Sunday, May 28, 2006

you are my family

I had not planned to write tonight, but everyone has gone to sleep -- except for Scott who has gone to the all night graduation party -- and I'm not yet sleepy. Two days in the house with family has left enough stuff swirling around in my head to keep my from sleeping for awhile. I figured, therefore, I might as well get some of it out here and maybe I could catch a couple of hours of sleep before dawn.

The picture is of my two nephews, Ben (on the left) and Scott (who graduated today). They are great guys. For years we have sent each other CDs for any occasion that requires a gift. They have added some great stuff to my collection and I to theirs. As Ginger and I thought about what to give Scott for graduation, we knew we were going to give him cash, but a CD seemed in order. We gave him one of our treasures: Pierce Pettis' classic album, Chase the Buffalo, which is no longer in print. We have two copies. We had to share.

One of the songs that has spoken again and again to me over the years is "Family." The chorus says:

let your love cover me
like a pair of angel wings
you are my family
you are my family

Family is a very mixed bag for me. Coming to a place where we are all gathered together is coming to hold on to what roots I have and coming into the arena to face the lions at the same time. When Pierce sings, "You are my family," he sounds full of love and hope. For years, I heard that sentence -- when it came from my parents -- as one of obligation more than anything. Figuring out how to feel like I belonged in my family has been one of the biggest challenges of my journey. I've come a long way and there's still work to do. And that's my stuff. Coming together this time was so we could celebrate Scott. Whatever baggage I brought with me, this trip was about him, not me or anyone else. And we have celebrated him well.

He is a great guy, an amazing musician, a thoughtful human being, and an intentional Christian. I'm proud of who he is and expectant of who he will become. In the short time we all had together, I wanted him to feel loved and celebrated and I wanted what I did and said to lessen the possibility that family will be less of a conflicted entity that it is for me. I'm not really sure I can give him that, but it seems worth a try.

Even though we live a long way apart, I'm counting on Pierce to make my point every time Scott plays the CD. For thirteen years Pierce has reminded me what family is about; now I'm passing on the legacy and hoping I can do a good job of making Scott know he is loved and he belongs.


Friday, May 26, 2006

a quick note

This past week had more life than time in it.

I just wanted to stop for a minute to say I'm alive and planning to get back to writing after Memorial Day. There is much to say. This weekend I'm in Memphis for my nephew's graduation. More later.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

bits and pieces

One of the random connections on our recent trip to Turkey had to do with C. S. Lewis.

Ever since I first read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe I've wondered what Turkish Delight was like. I wonder no more. Every shop in Istanbul's Spice Bazaar offered free samples. I not only had my fill, but also found out there are as many varieties of the stuff (called lokum in Turkish) as there are booths in the Spice Bazaar.

I knew I was going to make that connection.

We were in a pottery workshop and one of the plates had the logo of one of the Turkish football teams (soccer for American readers) and a lion was part of the logo. The word under the lion said, "Aslan." Aslan is the Turkish word for lion.

Based on a few minutes with Google, I'm certainly not the first to make the connection, or to wonder if Lewis had some sort of fascination with Turkey, but I had never heard anyone make the connection before our trip. Lewis never visited Turkey as far as I can tell. I wonder how he found the word.


Two Turkish words in particular will stay with me.

The first is dondurma: ice cream. I wanted my vocabulary to be as useful as possible. This was the first word I learned and it served me well. Turkish ice cream is worth the trip all by itself.

The second word is çay (pronouned "chy"), which means tea. This one was easy because the word is pronounced the same in Swahili, though spelled differently (chai) and means the same thing. Of course, thanks to Starbucks and other savvy beverage marketers, "Chai" in America is an expensive concoction of I'm not sure what, though I think tea is involved at some level. In Turkey, çay is black tea served with sugar in a small hourglass-shaped glass and is offered anytime you are around someone for more than two or three minutes. It's awesome.


Before we left on our trip, I took a disposable camera that had been in my Jeep for several months to CVS to get developed. (Actually, I took it there about a month before we left; we had no idea what pictures might come back. I picked them up today. All of the images were from late last summer and last fall. One of them is the main reason I wanted to write tonight. I just wanted you too see this picture. Whenever I pick up Gracie, our youngest Schnauzer, I wrap my arms around her and let her legs dangle. She then begins to kiss my face with complete abandon, totally trusting that I won't let go. And I never do.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

live in the layers

I was back on familiar roads yesterday, rain-soaked as they are, listening to All Things Considered as I drove to the grocery store and tried to figure out how to integrate where I have been the past three weeks and where I live. I had just pulled into a parking place when Meillsa Block said Stanley Kunitz died. He was one hundred years old. I paused to listen to what words they had to say about this wonderful poet.

Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts and lived, in his later years, splitting time between New York and Provincetown. He was twice the Poet Laureate of the United States. I got to see and hear him at the Dodge Poetry Festival several years ago. He was a man of both strong and gentle spirit who grew in hope as he aged, rather than in bitterness or cynicism. When he wrote about poetry he said,

“The poem comes in the form of a blessing—‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”
At the end of the NPR piece, they played a tape of him reading a portion of his poem, “The Layers,” which I had forgotten, but will not do so again.
The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
“Live in the layers, not on the litter.” He could have written only that one sentence and called himself a poet.

One afternoon on our trip, Ginger and I were having coffee (or tea) and trying to being to take at least some of what we had seen and heard. Though I had never been in either Greece or Turkey before, I had a strange sense of familiarity, even a sense of belonging that resonated with my youth growing up in Africa. I loved the variety around me, the layers of culture and history, the possibility of discovery, the feeling of connectedness with the world beyond America.

