Bursa: A Culture Center and Some Students

Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  , Bursa,
Friday, May 30, 2008

It's a Friday, my fourth day in Bursa, the city in which I hope to live for perhaps up to a year and a half as a test experiment to see if I can live as a member of a community, and judge whether I might permanently emigrate to Turkey. I set out to look for a residential situation to rent. It looks as though my task is to walk the neighborhoods that appeal to me and look for rental signs in the windows.

However, on this first day I also soon arrived at a neighborhood culture center that I had passed briefly before, and since that time had been told about it. In recent years Bursa city seems to have undertaken a considerable effort to rescue lost, forgotten-about, and crumbling Ottoman and Byzantine structures of historical note. The city has rescued them, and preserved them, in the process turning them into small, beautiful neighborhood culture centers, and in several instances tea gardens. So far I have been to four of these beautifully preserved and repurposed structures.

The cultural center in which I was now stopping to investigate is the Karabas-i Veli Culture Center. It was formerly a "tekke," a lodge of the Mevlana order, and as such, a building in which dervishes performed the whirling dance. The original building dates from around 1822 A.D., though the Order to which it served is said to date back to 957 A.D. It has been beautifully brought back to life from an absolutely pathetic mess. And now, in the words of an informational brochure in Turkish and English,

"In accordance with the monthly activity program in the [center] there will be the whirling dances of the Mevlevi dervishes, nay concerts, traditional Turkish handicraft exhibitions, poetry, coffee and chats in the garden with music."

I stopped in to have a look. As for mosques, one removes one's shoes before entering. The first room was an Ottoman style sitting room, and in it was the usual cushioned benches lining the perimeter of the room, and in the center some tables with some books and ceramic objects. I would also say at this time that the Turkish culture has a remarkably honest society. On the streets fronting shops, and in locales like this, commercial wares and cultural objects abound. In America such would never be the case, all "ripped-off" with such speed as to make one dizzy.

I sat, unobserved and unattended, but noted, and paged through some of the books lying there. Then I walked around, entering the semahane, where the whirling dances once took place, and now do so again, every evening, I was told.

Out in the tea garden as I was taking my leave, I was stopped by some older gentlemen. Well, I guess we're "equal" retirees, now. Anyway, stopped and invited to have a tea with them. And the usual questions followed: Where are you from? Are you a tourist? How old are you? What was your job? Etc., etc., etc.

After a while four young people joined us, and they spoke some English. As a matter of fact, they had been studying English in the quiet of the tea garden in preparation for their college entrance examination soon approaching.

However, I was getting hungry and wanted to leave. So I decided to invite the students to join me for lunch. They didn't know about the lunch, but they did see value in accompanying me for the sake of some experience with English, though their exam did not have an oral component.

We walked all the way down to the center of town to a shop specializing in Iskender kebap (No, that is a p), a Bursa specialty. It is basically thin slices of beef in a tomato and yogurt sauce over flat bread. That description may be doing it injustice, but that's how I see it.

Though they were reserved, I convinced the students to join me, and we shared a couple of plates of the delicious food. This seemed to be a treat for the student budget as they had remarked that Iskender was not in the student budget. And, indeed, I thought it somewhat expensive for the amount served. About US$24.50 for two plates, a soft drink, one Turkish coffee, and teas. I noted it, but was not particularly bothered by it. I was happy to now be in a position to "repay" so many of the kindnesses I have received--and continue to receive--in my travels around the world. Not to mention enjoying the social component, the absence of which is a weakness in my life style.

Turks often ask if I like Turkish coffee. I do. But I also frequently comment that the little demitasse is frustratingly small by my "coffee" taste and experience. So, presumably to correct that, and make their contribution, they suggested we go on to another place for a real coffee. Well, a "Nescafe" is what you get; unless in some places you can request "filtre coffee."

We walked on through the streets of Bursa to near the Yesil Camii, the Green Mosque. We entered a cafe with large windows and a sweeping view of the northeastern area of the city. (Even the regular Turkish "Nescafe" coffee is undersized to my way of thinking).

On the walk back to the Karabas-i Veli Kultur Merkezi we came upon my favorite (already) internet cafe, so I decided to peel off from the students, let them return to their studies,  and myself catch up on some things there.

In my email was a letter from my girlfriend in Ankara. It was titled "Pictures from the Past." I thought she was sending on some pictures from some of our shared times. But, Nooo. In the middle of this internet cafe, crowded with young people, and on a large PC computer screen, the pictures were of late 19th century or early 20th century erotic and pornographic scenes! At least that's what I think I saw, as in a panic and unfamiliar with PC controls I tried to quickly click through the pictures and get them off the screen! Whew. I didn't know who might have seen what.

The Turkish internet blocks certain sites of unchaste content, shall I say. But it doesn't control private correspondence. A few minutes later I was trying to email a column by Dick Cavett in the New York Times, describing his childhood in the Mid-west. After reading the article, then trying to email it, the attempt to email the article caused the "blocker" to freeze the frame, and dump me out of the internet. What there was about the Cavett article I couldn't imagine.

After the internet session I returned to the cultural center and waited for the dervish song and dance session which I was told took place every evening. But more about that in a subsequent entry.
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