KÜTAHYA illuminated

İlluminations in an İlluminated Land

The Cool Pool of Salvation, Gowns Made of Light, Flickering Fish like Flame

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In nearly the first moment we arrived in the city called the Glorious, on the ancient lands of Mesopotamia that sit between the river Tigris and the river Euphrates, we were followed by a cracked man that carried us through a maze of houses built of desert-colored stones with desert streets and desert air. We climbed through the maze passing black-eyed children in the streets, further into a labyrinth and further from the cracked man. We lost track of our location but as the sun was sinking to setting we came to a clearing and found ourselves at the castle walls above the ancient city. We climbed down the steps from the castle as the light turned to golden toward the green oasis that cooperation and water built in the center of the desert city and we came to the pool of sacred fish belonging to the father of faiths.

The light had become the sort of light that makes everything visible, the moment when the imagination and the eye link in perfect harmony, when we came to the pool. The pool holds the sacred fish that lived suspended in time from when the flames meant to engulf Abraham were changed into those glistening bodies until the time when the shallow pool was carved to hold the water that was brought to the desert during the fourteenth century. The one who sees a white fish among the masses in the sacred pool is said to be a blessed one who will someday enter through the gates of Heaven.

I concentrated on the water, enchanted by the forms moving beneath water and light. A white ghost sliver from the depths appeared and disappeared before my eyes in the moment İ cracked my lips to speak of it. İ searched the spaces for the white fish, in a crowded and expansive pool of golden scales and iridescent shimmering bodies, from flame to fin, fire to fish forms. The place was crowded with the eyes of believers searching for the ancient truths, longing they not escape us. Another sliver of white appeared from the depths like the flicker at the center of the flame.

The unseen came with evening light. The pool became alive with ghosts emerging from unfathomable depths, white fish sparkling for an instant beneath the life we know, appearing to our eyes like the ancient apparitions. A fish colored like the watery home changed before unblinking eyes to the glowing white of morning light. The salvation pool. On the belly of every fish, salvation. At the depths, each fish turns back to flame. Search the depths. To the eyes of every seeker, the sought. Salvation.

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We walked to the border of a war-torn land where the children turned to men after one night of sorrowful dreams. Where the sky was open like a tunnel of light toward the eternal. The earth was scattered with glistening scraps of ballgowns of the women who wander the fields, snagging the hem of their gowns gathering light, sequined scraps for grazing goats.

We journeyed deeper, to a land where some have warned not to go. Like into the forest at sunset in the beginning of a fable, we entered a walled city, perhaps the oldest city in the world. A complex history of combining and unwinding. Tongues taste memory but cannot speak. An unmarked grave between the jailhouse and the cathedral, a locked house, a small trail for the young brothers of the goatherd in the center of town. The air tasted of sorrowful memory and left us ill and without tongue for the place. Waiting for the light to change.

We feel nearly ghosts in these places, moving in and out. The children stand at their doorsteps and watch us pass. Slivers of fish turn to flickers of flame then disappear into the depths.

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Fables, Angels, Pigeons Dissolving İnto Turquoise

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After the longest winter I have known, a hint of spring has finally arrived. With the new season, comes the long-awaited adventure that hibernated during the months of study and preparation. Although I have seen no flowers with their colorful heads gracing the still cool soil, I have met the flowers of the land. The artists are hidden in unexpected corners, behind dusty windows which I have passed by before, on a back street with a sign pointing through a labyrinth of dusty paths amongst the centuries old Germiyan houses.

The Germiyan dynasty was in power in Kütahya during the late thirteenth through the fifteenth century, predecessor to the Ottomans. The capital of the Germiyan dynasty was Kütahya, where they studied the stars and painted tiles. The story tells that the city of Kütahya was given to the Ottomans as a gift when the sonless and final Germiyan prince willed the city to his sister’s descendant, the sultan of the Ottoman empire. The last Germiyan prince’s turquoise tomb is in the same building which is now the çini tile museum, where a plaque tells he was a lover of good, a merciful and generous man.

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My life feels one of fables mingled with reality. The stories I have heard of the great çini artists of Kütahya are coming to life before my eyes. The people I read of in books, books that ultimately led me here, are living here amongst the ghosts of the Germiyan princes and the memories of the Ottoman splendors. I am wandering through a vast land of memory and fable but I am not making any costume studies to hang dustily in museums like the ones that made me long to visit these faded dynasties in my childhood imagination.

