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Sumela Monestary, the Hamam and Hali Abi

See photos at Dick Osseman’s photo gallery: 



Saturday 17 September

            Sumela Monastery sits high in the mountains outside
Trabzon, having been built there by some variety of Christian monks an impressive number of years ago. All the details are there in the guidebook, so I don’t have to remember them. As is typical for these sorts of monks, I gather, the place is as remote as possible, deep in the forest, high above everything, accessible only by a single door atop a flight of a gazillion stairs, which, I don’t doubt were constructed using only a nail file or some such, penitent thing. The monastery was abandoned in during WWI. The way up is through beautiful, leafy hardwood forests, rushing brooks and steep ascents, just like home. Except for the hardwood trees, even the vegetation was similar. Stinging nettle (discovered the hard way), geranium, lantana, digitalis, even a brunella . The hike from the bus stop climbs 250 meters leaving the Turkish visitors in a lather despite their healthy-looking youth. The Israeli women shot ahead like rabbits, and the Scots and Danes did a loud, tortoise-vs- hare sort of number, gabbing away unintelligibly. It was just so pleasant to be out of the city even though the place is positively infested with tourists.  Imagining the monks in their fortress, coming close to their god somehow, I touch upon my own relationship with bodhicchita. No matter what you call it, we all have that essential goodness somewhere,  and it is the only thing that isn’t a passing memory. The dream life. What did those monks get from closing themselves off instead of opening themselves up? It seems forceful and counterproductive. As we walked back down the path the call to prayer was broadcast; the sound swirling up the valley through the trees. I could live here.

            The frescoes had all sorts of saints who were wearing indistinct clothes, but there were also patches of geometric design motifs which were suggestive of weavings. I have a single-track mind. Inside the main building, where all the frescoes are, taking pictures with a flash is prohibited. Why? Doubtless to prevent people from profiting from the pictures, and I got busted. I don’t even know how to turn the flash off on my camera. 


18 Sept

            First things first: bright and early we set off for the Hamam: the Turkish bath. There is one for the women, and one for the men. We found the women’s, but the sign said it didn’t open for another hour. Then a fellow approached and, through a mish-mash of language it was determined that he would call the Hamam lady, and we were to wait. Of course the obligatory questions of nationality were asked and answered, and the ‘how did you learn Turkish?’ questions while we waited. When the Hamam lady arrived, the fellow sloped off.

            The HL was a jovial, large woman, probably in her thirties. She stripped to her undies – a nice, lacy, matching scarlet affair – and we donned our bathing suits. She led us to the inner, warm room, and set us beside a tap that flows into a basin. You sit on a marble slab next to the basin, and dip your plastic dipping bowl into the basin, then sluice yourself a bunch. When HL is ready, she has you strip your suit off, and lie on a heated marble platform. Then she soaps you up, and scrubs you down, methodically covering every inch of you. With the scrubbing mitt she shows you the balled-up skin that has been removed from your exterior with a certain amount of glee. Everything she does, though is done with a certain amount of glee. Like picking up each limb, holding it to her fulgent chest and manipulating it deftly until you are just a little rag-doll of a person, a little baby being washed. Its embarrassing for about 2.8 seconds, and then its just heaven.

                        From there we wandered off,   satisfied women, until a pair of earrings in a shop window caught Alisa’s eye. The shop was full to the brim with dusty old things: jewelry, pots and pans, exquisite ewers, hideous confabulations of junk and musty fezes, reportedly “osmanlı” or from Ottoman times.  And, of course, there was pile of mothy rugs. I began ripping the pile apart, separating the good from the not so good while Alisa talked jewelry. I piled up about 10 goodish pieces and had Alisa drag them outside so I could photograph them, then I put the ones I might want in a pile and asked how much. I whipped out my journal, and started writing as the dükkanci rattled off ridiculous prices. We retreated to his inner sanctum, which was chock-a-block with stuff. Good stuff, bad stuff, funny stuff, and sad stuff. He sent a boy out for coffee. I made a list of the pieces I was interested in, and he shouted out prices. He had called a young man in to interpret, but his English was about as bad as my Turkish.  A little better. But between the two of us we sort of made hash from scratch.

            It’s really a matter of spending the time drinking Türk Kahvesi (Turkish coffee, served in the itty-bitty cups with the sweetish sludge on the bottom), laughing, gesticulating and exchanging, rather than negotiating. Very early in our interchange he told me – claimed – what he had paid for each piece, and this is the gauntlet.  I knew that wasn’t what he paid for it, but he wouldn’t go below a certain tipping point. And for my part, I tried to explain that I couldn’t sell the stuff for what he was asking for it, much less pay that much for it. To take the impossibility out of the equation, I kept changing the number of pieces I was negotiating for. Gave us wiggle room. His starting total for all the pieces I wanted was $3100. I wound up paying $500. It took a long time, and Alisa was laughing and chipping in to the conversation all along, being her beautiful, lively self and entertaining marriage offers (again!? Yep, she’s a catch!) while the neighbors wandered in and out to spectate, bringing fresh fish, tomatoes and gossip.

            Then to distract him, I threw Alisa’s earrings into the equation. He wanted $120 for them and she wanted to pay 50. Amidst the “I can’t possibly-s” (Turkish men are less than subtle in their declamations), I threw out the fact that I’d be coming back if these pieces sold for a good price. I think it was more the prospect of having a lively friend  to haggle with than that of doing good business –after all, his stuff was covered with dust, and his rugs were being consumed by moths, so I don’t think he was moving a lot of inventory – that did him in.  All of a sudden, without agreeing to anything he was wrapping up my rugs and Alisa’s earrings in paper, and ordering more kahve. Deal done.

            Later that day Alisa had her own round of deal-making, over a handsome porcelain tea set. It features, naturally, nazars. She never grumbled through the three hours of my negotiations with Halı Abi (rug uncle), so I didn’t grumble about the four separate salmon-spawning trips we made to the shop with her tea set and its savvy proprietor. I didn’t grumble, but I groaned, grinned and bore it. She wanted the set, but she didn’t want to lose the negotiating game, and she wanted the dükaancı to ship it for her, which he wouldn’t,  but then she decided that the tea set was more important than saving face, but by then it was Sunday (she stayed up half the night thinking of it), and the shop was closed. In the fullness of time, and at the expense of a LOT of shoe leather, she got her tea set. At least Alisa had the good sense to mail her purchase home rather than lugging it around the country like an albatross – or a pile of antique rugs.


Monday, 19 Sept 05

Purchases in hand, Monday we set off bright and early for
Kayseri by bus. Unfortunately the bus didn’t leave until five that night, so we had some time to kill after checking out of the hotel. We caught a dolmuş (a “shared taxi” or minibus that you flag down on the street) to the otogar (bus terminal), bought our tickets then went back into town to wait it out with my Albatross.  Not wanting to carry our bags around town, and tired of all the spawning salmon routines, anyway we camped at a deserted sea-side restaurant and played cards while drinking Efes beer and munching on kuruyemiş (roasted nuts and chickpeas and beans and the like). We played Go Fish because there was a fisherman fishing, and we agreed to conduct our game entirely in Turkish. The waiter couldn’t understand my question about how to say “fish” as a verb in Turkish, so we had to make do by saying just saying “fish” the noun. This was probably the only day we spent just loafing around. There was just so much to do that seemed like fun.


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