Catch the last National Philharmonic Chorale performance of the season this Saturday and Sunday at Strathmore! We’re performing Carl Orff’s rousing Carmina Burana as well the Washington, DC premiere of Witold Lutoslawksi’s Trois Poèmes d’Henri Michaux.
In 1962 Lutoslawski was commissioned by Slavko Zlatić, director of the Zagreb Radio Choir, to compose a musical presentation of Trois Poèmes d’Henri Michaux, an eclectic Belgian-born poet famous for his exploration of the darker sides of human emotion and conflict. The three-part work follows the principles of a classical tragedy. Choral parts range from entrances containing every note of the chromatic scale to approximated speaking, whispering, and shouting.
The first poem, “Pensées,” a skeptical reflection on human thinking, is followed by “Le grand combat,” presenting a bloody fight of two people and constituting the climactic act of the struggle. The third poem, “Repos dans le malheur,” brings melancholy, resignation, and relief. The work premiered in 1963 conducted by both Zlatić, leading the orchestra, and Lutoslawski, leading the 40-voice chorus.
Orff’s Carmina Burana confronts issues similar to the issues we face today: love, sex, drinking, gambling, fate, and fortune. Because of their intended use as a means of entertainment by and for the monks, the text was written in vernacular Latin and medieval French and German so as to be easily understood and accessible. Carl Orff selected 24 of the poems and arranged them by thematic content: Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World), Primo vere (Springtime), In taberna (In the tavern), and Cours d’amour (The Court of Love).
The dark side of the bawdy and free-wheeling Carmina Burana, in its devil-may-care treatment of social interactions and mores, became Orff’s catapult to international fame as a composer, but it also made Orff’s name in Nazi cultural circles. After some initial official discomfort about the work’s frank sexual innuendos, Orff’s cantata was elevated to the status of a signature piece in Nazi circles, where it was treated as an emblem of Third Reich “youth culture.” The Nazi newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, once pointed to Orff’s cantata as “the kind of clear, stormy, and yet always disciplined music that our time requires.”
The Carmina Burana is a fantastic introductory piece for anyone just getting their feet wet with classical music (plus it is one of the most well-known works in music). Here are some examples of the Carmina Burana in pop culture:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is one of the most unique Unesco World Heritage Sites I’ve seen. From a distance, it looked like ski slope. The city is full of hot springs and travertines, or terraces of carbonate materials left by flowing water that give the landscape its snowy appearance.
At the top of the hill we started on our tour among ruins then it opened up to the white part of the mountain with blue thermal pools naturally terracing the hillside. To walk on the travertine sediment everyone was required to take off their shoes. The terrain was rocky at first then it turned smooth with grooves from the ebb and flow of the water. It wasn’t slippery either, there was a fair amount of traction.
The circular terraced pools were about 20 feet in length, the water came up about mid-calf height, and the bottom was sandy. Alongside the terrace slope there was a 3 foot wide stream of running thermal water down the mountainside. Visitors have the option to continue to the bottom but we decided to stop midway and head to a cafe at the Antique Pool for lunch.
When my sis and I ordered our food, the guys behind the counter asked if we were sisters. Everyone who asked us this question while we were abroad was delighted and tickled when they found out we were sisters. That was new for me. The sister thing wasn’t quite as enthusiastically received when we traveled to France just a few months prior haha. We ate out on the patio and by and by we were surrounded by 7 cats! They were all over Turkey, but it was hilarious because they were at our feet staring at us, meowing, and even climbing on the table to get our food.
After lunch we climbed a steep gravel road to the enormous amphitheater overlooking the ruins of ancient Hierapolis. We had an incredible view of a snow-capped mountain to our left (yes, it snowed while we were there), the far off mountains straight ahead, and the extensive collection of ruins to the right. After walking down, we came upon large ruins of arches, columns, foundations, walls… the fact that they were unearthed and pretty in tact was astounding. You could really visualize what the place would have looked like all those years ago! Toward the end of the 1.5 + mile walk through Hierapolis, was a humongous cemetery with marble statues, mausoleums, open tombs, and marble coffins with Greek writings still visible etched in the stone.