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We have been visiting the artists. The creaky corners. The fables. The unbelievable characters whose idiosyncrasy is a much awaited and unexpected surprise like the sudden brilliance of the yellow daffodil overtaking the visible field right as winter sleeps. We are meeting the scarfed professors, miming to me complex ideas for fear of losing me with language. Beards, dusty shoes, et cetera. Leading me down halls toward ideas. Teaching me the names of angels. Drinking tea. People in search of capturing time in a ceramic hand-built bottle. In search of something.

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We went to a turquoise palace. I have never seen such a place in my life. There is an artist here whom I knew little of before that has the most incredible and remarkable fascination with the color. I had only read in a book that the artist’s brother who was the technical side of his çini production, had died tragically at a young age while in the process of searching for the correct formula for the lost Ottoman red. Since then, the artist could not use the color; instead, he finds solace in turquoise. His workshop is in one of the Ottoman period houses, one of the oldest in Kütahya, called the Germiyan houses. We took a tour of the four-story mansion, filled with turquoise treasure. Nearly anything that could be glazed with turquoise was, in fact, turquoise. At the top floor, we came to the parlors where the guests would have been entertained, a separate quarter for men and for women. The women’s room was spacious and lavish. The men’s room was smaller with a peculiar scatter of apples, left there for months, which were not rotting due to the excellence in the architecture of the space which is constantly aerated. We sat in the publically accessible tea garden which accompanies the turquoise palace under the apple tree that produces the never-rotting apples of a breed from which a sugar-like substance can be derived. I marveled at the pigeon’s wings which were suddenly morphing to iridescent turquoise in the sun. The artist, turquoise himself on two fingers, up a wrist and around the neck with a silken scarf, urged me to watch his fish being fed. As I approached the small stone pond, I was expecting sizable glowing goldfish, but to my delight my eyes were met with a type of fish I have never seen before. They were turquoise-scaled fish, the size of a pleasing river trout, with the sheen that mimics old Persian luster ceramics. His student was feeding some twenty gigantic fish a board of what appeared to be chopped raw meat and I wondered if he had invented the fish himself to match his vision. At the bottom of the pond were broken ceramic bottles glazed in an iridescent deep turquoise that matched perfectly the scales of the fish. I questioned if I myself was living in the fable.

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Henceforth, things have continued as such, nearing moments of unfathomable beauty, the sort of which can be found when words escape and their places are filled by mystery. When unimaginable reality unfolds and you find yourself amongst familiar objects morphing toward the symbolic, the eternal. My time here only brings me a deeper sense of the kindness that surrounds me. Everything here becomes like turquoise pigeons.

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I am reminded of this poem written by Rumi’s eldest son, Sultan Walad:
Happy is someone who stays in Kütahya for a month,
If you can stay two months, all the better.
Kütahya is a flawless beauty.
Could you harm such a flawless beauty?
Oh God, save this city.
Paradise is either beneath or above Kütahya,
Let’s sacrifice Lahor, Keşmir, Tebriz for Kütahya’

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Foreign Duck in Black Water

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As İ am catching buses at four different bus stations tonight to get home to a place which should only be a three and a half hour drive away, İ am reminded that sometimes the shortest distances can be the most difficult to cross. İt is like the moment when your legs give out beneath you from a crack in the street, after climbing for hours on rocky cliffs. When the moment you were expecting that never came, comes.

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İ have been carrying twelves tiles with me for the past five days, a surprisingly heavy load. Two purple animals of the kind which were left the stuff of tales until the twentieth century, seven tiny angels, two flowers reaching toward each other, a land where women toss loafs of bread to wild dogs, mirrors, flowers, and a miniature city, all some sort of odd composition of all the things İ have learned and all the things İ have failed to uncover in my understanding. The load of my works is a heavy one and the path before me has been longer than it appeared. Life at this moment is the road through the place called Blackwater, when the pin curves make you sense you are simply dancing along the side of the mountain instead of going across.

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A foreign duck appears and again disappears beneath the water. My thoughts become the duck on the lake in İznik where the treasures of distant history with the church of the Second Council of Nicaea are submerged. My thoughts are emerging and submerging like that duck on black water. Sometimes İ cannot find the words. But İ know the word for heavy.

