Saturday, June 29, 2013

There is no centre

I went to the Hilton Hotel in Ankara's desk today and asked whether the city had a centre. To which the answer was no. To which, I discovered, the answer was that it used to have.

The community that nestles around the citadel, the ancient heart of Ankara, is dilapidated but being restored, slowly. Narrow lanes fade from cobbled to dusty and broken, houses fade from restored to impoverished. I took lunch in one of the newly restored houses, sitting in the courtyard, on my own, and I sat thinking, 'how extraordinary'! Here I am in the capital city of an emergent power, sitting in its ancient heart, alone, on a Saturday afternoon. It is sadly not so unfamiliar - cities that have grown neglecting their centre are deeply familiar yet how do we persist in allowing it to happen?

A deeper question is how do we allow ourselves in this expansion to the periphery so deeply to neglect beauty? The citadel, though battered, is beautiful. The traditional architecture sings of community and a blend of private and communal space. The architecture coherently blends domesticity and business - and it was wonderful to watch a traditional craftsman shape metal objects below where he lives. I fear it will, in time, become over-developed - a place to visit rather than a living place. We will visit to restore ourselves from the pedestrian everyday of our new environments - efficient, cheap, boxed. If only we could overthrow in ourselves that mentality and build around us our aspiration and needed delight.

Lunch was very nostalgic, sitting in the courtyard of an Ottoman house eating tarator (yogurt and cucumber, herbed salad) and eating lamb stew. so reminiscent of my former home in Macedonia (indeed an American accented traveler I passed in the street was comparing it to the Macedonian town of Ohrid, where I have spent many happy days).

Close by the citadel is the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. It is being refurbished and so only two galleries were open but they are wonderful. The Hittite freezes especially.

Here is an early representation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, expressing his power over the animal kingdom. They are vivid, full of life and a sense of embedded story. There was a gallery full of such quiet wonders - gods consorting with men, beings both half men and animal, men, beings, all, transforming across boundaries of possibility. Magical.

So to the surviving examples of Roman glass - fragile, clouded with age and yet resilient.

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