When I was in high school or college, I never imagined I would live my whole adult life in the United States. Now, just a few months away from turning fifty, I’m faced with having done exactly that. Life rolled out differently than I thought. I am an American who speaks only English, lives in a predominantly white suburb and works in a very white church. I struggle with feeling comfortable as an American. I want to be a citizen of the world first. But that is only one layer of life. One of the most meaningful books I have read over the past couple of years is Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity, in which he makes a wonderful case of what he calls the “emerging paradigm” in the North American church, which he sees as growing and living alongside of the “earlier paradigm” or more traditional expression of faith, which is where I grew up. I am fed now by the more progressive side of faith and the inclusive expression of the love of Christ that struggles to find a foothold once you move outside of Western Christianity. All of that to say, as hard as it is for me to be an American, I am an American Christian.

“Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections, and my tribe is scattered!”

Part of my sense of discomfort I packed before we left for the Mediterranean. These are days when I can feel the plates shifting beneath me. I have had a sense for awhile that change was on the wind; I have not yet been able to discern what that change is, or what life will look like in the days to come. I find great hope in a man literally twice my age who could still read these words with hope and conviction:
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
If faith means anything, it means we have the courage to navigate the changes and to look for ways to grow. It means we are open to being changed, to being made new. The most touted of Paul’s conversions happened on the road to Damascus, but his letters are filled with the important and incremental growth that comes from learning to live in the context of relationships, of learning how to live both as a family member and a world citizen.

At the end of Act 1 in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, Rebecca and George are talking:
“I never told you about the letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick,” Rebecca said. “He wrote a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.”

“What’s funny about that?” George asked.

“But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God – that’s what was on the envelope.”

“What do you know!!” George said.

“And the postman delivered it just the same.”
My address is as specific as a street name and as expansive as the night sky. The layers of life stack up like a sumptuous feast, calling us to both nourish ourselves and share the bounty. Today, I’m called once more to remember to live in the layers.

I’m not done with my changes.


PS -- Speaking of layers, here's the first of many recipes from our journey.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

I thank my God when I remember you

Thursday afternoon we flew from Paros to Athens, which was the beginning of our trip back home. It was also the first time on our trip to arrive at an airport with no one to meet us. Irene had given us instructions on how to take the Athens Metro from the airport to our hotel, so we rolled our luggage to the train and took a very pleasant trip across the city to spend one more night at the Hotel Titania. For the second time in just a few days, we were returning to a place we had already been. And we had something to look forward to when we got there.

Mary, a member of the church in Marshfield and a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, specifically bid for a trip to Athens so she would be in the city on the same night we were. When we got to the hotel there was a message of where and when to meet her, so we dropped our luggage in the room and walked in the cool of the evening to her hotel, and then with her to a lovely little sidewalk restaurant she frequents when she is in Athens. Being with someone we knew in a city we had just begun to know was a wonderful segue in helping us make the turn toward home. We all ate well and sat and talked until rather late. We left Mary at her hotel and began the walk back to ours.

After about fifteen minutes of what was to be a thirty minute walk, Ginger and I realized we were not on the same street we had walked on the way to meet Mary. By now it was after ten – early by Athens standards – but we began to try and get our bearings. We saw the original Olympic Stadium on our left, beautifully lighted, and began to remember being there with Beti and the group and how we got back to our hotel from there. We were also fortunate that Athens does a better job with signage than Boston. Our trip back to the hotel took a bit longer, but we were no worse for the wear. We crashed quickly because we knew the wake up call would come early, which it did. We spent yesterday on planes and in airports until we were safely back in Boston and then in the car with our friend Eloise on our way back to Marshfield and our Schnauzers.

In Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Thessalonica, he begins by saying, in one way or another, “I thank my God when I remember you,” and then goes on to affirm their faith, their joy, and their commitment to Christ and to one another. He was writing to people he had visited and was reflecting on his time with them, or planning to see them again. Over the past three weeks, Ginger and I have stood where those churches were, where those people lived, and walked and talked with the people who live there now, even as we have thought of those who are in our churches here in New England. Paul’s words resonate, in both cases:

“We thank our God when we remember you, for you have filled our lives with joy.”

There are some specific thank yous to articulate:

  • to Jena, Marc, Max, and Mimi for doing without their laptop for these past three weeks, so I could blog everyday;
  • to Eloise, and Jay, for taking care of Lola and Gracie;
  • to the folks at North Community Church for their love and support;
  • to the folks at First Congregational Church Hanover UCC for letting me take my vacation early;
  • to Robert, at the Red Lion Inn, for letting me have three weeks off;
  • to the Lilly Endowment for giving Ginger the sabbatical grant;
  • to all the people we met along the way who made this such a meaningful experience for us both.

We do thank our God when we remember all of you.

Though this is the last official post from our trip, it will not be the last time I write about these past three weeks. I am indelibly marked by what I have seen and heard, and by what has happened to me. I also have a bunch of recipes to share.

When we got home yesterday, I went to the grocery store to get the things we needed for this morning, and realized I had not been in a store that big in almost a month. I wasn’t quite ready for all the options. I imagine Ginger and I will be checking the weather in Athens and Istanbul for many weeks to come. There’s so much to say and I cannot find the words that adequately bring our journey to a close, perhaps because I wish it were not over; perhaps because, at least in some sense, it’s not.