On Being a Particle of Dust Caught in a Beam of Light

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İ watch the sun setting over the Mediterranean, thinking of how the colors in the sky and reflected on the water are similar to the ones İ find in the small tea glasses full of çini paint back on the plains of Kütahya. İ watch for the hidden creatures in the White Sea, along the Turquoise Coast, to appear to my eyes, marveling at the similarity between the odd and striking turquoise light-flooded water and the stunning turquoise of çini as it is pulled hot from the kiln, melted metals and glass and dirt chemically bound into a beauty that remains brilliant for centuries.

İ spoke with the patron of the workshop where İ am learning, whose name means Kind. He taught me the chemistry of the beauty. He explained that çini clay is different than both porcelain and ceramic, more porous and low-firing. The colored paints are applied under the clear glaze and the reaction occuring as the clay, paint and glaze react together is what allows for the brilliant colors. Although the same colored glazes and clear top glaze can be used on ceramic, the colors are not as vivid and the turquoise is compromised most of all, becoming more sky blue than Mediterranean sea water. He pulled out hand-painted ceramic coffee mugs, gold-leafed porcelain tea cups and erroneous çini tiles, pouring glasses of water on them, pointing at colors and showing me the tiny unglazed rims where they had sat against the shelf of the kiln. He spoke softly as always, motioning here and there, leaving the room and returning with examples. İ continue to marvel that İ understand the language.

The more İ learn, the more İ am struck by the intermingling of the familiar and the unfamiliar. One day the master çini artist and brother of the patron of my room at the çini workshop told me that the color blue is “ağır”, the exact word İ had repeated in my head as İ flew to Turkey alone for the first time. İ had been practicing how to tell the Turkish-speaking cousin of my friend that my luggage was heavy. İ wondered how the color blue was heavy. The wife of the master artist visited me at my worktable one day, pointed at my necklace and told me they wanted to make an apartment like the one on my neck for a show in London in July. İ knew İ was living in a “daire”, but İ did not understand that also means the geometrical word for circle.

When the patron named Kind told me about why çini is different than ceramics and porcelain, he told me that the secret which is spread over the paint is what makes the turquoise brilliant, what preserves the tile paintings in mosques after six hundred years. Not just the secret, but also how the secret reacts to the paint and the clay, the metal and the dirt. The word for the glass-like, lustrous glaze and for secret is the same in Turkish, sır.

İ realized the secret and the clay, that special earth harvested from Turkey, is what makes it nearly impossible to make çini anywhere but here. Kind showed me this.

Now İ begin to feel myself suspended in a sunset, the beautiful colors surrounding me. A fleeting moment. My life is the shifting color that is only seen from this place, from this moment. The blue as the secret touches the clay. İ am the small black fish in the crevice of the rock, barely visible, suspended between the white earth of the Mediterranean sea floor and the clear secret of water that makes the unattainable turquoise blue . İ am the foriegn body caught between the clay and the secret, melding in the kiln toward color. İ am a particle floating through the shifting disintigration of light into color. İ am thinking of the particles before a bright flashlight in a childhood home after a thunderstorm. Of the unnamed forms of light that appear in the folds of the eyelid after glancing into they eye of the sun. Of the hint of life beneath the surface of a sea covered in color and in light.

İ became ill recently. İ drank a cup of water full of life. İ drank a cup of water and its life moved into me and became me. The something living between the secret and the clay grew up inside of me. İ am thinking of that invisible life between secret and earth, that invisible life within me. The life of this place.

A çini tile is like the sea. The same color. The same form. The clay is of the same land. The white pebbles of the sea floor are the particles of white earth that make the clay. The black line is the crevices of rock revealing the color. The water is the secret through which the light moves, the clear glaze in which all the colors are suspended. And İ am the tiny black fish.

İ have been painting angels, surrounded by the colors of the sunset. İ have been seeking them as a particle of dust among a host of particles of light. İ let the water carry the pigment where it goes. İ suspend my thoughts before the bright beam of a flashlight fifteen years ago. İ let the secret take its voice upon the earth.

İ stare into the sea. When İ look into the eye of the sun and close my eyes, may İ remember the glistening turquoise of light on the suface, suspended in the secret. Rememeber the warmth of particles of light against my skin. Remember my moment as a particle suspended in the changing color of the setting sun in this place.

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Angels of the Unseen

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İ found these beautiful little six-winged angel images from old Kütahya, probably made by Armenian Christians who lived here during the 19th century and before, and who left their homes locked and relocated to Greece during periods of unrest. İ feel a sort of distant kindredness with them and with their works. Sometimes it is strange, yet beautiful, to think of all the people who have passed in and out of a single place.

