Monday, August 3, 2009

Celebrating Turkey in the Heart of Paris

By: Susanne Fowler
New York Times
Aug. 2, 2009

PARIS | Visitors strolling past the Trocadéro in Paris recently could be forgiven for thinking that they had somehow been transported to another time and place. There on the square, with the Eiffel Tower glowing behind them, were dervishes whirling to the delight of thousands of spectators.

The presentation was part of the opening ceremony for “Saison de la Turquie en France,” an impressive celebration of Turkish arts and culture — especially considering that it is taking place in a country that has, at times, vocally disputed Turkey’s inclusion in the European Union.

With the countries budgeting at least 24 million euros in government and private support for the program, the “Saison,” is a nine-month-long culture festival that is bringing hundreds of Turkish artists, musicians, writers and other experts to cities throughout France.

The wide-ranging events are detailed in French in the festival catalog (PDF) and on the frequently updated Web site.

While the action is taking place in many cities, including Lille, Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon, here are some of the Parisian highlights:
– Encounters with writers like Elif Shafak and the Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk.
– Illumination of the Eiffel Tower in the red and white of the Turkish flag during the month of October.
– Photography exhibits, including Ara Guler’s moody shots of Istanbul from the ’50s and ’60s.
– A film festival celebrating Turkey’s current “new wave’’ in cinema.

Because the program is so extensive, visitors may have a hard time choosing where to start. The answer may be a stop at the Café Turc, an airy and welcoming structure designed by the architects Han Tumertekin and Francois Pin in the historic Jardin des Tuileries, near the Place de la Concorde.

The cafe, open through Aug. 8, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., is a great way to dip a toe into some great Turkish traditions, including a workshops on puppetry and traditional instruments, or by simply pulling up a stool, sipping a demitasse of rich black Turkish coffee and listening to one of the many free concerts. It was standing room only last week for Göçebe Sarkilar’s concert of songs of the Anatolian nomads. The cafe’s closing night, on Aug. 8, should be rocking when Selim Sesler takes the stage with his clarinet and his gypsy-jazz band.

The irony of France playing host to a huge Turkish festival is not lost on the co-chairmen of the event.

Stanislas Pierret, the French co-commissioner, said his goal was to provide “a platform for the Turkish people to show what Turkey is really like.’’

“Istanbul now is like the New York of Europe,’’ he said. “There is a lot of creativity every where.’’

Gorgun Taner, the Turkish co-commisioner, agreed. “Our contemporary art and music scenes are dynamic,’’ he said, “as they should be when you realize that 50 percent of the Turkish population is under age 25.”

He hopes that the “Saison” can forge a lasting bond between the two countries.

“We are trying to bring to France examples of the multiculturalism of Turkey, to show not only how we differ, but also how much we look alike,” he said.

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