People and Places: Eastern Turkey… and Nashville, Tennessee!

It is time to introduce you to some remarkable people I have met visiting unusual destinations (although one destination, Nashville in Tennessee, is not that unusual). Turkey dominates the post because citizens of the Turkish Republic have indulged my interest in photography more patiently than people in many other nation states (the impatience of non-Turkish people is perfectly understandable, of course). I am grateful to all the people shown here, three for providing excellent entertainment at a country and western event in Nashville, but everyone else for making visits to unusual destinations so memorable.

The Nashville performers aside, it looks to me as if almost everyone featured in the photos is Kurdish in origin (but the children consuming light refreshments, following a morning Qur’anic class, are, with one obvious exception, Turkish). Six of the photos derive from Agri (the man sitting behind his desk), Kayseri (the three men sitting outside as they smoke cigarettes), Malatya (the four metalworkers in the bazaar), Mus (the man standing in his shop, and the three men sitting in the pazar) and Tatvan (the man in front of the wood-fired oven), all of which are towns and cities large enough to locate easily on a map of Turkey, but the rest derive from Arapgir (the children consuming light refreshments), Cengilli and Venk Koyu. Arapgir is a small town about 90 kms from Malatya, but Cengilli and Venk Koyu are villages. One photo features the mukhtar, or headman, of Venk Koyu, which lies a few kilometres east of Malatya. The mukhtar is shown with his wife and youngest daughter. The photos of the five young women, and of the two older women wearing headscarves, also derive from Venk Koyu. The five girls and the small boy with the tomato, shot in the very last light of day with the flash on a pathetic little digital camera, live in Cengilli, a village at the end of a dirt and gravel road through the hills and mountains about 20 kms from the nearest town (Kagizman).

Venk Koyu is worth visiting for two reasons other than the friendliness of the local people. First, overlooking the road leading into the village is a ruined Armenian church with the tomb of a Muslim “saint” by its side. Second, a dirt and gravel road leads from behind the village into the surrounding mountains. By following the road you can undertake a wonderful walk through stunning upland scenery. Cengilli is worth visiting for the ruined Georgian church that towers over the surrounding buildings, most of which are simple one-storey stone structures partially buried in the ground to improve insulation during the bitterly cold winters that endure for up to five months. Arapgir is worth visiting for some interesting 18th century buildings, many substantial timber-framed houses, a lively pazar and, about 4 kms away, Eskisehir, a town significantly older than Arapgir itself. Although largely abandoned, Eskisehir is in a delightful rural setting and has a number of important ruined monuments.

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Stained Glass: Czech Republic, Poland, USA.

Whether they are religious or not, people feel drawn to houses of worship, if only because houses of worship are usually large, elegant and imposing structures which benefit from elaborate decoration and ornamentation. Houses of worship associated with a number of faith traditions delight in the use of stained glass, and stained glass is certainly something I enjoy, no matter who has commissioned it. This said, stained glass is most often encountered in houses of worship associated with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here are photos of stained glass in churches in the Czech Republic (Prague), Poland (Czestochowa, Tarnow, Warsaw, Wroclaw) and the USA (Covington in Kentucky), and a synagogue in Poland (Krakow). My apologies to people hoping to find stained glass in at least one mosque. I find to my horror that photos of stained glass in mosques exist only on film from the pre-digital age.

I am confident that many of you will see that some of the stained glass has been designed by Alfons Mucha. The stained glass in question is in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Prague is not an unusual destination, of course, but the stained glass of St. Vitus Cathedral deserves to be better known. Forgive me for being (again) a little elastic about what should be included in the posts. I will behave in future, I promise!

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Edgelands and Sacrifice Zones: Lithuania, Spain, United Kingdom, etc.

The post entitled “Edgelands, Sacrifice Zones: Turkey, United Kingdom, etc.” struck a chord with many people, so here is a second collection based on the same idea, the idea that places which lack prettiness can, nonetheless, be interesting and, even, have a strange beauty all of their own. Here you will find photos of Jarrow, Middlesbrough, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Peterlee, South Bank (all in North-East England), Malaga (Spain), Gaziantep, Hopa, Ispir (Turkey) and Vilnius (Lithuania). In my estimation, all the localities in the photos qualify as edgelands, sacrifice zones or, at the very least, marginal or shunned places. This said, doesn’t the presence of the local Sikh community in the photo of Middlesbrough invest the rundown street with colour and vitality it would not routinely have! Thank goodness for the spectacular annual Nagar Kirtan!

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North-East England, Three (Snow).

Since starting “In Search of Unusual Destinations”, I have been led to many blogs containing some quite extraordinary photos of snow. Hence this post: here is my celebration of the white, wet and fluffy stuff (which I happen to like intensely). All the photos derive from North-East England and from winters dating no further back than 2009. For those who know a little about the region, featured in the photos are Jesmond Dene (Newcastle-upon-Tyne), Darlington, the River Tees (just to the west of Darlington) and Newcastle Central Station.