Sometimes İ think on the unseen parts of this world, the parts that live in imagination, in memory and in dream, and the parts that live beyond our grasp of understanding. İ think those tile-painted Armenian angels are living in that realm. İ wonder how the unseen parts of reality may take on the forms of the surrounding visible place. How those Armenian angels might have stayed here nearby the locked houses, the empty church. How they are the form of the unseen that inhabit this particular place.

İ am working with the angels now. Moving from geometry and abstraction to the building of little wings and tiny little faces smaller even than my fingernail. İmagining how one might depict the light and the color that surrounds them which usually renders them unseen.

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On Moving In and Out, To and From, Unity and Diversity

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İ came to the sea to think and unwind. İ have never been so close to this dreamland of my youth’s imagination. The Mediterranean Sea was the place of incredible beauty İ had heard about from another world. Now İ sit in the warm sun, away from the cold and difficult snow-covered winter İ have lived for the past five months. İ am surrounded by lemon trees covered with glowing fruits, sweet clementines like orange lights under the orange light of the sun. They call it Ak Deniz here, which translates something like “sea of goodness, of purity, of whiteness”. Strange how distant things, distant thoughts, distant dreamlands of the past become such realities.

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İ have been missing the homeland, not in the homesick way that İ refuse, but in a sort of deeper sense in which İ realized things in the homeland are not only in a different land but also in a different space of time. Time is passing and the wind is shifting the forms. Things washed upon the shore are taken again by the sea. When they again come to the shore, they are changed–by the salt, the waves, the others they have met.

İ remember America recently for a few reasons: coffee selections from four different countries lined up across a counter in a sunlit corner shop, mountain streams, beloved house pets in nearly every home, long car rides to nowhere with the windows down, strangers reading stacks of books, old friends and our long conversations running even late into the night in mixed company among the genders and our failure to acknowledge this difference.

İn America, the tongue acquires the taste of everything. There are things of incredible beauty and things of great ugliness mixed together for your hands and hearts to cipher through. Nearly every food in the entire world can be found, in the most unexpected small town corners even. Texts from all around the world can be accessed in endless online archives and University libraries translated, conveniently, to English. We may never want for anything there. İdeas are harvested from every cranny of the Earth. Stones are rarely left unturned by adventurous spirits, in the wilderness and in the acadamy. Nearly all things are acceptable. There is no requirement to shine your shoes, marry early, or wear socks. Nearly every decision should be based on your own beliefs, opinions, understanding of right and wrong. İt is a land of endless diversity.

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As İ was winding myself into unity, İ suddenly began unraveling again into infinite diversity, one which can be likened to my previous state only in such a way in which everything has changed. Forms started growing from lotus gardens which could not be contained by the strength of my hand. They emerged like some ghosts from the petals.

İ am reading a special translation of a Turkish story in which two of the characters are a young boy and the master artist with whom he is apprenticing. The master artist explains to his student that we should think we are making something different every time we make a work of art–it should look different, feel different–but in fact we always are making the same thing. İ reflect upon what the hidden thing is that İ am always making in different forms. Three dogs in a waltz trapped in air seek stale bread , people sit solitary upon pillars in the midst of endless ocean, tangles of lotus flowers shelter two animals that nearly stayed secret from mankind for eternity. The diversity is leading toward the secret unity of thought, of imagination, of being. All this is leading toward the infinite mystery. İ am seeking the thing that is sought in secret.

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The light is moving forward and backwards in time. Somedays İ start to identify with the wild dogs, perhaps because we have the same name. They are yabanı (wild, feral, savage, untamed) and İ am yabancı (stranger, foreigner,unknown, alien). We are the un-ness, the other, the ones of the yaban (the wild, the wilderness). İ think about their cold skin beneath their coats, their bellies (whether they hunger), their thoughts. İ wonder what drove, what brought, what carried these domestic dogs to this yaban. İ wonder where they buried their key to home.

These thoughts carried me to the sea of distant past dreamlands to taste the imagined fruit. İ pulled a clementine from the vine, ate the soft rind of a fresh lemon, brushed the warm fur of the dog named Honey whose home is that paradise by the sea where İ slept.

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Doves in Nighttime Golden-Vined Dreamland

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