I wonder if Paul had the same sense as he closed one of his letters to the Corinthians:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”



Thursday, May 11, 2006

how to define a day

We had one full day in Paros. Today we are on our way to Athens; on Friday we will find our way back to Boston. Though our island adventures are not what one might call extensive, Ginger and I do have a pattern. She is a beach or pool person; I am not. I like to explore and to come back and report on my findings. We noticed even last night a plethora of scooters and small motorcycles on the island, so I decided that would be my means of exploration for the day. We slept late, had some breakfast, I got Ginger settled in poolside, and then I rented a 100 cc Peugot scooter and set out to see the island.

My morning sojourn was to the village of Lefkes, which is tucked in the hills at the center of the island. After the Romans occupied the island and then left it in ruins, those who tried to reinhabit it could not establish a coastal town because of pirate attacks, so they took to the hills and built Lefkes, which served as the island’s capital for a time and was much more defensible. Now it is a painfully quaint littfe farming village, surrounded by olive and citrus groves, as well as vegetable farms. It supplies the island with fresh produce. I followed the little road up the hill and then down into the valley where I parked and strolled down the narrow stone alleys, peeking into shops and reading the menus of the various tavernas. I wasn’t hungry yet and Ginger was waiting for me to come back for lunch, so I retraced my steps back to Naoussa. On the way I did see a wonderful little bakery that provided me sustenance for the remainder of my journey – all two kilometers of it – in the form of bakalava.

Ginger and I ate lunch in the rooftop café of our hotel (at 2:30) and then she went back to the pool and I headed south for the second leg of my adventure. I followed the road, first, to Monstriaki Beach, which is on a small piece of land that juts out from Naoussa. Then I came back to the main road and went to Parikia, the capital of the island, because I wanted to see the Church of Ekatonapiliani, or the Church of a Hundred Doors, parts of which date back to the third century. The stone work was magnificent and the chandelier breathtaking. I also took time to stop in a harbor side café for a Greek coffee.

From there I continued south to Petaloudes, or the Valley of the Butterflies, which our literature said was something not to be missed. It also said we were hitting it right in season. The road there was as much of a mountain hike as the road to Lefkes, except smaller and less traveled. As I got to the top of the hill I had to go over to get to the valley, I came upon a large and beautiful church in the middle of the fields, the Church of Anathasios. It was locked, but a small prayer chapel was open, so I went in and stayed for a moment. I also took time to take some pictures from the top of the hill. I continued on my quest, only to get to the gate at Petaloudes and find a sign which said, “End of Season. No more butterflies.” I have a t-shirt at home that says, “The journey is the destination.” Though I would have loved to have seen butterflies, somehow it didn’t really matter.

I found my way back over hill and dale, back to the main road, and headed for the hotel. On the outskirts of Parikia, closest to Naoussa, the road climbs and makes some hairpin turns. I slowed down as I came to them and saw a truck and a tour bus coming the other way. I moved as far out as I could and the truck pulled into his lane. No problem. The tour bus, however, swung out to make the turn and left me no road. The edge of the tarmac was ragged and fell about four inches onto a dirt road, which is where my scooter and I went, failing to stay together or to stay vertical. We both bounced a few feet and ended up on our sides in the dirt as the bus went on its way.

When I got up, I could see my pants and shirt were dirty. I could also see my elbow looked like a peeled blood orange. I have a world class scrape. The bike had a broken mirror and some scrapes of its own (I had purchased the additional insurance by the way), but it would start and it could run. I made my way the last four or five kilometers back to the rental place, which was across the street from our hotel. They were worried about the bike, and – to their credit – they seemed more worried about me. I walked back to the hotel and the staff here helped me clean my wounds. Ginger was great, as always, and while Vangelis and Nikolas applied the peroxide, she got me a glass of red wine from the bar. As the evening wore on, I became more and more sore. As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, “Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.” I don’t bounce well.

Today was quite a day. I wondered over beautiful countryside, past farms and vineyards, down streets and alleyways. I gazed across the azure blue Aegean to see the volcanic peaks of the islands that surround us. I even got a pretty good tan. And I got run off the road and hurt myself.

At 10:30, Ginger and I walked down to eat dinner along the harbor, as we did last night. As we walked, we talked about how to define the day: by the great things or one crisis. We went to a place recommended by Kelly, one of the people who runs our hotel, and I had dorat, a local fish, which the restaurant owner told me had been caught that morning by the boat next to our table. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at Trata, where we ate last night, goodbye to Jim, our server and an American Greek who moved here from Seattle to help his cousin with the restaurant. We back to our room under a moon that has grown almost full during our trip; by the time we get home it will look much the same in the Marshfield sky as it did when we left.

Though I’m scarred and sore, we had a great day. My memories will be marked by more than my wounds.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

you say it's your birthday

Yesterday was Ginger’s birthday.

On a normal birthday, the phone would ring throughout the day with friends far and near calling to wish her well, presents to open, and, of course a cake. Each year, we also try to do something we have never done before. One year, we decided – halfheartedly – we would get tattoos of the “Christian fish” on our ankles. When Ginger told the guy she was not a fan of needles he said, “You don’t like needles and you don’t like pain. Don’t get a tattoo.” Our goal was still reached, however: neither of us had ever been in a tattoo parlor before.

This year, we were traveling, which was not new, but we were in three airports on three different land masses (which was) and our goal was to end up on Paros, a Greek island in the Cyclades, so we would have a day or two to do nothing but relax before beginning the long ride home. Onal met us early at the Tashkonak and we retraced our steps to the Istanbul airport. In the true spirit of Turkish hospitality, he stayed with us through the long check in line, and walked us all the way to immigration, when he could finally go no further. We flew to Athens and found our way to the gate for our flight to Paros – and learned then it was delayed. We were supposed to leave at 1:30 (or 13:30, as they say here); the notice said there were “mechanical difficulties” and they would give us more information at 14:15, which turned into 15:00. At 15:30 they cancelled the flight.

