Can you dream in Byzantine? When the Anatolian Culture Festival came to town at the beginning of this month, I knew that my curiosity about all things Turkish (beyond Turkish delights, “Turkish March” by Mozart, and Turkish coffee) would drive me there.
Through the lens of philosophy, you could say that Turkey is a living, breathing artifact of Ancient Greece. When the Greek empire split after the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholics resided in the west while the Greco-Christians remained in the east, which eventually became modern-day Turkey. On one hand, you can think of Ancient Greece as a redoubtable yet lost civilization. On the other, you can say it never disappeared; it only evolved.
The entrance to the festival was a long walkway called Civilizations Path, which took you through various arches, each from a different era in Turkish history. Judging by how many arches I had to walk through just to get to the festival itself, Turkey has played host to a plethora of different civilizations through time – from the Trojans to the Persians to the Ottomans.
Beyond these arches was a giant replica of the Great Bazaar in Turkey, 50+ food vendors (including one for Turkish sticky ice cream), and an entertainment stage. There was plenty to ensnare the senses.
By far, my favorite part of the festival was a display about the whirling dervishes, or the Mevlevi Order. You’ve probably seen movies that feature shots of whirling dervishes: men dressed in white gowns and tall hats spinning – almost in ecstasy – usually on a stage or in a large hall. This haunting and mystifying dance (called the Sema) originated in the 13th century.
The Sema represents a mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to the “Perfect.” Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the “Perfect.” He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, able to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.
This dance is a testament to the dizzying effects of attempting to reach perfection. Note that man can only attempt to reach it without ever truly being able to. Perfection is an idea. It’s a mystery.
The earth spins on its axis; the planets rotate around the sun. We are all eternally spinning. We’re all attempting, reaching to be better than ourselves. Isn’t that beautiful?
I would definitely recommend visiting the Anatolian Festival next time it comes to town. Until I actually get to visit Turkey, this festival is a nice substitute.