Out and About on the peninsula

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After a hard morning of finishing up our oil paintings onsite, we rolled out in three vehicles in the direction of Ortakent for a visit to Dibeklihan in Yakakoy. This place is a modern building constructed in the form of an old Ottoman Palace – it is much like the Bodrum Castle except on a smaller scale, with towers, turrets, and terraces overlooking the valley.

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On its premises are contained two contemporary art galleries, a small Ottoman Museum with artifacts from the sultan era, three café-bars, and several shops, including some very nice silver jewellery. We saw a very interesting exhibition of paintings by a local artist named Fatih Urunc, an alcoholic who died of booze poisoning at the age of 46.

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Hikmet knew him and told us that he used to wander through Bodrum, paintings under his arm, and sell them for a few lire whenever he needed another drink. The work reminded me a bit of Basquiat, very colourful and full of crazy characters, including a smoking grey cat with blue eyes who resurfaces in several visual narratives.

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In the other gallery an exhibition of work inspired by the Gezi Park demonstrations of last year and the Soma mine disaster was installed. Carnation images were used to memorialise the dead. After viewing the art, several of us had some lovely white wine in the Film Bar upstairs, seated in chairs inscribed with the names of various movie directors – I was John Ford.

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Today the entire group took the dolmus down to Yalikavak Market where we wandered through the various stalls and sampled some of the local cuisine. I tried to bargain unsuccessfully for a few jewellery items and ended up with a small scarf instead. After a cup of tea at a ringside seat we hustled back to the otogar for the minibus home; unfortunately a couple of members of our group were kicked off the bus because the driver would not take any standing passengers, likely because the police were there and he was afraid of getting a ticket.

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The afternoon’s life drawing exercise by the pool was a great success. We drew several 5 minute poses by Hikmet and Eljay, then a couple of ten minute ones using charcoal sticks. The improvement in everyone’s drawings from first to last was quite substantial.

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Finally, to complete the day the ten of us were driven down to a seaside restaurant, where a beach table had been reserved for us for dinner. Unfortunately, the weather had changed and it was looking a bit dark so we opted for a table inside instead. Cold mezes, coban salata, and a main course of sea bass and shrimp was consumed along with copious quantities of red and white wine. Being the only people in the restaurant, we got quite raucous and gave the staff quite an interesting time, I’m sure. Janet played Mary Poppins on the beach with Maggie’s five lire Istanbul umbrella which blew inside out and broke after about ten seconds. After cavorting on the beach in the rain, we were escorted into two taxis for the ride back to the ranch.

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While we were gone, Eljay had a terrible fall while running on the wet pavement to put our art work inside so it would not be damaged by the rain. Luckily, she was only bruised rather than broken, but it will take a few days for her to heal.

En Plein Air in Gokcebel

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Gokcebel is a beautiful little village – I love it here. It is wonderful to be back in Turkey again after 4 years. The Old Stone House is a former castle or fort, likely about 250 years old, although it has older parts, such as bits of Roman column and pillars. The scent of jasmine and mint fills the air and the garden has lovely bougainvillea, palm trees, and grape vines winding over a huge wooden pergola underneath which is the breakfast table. Three levels of terraces surround the house, each of which has a lovely seating area. The main house has three bedrooms, a sitting room, kitchen and small dining room used in the winter when it’s too cold to sit outside. All the houses here are built for outside living because the weather is so beautiful here most of the year.

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Just outside the back gate is the Mulberry Cottage, a much newer two story building, with two twin bedrooms, one single, and a small kitchenette, as well as its own little terrace and upper deck with a view out over the valley. The town is located in a small valley surrounded by serrated hills, the caldera of a former volcano. Eljay and I are staying at an apartment across the valley, since there is no room at the Old Stone inn – all the bedrooms are full with our painting program guests who arrived in a series of waves yesterday. Altogether with Eljay and Hikmet, the local Turkish tutor, we are a group of 12 who will spend the next two weeks drawing and painting around the Bodrum peninsula.

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Before the guests arrived Eljay and I had a lovely sunset drink down by the harbour in Yalikavak, the closest big town just a few miles down the road from the house. I have not been in this part of the peninsula before; last time I was here we stayed in Bodrum and in 2009 I was in Gumusluk, west and south of here, for the month of May. This part of the peninsula is not too over-developed and is still quite charming. Yalikavak has a beautiful yacht harbour and a series of beaches along the coast towards Golturkbuku. Restaurants, bars, and shops line the harbour and the side streets next to it. As I recall there is some sort of regulation about the colour of the buildings here – they must be white or at least light in colour, giving a uniformity to the villages. Against this white background the purple, pink, and red flowers stand out in stark relief.

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As usual, since we are in a small village, the animal chorus gets going very early in the morning. The strangled cries of roosters, dogs, cows, bulls, and the odd donkey echo around the hills accompanying the 5 am call to prayer, sung by an imam with a terrific voice. Three of Eljay’s cats stroll around the garden, many skinny stray beasts wander through the yard, and a very large tan and black Turkish dog keeps guard outside the front gate. Today we are going to begin the program with an oil painting exercise around the village – each person will have her own set up of easel, stool, a bag of painting supplies, a pallet, and even an apron. Eljay plans to start people off with a thumbnail sketch of the local “colour” and then proceed to painting from there.