Pammukale had a great mix of natural and man-made wonders well worth the visit!
Our first stop was the House of the Virgin Mary up the mountain from Ephesus. Legend has it that after Jesus’ death, Mary fled to Ephesus to live out the rest of her days in refuge. Her house was in a beautiful woods high in the mountain with an enormous tree canopy covering the oasis. I felt like Frodo laying eyes on Rivendell for the first time- it had an eerie feeling of calm and tranquility. The house was a two room stone building and people were required to be silent and have appropriate dress to go in. There wasn’t much to the house other than a small pew to pray, different gifts bestowed by the most recent popes on display, and a small statue of Mary without hands (they were gold so they were stolen). We exited the house and continued to a row of fountains in a brick façade containing cold “holy water.” Past that was a large brick wall with hundreds of knotted white cloths/materials with writing. According to Pagan legend, if you hang a white knotted material and you make a wish and it comes true, you have to return.
Down the hill was one of the 4 most important cities in ancient Rome, Ephesus (it was the New York City of the ancient world). There are a few stories of how Ephesus came into existence. The first was that a guy had a dream he was chasing a boar and where he killed it, he had to found a city. The second story is that the Amazons started the town and the prettiest/most skilled one (Ephesia) had the town named after her.
The amount of ruins still intact was astounding- the Roman Forum can’t even compare. We started at the top of the hill and saw the agora (forum) and an indoor theater where government and citizenship activities took place. The path led us down the hill where we had the most amazing view of a street lined with columns and a view of the library peeking over top. Our guide pointed out that there were holes in the walkway because it was the 2nd city in the world to have illuminated streets. Ephesus was so boojee!
We also saw their toilets, which as funny as it is to admit, was really cool to see. A large stone slab ran the entire length of a room with running water underneath. The toilets were positioned side by side, and in the winter, servants would warm the toilets before their masters sat. Our guide also said that a lot of deals went down in there because everyone sat side by side and the running water covered up secret conversations.
On the walk down the marble street we saw assorted Greek tablets, a street sign (large slab of marble with depictions ie. snake for hospital, Hermes and sheep for the trade route), and the first condos in the world for the rich people. They even had central heating with hot water flowing through pipes in the winter months. Down a bit was the Heracles Gate, the tall two story façade of the library (3rd largest in the ancient world), a huge amphitheater that seats 25,000, and a large market a few football fields in length. Here’s a fun little fact- the amphitheater got partially ruined a few years ago from a Sting concert due to the too strong decibel level.
We then went a few miles down the road and saw the ruins of St. John’s Basilica (built by Justinian). The light of the afternoon sun was perfect against the ruins and a lot of the stone work was still intact. In the nave nearby, a large marker denoted where St. John is said to be buried. Down the side of the hill was mosque where we could see in the courtyard and just beyond that were the ruins of an old Turkish bath. Also below was a single pillar that used to be the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world! The view from the Basilica was one of the most memorable from the trip.
Belief in the evil eye is prevalent in the Middle East and Mediterranean cultures. Essentially, the evil eye is a look that is believed to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed. The term also refers to the power attributed to people inflicting injury or bad luck by an envious or ill-wishing look.
In the Aegean region, where light-colored eyes are relatively rare, people with green or blue eyes are thought to bestow the curse. This idea likely came from Turks weary of aggressive Northern Europeans flexing their influence in the Middle East.
Turkey (and Greece) is rampant with evil eye talismans or amulets. They’re everywhere and in fact, our bus driver had a large one above his window. The amulets range in size and price. Most are small glass blue ovals with an inner circle of white, light blue, and navy. Evil eyes make great souvenirs and they won’t weigh down your bag at customs!
Tea, or çay (pronounced Chai), is a staple in Turkish culture and offering tea to guests is part of Turkish hospitality. Everywhere you go, from restaurants to gas stations someone is drinking tea. Even at typical nine-to-fives, a tea cart is rolled around to each of the offices throughout the day. Turks have the highest per capita tea consumption in the world followed by the United Kingdom.
