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December 12, 2012, Wednesday

A-wassailing we will go

It’s the year 1312 and King Edward II is sitting on the throne of England. It’s not a particularly happy time for the country, with the weak king unable to stand up to Robert the Bruce, the charismatic northern leader who is steadily recovering parts of Scotland conquered by Edward’s much stronger father.

But Christmas is coming and the halls are decked with boughs of holly. It’s time for the wassailing to begin.

Dazed? Confused? No idea what any of this has to do with Cappadocia? Well, you have my sympathy, because 10 days ago I wouldn’t have been able to see a connection either. But that was before a message dropped into my Twitter feed. “You are invited to a Madrigal Feast,” it teased.

Hmm, a Madrigal Feast? This was not a concept with which I was familiar. Was it perhaps some strange American festivity, like Thanksgiving, Labor Day or Columbus Day, about which I had remained ignorant until moving to Turkey and meeting lots of Americans. Would I be expected to dress up? Worse still, would I be expected to sing, given that the one thing I did know was that madrigals were an ancient form of song?

Our curiosity piqued, a friend and I duly made our way to Avanos on a chilly Cappadocia evening. There, in the waiting room, our questions were answered by men and women dressed in colorful medieval garb. It turns out that in Avanos there is a small group of Americans who are home-schooling their children. Included in the syllabus is a unit about medieval England. As the culmination of their studies the children and their parents had put together an “Olde Medieval Feast” which would offer us all the opportunity to participate in some rambunctious “medieval” entertainment featuring English vocabulary so obscure that it even had us Brits scratching our heads.

I was thrilled to find that I’d metamorphosed for the evening into the rather wonderful Lady Pat whose ascent down the steps into the dining hall would be announced by a herald. There I experienced an unexpected flashback to an office Christmas party in the years when I worked in London as a travel agent. Here in Cappadocia we tend to steer clear of the Turkish Nights that are a staple of touristic itineraries, but in the UK, locals frequent organized Medieval Banquets to eat, drink and be merry (with the emphasis, sadly, on the drinking) just as much as visitors. Now, here I was in Cappadocia and the rock-cut chamber into which I was being led reminded me exactly of the darkened room in which that party had taken place.

It was a fleeting thing, that flashback, before I was swept up in the sheer pleasure of an evening of fun and games orchestrated by a King of Cappadocia in a dodgy crown and his lovely wife who would have given Anne Boleyn a run for her money in the beauty stakes. We drank (non-alcoholic). We sang (Christmas carols). We tucked into chicken, cheese, salami, and a “boar’s head” that turned out to be cake. We tried and failed to solve riddles tossed at us by the youngsters and were reduced to tears of laughter over the antics of the jesters. It was the most fun I’d had since -- well, maybe that Medieval Banquet back in London, actually.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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