Amasya, Turkey -- The mystical, RE sounding chorus of the muezzins' call to prayer rings out five times every day from minarets all over Turkey. It's part of the magical atmosphere in this ancient land of myth, history, culture and natural beauty.
Visiting the small towns and villages of central Anatolia, we are often the only foreigners for miles around. The further east we go, the more interesting the villages become. The remote towns of Amasya and Tokat are two delightful discoveries.
Dramatically situated in a mountain valley on the banks of the Green River, Amasya was once the capital of the kingdom of Pontus. The royal tombs of the Pontic kings were carved into the sheer cliff of the mountain above the old half-timbered Turkish houses that hang over the river so picturesquely. Winding cobblestoned streets lined with the protruding second storeys of old Ottoman houses climb the hillsides.
Part of the fun of exploring these narrow streets and alleyways is meeting the local people and discovering some of their customs like the ritual of drinking tea.
Tea gardens and salons abound, where Turkish men while away the time playing cards, backgammon or the domino-like game called "okay." But tea can be had anywhere. Tea caterers roam the streets, trays in hand, delivering hourglass-shaped glasses of strong black "chai" to offices, hotels, shops, even park benches. No business transaction is complete without it. It's part of Turkey's famous tradition of hospitality.
At numerous narghile salons, charcoal briquettes burn all day for use in another of Turkey's pleasure pastimes the narghile, or water pipe. No, it's not marijuana they smoke, but sweetly scented wads of tobacco, which comes in flavours like apple and jasmine. Two gentlemen offer me a pipe, but it makes me gag, so I settle for tea and a few snapshots.
In parks, tea gardens and narghile salons, I soon discover the secret to the easy-going locals' stress-free demeanour. It's worry beads read Turkish Prozac. Constantly fingering the smooth, cool beads, flicking them with nails, weaving them through the fingers or twirling them around the knuckles has such a soothing effect on the psyche that the Turks are the friendliest, most hospitable people I've ever met.
Walking around these old towns, we sometimes come across caravanserai, also called hans. These ancient inns once provided lodging and trading places for merchants travelling in caravans. Their fortified enclosures were equipped with stables for camels, and craftsmen's workshops filled the stalls in their courtyards. They still tinker and clink at their trade all day.
Motorcycles and trucks have now replaced the camels, but for wandering westerners like us, these hans still bring the Middle Ages to life. In the wool wholesaler's han, limp strands of matted fleece hang from a laundry line. Halos of white sparks burst from the welder's han. A pyramid of greenish-ochre footballs turns out to be a mound of jugs at the potter's han.
The silkscreening han in the town of Tokat provides an entire afternoon's entertainment. In the middle of the courtyard, a boy stomps cloth clean in a wooden barrel. Next to him, a man measures fabric by stretching it from his nose to the end of his outstretched arm the length of 2 Biblical cubits. Wooden stairs lead to a second-storey balcony where a nose-twisting stench and rainbow splatters on the floor indicate that dye mixing is going on.
But the busiest place is the screening room, dominated by a wall-to-wall table. Two workers bring in a 10-foot length of fabric flapping like a parade pendant in the breeze of a fan and smooth it on the table.
Section by section one slams down a wooden screen while the other pours red dye from a bucket through it. They work quickly, assembly-line fashion, making a clip-clap rhythm with the frames. The red done, the flag goes to drying poles projecting over the courtyard.
Then the process begins again. Yellow" blue" black" purple. Intricate patterns emerge one colour at a time. The canopy of drying pendants reminds me of a storm-tattered sail on the ship in The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
Before leaving this hallucinatory scene, we participate in a bizarre ritual. We join the silkscreeners as they dip their hands in a pail and add their dyed handprints to hundreds of others in a mural on the courtyard walls. Our imprints will remain here, a permanent memento of a visit to Anatolia by two curious Canucks.