Unlike the British, tea is not served in a dainty cup and saucer, rather it is served in a curved 4 inch tall glass without handles. It makes drinking really hot tea rather difficult. My favorite tea was elma çay, or apple tea- it tasted like hot apple cider without the bite. Later, our guide told us that apple tea is a touristy thing and that most Turks don’t actually drink it on the regular. (I think it’s crazy that they pass up that deliciousness!)
A cup of çay usually was 1TL and it was served with breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whenever you felt like having a glass. All the rest stops and stands sold boxes of the tea from 4 TL to 20 TL (much more cost effective than the bazaars back in İstanbul) and most shops also sold cheap tea sets. If you can, wait to buy a tea set from a nicer shop in a city. I waited until Konya to buy mine and the quality was much better than the random stands we visited on our Tour de Turkey.
After our tour of Troy, we set up camp for the night in Çanakkale. Here, we had a free night to roam the town before setting off for Kuşadası. The hotel was situated right on the harbor where everyone was out strolling and sitting in outdoor cafes (in March). Old men were fishing by the ferry landing, groups of people crowded the walkway along the water, and young people sat outside and had cigarettes as they drank tea. Also, everyone had a black coat. My sister was wearing a red coat on our journey and she stuck out like a sore thumb!
After a buffet dinner in town, we went back to the hotel and at the suggestion of the PR guy we went up to the roof for drinks and live music. (When we checked into the hotel, PR dude approached me and my 2 travel buddies and told us about the shindig they were having that night. We were by far the youngest in our tour group and looked fun.)
The place was packed so we sat in a back corner and ordered funky blue cocktails for 15 TL and Efes beer. The band had a vocalist, drummer, and a violinist. They were surprisingly good and seemed to play Turkish covers that everyone knew. There also were two birthday parties that night (cake included!) so the band played “Happy Birthday” in Turkish!
It was fun sitting back and watching all the different interactions. The guys meeting their party went around the circle and kissed the girls on each cheek and they doled out a handshake to the people they just met. When a guy wanted to dance, he’d tap the girl and offer his hand and then the entire group would clap for them –awwww. There also was a guy who break danced so his friends moved the tables away and he went to town. On the main floor in front of the band, guys had no problem bro-ing out and dancing with each other in the Greek “Opa!” fashion.
Only a few hours from İstanbul across the Dardanelles Straight, sleepy Troy (Troia) rests on the Aegean coast among hills and olive groves. The surrounding area is void of inhabitants with the exception of a few shops and cafes that cater to the tourists. To be frank, Troy wasn’t the best display of ancient ruins I’ve seen but stepping out among the dismantled stones, it felt like there was a mystery still to be solved. You study it in history, read about it in literature… it’s so unreal to actually be there.
The locals consider Troy to be very touristy, and it is. The only Turks around were school children and the guides, everyone else came from other corners of the globe. The site had stone ruins overlooking the Aegean but not much else other than chunks of the city’s wall and a few broken columns near the reconstructed odeon. As a tribute to Homer, a wooden horse was erected in the 1970’s near the entrance. Tourists are able to climb up into the structure and take pictures.
We took an hour and a half guided tour through the ruins. Our walk took us through the old city walls where you could see the cross section of stones from different centuries. The city has 9 strata, being rebuilt constantly over the course of many millennia- Homer’s Troy is known as the 6th Troy (essentially the 6th layer of stone in the ruins). Not much remains of Homeric Troy but when you’re at the top of the ruins overlooking the Aegean you can picture the grandeur of the city that captured literary minds around the world. Make sure you get a guide who is an animated story teller ;)
Location is crucial if you’re trying to hit a good chunk of the major attractions in one day. Try to get a hotel in the old part of the city in the Sultanahmet neighborhood so you’re close to the sights.
Hippodrome- Big, open space near the Blue Mosque. Look for the obelisk as you walk to your destination!
