The Potter’s Wife…..or Not
Everything I know about making pottery, I learned in one day. This day. Before today, I had never seen a potter’s wheel or other such things that potters use in their trade. Mehmet and I were right in the middle of going from one official office to another in the pursuit of trying to get me a Turkish social security number, so that I could in turn open up a Turkish checking account, which will allow Alaaddin Balloons to pay me my due on a regular basis. Don’t let the travel brochures fool you. Life may be simple here, but getting things done is anything but simple. But that is a different story. After running into several dead ends, Mehmet suggested we pop in and see a friend of his. His shop is right on the main road in town and I have passed it by, and a dozen more just like it at least a hundred times since I have been living in Avanos. Apparently, Avanos is the pottery capital of Cappadocia, and maybe all of Turkey. One of the reasons it is a prime spot for such is the presence of the Kizlirimak (Red) River which runs right through the middle of town. Over the last few thousand years, the river has been kind enough to deposit the perfect kind of clay that potters need to ply their trade. I have purposely not gone into any of these places in fear that I would readily expose myself as a common tourist instead of a seasoned adventurer and traveler. It’s been all in vain because I think I have blown that cover several times over.
Mehmet’s friend is Saban, in Turkish pronounced Shabonne. He is a young man, looking to be about the same age as Mehmet, probably in his early 30’s. He greeted us at the door, more like an entry way into the stone building that was built right into the side of a hill. Four steps into the place and the temperature dropped 10 degrees. There were pots, plates, bowls, and other crafted pieces everywhere. They were on shelves, tables, hanging from the ceiling and the walls. They were all sizes, shapes and colors. Some were plain as opposed to some that looked like they belonged in a museum. Like most buildings I have seen here, this one was long and narrow, with the ceiling making a wide arch above our heads that gave the appearance we were entering some kind of church or other religious place. As I gawked, I clumsily tripped and nearly and fell into a large stack of what appeared to be the “good stuff’, before realizing that the floor was just natural rock and dirt that was no where near being level. We passed through one room into another and it was there I got my first peak at a potter’s wheel.
I could not help thinking to myself that the object before me was nothing less than a piece of history itself, handed down from generations of craftsmen who not only passed on the most simple of tools, but a way of life to their sons and their son’s sons. To look at Saban, he could be anything or anybody. A handsome man, as it seems the lot of Turkish men tend to be, he stood humbly there as a proud maker of beautiful and useful things fashioned from nothing more than his potter’s wheel, his hands, and the red river clay.
The wheel was exactly that, a wheel, but instead of standing up vertically as most wheels do, this one, made of wood, was recessed into the stone and dirt floor so that the flat surface of the wheel and the floor were on an even plain. The center of the wheel supported a spindle that rose up to a height of about two feet or so, and also through the wheel itself and into the dirt. This allowed the wheel to spin freely. It is on the top of the spindle that the raw shapeless blobs of clay are placed and carefully molded by the potter’s hands. Saban sat down on a simple bench and straddled the spindle. He reached into a dirty looking bag and pulled out a handful of clay and sharply planted it on the top of the spindle. He began to speak, again in a language that is both beautiful and impossible to understand. But there was a familiar tone to his voice, a rhythm as if he were singing a song that had been taught to him many years ago. It reminded me a great deal of Solomon and his telling of the history and his love for his wine. As Saban began to sing his song, his feet went to work on the wheel. Slowly at first and then faster, as he appeared to be running in place, his feet touching the wheel so lightly it made no sound. The sound of his voice and the motion of the wheel became one. As the wheel turned, so did the spindle holding the yet to be created piece of work, which at this point only existed in the imagination of the potter, Saban. He continued to speak as he dipped his hands into some very muddy looking water and then began to caress the clay with the finesse of a lover’s touch. Suddenly, as if by pure magic, the shapeless blob of clay disappeared and was instantly replaced by what was obvious even to me, to be the top to some kind of container. The lid was perfectly shaped and with the turn of Saban’s skilled little finger, a small knob appeared on top forming a handle. Still the feet were running, the wheel was turning, and the clay blob was no more. A couple of quick adjustments, and the skillful application of a very thin string to the spinning lid, and it separated itself from the spindle. Saban gently set the lid to the side and continued his song. He added a little more clay to the spindle and stuck his two thumbs into the top of the spinning blob. Again, like a slight of hand trick, there appeared a perfectly shaped bowl. I was fairly amazed and more than a little impressed, but I thought to myself, “how does he know the lid will fit the bowl”? There was no measuring, no checking on any kind. He just knew it would fit. But here’s where things get a little tricky. Remember, I told you that Saban was quietly telling a story as he worked. And Mehmet was listening and now began to relay to me the details. Many years ago, it seems people were a lot more practical than we are now. There was a lot less waste and everything had a purpose. And according to Saban, the skill of a craftsman was very important in determining the acceptance of any marriage proposal by the potter. Upon requesting his lady’s hand in marriage, the man had to sit before his perspective bride’s entire family and make a sugar bowl with his potter’s wheel. Only one chance at making a good impression and there was only one way to do it. The potter had to make a sugar bowl for his bride to be. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so. According to Saban, many a young man’s heart was broken, because he failed the test. The bowl did not have to be elaborate, it did not have to be made of the finest clay. It did not have to be of certain size or color. But, you guessed it, that lid had to fit perfectly to the matching bowl. No second chances, just one shot at securing the hand of his love, and determined solely by the geometry of a blob of clay at the hand’s of the potter and his wheel.
Imagine, if people today had to pass such a test. Or any test for that matter. I think there might be a lot less misery, heartache, and disappointment in our lives if we just took a little time to see if the person we are promising to spend the rest of our lives with, is indeed a perfect fit for the sugar bowl that we call life.