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Edgelands and Sacrifice Zones: Turkey, United Kingdom, etc.

People accessing “In Search of Unusual Destinations” have noticed that there are times when I feel drawn to places that are a little odd and not necessarily pretty, but which, nonetheless, have an appeal, perhaps even a beauty, all of their own. I have been found out. Hence this longer-than-usual post to explain my fascination with such places.

I live in an area of the United Kingdom that once formed part of County Durham (which, long ago, was called the Land of the Prince Bishops). The 1951 County Durham Development Plan classified villages and small towns as an A, B, C or D settlement. Category D settlements were usually coal-mining villages where it was known that mining would eventually conclude. In such settlements, no further development would be permitted and property would be acquired and demolished. The local inhabitants would be relocated to new housing elsewhere. 114 category D settlements were listed in the 1951 plan, but the figure rose to 121 in the revised County Durham Development Plan of 1964. Only three settlements were completely demolished by 1969, and in 1977 the County Council category D policy officially ended.

The end of the policy in 1977 did not mean that category D settlements no longer suffered neglect. Neglect persisted because of the rapid contraction of coal-mining and other industries, and because of under-investment in amenities and resources to meet the needs and aspirations of the local people. As you can imagine, many category D settlements, in common with a large number of other settlements across the industrial heartlands of the United Kingdom, became mere shadows of their former selves, so much so that even local people began to allege that they lived in the land that time forgot.

Of course, it goes without saying that just about every other country on the planet has had problems associated with the decline, whether terminal or otherwise, of once-thriving settlements. A book entitled “Days of Destruction and Revolt” (2012) by Hedges and Sacco provides an insight into the phenomenon in the USA, where places similar to the category D settlements are known as sacrifice zones, a term which has been in use for about forty years. Hedges and Sacco describe sacrifice zones in the following way. A sacrifice zone has “been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress and technological advancement.“ Sacrifice zones exist “where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit.” Their remarkable book focuses on four such zones, Pine Ridge in South Dakota, Camden in New Jersey, Welch in West Virginia and Immokalee in Florida.

I confess: I find such places endlessly fascinating and, on trips from home, feel drawn to them wherever they may be encountered (in fact, my work in North-East England takes me to many one-time category D settlements, and settlements outside County Durham just as damaged by the effects of economic decline). I find decay and dereliction and blighted environments, but also many remarkable people who live with dignity and optimism despite all the barriers that deny them fairness and justice. I also find views, buildings, unexpected juxtapositions, temporary structures, pasture, muddy water, peeling paintwork and snow under grey skies that possess considerable beauty, the odds notwithstanding.

However, there is a related, but slightly different, environment that also appeals to me, an environment best described by perhaps the UK’s foremost contemporary analyst of place, Jonathan Meades. Meades feels drawn to those parts of place he calls edgelands. In his recent collection of articles, occasional pieces and scripts entitled “Museum without Walls” (2012), Meades says that edgelands are “where underfed horses freeze between interchanges and reservoirs, sewage outfalls, trails of rusty dereliction.” He confesses to “a fondness for pitted former rolling stock dumped in fields and for abandoned filling stations.” Later in the same book he says that “these scapes with their breeze-block piggeries are precious. Corrugated iron – which is to be found in abundance (in edgelands) – was, a century ago, the material of the future. Sheds and byres built of it are as deserving of protection as limestone dovecotes and cob walls. Britain’s edgelands – the ungainly epithet is planning-speak – are disappearing fast. They are unloved save by topophiliac perverts and amateurs of the ad-hoc, among whom, I obviously include myself.” I guess the last sentence also says who/what I am!

In early 2013, BBC4 broadcast “Jonathan Meades: the joy of Essex”. This astounding portrait of the much-derided county of Essex has segments devoted to edgelands. Watch the programme and you will instantly realize why edgelands, sacrifice zones, category D settlements and other rundown, marginal or shunned places deserve to be taken more seriously. I guess it is time to book a flight to Detroit.

Below are a few photos of localities which, in my estimation at least, qualify as edgelands, sacrifice zones or rundown, marginal or shunned places. The photos necessarily lack prettiness, something which, in common with Meades, I tend to distrust. But it is just possible that some of the photos have a raw and unanticipated beauty.

The following photos are of Darlington, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Shiremoor, South Bank, Sunderland (all in North-East England), Erzincan, Erzurum, Gole, Kayseri (all in Turkey), Malaga (Spain) and a small town in Arkansas (USA) between Van Buren and Little Rock. I have a feeling a similar post will materialize in the fullness of time, provided people respond positively to this one.

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