Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Not so much fun

The only living creatures in Urfa able to find respite from the heat.

Please, staring like that is just rude.

Şanlıurfa or its shortened form Urfa as most Turks call it, lies several hour’s drive directly west of Mardin. Though as far as the culture spectrometer reads, it’s indeed quite a lot further away. Urfa is Arab, not Turk. Geography and borders confused us into thinking we were holidaying firmly in the Turkish heartland, but only ubiquitous kebabs and lack of vegetarian food remained the same. Urfa, or Şanlıurfa as I insisted on calling it, was a bit disconcerting. Well, not for me, but for Jen, because she’s a woman, and often it’s a man’s world.

Mardin had been as warm as and welcoming as the sun’s rays which enveloped the city. Therefore, upon arrival we were disappointed to be in the territory of people who stare, furrow brows and ruffle bushy moustaches unfavourably in our general direction. Urfa was clearly an Arab town and at times like this I’m glad to be a man, although some of you who know me personally might actually dispute that.

the very latest in safety fencing for wet areas.

For females travelling among the Arabs lands, it can’t be all inane giggles and laughter. Since I love getting attention I often forget that for others there is an unwanted variety of it that makes them feel uncomfortable, out of place, and can push limits of cultural sensitivity. A glance is fine, because yes, we are probably exotic to you because yes, you are certainly exotic to us. Even an extended that’s-the-first-time-I’ve-seen-a-woman
-wearing-little-else-but-their-jewellery kind of look is not discomforting for me. However, an outright thirteen second stare with fly-entering-mouth expression is, in my opinion, a bit, you know, villager. And more truthfully, it ain’t the staring that concerns me, rather the accompanying body language, as though someone had just swung a Gorgon head through their line of vision. I’d like to think my beauty has that effect on people, that an Arab man with an unkempt eyebrow and incongruously jet-black moustache be so taken aback by my svelte form for a man in his late thirties that he is rendered awestruck. But I think not. Then again, the Arabs do have a reputation for boys, but a boy I no longer am. I simply act like one.

Do you look this good in a tea towel? I doubt it.

So, I’m not really sure how women cope with the lingering, sometimes predatory I’d-like-to-forcibly-exchange-you-for-my-wife look, but I personally recommend you employ the very handy and usually ineffectual stare-off. We’ve all done it. All of us. Truth be known, I like a challenge. I can’t compete in the moustache stakes and Allah has blessed me with two distinctly separate and non-furrowing eyebrows, but I can mimic disdain as well as any South Sydney City Council public servant, or for sheer vehemence, a Woolhara retail sales assistant. (Sydney customer service and the appalling standards of it accepted by the city’s population are a continual bugbear and sense of bitter humour for me, but I digress). Suffice it to say that our time in Urfa was not the Wilkommen Bienvenue and Hoş Geldiniz diagonally stencilled in stark baby blue Comic Sans font (another pet hate) on the side of our ailing inter-city bus.

Urfa is birth place to Abraham, father of the Arabs and devoted vandal of idols. He also tinkered with human sacrifice but as you well know, thought better of it at the last minute, substituting a ram for his son. As the son I actually would’ve been feeling a little rankled. I mean, it’s hardly a gesture of equivalent stature. Ram for son. How about son for ten kilos of gold? How about no sacrifice at all? Maybe just going without dessert for a week? That particular Koranic and Biblical scene will no doubt be familiar to you as every painter worth his mettle from Giotto to Ruben, passing by Caravaggio and countless other have depicted it in oils on canvas. If you haven’t seen it, pop along to your local major European capital city art museum and have a peek. Along with Judith making Holophene into two distinct pieces, it’s a winning combination. Isaac, the goat, Dad and his big sharp knife. Whoever believes video games are violent for children should not at the same time be a literal reader of the Old Testament. If so, your hypocrisy starts here. Maybe time to rework your ideas. Oops, more digression.

Urfa attracts serious pilgrims and though I write like a prat I am respectful and sensitive to other cultures. I’m especially sensitive to woman wearing all-encompassing black shrouds in thirty-seven degree heat. Thank you Saudi Arabia. The sooner you deplete you petroleum sources, the sooner you will be reduced to the pointless cultural backwater that you deserve to be. May your wells run dry that your women may revolt and the world be free of your nefarious cultural influence.

I like the word pilgrimage because the medial syllable is grim. Apt. Pilgrims are thus. People stared and wandered ever so poignantly and unsmilingly about two wonderfully enigmatic pools abundantly brimming with plump carp, the fish apparently the descendents of logs on a pyre built to punish Abraham. Legend dictates to us that King Nimrod, riled by Abraham’s idol-breaking incursion into the temple, broke from the tradition of crucifixion and creatively treated the latter to a Joan of Arc form of death. Extreme heat. Fortunately for Abraham, at the last minute and not unlike his own timing with human sacrifice, God entered the scene turning the logs into fish and scorching flames into water. I like a good legend and I especially like a good piece of architecture that has grown up around it in the following centuries. Jen and I wandered about too in the stifling heat, too seriously for my liking but then this was not a place for mixing fun and worship.

I feel, while we both experienced something unusual, we were glad to be heading out the following day. And with all the thousands of pilgrims in town, how is it you can only get kebabs? I’m a little let down by all of this. All that meat makes you constipated. Perhaps I’ll end here.

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