Paula Swenson

Without Reservations

In Art and Creativity, Travel on May 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

My husband and I like to travel without reservations, both in the literal sense (no pre-booked hotels) and the figurative sense (go for the gusto!)  This philosophy often leads to the very best travel experiences in the form of unpredictable personal encounters with the culture. 

A recent serendipitous encounter came while wandering the backstreets of the town of Urup in the Gorema Valley of Kapadokya in Turkey.  Two young boys, Murat and Resul, best buddies – aged 10- stopped to practice their tiny bit of English and then asked Steve to take their picture.  As we were trying to use our tiny bit of Turkish to get an address to send the photo to, a neighbor who spoke English gave us a hand.  Afterwards, the neighbor, Naile, invited us into her garden for the ubiquitous Turkish tea.  We sat in this lovely oasis on the hillside above Urgup, enjoying the cool breeze and chatting.  We discovered she and her husband had retired here, that this had been her mother’s house and that after a career as a nurse, she had studied to become an Ebru artisan.  Ebru is the ancient Turkish art of creating marbled pictures, by floating the colors on a thick pool of gum Arabic and using a stylus to ‘paint’ the motifs. 

Naile asked if we would like to see her studio (of course we would!) and then asked if we would like to see how it is done.  We watched in fascination as this very talented woman showed and explained her ancient art.  Steve got some fabulous photos and then she offered to guide me through the process – what fun!  I actually managed to create some respectable looking Ottoman style tulips, of which I am inordinately proud.  Then Naile, who obviously enjoys her work very much, did two more demos for us, one of roses and the other of carnations . . . truly amazing.

It was an enchanting experience for me as an artist and for Steve as a photographer; without our realizing it, two hours sped by.  As we were thinking we should leave, she invited us to see the rest of the house, one of the original Ottoman era buildings of Urgup, so of course we said “yes”.  We got upstairs to find that her husband had cooked Makarania (a sort of pasta) and we were invited to eat with them in their traditional ottoman living room!  How could we refuse?  We had a very nice meal, chatted about modern Turkey and it’s place in the world, the importance of art to life and other weighty topics.  After a final cup of Turkish coffee, and exchanging emails, we said our good-byes and headed out with a lovely painting of Dervishes on an Ebru background to grace some future wall, and my own Ebru creation, which had, by then, sufficiently dried to take along.

If we’d had reservations about accepting a stranger’s invitation to tea, we would have missed one of the highlights of our trip!


© Paula Swenson 2008


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  1. Hi, interesting post. I have been pondering this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll probably be subscribing to your site. Keep up the good posts

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