Time flies!

I’ve been here on the dig for three weeks and we’re already past the half way point of the season. Spare time seems to be at a premium. I’m using my afternoons to catch a nap rather than socialize or write. The usually punishing schedule is particularly punishing this year; could it be advancing age??

If the pattern holds, we’re easing into September weather. Temperatures are in a slightly more comfortable range – in the morning and evening, certainly. Our start time has been dialled back to account for a later sunrise, and we ended our evening meal after dark tonight. I have a full crate of artifacts collecting beneath my desk, awaiting attention: an assortment of partial stone vessels, clay weights and such. Nothing that you would recognize as ‘treasure’ but it all tells a story. I’ve drawn about half of what is on my “to do” list, and more comes in from the field each day. Maybe that accounts for the lack of free time more than my age?

While I continue to play catch up here, I thought I’d hold you at bay with a few photos from a recent trip to the Gaziantep museum. The stele I’m posed with and the orthostat were two of the very first finds that I was assigned to draw in 2008. I was only here for three weeks that first season – a “try out” for the position of illustrator. I cut my teeth on some major material and passed the test, so here I am nine years later. The museum case may not seem like much to you – but it’s the first time ever that I’ve seen a collection with which I’d been up close and personal: I’d drawn (and handled) every artifact in the display!




In an earlier post, I mentioned that I have sometimes drawn at the Gaziantep museum. The first time this happened was in the 2009 season, when I spent two days in the city accompanied by our Turkish conservator, Evren, acting as my translator, guide and minder.

Gaziantep is the bustling economic centre of southeastern Turkey and a sizeable metropolis. At its core is an ancient citadel and the old streets surrounding the kale (castle) are a tangled warren of shops and markets, cafes and kebab shops, restored caravanserai and historical bazaars. That first night in 2009 Evren led me through the winding laneways at dusk. I had been on the dig only a few weeks,still expecting to find the exotic Near East. Instead I had found hot, dusty, urban – and modern – Turkey and was feeling a little disillusioned. We pressed through the evening crowds, turned a corner to a narrow lane past a heavy wooden door and through an arched passage – into Ekim 29.

Ekim (October) 29 is the date of Turkish independence – and Evren tells me this spot was a renowned gathering place for poets, artists and revolutionaries back in the day. That night the stone-paved courtyard was alive with lanterns and candles and traditional live music. The tables and benches were covered in colourful textiles and the stone walls bedecked with Anatolian artifacts. Here was the Turkey I had imagined; I was enchanted. As I have learned in the years I’ve known her, Evren is especially adept at discovering the magical little corners of her country that delight me – and she loves to share them. The cafe was crowded that night and after a brief tour of the restored Anatolian rooms of the house,  we didn’t stay – but the impression has been a lasting one.

Evren and I returned to Ekim 29 the next day for afternoon çay, but it’s been many years since. This past Saturday I was visiting Gaziantep and determined to try to find the cafe once again. Our wanderings took us into the right neighbourhood and I was fairly sure I would recognize the lane and – there it was! I was pleased to share this magical oasis with a new group of friends.

Katmer and Kahve

The call to prayer sounds well before my alarm goes off at 4:40 a.m., so I have the luxury of rolling over to catch a few more zzz’s while the echoes trail off in the wind. The sun is over the horizon by the time I make it down to breakfast, gilding the faces of the site crew gathered in the courtyard sleepily awaiting transport to the dig. The Zincirli 2013 season has begun.

We’ve eased into things over this first week with introductions and instruction, a trip to the city to register with the police and plenty of time to socialize. Afternoons over a cup of çay give way to evenings over a cold beer or two. Conversation here is always stimulating, regardless of beverage. We’re a very multicultural group: representing twenty-five universities, eleven nationalities and a broad range of studies. It’s hard to get through a day here without learning something new and unexpected.

Thursday’s trip to the ‘foreigner police’ in Gaziantep was a treat in many ways. To begin, the city is one of my favourite places. katmerArriving at the alley outside the police offices, a row of low tables  and stools was quickly assembled and our wait began with a round of katmer – a breakfast pastry comprised of a thin pancake folded into many layers over a ricotta-like cheese, fried on a sizzling griddle to golden crispness before being drenched in honey and sprinkled with ground pistachio. It’s one of my favourite sweets – in a country that excels at sweets.

There are always twists and turns to the process of registering for Turkish residency – this year’s was that they were asking for more pictures than I had with me, necessitating a visit to an instant photo shop for more. Of course, when my turn came to present myself at the upstairs office, somehow two pictures were sufficient. I now possess enough snap-shots of myself for several seasons – flattering even, if not a little retouched. Having finished with our bureaucratic obligations – later than hoped but not than was expected, we were whisked off to a local shopping mall to find lunch.

I was lucky enough to be in company with others who thought we might do better than a meal in a fast food court, so we traipsed across the street and through a park to a kebab shop. None of the five of us were fluent in Turkish, but we pooled our dictionaries and came up with gestures and vocabulary enough to order a delicious and generous meal. This was followed by a stroll back through the park to a tea garden where we enjoyed a leisurely Turkish coffee. A visit to the impressive Zeugma mosaic museum rounded out our Fourth of July which, as it turns out, happens to also be my birthday. A memorable, well-spent day it was, topped off with a freshly baked walnut cake following our evening meal.

Conversation is still bubbling up from the courtyard, not quite drowning out this weekend’s wedding drums. The musical wail of the  evening call to prayer is sounding. Ah, Saturday night in Fevzi Paşa – yet another of my favourite things!