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia)- Tickets to get in are 20 TL. You don’t want to miss seeing this amazing edifice and if you have a guidebook, a self tour is quite easy to do. My travel companion had a Rick Steves book with detailed descriptions of all the highlights which proved to give us more freedom to roam the space among the different tour groups. Make sure you climb the ramp to the upper gallery where for centuries important people were carried by slaves or on horseback. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a different era plus the view from above is amazing (you can also see the enormous dome in more detail).
Blue Mosque- Located across the square, the Blue Mosque is free to see and won’t disappoint. The queue forms along the side of the building and guests are required to remove their shoes before entering (complimentary plastic bags are available so you can take your shoes in with you). Be sure to cover your shoulders and keep talking to a minimum inside since there are people actively praying. Take in the beautiful displays of Arabic calligraphy, the lush carpet, and the low-hanging candelabras throughout.
Basilica Cistern- The Cistern is past the Hippodrome across the street by a stone pillar in a non-descript building and it’s 10 TL to get in. This is one of the coolest attractions in the Sultanahmet district (From Russia With Love was filmed here). You descend underground to a scene of 1,001 columns lit up in the dark surrounded by a water collected by rainfall. Towards the back, you don’t want to miss the Medusa columns (just follow the crowds). Also if you get a chance, catch some live music by the cafe inside the cistern.
Topkapı Palace- Tickets to get in are 20 TL (tickets to see the Harem cost extra). The Topkapı Palace located on the Marmara Sea was the home of Ottoman Sultans for centuries. Inside the grounds are the treausury, the Topkapı dagger, the 7th largest diamond in the world, and a portrait gallery of Ottoman Sultans (they all were super fat and hairy, hello unibrows!). Warning: The treasury galleries get crowded. Bring your A game.
Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)- The Grand Bazaar is a must-see while in the city. The Bazaar is an indoor maze of shops flanked by outdoor vendors selling rugs, lamps, Turkish Delight, and spices. Vendors are not shy and have a working knowledge of English so transactions aren’t that difficult. It’s extremely close quarters throughout so hold onto your belongings and be aware of pick pocketers.
Spice Bazaar- The Spice Bazaar is located by the New Mosque along the sea. Unlike its big brother, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar is much smaller and less crowded (makes shopping much more enjoyable). Here, vendors sell spices, teas, Turkish Delight, and other confections exclusively. They also are on top of vacuum sealing spices to comply with airline regulations. A word of caution to English-speaking girls, vendors will attempt to lure you to their shops with cheesy Spice Girls references.
Getting to and from- All the sites in Sultanahmet are walkable but a reliable tram system is available. For 2 TL you can hop the tram or any other transportation offered in the city (Metro, ferry, bus etc). Find a machine near the station and get a red token called a Jeton. You place the Jeton in the turnstile and get right on.
A widely unknown fact about tulips is that the flower is actually native to Turkey and Central Asia. The botanical name, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word tulbend or “turban,” which the flower resembles. These tulips were well suited to the harsh, dry, cold mountain conditions. It is thought that nomadic tribes moving West through the region first brought tulips to the Turkish Ottoman Empire and it wasn’t until the 16th century that the bulbs made their way to Holland.
Tulips in Turkey
Prized for their beauty and perfection, Turks thought of tulips as the flowers of God. The flower’s moniker also was given to the period of peace and enjoyment between 1703-1730 (the “Tulip Era”). During Sultan Ahmed III’s reign at this time, tulips became culturally integrated in daily life as Turks incorporated the flower in their folklore, embroidery, carpets, tiles, and gardens. Today, tulips are prominent in the branding of the country. Turkish Airlines incorporates the flower on its fusilage and the official tourism board uses it in its logo.
Tulips in Holland
In the 17th century, the overgrown interest and high popularity of tulips crazed the population of Holland. Bulbs were sold by weight, usually while they were still in the ground. This speculation and demand caused bulb prices to skyrocket which then prompted the Dutch government to unsuccessfully outlaw the commerce. Ultimately, over-supply led to lower prices and dealers went bankrupt causing the tulip market to crash. Holland’s love affair with the flower, however, led to better cultivation after the crash, and to this day, the country remains the largest international tulip exporter.