In the meantime, we had been on the phone with Irene, the travel agent in Athens who helped us make the arrangements, and we had also gotten to know some of our fellow would-be travelers. Two of them were mothers, each with one young child and one infant. One lived on Paros, but was from Israel. She had had her baby three weeks ago and her husband had yet to see their new son. She was a woman on a mission. When the cancelled notice went up, she almost cancelled the gate agent. The rest of us gathered round to learn what we could and then we all moved upstairs to the ticket office where they told us to go.

The second mother was less vocal, but no less effective. While we all stayed downstairs, she went up. When we got upstairs, she was moving somewhere else. When I asked what she had learned, she told me we were in the wrong place, so we followed her to yet another check in line. To make a not-so-short story a little less long, we all crashed the ticket line where we had been sent and pushed our crisis to the front of a line of people who had crises of their own so we could get boarding passes on the last flight of the day to Paros at 17:45 (5:45). Along the way I called Irene and learned one other significant detail: Olympic employees were planning a one day strike for Wednesday.

“Whatever you have to do,” she said, “ make them put you on that plane.”

Once we got our boarding passes, we had more time to wait, so we ate some lunch (we had forgotten about lunch) and then went in search of a little smackerel of something sweet. We found lots of sweet things; the problem was finding something small. In one of the chocolate shops there was a basket of individually wrapped sweets. Ginger asked which one was all chocolate and then asked how much it was.

“This is Greece;” said the woman at the cash register, “just take it.”

We made our way to the new gate, which meant going through the metal detectors yet again, to find our new flight was delayed until six o’clock. At about the time we were to begin boarding, the sign over the gate changed – without announcement – to say a flight for Thessaloniki was boarding there. Our Prophet With Child rose up once more and we all made our way to yet another gate, and another metal detector, and crashed yet another line. We finally got to our plane and landed in Paros six hours after we had planned.

The island airport is one big room, basically, and our odd little band gathered like extended family to see the new father hold his son for the first time. He sat down on the bench next to the luggage table and the rest of us laughed and cheered. One by one, people took their bags and made their ways to the vehicles that would take them to their homes and hotels. Our bus was the last to come, so we were the last ones left in the room, along with Michael, our contact person. Just then, a British woman who had been on our flight came back into the room as though she had lost something. She touched Ginger on the arm and said, “Happy Birithday!”

The island is absolutely beautiful. Our driver took us to Naoussa and the Kanale's Hotel where we are staying. Irene booked a room for us with a balcony overlooking the little harbor. We checked in and then found our way into the village for a birthday dinner. When we got back to the room – about 23:30 – we found a fruit basket, a bottle of wine, a birthday card, and a cake from the hotel staff. We took the cake and went up to the rooftop restaurant to get some coffee to go with it.

It was a day unlike any that had come before.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

the things we carry

We spent out last day in Cappadocia on another tour. All the participants were people we had been with the day before: Charlene and Nancy, from San Diego, who began a three month trip watching the solar eclipse in Libya and, after moving across Turkey, were headed to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan; and Yuko, a Japanese teacher who had stopped in Cappadocia for a few days after being at a conference in Europe. The new addition to our group was Nezrin, our guide, who was full of both energy and information.

We started our day at the Goereme Outdoor Museum, which preserves one of Christianity’s oldest seminaries. The caves and rock formations are filled with churches, classrooms, and living quarters. There are even stone dining tables carved out of the rock in some of the rooms. Basil, Gregory of Nyziansus, and Cyril were three of the biggies in those days; these were the hills where they trained those who would lead the church in the early years. The location alone created a sacred sense, the grandeur of the landscape pointing to the power of our Creator. The shelter of these caves that have been inhabited by humans for millennia made me think of an old hymn in new ways: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. “

As we walked between the caves, and climbed up into a few of them, I imagined the students – disciples, you might say – walking and talking on the very same paths, turning over the ideas they were hearing in their minds, and dreaming of where God would call them beyond the beautiful hills that surrounded them. From those early days, the churches in these caves were used for centuries; the remaining frescoes date back to the eleventh century. The images on the walls were the same I have studied and am learning to write in icon class. What an amazing thing that the story of our faith has come down, heart to heart, from those caves until now. I wonder if those folks ever imagined such a thing.

We stopped at a couple of places as we moved around the area, looking at the panoramic views and having tea. We then spent some time in a jewelry workshop and made our way to lunch. When we have been with larger groups, our guides have generally used meals to get some time to themselves. Since we were only six, including the guide, Nezrin joined us, which gave us a chance to know her a little better. Like almost all of our guides in both countries, her parents were teachers. All of them have liked to learn and have not wanted to be confined to a classroom, or an office job. Being a tour guide offers them a chance to do all the things they love best.

After lunch, we toured a winery – OK, all we did was taste a bunch of wines – and then we drove to another valley of “fairy chimneys,” this one known as Animal Valley because, as Nezrin said, “If you have imagination, you can see animals; if you don’t have imagination, you can just walk around. It’s up to you.” The six of us spent twenty or thirty minutes describing the menagerie we saw around us, which included everything from a sleeping puppy to a camel to a turtle and even a Snoopy head.

