A day full of pleasant surprises in AnkaraTom Lloyd | March 6, 2010
Not many pictures yet to share yet (most of us forgot our usb cables!) but lots to share about a day that was full of unexpected gifts (and check the mp3′s of our performance last night if you haven’t already, at www.haverford.edu/musc/choral/csingers/tour.html) – planning a tour like this requires setting some basic parameters of what will happen (concerts on certain days with certain choirs, times set aside for informal or formal discussions with local students, hotels to sleep in, meals to eat, buses to take us where we need to go) – but this structure is all for the purpose creating opportunity for spontaneous encounters to happen as opportunities arise.
We altered the schedule right away to leave at 10:30 instead of 9:00 for our morning tour of the Anatolian Civilization Museum and the Ankara Castle. Everyone was in much better spirits as a result. For the museum we had a wonderful tour guide – a sociologist and mother with a love for telling the story of the layers and layers of ancient civilizations in Anatolia (the peninsula we now call “Asia Minor” that comprises the Asian part of modern Turkey) – the students especially enjoyed her penchant for assigning them to role play the various rulers and sultans in various eras to make sense of how political and social power worked in different eras. She also didn’t mind taking hard questions (one of our students is doing a research project on women in modern Turkey for her anthropology seminar, and was asking about the current state of arranged marriages and honor killings in different parts of the country).
As expected, the incredible depth of the history and recovered artifacts was a little overwhelming, but important for American students to experience in a tangible way how new our cultural and political traditions really are compared to most of the world. It caused me to wonder for a moment about how much less we know (or are culturally aware of what already is known) from the centuries and layers of native American culture.
At the end of the museum tour we climbed up to the top of the historic castle of Ankara which was a fascinating exhibit of the many layers of Anatolian history – it seems there was so much archeological debris lying around, that when it was time to build a new turret or wall for the castle, whatever stone was available was used, whether it showed cuniform engravings or Roman signs, or altar stones that today in themselves would be considered invaluable relics.
It also offered a great climbing challenge with a spectacular view of the old and new city from the top of the curving walls – just in time to see dark rain clouds move in as we hustled down the stairs just in time to miss most of it.
Then we went back to the campus of the choir we sang with last night – Middle East Technical university – and spent an hour having lunch at several different small, inexpensive restaurants in a circular atrium building with four floors – the food was interesting and fascinating, and cheap – we sang our way out at the end, finding an open spot on one of the middle floors – one of our spirituals and one of our Turkish pieces, greeted by warm applause and whistles.
After some down time back at the hotel, we went off to a performance by a modern dance group at METU – originally we were just planning to attend the short program – but once we arrived, we were invited to become part of the performance – part of which was to be an improvised jam session involving the dancers and an ensemble of electric guitars and drums (at first the students were really raising their eyebrows at me, sure I had suggested the idea because of some of the more “unexpected” performing opportunities I’d come up with on the spur of the moment in the past – but I reassured them that this one came entirely from the METU students!). It was definitely a “go with the flow” moment – I had no idea what we would sing, and just waited to see what the dancers did in the first couple of segments to recorded music, and then an improvisation with the instrumental ensemble. It soon seemed obvious that the perfect music for this modernist experimental group would be the first movement of David Lang’s the little match girl passion – but would we have enough light to sing it by? (a minimalist piece not easy to memorize) – the show took place in a large open indoor space with theater lighting focused on various parts of the dance flooring, but the sides in the dark – we had just enough to pull it off, and from what our students told me (my back was turned), the dancers really had a great time with it – then our tour guide ran over to ask for something up tempo – one of our spirituals – so we pulled together Hailstork’s Go Down, Moses which also turned out to be just what they were looking for – then it was time for the instrumentalists to take back the musical side – but the METU students invited our students to join in the dancing, which three of them (two girls and one of our guys) readily responded too.
This was an event not even on the schedule before we arrived…and turned out to be the highlight of the day…and captured on video by a METU student cinematographer who happened to be there.
Contact with the METU students continued at our “welcome” dinner, which was some of the most wonderful food we’ve tasted so far – and Turkish cuisine is one of the few where the level of the desserts matches the level of the main courses – and then met us at the hotel to go dancing at a local club (but don’t worry parents – they were accompanied not only by METU students but one of our guides and one of our faculty leaders – and the club is a short walk from the hotel, in a gorgeous part of town
Tomorrow we head to Eskiseher – after so many serendipitous encounters, it’s hard to believe we’ve only been here two days!