October 6th, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA/ — The Third Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival had a strong start today despite recent rain slowing down last minute preparations. The festival is scheduled to run through Sunday Oct. 9 at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
“The rain affected our construction schedule,” said Ibrahim Barlas, President of the Pacifica Institute, the Los Angeles-based organization that sponsored the event. “But our team worked around the clock the final two days to get everything ready and we are very relieved we made it.”
The team included 30 construction workers from Turkey and 400 volunteers and employees from California and elsewhere. They spent the last ten days putting up the many exhibits and sets representing the various civilizations that settled in Anatolia going back thousands of years.
The festival is spread over 500,000 square meters of land at the historic Orange County Fairgrounds, situated 60 kilometers south of Los Angeles. The exhibits include interactive replicas of important landmarks like the Topkapi Palace, the Maidenʼs Tower and the Sehzadebasi Mosque in Istanbul, the Aspendos ruins in Antalya, Rumiʼs Museum in Konya and the Akhdamar Church in Van.
For the next four days the festival will inform and entertain visitors with a series of concerts and performances ranging from dances by a 35-member folk group to the pop singer Ferhat Atli. New this year is a lecture series by prominent journalists and academics who will look at a range of topics from Turkish-Israeli relations to Turkish Pastas. “There are a lot more attractions and additions to the festival this year,” said Mr. Barlas, “The lectures will add an intellectual dimension.”
Local media organizations like the OC Register and ABC7 News were there to cover the first day. There were also journalists from around the world on hand, including a group of 50 Turkish media representatives.
Among the first to walk through the impressive Gates of Civilizations pathway were students from Kindergarden to 12th grade from schools in California. More than 4700 students have registered to attend the festival and take advantage of the organizersʼ offer of free or discounted field trips.
“The food is really good,” said Vincenzo Bailey, a tenth grader at the School. “I also learned how people lived back then.” “I like walking around and seeing all the different cultures,” added Billy Koutsovasilis, also a tenth-grader at the school. The boys and their classmates ate a lunch of manti, doner sandwiches and the famous Maras sticky ice-cream.
The traditional ice-cream stand was again one of the main attractions with Erol Kozoglu, the crafty ice-cream maker entertaining the crowds with his skills at manipulating the stretchy confection. He estimated he sold more than 200 portions during the first day. Other hotspots among the 120 food and craft stands include the makers of manti or Turkish dumplings who are ready to dish out some 450 kilograms of the homemade mantis until Sunday.
The gozleme ladies, Sidika On and Hatice Muslu were also at their stand, ready to make hundreds of the savory pastries by rolling out paper thin sheets of dough. They predicted they might break their own record by rolling out an average of 250 gozlemes per day.
Also working hard were the many performers who traveled to the event from Turkey. Returning for his third year is the singer Yusuf Sahik from the city of Van, who is accompanied by a team of veteran folk dancers from the region. Sahik was confident that their lively turkus will get festival-goers of all ages on their feet and dancing throughout the festival.
The Van group also features four-year-old Semo, the cat with the distinctive blue and green eyes. Semo did not seem to mind the attention from visitors but one of his minders, Metin Barlik, an assistant professor at the University of Van said that this rare breed likes to stay at home and eat fish.
“This kind of festival brings us closer to another culture and we have a chance to see their customs and their history,” said Cece Sloane of Orange County, who came to the festival to find out more about Turkey. “Learning about peopleʼs history first hand is very important.”
According to weather reports, the festival will enjoy four days of Californiaʼs trademark sunny skies.