goddess of all things, beginning and end. Standing there I thought about the other local Great Virgin, Mary. Hm…Virgin Mother, moon as attribute, unconditional love for all living things, goddess of women, desexed priests…my spine turned to ice as I realized whose face I was seeing. It was time to wake up Cynthia and go up the mountain.

In Mary’s House © 2007 by Trici Venola

Meryemana is the house generally agreed by Muslims, Jews and the Catholic Church to have been the home of the Virgin Mary, lost for centuries and rediscovered after a nineteenth-century vision by a stigmatized German nun. Archeologists dug where Sister Mary Emmerlich dreamed, and found a stone foundation on a steep slope in a grove of trees. The Virgin’s attributes abound: roses and orange blossoms. Even her new moon is evident in all the Turkish flags on the trinket stands. The place is packed, and whether or not you believe that Mary was here, millions of people who do believe it have been here, and the collective faith knocks you to your knees. Cynthia sobbed over her holywater flask, down by the wall covered with prayers.

Sweet Virgin Mary © 2005 by Trici Venola

Apostles John and Paul were thrown out of Ephesus because their conversions were putting a hole in the silversmith trade. Nobody was buying the little silver Artemis charms anymore. Perhaps it was then that the New Virgin became the local goddess. More stories: an ecumenical council in 430-something, in a 4th-century church built of her tomb. Now it’s a dark little restored church packed with pilgrims, an Order dressed in turquoise and blue, and many candles. Despite the mob there is deep and pervasive peace. The altar is where the old kitchen was. On the wall in Mary’s bedroom is a naive painting, an Assumption, with a treatment I had never seen. The adult Jesus holds an infant Mary. There’s no graffiti save the little painting above, of her face, far down on the wall, with a little wooden frame hung around it.

Bright Morning Face © 2006 by Trici Venola

ROME Next day we wandered down the main streets of Ephesus, the Biblical town that died when an earthquake robbed it of its harbor, and admired the library, the remaining statues, the massive stadium. In its

Gladiator Headstone © 2005 by Trici Venola

heyday Ephesus was a major city with indoor plumbing and heating, covered walkways, a population of 200,000 and a cemetery just for its gladiators, who were dug up in the 20th century by German investigators and subjected to forensic studies to see how they died. The result is a swell exhibit: a museum case with the tombstone and the actual punctured skullcase or fractured femur, along with an illustrated description of what made the wound and how the man died. I drew this one in the Selchuk Museum, just around the corner from the Great Artemis.

Crossed Caesars © 2005 by Trici Venola

Lili by Candlelight © 2007 by Trici Venola

THE MINISTRY OF FUN

Two years later, Cynthia and I went back to Selchuk with Lili,  also from Maui. The sumptuous villas of the Ephesus rich had just opened. They marched up the hill over the posh section of town just like they do in every city to this day. We’d all seen the HBO series Rome, and the hill villas, like the Roman statues, brought out the scheming passionate Atia in us.

The Marsh King’s Daughter flew with the storks to a Viking’s home in Denmark. By night she was the toadlike image of her hideous father, with her mother’s generous sweet spirit. By day she had her mother’s beauty and her father’s vicious temper, which her Viking protector adored. Only his wife knew the secret…

A glint at times in Cynthia’s cat-eyes, of fury barely checked. This was the sword-edge of an implacable life force. When administered with smoky voice and exquisite tact, it was capable, in one week, of getting a depressed mutual friend out of fusty hair and bedroom slippers and into spike heels, toreador pants, slicked-back hair and a holiday. Me, I just started growing my hair down to my hips.

Aphrodisias Composite ©2007 by Trici Venola

Lili in Aphrodisias 2007. Photo by Cynthia Ucarer

On that trip I became ordained in Lili’s Ministry of Fun, of which Cynthia was already a priestess. Here is our creed: DO IT ONLY IF IT IS FUN. IF YOU MUST DO IT, FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT FUN.

Sirinci 72

In the Greek mountain town of Sirinci we bought white khaftans and drove inland to Aphrodisias.  We held a priestess ceremony out in the ruins, each becoming free of something, with flowers and singing and incense. Only with these Aloha Blondes could I carry on so, to the sun’s dazzle on a whole tour group’s worth of snapping cameras. Afterwards I put my wreath on a stone lion. A guard approached. Uh-oh, I thought. “Madam,” he said with respect tinged with awe, “we are all wondering, where are you ladies from?”

Stork Pillar in Selchuk ©2005 Trici Venola

Stork Pillar in Selçuk ©2005 Trici Venola

Back on that first trip, Cynthia and I returned from Ephesus to discover that a big soccer game had taken over the town. We dressed in our earrings and trailing scarves and  went out to dinner. All the way out at the edge of town was the marsh with the one Artemis pillar and a lumpy old weedy hamam. Beyond the fence was a dark poor area, just little cement houses, all deserted with the game on. At the very end of town was a triangular lot at the end of two streets edging the marsh. There was a cafe, lit and open and no TV, with one woman who made us dinner. We sat there under the grapevines as darkness came slowly down on the town. Two men sat down nearby. One joined us, speaking with Cynthia at length in French about their respective youths in Paris. Something creaked in the quiet, and out of the dark trundled a popcorn vendor. “It’s a Fellini movie,” someone said. We stayed for hours, drinking coffee and red wine, the dark silence punctuated by an occasional car full of screaming soccer fans roaring out of the dark and away. A rose man materialized. The man who spoke French had a friend with a huge mustache, who jocularly gave us each a longstemmed, strong-scented red rose.

At last we took our roses and our leave and wandered home through the dark streets, up the hill past the rampart-like gate leading to the ruin of St. John’s church, and started down. At the base of the hill was the road, and across it the town entrance, a huge modern stone fountain with a big arch and a giant reproduction of the Great Artemis. We heard it first, a pounding scream coming from the crowd next to the fountain. As we came down the hill the noise became deafening. Close up it was a Bacchanal.

Leaning Old Minaret © 2005 by Trici Venola

In ancient times people would fling themselves into a sexual frenzy in the names of their deities: Dionysius, Demeter. When Christianity took over, the people continued to dance in worship. Nothing could break them of it. After six days of backbreaking labor the serfs would dance on the seventh, and they would always do it in the churchyard. Passion and worship, forever married. Now we looked down on a chaotic festival of screaming young men dancing to pounding music simulcast from the stores in the street. Flung water glittered in a strobe light. The dancing became wilder as people fell and leaped into the fountain. They took the winning soccer colors—yellow and blue– and wrapped them around the hips of the Great Goddess and shimmied them. One pubescent kid saw us watching him, strutted shirtless with his chicken chest stuck out and his wet pants plastered to him, stood at the huge stone back of the goddess facing us applauding across the water and danced like a stripling priest. Cynthia and I stood at the lip of the fountain, encouraging the young girls, but in the end, as so often, we were the only women dancing.

Cynthia Odalisque.Face Detail © 2005 by Trici Venola

In the fairy tale, The Marsh King’s Daughter found faith, which unified her lovely form and spirit. She ascended in joy to the Kingdom of Heaven, leaving only a withered lotus flower behind. Cynthia is slipping away now I am told, across the world in Hawaii, and I write this in the winter’s dark of Istanbul years later. The Aloha Blonde is taking her roses and her leave, those cat eyes and the husky voice murmuring French to some eternal young man. She is flying with the storks, her glory trailing behind her, and I’m posting this for all of us left at the party.

Tiger Sisters: Trici Venola & Cynthia Ucarer, 2005.

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