Friday, July 30, 2010

Ankara trip

There were a pair of pants hanging on the door of the bathroom stall  I visited as I walked from the airplane through Munich Airport to my connecting flight. A photo with my phone's camera would have added to the suspicious atmosphere,  so you will have to imagine a reasonably clean looking pair of Dockers style pants suspended in front of me. But where was the owner, and why had he abandoned his trousers?
I pondered this over a breakfast of white sausage, pretzel and a half-litre of beer. This is apparently the traditional breakfast in Bavaria. A three- hour layover doesn't leave much time to sample the local culture. My belly is gratified because the daylight says it is about 8AM but my internal clock says it is about 01:30. Splitting the difference with coffee, beer and sausages works, and besides I have more time zones ahead. White sausage has a special protocol for being eaten. It involves extracting the stuffing whiles leaving the casing virtually intact and uneaten. Look for online video to see how Bavarians do it, because I sure didn't.
The Airbus A-321 touched down in Ankara bang on schedule. The news later that day said the same model aircraft had crashed in Pakistan that day, killing all aboard. But every model of aircraft I have flown on has crashed- 747 to Cessna 172.
The hotel I stayed at was the least expensive that Expedia offered. It is comfortable without being luxurious. But it is well located to almost everything, save Çankaya university, which is hosting the conference that brought me to Turkey.
Çankaya U. is quite small, and the architecture reminds me of my old high school. The concrete block and reinforced concrete both remind me of structures built in the 60's. Much of Ankara seems to be constructed in that era, with trends towards the post-modern pastiche architecture thrown in. Çankaya U seems to reflect earlier practices and budgetary restrictions. None the less it feels oddly like home.

Mosque and apartments
Mosque and apartment buildings
That is perhaps what strikes me most; how similar Ankara feels to me as does the Montreal metropolitan area. This would be especially true of some areas of the south shore. However, the space is much more densely populated, and more provision is made for pedestrians.
One thing that I noticed is the side walks are substantially higher than the road deck. Usually they are about 25cm higher? Is this to keep automobiles off the side walks or to deal with heavy seasonal rains?
New apartments near Çankaya
Apartment buildings with large Turkish flag in the background
The climate feels very similar to Montréal. It would hit 37C the day I walked from my hotel to the University. The winter temperatures would be mild by Montrealer's standards but the summer days seem similar but perhaps less humid.
This slight variation also appears in the vegetation. Trees are very similar with something like a maple being common. Junipers and conifers also feel like home.
That feeling also extends to the use of Turkish, which replaces French as the dominant language that is not my mother tongue. I am working to learn a few critical phrases. Merhaba, lütfen, hayir, evet.
I got to practice them as I asked directions, bought food and so on. The writer from Frommers was being optimistic in implying everyone speaks English. But I can get by with sign language, the few words I have and being polite.
The next day I set out late, so missing breakfast. My knee was also sore, so I tool the subway two stops to Kizilay, although it would have been a short walk, for me. The kizilay station opened out immediately into a cheap mall- think the little kiosks immediately surrounding Peel metro station in Montréal. 15 turkish Lira got me a pair of black cotton slacks. The salesman handed me a card with the name and address of a tailor. First, I went looking for food.
I stopped at a café for what turned out to be a cheese sandwich(sanviç) and Turkish coffee. Turks seem to prefer tea and usually drink instant coffee if they drink coffee at all.
My pants spent two hours being hemmed- 1Tl. As I walked around the Kizilay,waiting for the tailor, it reminded me of London's Soho, but with more pleasant inhabitants. A conversational grasp of Turkish would greatly alleviate the sense of loneliness I have. I think my features suggest I might be Turkish, but my dress and comportment- subtle gestures of posture and movement- mark me as other. Once I open my mouth, that is clear.
There are few obvious tourists here- I saw a young in shorts and converse hi-tops. Probably from Japan, although I didn't see her face. A couple of times I saw college age men who might have been americans. Compared to Montreal, this area seems very homogenous.
I had arrived here at about 11 am. It was now about 14:00 and the day was getting hotter and hotter. The fish mongers were becoming more fragrant, although their goods were well packed on ice. Sitting on a bench, writing this post, I thought about how this city is new and modern, but built on a old series of previous cultures, civilzationscand empires. As the day wears on younger people are appearing.
I am going to go back to a cafe I passed, and have a beer.

"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster