22.03.2010 - 23.03.2010 18 °C
I'm face to face with the officer, wondering how it got to this. He's standing close, almost nervously at attention. At least his hand is not on his gun. He asks me something, but I don't understand a word, and all I can think is: oh my god look at his eyes. Blue rimmed with black. Beautiful. I've never seen eyes like this. I'm lost. I can't remember a word of Turkish. I'm not sure I remember much English.
Açık mı? I finally manage. Is it open? gesturing at the door to the nearby medressa. Açık! He says, then smiles, motions for me to enter, breathes a sigh of relief, and the tension is gone.
And that has been the story of my first day in Mardin, this strange little medieval town on the Syrian border. In the bazaar people watch me out of the corner of their eyes. I seem to be making people nervous. If I enter a shop the proprietor will try to pretend he doesn't see me, even though the shop is all of 9 meters square. At a cafe the waiter will dash out without even a selam, and return with a friend who might know better English.
It's as if they don't know what to do with me. I don't know who they think I am, or what I'm projecting. Do they think I'm a spy? Or some kind of undercover agent? But it's not a dangerous tension; it all seems more the nerves of a schoolboy who might be called upon the teacher to speak in front of the class.
I had heard that Mardin was over touristed. I don't know how that is; I'm pretty sure I'm the only gringo in town. And there is no sign of the İstanbul jet-setters who are supposed to hang here.
And so on Day One I wandered the streets like a ghost, peeking into the 14th Century Artukid stone houses and mosques and schools and tombs, but not ınteracting with anyone. Only one street has cars, the rest are a maze that twists and turns up and down the mountain, the alleys going over and under and around the houses. I play games - I'll take a sighting on a minaret or a church bell tower, and then try to track my way to it. When I get bored with that I give myself little challenges: I'll buy pistachios in the bazaar, or eat at a local restaurant, or drink tea at the mosque instead of the hotel.
Yeah, I was bored.
My hotel adds to the surreal. It was a Silk Road Inn from 1297. I get wi-fi in my room and there's modern plumbing. There's also a giant at the front door to carry luggage and scullery maids scurrying down dimly lit stone cooridors. Prince Charles stayed here. I wonder if this is what his life is like. Today there only seem to be a small handful of people here. The few others are dress in dark suits and don't interact.
One day in Mardin would have been enough, but I had an issue (since resolved) with my bank and was stuck in the 14th Century a day longer than expected. I woke up the next day and rapid-cycled through all the stages of culture shock. Agoraphobia. Maybe I can just stay in bed all day and mess around on Facebook. Then Hypochondria. I think my stomach hurts. I shouldn't have had the eggplant. I better not wander to far from the toilet. And fınally, Compromise. I'll get up and accomplish at least one thing. Then run back to bed.
That finished, I showered and got on with my day. And Mardin Day Two was a different beast. People warmed up. Or maybe I did. Now kids were running up to me on the street to practice English. Shopkeepers invited me in to look around. I took a taxi to Deyrulzafaran, a beautiful 5th Century Assyrian monastery in the hills, and had tea with the taxi driver after. I had lunch at Cercis Murat, the most famous (and effin expensive) restaurant in Southeast Anatolia, and the waiter chatted the whole way through.
I don't know what changed. Maybe I just had to go through a mandatory touch of culture shock to make the transition. This is certainly like no place I've been. I was just a tourist in Sultanahmet. I wanted to be immersed. Now I am.
I'm also changing my plans a bit. I heard rumors of violence in Diyarbakır (I assume that's what Diyarbakır bang bang means), and really enjoyed the nature around the monastery. So I'm heading into the hills, to the tiny town of Savur. I ask how Savur is, and people kiss their fingers and say, Savur çok güzel. Savur is very beautiful. That works for me. It beats Diyarbakır bang bang.