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Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Looking back at Kırkpınar 2018


Sometimes you just get hooked on something. On a feeling. On a sport. On a person. On a state of being.
Last year, I got hooked on Kırkpınar. The oldest sports festival in the world involving oil wrestling in kispets. I got hooked on the unique feeling that the show gives you – because it is a real show! –. A mix of ancient customs face to face with the modernity of adapted rules, determination that would make anyone doubt oneself, fanaticism-soaked audience, all set in the very authentic former Ottoman capital of Edirne.
I wished to be back! This time, for both days running the finals.
Having devoured many articles, watched tens of videos, and read intricate interviews during the 12 months that passed had surely prepared me better for Kırkpınar. Or so I thought.
‘…though it seems bigger and flashier this year!’.
More sellers, more stands, more tents – around the arena and in town, too –, a hecticness that I didn’t quite expect. /I’ve just realised that I bought the same spots as last year, in an attempt to recreate the joy Marcel and I felt. However, following another twist of Destiny, in 2017, we had mistaken our gate but nobody noticed – that is how we found ourselves in the middle of the Antalyan supporters./
Strangely, we had to go through the right gate this time. And everything felt different – the view, the warmth, even the heat. There were all a few degrees short.
All changed when the başpehlivans started walking in. 
We could notice Ali Gürbüz, İsmail Balaban, and Orhan Okulu saluting the public, many cameras on the field and an equal number of microphones. It felt like a dusty beginning of a big storm.
Still, we were missing the vibe of the previous year, so we decided to change gates. Seat numbers did not matter anyway. That is how we got closer to the wrestlers, again amidst Antalyan supporters, and a more joyful atmosphere.
We didn’t know that the next match – between Ali Gürbüz and Recep Kara – would turn out to be the most controversial event of the entire festival: as a matter of fact, its final seconds. And the many-many minutes during which all of us – including the wrestlers – waited for the decision of the referees. 
‘Ali, Ali’ was heard in our tribune as Gürbüz rushed off the field waiving victoriously. Boos were heard from the next tribune. And bottles of water started coming our way and were thrown back, as people started climbing the separation fences. Marcel whispered: ‘Petra, go, just go’.
Edirne’s downtown was soaked in the incredible light of the sunset, but I had translated Tweets on my mind and echoes of a video that I had watched over and over again, yet I couldn’t make up my mind. Recep Kara said he wouldn’t take part in Kırkpınar any longer. More spectacular than last year’s show, and better than the World Cup. Still, there was something missing and the 656th Kırkpınar felt so much closer to my heart.     
The second day, there was laziness in the air. More cars in the already-packed parking, more people flocking to see the wrestlers who had qualified to these final matches. Our strategy was the same: receive our bracelet by entering our designated gate, linger around a bit, and then head over to our favourite spots.
Contrary to the previous year’s happenings, a very stiff lady claimed the seat I was occupying. It felt needless to explain that my original seat had been taken for ages and that I didn’t mind. Instead, I just left, in a mix of wonder and fury.
Worse news was in store when looking at the başpehlivans aligned before the fight. Ali Gürbüz was to take on İsmail Balaban, in another match that would equal a final.
The heat, more pounding than on Saturday, kept making victims from other wrestler categories, as the two continued fighting in my favourite match of the festival – and the most spectacular one in my eyes. In the end, following a move by Balaban that got spectators stand, he got defeated by Gürbüz. He left the arena in the same mix of boos and adulation, which got me wondering ‘Can a hero/absolute favourite of the audience fall just like that?’…
I needed to cool off. Luckily, in spite of the hustle and bustle of Sarayiçi Island, the cult of popping sunflower seeds and the almost-primary gestures in grabbing freebies provided by sponsors, like cherries, which I watched without understanding, I found the gooey Turkish ice cream that I love and some buttery gözleme, while Marcel craved meat and got some from the stalls around. We shopped: dried fruit, pestil cevizli sucuk reminding me of Georgian Churchkhela, mulberry juice – something I had never tried, but got hooked on ever since.
It was time to go back inside. Ali Gürbüz was looking like a deity. After his last two matches, it seemed like he could defeat anybody. Şaban Yılmaz was his opponent this time. But bad luck was actually his nemesis… when he slipped.
We still hadn’t figured things out, despite watching a sport based on simple rules. It got complicated, especially when the audience started screaming ‘Ali, Ali’ yet again.
We all waited, but we knew the actual results. So we left. And so did many. Not speaking Turkish, I don’t know why. It may just be that their favourite lost, the World Cup final was on, or a family dinner break was required.
As one audience member taught us, we watched the final match on DMAX, and were happy for Orhan Okulu, because both Marcel and I admire him as a wrestler. But otherwise, I was overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and disappointment.
I had an after-retaste of this; I could be the issue, but – on the other hand –, so can other aspects. A break is on the horizon for next year and even if the intensity will not be the same, there will always be the chance to watch Kırkpınar online.            

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