Saturday, January 8, 2011

Illuminated copies of the Koran and Allen Iverson

It was another schizophrenic day. Well, that's a little harsh - more a day of divided personalities.

This morning was glorious - clear, blue sky, warm sun, and a visit to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. Islamic and Turkish art consists mainly of tile, carpet, gold/brass/silver vessels or lamps, Koran boxes and stands, and illuminated manuscripts of the Koran. There were other items as well -- pottery pieces, writing instruments, architectural elements -- but the collection of hand-written and illuminated Korans was the most extensive and beautiful that I have ever seen.

I don't know how many copies of the book were on exhibit -- maybe 150 or more -- in every size imaginable. The largest one was at least four feet tall and two feet wide -- super-large print! And the smallest fit inside a silver box no bigger than 4 inches square. All were hand-written by calligraphers who were true artists. Their strokes were perfect and their individual styles unique. I don't know how they wrote so many pages of text with no mistakes! The calligraphers worked alongside illuminators for each book who embellished the pages when the the text was complete. Such colors - and some of these dated back to the 9th Century! Cobalt blue, Cadmium orange, and gold -- yes, real gold. The copy of the Koran in this photo has lots of yellow in it -- that's painted gold! Talk about an expensive book! The amount of detail - mind-boggling minutia - put Mary Englebright's designs to shame! It must have taken days to complete just one page of these manuscripts. I have done some embellished calligraphy in the past and it about drove me nuts -- not to mention that my eyes went batty!! These books are real works of art.

And then came the evening's activities: basketball. I really don't like basketball. I know the game inside and out, but I have had more than my fill of it in my life. I don't watch it on TV. I don't play it. I just don't like it. But.....

James has been going through sports-withdrawl since leaving the States. In Georgia, the only sport that is on TV is soccer - it's on at my host families' house everyday, but I don't think it is at James's house. So he was bound and determined to find some sort of sporting event for us to go to while here in Istanbul. And he did. Tonight we took a couple of different metro lines to a stadium at the other end of the city to see two of the Turkish pro teams play. And, wouldn't you know, Allen Iverson plays for one of the teams! (For those who aren't Philadelphia sports fans, Allen Iverson played for the 76ers. I don't know what happened or how he ended up in Turkey, but "AI" is in Istanbul!)

For as much grief as I gave James about going to the game, it was fun. The lights, the crowd, the energy, the noise -- it was a good time. I was amused at the attempt at Westernization in the sports-arena with spotlights dancing around during time-outs, the attempt at cheerleaders also dancing around at time-outs, and the concession sales in the stadium. None of it was quite what we Americans are used to: they don't even sell beer! But we had a good time together among the Turkish locals. James was in heaven. After the game, we went into a bar for a post-game drink -- once we finally found one, that is! The bar was full of Turkish men and even more full of blue smoke -- there is no ban on smoking in public places here. We got a table on the second floor and had some drinks while watching a Euro-league soccer game on TV. Turkey won.

Another day of contrasts - and a little compromise! We joked around about how we had been looking at centuries-old antiquities and holy books in the morning, then watched AI argue with a ref at night! Both were cultural experiences. Both were worthwhile. But very, very different from each other! And tomorrow....who knows what it will bring?

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