Our last stops were in two old Greek villages, Mustafapasa and the other whose name I can't find right now. Though the Greeks left with the population exchange in 1924, these villages have kept their own unique charm. They were very quiet compared to some of the other towns in the area that depend so heavily on tourism. We walked around and looked at some of the architecture, some of the ruins, and, of course, had some tea.

In the second village, we saw something we had not seen this whole trip: the ruins of a mosque. All through Turkey we have seen churches that are museums or archeological sites, but this was the first mosque that was no longer in use. Nezrin said the reason was the town had been abandoned after an earthquake and then rebuilt farther down the hill, at the government’s instructions. There were some frescoes of tulips and carnations (no human images are allowed in Islam), and some other decorations. We could still see the pulpit and the place where the priest offered prayers. Of all the ruins, I have found the empty houses of worship the most haunting. Although there is some sadness, I suppose, in the fact that what was once a vibrant worshipping community no longer exists, I have felt more of a sense of reverence and connectedness. Like the giant stone structures that tell the story of all creation, these stones were formed as the expression of one group gathered together for a time. When Seref was summarizing Turkish history at the beginning of our tour on Monday, he said, “In 1922, the Turkish Republic was founded; we do not know who will be next.” We won’t always be here; chances are the stones will outlive us.

When the tour was over, we came back to the pension in time to catch our ride to the Kayseri airport and say goodbye to Cappodocia. Our trip is making its final turn toward home. We drove to Kayseri and then flew to Istanbul for one more night at the Tashkonak; this morning we flew to Athens. Though we were only flying in and flying out, I loved that we were coming back to somewhere we had already been. As we drove from the airport to the hotel, we recognized things; we could almost say we knew where we were going. The night staff recognized us, as we did them, and we knew our way around the hotel. I even got to pick up the shirts I left hanging in the closet when we left for Izmir and Selcuk.

Our world has been expanded by the things we have seen. More profoundly, our lives have been expanded by the people we have come to know. Cam and Rachel are working in Selcuk to raise enough money to travel; Adam and Joel are somewhere in Georgia (and I don’t mean Atlanta); Charlene and Nancy are trekking into eastern Turkey; Aysha, Seref, and Nezrin are walking ground they know well and making it sound like new to their charges; Mehmet is telling someone else how the dinner is made; Benden is making his new customers comfortable; Julia is working hard in her shop and worrying about her father. Our hearts are as stuffed as our suitcases.


Monday, May 08, 2006

thanks for today

Yesterday was a full day.

At 4:45 in the morning, Benden, the same man who let us in last night knocked on our door to tell us it was time to get up: we had a balloon to catch. By 5:15 we were in the minibus on the way to the office of Kappadokya Balloons; by six we were in the field watching our Coca-Cola balloon inflate. Jan, our Swedish balloon pilot took us up, over, and around the marvelous rock formations that make up the Cappadocian countryside. We were not the only balloon in the air. Sunrise is rush hour, as far as hot air balloons in Cappadocia are concerned; there were at least eight other balloons floating around us. We had sixteen people in our basket: Ginger and me, a Korean couple on their honeymoon, and twelve Americans on a tour with the Art Institute of Chicago. We had a great time together, flying as high as nearly two thousand feet off the ground and then low enough to almost touch some of the rock formations as we dipped down into the valleys.

After the flight, they brought us back to the hotel for breakfast. We thought we had the morning to rest and then a tour in the afternoon. We were wrong. Our tour began at 9:15, which was about ten minutes after we finished breakfast. We climbed back on the minibus, which took us -- this time -- to meet Seref (SHER eff) and the rest of our group at a panoramic viewing spot just outside of Goerme (Guh ER me), the next town over. By ten o’clock, we were climbing down the stairs of the Derinkuyu underground city, which goes eight levels and about seventy-five yards down into the earth. It was a claustrophobic’s dream – and a challenge for those of us who are a bit larger than your average Cappadocian might have been.

Cappadocia sits in central Turkey, or Asia Minor, and was the place you invaded while on your way to invade the place you were really after, regardless of which direction you were going. From the Hittites on down, this has been a place where the folks needed somewhere to hide when the invading hordes arrived. Their answer was to dig holes into the limestone and hide underground. As the population grew, they dug deeper and deeper. We went down seven levels to find a church that had been dug out in the fourteenth century. It was no amateur job; they had figured out a natural ventilation system that still works. We climbed down and then we climbed back out.

Our next stop was the Ihlara Valley, where Seref told us we were going hike the valley floor for about three and a half kilometers and we “would find it was quite flat.” Flat, that is once we got to the bottom. The valley was once inhabited by small groups of people – mostly Greek – until the population exchange in 1924. They lived in the caves, they farmed the valley, and they dug churches. We saw one where some of the frescoes still exist. The walk through the valley was peaceful and gorgeous. The vegetation was lush, the small river was flowing joyfully, and the folks along the trail all seemed to be quite happy. We were too, and quite motivated: lunch awaited us at the end of the hike. We ate outside in a small café in Belisirma beside the water – until the rain started, then we moved inside.

After lunch we drove a bit more to a small village that still uses the caves for their farming and even their houses. We had time to climb around and take some pictures. I became fascinated with the doors in the rocks. Then we stopped at a Caravanserai, which was one of the places traders stopped in the days when the Silk Road was the major trade route.

From there we went to Pasabagi where we could see the “fairy chimneys” up close. The geological history of Cappadocia is clearly spelled out in the rock formations. Part of the story is the layer of basalt settled on top of the limestone in the Way Back There Era. When water flooded the area in the Era After That, the limestone gave way where the basalt did not, leaving these mushroom-looking formations that have been nicknamed the “fairy chimneys.” They are spectacular. Over time they have been used for houses, storage, and even contain some churches. There are a couple of them that have stairs inside for those who feel like climbing.

