It's completely understandable if you confuse Carpetblog with ESPN, what with all this coverage of manly sports lately. Last week it was football. This week, Olive Oil wrestling!
For 647 years, the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival and tournament (Yağlı Güreş) has been held in a field next to a river in Kırkpınar, just outside of Edirne. Apparently, it is the oldest continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world. It has a long and interesting history. Read about it elsewhere.
Edirne is a hot provincial town near the Bulgarian border that once served as an Ottoman capital. It's about a two hour drive from Istanbul (but more like three and a half at 11 pm on a Sunday night). Astute readers will remember that the Chiplomat and Carpetblogger visited Edirne already, but the trip was overshadowed by the journey to Bulgaristan and didn't get much coverage.
Like most sporting events in Turkey, this one had plenty of nationalist chest beating, official bluster and flag waving (not that we had to even leave Istanbul for that sort of nonsense). Also like most Turkish group events, it was 100% devoid of intentional irony.
The main show consisted multiple wrestling tournaments between guys wearing pants made of water buffalo leather (called kispet) and drenched in olive oil. A tournament can be won in a smackdown if one wrestler sticks his entire arm in and out of his opponent's kispet. The overall winner of the four-day tournament is named the "baş pehlıvan" or big hero and gets a lot of cash and valuable prizes. (Dying to know more? Read this)
Before going any farther, we have to address the whispers that frequently accompany discussions of the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling festival. Turks will deny -- strenuously -- that, after watching large men drenched in olive oil, rolling around on the ground in a concerted effort to shove their hands down each others' leather pants, anyone could possibly perceive a wee bit of homoeroticism. In fact, I had heard there was local outcry a few years ago that the tradition-bound festival had taken a place on the international gay travel circuit.
The Carpetblog assessment: not bloody likely.
The Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival doesn't appear on the international gay travel circuit for the same reason the Enumclaw Fair, with its logger rodeo, doesn't: the optics aren't right. Like all events for which you drive up and park in a dusty field, this one had carnies, dirty gypsies and booths selling water purifiers and carpet stain removers. There was a rusty Soviet-style ferris wheel, guys in the local equivalent of John Deere caps and sweaty prepubescent kids amped up on sugar and hormones. Overall, it was a very, uh, provincial crowd. As far as we could tell, we were the only foreigners around and not one of us had ever been on the gay travel circuit. We were also among the .001% of the wrestling spectators who were female.
By virtue of having read one more website about olive oil wrestling than the rest of us, the Producer became the resident wrestling Usta (master). He explained the finer points of the sport, such as a pin is achieved when one dude's belly button is turned to the sky or he gets carried for five steps. The guys who carry the olive oil around are called "yağcılar" (lit: guys who carry olive oil). No one knew, however, if they use the regular kind of olive oil you can get at the Carrefour or if it's special extra virgin press that mixes particularly well with sweat and grass. The green cans carried around by the yağcılar suggest it's the former.
In one of the worst disinformation campaigns in recent memory, we had been told that SESAME SEEDS were thrown at the losing wrestler. It turns out that this is absolutely not the case. It's a good thing we realized this before we unloaded our bags on a burly, greasy and highly aggrieved wrestler.
Speaking of losers, the tournament included matches between little kids and between teenagers. The slimy little eels moved faster than the big dudes, so the matches were a lot more interesting to watch. However, we were quite surprised when the losing kids flopped on the grass and bawled their heads off. Sack up little Turks, or else the yabancıs will pelt you with sesame seeds!