Traveling the road from Ankara to Eskisehir (“ES-ki-shay-er”)Tom Lloyd | March 7, 2010
Sunday was our first travel day since arriving in Turkey. The landscape outside of the urban and suburban sections of Ankara looks quite barren to us coming from the wooded landscapes of southeastern PA. Only occasional small scrub trees and every once in a while grazing fields for sheep and crops of hay just starting up in short rows of green. Sometimes we spot a snow-covered peak ahead in the distant northeast mountains.
But coming up along the road is a village where the mayor has had the foresight to restore the old part of the village to something resembling its Ottoman past (a past rarely viewed in the post-Ataturk republic, though with increasing exceptions) – with the hope of drawing Turkish tourists to give the craftsmen and women, shopkeepers, and restaurateurs of the town jobs in a tough economy. To our eyes (including our veteran Turkey travelers Maud and Sooyong) the village has managed just the right combination of being attractive to tourists but retaining the character of a living community with a traditional way of life as well as traditional buildings.
In addition to the shops with locally crafted copper-ware, fruits and spices, jewelry, and rustic restaurants with local dishes (such as the one we had a pre-paid lunch in (I really have to take it easy on these Turkish deserts – but how many ways can you make nuts and honey taste better in every combination?), there were stores with practical things that everyone needs to stay alive, like everyday cooking and washing utensils and tools. There were several mosques, one of which broadcast a recording of the call to prayer, in Turkish, used all over the country (too bad there isn’t more work for religious singers!) – here without much in the way of movement to the mosque or other signs of piety.
In front of some of the shops and in courtyards, there are groups of older men sitting in a circle, sipping tea among themselves and talking quietly. Maud tells me that the women in the village would typically be out in the morning during shopping time, but never be seen gathering in the same square at the same time as the men. The people are soft-spoken and gentle – the shops each very different and fascinating in layout. (I wish I had my usb cable to show you a couple of them!)
The road to the university town of Eskiseher takes another 3 hours, with a break along the way – this is the longest travel day by far (within Turkey). We arrive in the city after dark – a brilliantly lit modern, lively metropolis – fancier than an Ann Arbor or other Big-Ten college town in the US, but still very much a place dominated by youth. A group of about ten very fashionably dressed singers from the university choir are waiting to greet us at our hotel, and then take us off to dinner at a favorite place of theirs. Before we leave the restaurant, the owners demand a song (or two (really, I tell the students – they asked for it, not me! – this happens all the time in restaurants on trips outside the US whether in Venezuela, or Poland, or Ghana, or Costa Rica, but would be unimaginable in the US – why is that so??) – first we sing our up-tempo opening spiritual “There’s a great camp meeting” by Hall Johnson, which gets an enthusiastic response – and then the rivetingly fast Yavuz Geliyor, which has everyone – university singers and restaurant staff alike – singing along and shouting for joy at the end. Then we totally embarrass Sarah Glaser, who has just received the special banana pancake desert she ordered and was patiently waiting for, with a sparkler and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” before we head back for an early bedtime before a full day tomorrow that will end with our second concert!