Our final stop was a pottery workshop. Avanos, the town where we are staying, is filled with pottery makers because of the red clay they can draw out of the Red River that runs through town (the longest river in Turkey) and the white clay they get from the limestone of Cappadocia. We saw artisans making the pots and painting them as well. They even offered an opportunity for one of us to learn a new craft. Here is a shot of a burgeoning artist at work.

We got back to the hotel about seven, which gave us time to clean up a bit before dinner here at the Kirkit Pension. The other guests in our hotel all speak French, so we talked to the hotel folks mostly and enjoyed the live musicians playing traditional Turkish music on a drum and a saz, which is a Turkish instrument that looks like a cross between a long necked mandolin and a pregnant banjo. I loved the Turkish melodies, which follow a different scale than our songs, and I loved thinking that we were listening to the Turkish equivalent of “This Land is Your Land” or “Blowing in the Wind.” The meal was, of course, amazing: yogurt, cucumber, and dill soup (cold); squash and beef croquettes; salad; fresh tomatoes; and apples and oranges for dessert. We finished the evening with some Turkish tea and watched several liquored-up French people dance to the music and enjoy themselves.

More than once during the day, I said to Ginger (or she to me), “I can’t believe we are getting to do this.” We live on an amazing planet and we have gotten to experience a bit of one of its most amazing places. What else is there to say but, “Thank you” – to everyone who has had a hand in making this trip possible.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

you're always welcome here

Yesterday was a travel day. We had to get from Selcuk to Avanos, in Cappadocia, which meant we had to drive an hour to the airport in Izmir, catch a plane to Istanbul (because all planes go to Istanbul before they go anywhere else), catch another plane to Kayseri, and then drive an hour to Avanos.

But first it was open market day in Selcuk and we didn’t have to leave until a little after noon. I walked down to the center of town and decided, as I was walking and looking down at my dusty shoes, to avail myself of the services of one of the shoe shine men along the street. He had a stool and a case full of polishes; what I had to do was stand, Captain Morgan style, with one foot up on the footrest, alternating them at his request, as he polished and shined away. He had just begun when he asked if I would like some tea. I said yes and he called across the street to his friend who ran the café and, next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of the street, Captain Morgan style, getting my shoes shined and drinking tea. I walked away with both my shoes and my spirit brightly polished.

As I was walkıng, I saw Julia standıng ın front of her shop. She spoke to me and asked how we were doing. I told her we were leavıng ın a few hours. She saıd again how much she had enjoyed meeting us; I told her we would pass her name along to anyone we knew coming to Selcuk. She asked, as she had the day before, that we pray for her father who is recoverıng from a stroke. I said we would. Then she said, "Whenever you return, you are always welcome to stay in my home."

The market place sprung up overnight where there had been open streets and parking lots the day before. Pieces of cloth and canvas had been strung to create a roof of sorts and each street had become a different department in the town that was now a giant store. One street was shirts and pants, another socks and shoes, another kitchen ware, and another toys and unnecessary plastic objects. At the hub of it all were the fresh fruits and vegetables: row after row of booths with fresh oranges, tomatoes, herbs, and (the thing I most wish I could bring home) fresh grape leaves. Scattered in between them were spice vendors, candy and dried fruit stands, and cheese merchants. I also found a couple of guys selling some kick butt pastry items and had the best cheese and filo pie you can get for fifty cents anywhere in the world, I’m sure.

I got back to the Kalehan Hotel in time for us to grab a bite of lunch and check out. Mehmet, whose name I have finally learned how to both spell and say (he’s named after a sultan) made a special effort to get to work early to say goodbye to us. We loaded our bags, which get heavier at every stop, into the van and drove to Ismir. Turkish Airlines packed every seat and we got to Istanbul to find out our plane to Kayseri was delayed. Ginger and I sat in the airport and watched people until it was finally time to board on what was also a completely packed plane. In the crush to get on board, we ended up in the middle of a group of elderly Turkish people returning home, as best I could tell. They were not frequent flyers. The man standing next to me was perturbed and began to voice his displeasure to me – in Turkish – because he thought I would understand. All I knew to do was try to match his facial expression with mine and nod a lot. The younger man behind me finally engaged him in conversation and the old man turned away from me. I hope he knows I was pulling for him.

We landed at Kayseri to find yet another person standing with a sign with our name on it. We rode with a few other folks, Americans and Dutch (who lived in Germany), through the dark night across landscape we could not see to somewhere most of us had never been. We pulled up in front of a sign for the Kirkit Pension (owned by the family who also owns our travel company) and the driver unloaded our bags. We walked up the small stone alleyway, as a light rain fell, to meet a very nice man standing in the doorway to the courtyard.

"Brasher?" he said in a Turkish accent with a hint of French.

We nodded and he showed us up some stairs to our room, which is in a cave. We put the bags down and he said, "Dinner?" We nodded again and he motioned for us to follow. It was 10:30. We went down some stairs this time and into another cave which was wonderfully decorated. He seated us at a long table and went into the kitchen. First he brought out an amazing soup and then a plate with spaghetti in a wonderful tomato sauce, a small green salad, and a squash that looked kin to a zucchini cooked and stuffed with rice, beef, and tomatoes. That course was followed by a desert of kadifi (shredded filo) that had been sweetened somehow and coffee. During dinner I tried to dust off my high school French to communicate a little with our late night host; we managed a bit of a conversation.

