Artist Profile
Your friend the enemy

Chapter 3 – Onto the Peninsula

Thanks to various sets of directions and an old fashioned search party, we managed to get almost everyone together between squalls of rain for a last dinner before the real journey begins. Descending into the sunken courtyard of Daruzziyafe, we supped in imperial dining room atmospherics of the old kitchens adjacent to the Sultan Mehmet mosque. No-one had the excuse next morning about too much wine for there was none – appropriate to the venue we had an orthodox Islamic menu in preparation for the escape from the cramped streets and bustle of Istanbul.

They say the third night is the worst, and so it was – at least in terms of sleep. That’s when you have to be glad of Turkish coffee first thing next morning. It sure proves its value for money. Short and black, grounds thick enough to chew on and guaranteed to kick like a mule. A definite eye opener to punch through the jetlag and out into the new day rising.

As we headed west on the road to Edirne, I kept my eyes peeled for signs of the old truck-park from where I hitched a ride across into Bulgaria 24 years ago. It’s gone, pronounces ‘Doc’, our Turkish guide who comes in a package deal with Jesus the bus-driver from Marvelous Tours. Istanbul’s official population rests at 7 million but is probably closer to 15 million, including approximately 1m Syrian refugees, Doc says. Testament to the increasing sprawl of the capital, one hour on the freeway and the old truck-park has been overlaid by an array of malls, car parks and higher-density tower blocks. In a hinterland where minarets jostle with electricity pylons for the highest point, some agricultural fields and wetlands remain, barely able to hold back town-house complexes of facsimile Ottoman design. Here also is the first sign of Turkey’s burgeoning wind farm industry – a carbon sink where well-meaning globetrotters can purchase offsets to assuage their guilt from all too-frequent flying.

After three days of trying to accommodate various agendas in Istanbul there is a newly relaxed vibe on the bus, a unity of purpose now as we head towards the focal destination. Everyone by now has heard the story about John Walsh coming off second best with a chainsaw accident before leaving New Zealand – but being a lefty his bandaged right hand will not slow him down in the painting stakes. At the chintzy Trojan tourist halfway house, the signposts to Cannakale and Gelibolu start to appear, and we have a portside lunch in the fishing village that gives the peninsula its name.

With the Sea of Marmara on the eastern side of the bus, we get some WWI commentary as Brad relates the last resting place of the HMAS AE2 submarine. Still lying on the seabed 72m down after an elongated game of cat-and-mouse with the Turkish navy, the courageous Australian sub was forced to rise again and again to recharge its batteries before deciding to scuttle the craft.

The seaside town of Eceabat – marked as Maydos on many old maps – is to be our home for the next 10 days. We arrive mid-afternoon and settle into the most basic of hotels. There is a sense of expectation as the bus navigates over to the western side of the peninsula. Brighton Beach, Anzac Cove and Chunuk Bair follow in succession, all important points in the WWI military narrative. The rich oral history narrative blurs into the twilight with a group starting to get their own version of a 1000-yard stare, slightly overwhelmed and still not sure exactly where they are.

From the high ground of Chunuk Bair there are evocative views over the nearby islands – Imbros (now a Turkish possession and known as Gokceada) and Lemnos behind it, where the ancient Greek god Hephaestus was said to have his forge. To the north sits Samothrace, still a Greek possession, its 1600m peak blanketed in clouds. The whole vista remains evocative of myth and legend, bringing talk from Idris Murphy about The Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre, often referred to as a masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture, and the passage of armies Hellenic, Thracian and Persian in the rise and fall of empire.

And so it has continued down the centuries. Exactly 150 years previously, the British entered the Crimean War in 1854 and established a garrison on the Gallipoli peninsula. In 1920, White Czarist Russians fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution came through the peninsula en route to a new life in Europe and elsewhere. And now in 2014 Russian destroyers steam down the Dardanelles to the Mediterranean after a delicately negotiated passage through the Bosphorus as Putin’s regime extends its next power play: Crimea having been annexed with little more than a murmur, eastern Ukraine overrun with pro-Russian separatists and proclamations coming through to side-theatres like Transnistria. The latest news is that to get a Russian passport apparently all you need to do is speak Russian and live in a former Soviet republic.

Just south of Eceabat is the still WWI arsenal of Kilitbahir, which supplied the gun emplacements that the British and French naval fleets could not evade as they tried to penetrate up the Dardanelles. More impressive again is the stone fortress of Kilitbahir Kalesi and its curved ramparts which have stood indomitable since the mid-15th Century when it was built to prevent the Venetians threatening Constantinople.

Such contexts of landscape – political, cultural, geographic – start to sink into the artists’ minds as we sit atop Chunuk Bair watching the sun descend into the Aegean, light rippling off a light chop on the water. All the tourist buses have left for the day, leaving birdsong and wind through the pines as the only audio accompaniment. Finally the artists are out of the bus and get to make some noise of their own, what John Walsh calls ‘noise in the form of marks’.

Euan Macleod and Steve Lopes sit side by side on the edge of the path, scratching away intently with an eye to the horizon. Michael Nock snaps on some rubber gloves, sets up his easel, pushes out some oil paints onto his palette and lights up a cigar. Stanley Palmer lies down with a large sketch pad and starts mapping out the scene before him. Botanical artist Deidre Bean rummages in the scrub and flowers, curious to find plant specimens. Guy Maestri checks out the lie of the land on the edge of Rhododendron Spur and gives voice to the hitherto unspoken group psyche: ‘You can’t just paint this landscape with no sense of history,’ he says. ‘It’s going to take me a few days just to process it.’

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