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Each member of our intrepid group grabbed her bag of supplies, a stool, and an easel and headed for the hills. We separated into two groups and stationed ourselves in shady spots overlooking the view, one group near the market and the other up above the mosque. The first order of business is oil painting in a realist manner so Monday saw us sketching our motif and transferring the drawing onto a small canvas for painting. On Tuesday, after visiting the tiny local market and purchasing some shalvar pants and scarves, our group returned to our respective spots to block in the lights and darks. I, being a crummy student, did not do the exercise as described but instead executed my piece in the hot colours of the American south west, making the Turkish village house look like something out of New Mexico.

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The local dog fell in love with Barb and sat down in her paints, refusing to leave her side. Everyone was able to do a piece with which they felt proud and Eljay was very complimentary about our efforts.

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Almost all of us took Eljay up on the optional hamam program, piling into the minibus for the Raschid Hamam in Ortakar (the third best Turkish Bath in all of Turkey, according to the owner’s daughter) where we were hosed down, scrubbed, and massaged for three hours of bliss. Su was delighted with her masseuse, a tall, dark-haired pony-tailed Russian man decked out in tight white speedos …

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The Eagle Has Landed in Gokcebel

Well, I had been stressing for quite a few days about my upcoming flight to Turkey. I had purchased the ticket on Ty’s tablet while we were in Mexico; I was angry with myself because, on its tiny screen I had difficulty reading the information and, even though I had said to myself “That flight is one I definitely don’t want because it has such short transfer times”, in fact that stupid flight was exactly the one I clicked on in my rush to buy the ticket. Visions of being left behind in Amsterdam as my KLM flight to Istanbul was winging its way eastward danced in my head, and not in a nice way, either.

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I attempted to check-in online the day before the flight, but because I hadn’t entered the passport information when I bought the ticket (because my passport, inconveniently, was expiring), half way through the process I discovered that without this crucial bit of info, I could not check-in online. Nor could I select a seat, another thing that I had wanted to do so that I could make sure of getting a spot on the aisle close to the front of the plane for speedier exit … sigh. Major cock-up.

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So … I got to the airport four hours early, checked in at the self-serve kiosk, and found out that my assigned seat was a middle seat right in the back of the plane (of course). Luckily, because I was so early I was able to change my seat at the kiosk to a more congenial row 26 aisle seat …. closer to the target. Even more happily, the plane left on time, and, since it wasn’t full, I was able to move to an even more strategic seat on the aisle row 16. We had a smooth flight over the North Pole and arrived in Amsterdam a bit early; I leapt out of my seat the moment the seat belt sign was turned off and hustled myself and my carry-on bag down the hallway to my connecting flight, already boarding at a gate somewhere far away … after a speed walk through the terminal I arrived at a long line sneaking its way through the security clearance with 5 minutes to spare before the gate closed – huzzah!

Unfortunately, the Istanbul flight left late and confronted strong head winds on the way east, Ataturk International was exceptionally busy, with every gate full of planes and others waiting to taxi in, and we had to wait to park at the gate. When I had originally booked the Bodrum flight, I had had enough time to transfer, but the airline had changed the departure time twice after I had already purchased the ticket, each time moving it earlier. As a consequence, I had only one hour to get off the KLM plane, through passport control, into the domestic terminal, and onto the next plane … Once again the mad dash down the airport hallways, rushing past folks clogging up the moving sidewalks, only to arrive at an unbelievably crowded passport control point, full of a surging mass of international humanity. Unlike other big airports – Mexico City, for example, where people with connecting flights can go through a separate streamlined transfer passport control process – here everyone has to trudge through the same slow snake of a line towards the control booth – scheisse! It was not at all looking good for my connecting flight to Bodrum. While I walked slowly through the line, the group of eastern European men behind me kept trying to budge into line in front of me; not feeling very charitable and not willing to ignore it, I told them that actually I was ahead of them and proceeded to push my way past them as the minutes ticked inexorably by.

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After receiving a desultory look at my visa and a loud clang of a stamp in my new passport, I raced through Ataturk International in the direction of the Domestic Terminal, along a seemingly interminable series of hallways as the time was running out and “Last Call” for the Bodrum flight flashed on the Departure screen. By this time I was a ball of sweat, and the ol’ legs were not as strong as they might have been. I was losing steam and starting to give up on making the flight. But with a superhuman effort I ran up to the Atlasjet counter yelling “Bodrum – help!”. An employee took pity on me, I was tossed a boarding pass, conducted to the front of the security line, through screening, had my bag carried down to the bus, radioed the plane that I was on my way and the door held open for me as I stumbled up the stairs, into the cabin, and collapsed in a sweaty, stinking heap into my seat at one minute before departure (not a good look) – huzzah!

In an interesting turn of events on the flight, I was having a nice chat with a very pleasant Turkish woman heading to Gundogan from Frankfurt and the fellow sitting on my other side heard me say I was from Canada. He asked “Which city?”, I responded “Vancouver”, he asked, “Where in Vancouver?”, I replied “Downtown – what about you?”, he replied “Yaletown”, I said “No kidding – where?, he answered “The Elan – 28th  floor”. I was stunned – we were actual neighbours! The Elan is the building right across the street from our place – we could have seen one another through our windows! How small is the world! Originally from Iran, resident in Vancouver for 14 years, Dema is now a financial planner in Dubai but still considers himself Canadian. It was a lovely end to a long, long day to meet these nice folks.

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Eljay retrieved me from the airport and drove me to our digs for the coming weeks, the Old Stone House, in tiny village of Gokcebel, a lovely drive of about 45 minutes along the beautiful coast of the Bodrum peninsula. After a nice glass of cold white wine, and some homemade soup, I was ready to hit the sack. Over and out for now!