Then came the third of his one word questions: "Balloon?"

That meant our late evening was going to be followed by a very early morning, since we are going to take a hot air balloon ride over the Cappadocian landscape tomorrow. He wrote down the time we had to be ready; I stumbled with my French until I could figure out how to ask for a wake up call. We thanked him and went to bed.

We are now in our third stop in Turkey and the depth of the hospitality seems unfathomable. We have a growing collection of photographs and suitcases stuffed with gifts and mementos, but even better are the names, faces, and encounters we are carrying from place to place. I have no idea where we are or, for that matter, much idea how we got here. What I do know is we are welcome.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

out for a walk

When Ginger wrote her grant application for her sabbatical, walking was the primary metaphor. She talked about how important walking had been in her life and how she wanted to walk in the steps of Paul through Greece and Turkey. She wrote as well as she walks and the Lilly Endowment let us take this trip. One of the choices we made as we planned was to schedule a free day every so often to give us time to rest, to reflect, and to walk. Yesterday was such a day.

I got up early and, while Ginger was getting ready, walked a few blocks into the center of town to take pictures of the storks nesting on top of the aqueduct. (The rundown building in this picture is built between two of the aqueduct's pillars.) On my way back, I stepped into a shop called Moon Light and met Julia, the only female shop owner in Selcuk. She greeted me and said,
"I have good prices and I don't have any cousins who sell carpets." We both laughed and continued our conversation. I bought a small copper pot used to make Turkish coffee and she told me I had brought her luck because I was her first customer and had bought something quickly. Then she asked a question:

“Is your wife feminist lady?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then she will like article written about me by American feminist magazine.” She was quite proud of her accomplishments, as well she should have been.

I knew I had to bring Ginger back to the shop, so I went back to the hotel and got her. Before we went to the shop we walked up the hill behind our hotel to the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, a church built over the grave of John, the apostle. Below the church we could see the rooftops of the village; above the church, the walls of the ancient acropolis. Even in ruins, we could see the lines of what must have been a majestic structure. The stones we saw were actually the second church built on the site, both of which were destroyed by earthquakes. Just in front of what once was the altar, there was a large marble slab with four columns and a small lettered cube marking it as John’s tomb. The location has been marked since the second century. We were the only two people at the site for a good bit of time. It was deeply moving.

When we got back to town, Julia showed us all kinds of wonderful stuff, served us tea, and enjoyed asking Ginger questions about being a woman and a minister. From there we walked the three blocks to the local bus station to take a minibus ride to Sirince (Sheer EEN jay), a small mountain village we heatd about from some folks at dinner last night. The village was historically Greek, but was vacated in 1924 when the Turkish Greeks were repatriated to Greece and the Turks in Greece were sent back to Turkey. The Greek Turks then inhabited the village and continued the traditions of producing olive oil and wine. They make wine from grapes and fruit (more on that later).

On the bus we struck up a conversation with Sedet, who owns the Zeus Pension and Restaurant in Sirince. He gave us a card and invited us to stop by. The eight kilometer ride cut back and forth up the side of the mountain until we came to the quaint little village. Sedet got off at his place and we rode into the village center. It was lunch time, so we wandered down a couple of the narrow streets, looking in the little shops, until we came to a café that looked like a good place for a snack. Ginger said it would be a good idea to get something small so we could eat our way back to Sedet’s place.

Our server was a wonderful grey-haired man who, like everyone else we have met in Turkey, was incredibly hospitable. Ginger ordered the chicken shish kebap she has had at most every meal and our server suggested I come over and look at the mezes (appetizers) and make my own choices. So much for getting something small. I chose sautéed eggplant, peppers and tomatoes; a chili relish I’m still trying to figure out how to describe; cheese-stuffed mushrooms; and a small cheese pie, which was a filo triangle filled with a mild cheese, fresh dill, and scallions. I thought I was going to get one of everything. I got enough to feed us both well. And then, I found out, I had also ordered a mixed grill, which came with kofte (Turkish meatballs) and lamb cooked three ways. Needless to say, we didn’t do a whole lot more snacking.

We walked back through the small bazaar and then turned up one of the tiny residential lanes and wandered around the village until we came out, of all places, at Sedet’s place. He was sitting at a table reading the paper and drinking tea. He gave us a table with an incredible view of both the village and the valley below and sat down with us. We had a wonderful time talking and I had a wonderful time sampling his Turkish coffee and homemade baklava with dondurma, which is Turkish for ice cream (and the one Turkish word indelibly placed in my memory). From our table, we moved to a small counter where we sampled some of the various wines from the village: strawberry, blackberry, mulberry, melon, sour cherry, and red grape. They were small samples – really. The guy who served the wine was convinced I was Turkish.

“Go home and ask your family,” he said. “Perhaps they’ve forgotten to tell you.”

We rode back down the mountain and took a short nap before we went for a walk in earnest. We started down the main road, which we have come to know well, and then turned on the road that leads to Ephesus, which is about three kilometers away. We found a wonderful tree-lined walkway that was filled with all sorts of folks walking and riding bicycles. The sun was hanging low in the sky and the air was nice and cool. It was a perfect spring evening. On our right were rows and rows of olive trees; on the left were the ruins of the ancient city scattered on the hillside. The rich agricultural land on which we were walking would have been the harbor into which Paul or John or Mary might have sailed. We turned around when we got to the gates of Ephesus and walked back to our hotel, ready for dinner.

Mehmet waited on us again tonight and he brought us the olive oil he promised – three kilos of it. It’s incredible. I told him people in the States were going to think I was crazy when I came back to Turkey in a couple of months just because I’d run out of olive oil. Once folks back home taste the oil, I’ll have no trouble putting my own group tour together. After dinner, and saying our grateful goodbyes to Mehmet, we came back to the room. Through our open window we could hear festive music coming from somewhere and a lot of crowd noise, so I went down to the desk to ask what was going on. The clerk told me it was a spring festival.

“Is it OK for us to walk down there?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “They would love for you to go.”

So we did. We walked with the masses about three blocks to a nearby park which was packed with several hundred people. At one end was a stage with big speakers blaring out music, some guys banging on big drums, and a host of girls wearing sparkling beaded outfits and doing Gypsy dances. At the other end of the park were several small bonfires. We walked over to the fires to find people, young and old, running and jumping through them. We found a small one and took our turn. Part of Ginger’s family heritage is Gypsy, so both the dances and the fire-jumping were things she had heard about from her grandmother. Our walk to the park was a walk into deep and meaningful memory as well.

We walked home under the moon, below the old city walls, and surrounded by the crowds and the beautiful sights, sounds, and smells of the abandon that flourishes within a celebrating community. We have walked today in the footsteps of our faith, in the heritage of our history, in the delight of discovery, all the time wading in the deep, deep river that is our common humanity. Faith, says Frederick Buechner, is a journey without maps. Ah, but with all these traveling companions, it’s not so hard to find our way.


Friday, May 05, 2006

bird pictures for amy

In the middle of Selcuk are the remains of a Roman aqueduct. Storks come to nest on top of them every April and May. We could hear -- and barely see -- the new baby storks (storklets?) today.

These pictures are for Amy, who likes pictures of birds from other places.


friendly faces

Yesterday was a day of familiar and friendly faces, even in a foreign land. Cam, Rachel, Adam, and Joel were all on our bus today, as were Keith and Sandra, an Australian couple staying in our hotel. We all signed up for the tour to Pamukkale and Hieropolis, just as we had gone to Ephesus together the day before, so we were looking forward to seeing one another. The biggest contingent of the rest of the people on our bus was made up of three generations of an Indian family with whom we had shared a boat ride on our tour along the Bosphorus in Istanbul a couple of days ago. We recognized each other as well. Here, in a country foreign to us all, we, who came from four different countries, traveled as companions. By the end of the trip, we knew we would all be headed in different directions. But we were together for the day.

Hieropolis and Pamukkale are a three hour drive from Selcuk, so we had plenty of time to talk, read, and sleep a little, too. We wound through the Anatolian countryside, through the heart of the agricultural area, past olive trees, citrus groves, and strawberry fields. Turkey is still a land of family farmers, rather than giant corporate farms. As we drove, Aysha (who was also with us yesterday) filled out heads with historical, geographical, and cultural information. We also stopped for tea along the way, of course.

Our first stop was the largest necropolis – “city of the dead” or cemetery – in Turkey. Only a small portion of it has been excavated; much of it has been broken and looted by shepherds in the area over the years. The graves stood as markers to more than the people who had been buried there. They were scattered across what is now a beautiful hillside, stones that have lasted far longer than the people who stacked them. Though there are some inscriptions in ancient Greek and Latin, most of the graves are anonymous monuments, pointing to little more than the fact that a dead person was laid to rest there. In the cracks of the stones, life is breaking through in the form of wild flowers and lush green grass. The cemetery next to our church in Marshfield tells the same story with newer graves that still bear the names. If life is a sentence, these stones are the final punctuation.

We moved on up the hill to Hieropolis where the stones were stacked a bit differently. The path up to the arena let us enter at the top of it, which gave us an incredible view of the valley below. Farther up the path stood two walls that were all that was left of a church built to honor Phillip, one of the disciples, who was said to have been martyred on that hill. From there we could see stacks of stones in various places all down the mountainside that have yet to tell their stories; only three percent of the site has been excavated.

Back down near where we got off the bus was a thermal pool, fed by the hot springs in the area, that the citizens of Hieropolis even used. Cleopatra was said to have swum in the pool; we didn’t because they wanted fifteen dollars for the privilege. Even though it was raining lightly – it rained all day, we walked farther down to the terraces for which Parmukkale is famous. We didn’t come all this way to miss the sights because we didn’t want to get wet. As the hot water cascaded down the hillside and evaporated over the years, it left calcium deposits that created terraces and pools. Most of them are dry because of earlier mismanagement by the Turkish tourism industry, but the ones that are left are incredible. It’s a landscape unlike any other I have seen.

Adam and Joel headed down the hill into the village to catch the bus to take them on the next leg of their journey before we got to tell them goodbye. I was sad about that. We dropped Cam and Rachel off in the town of Pamukkale where they are going to hang out for a few days – and got to wish them well -- and then we started back to Selcuk. In conversations around the terraces, we talked with the Indian family about our mutual connection to Kenya. Keith, Sandra, and I talked most of the way home about all sorts of things. We said goodbye to Aysha when we got to our hotel, went up to the room to change into some dry clothes, and then went back down for dinner.

I haven’t gotten to talk about food as much as I would like so far. (I’m afraid you’ll have to wait on recipes until I get home.) The food here at the Hotel Kalehan is worth talking about. So is our server, Mehmet. He has waited on us both nights and he has been great, especially because of his knowledge of what’s on the plate and how it has been prepared. He is a gentle and kind man who is thoughtful and unassuming and full of knowledge and conversation. He has also been willing to endure my questions about everything he has brought to our table. Last night the menu was vegetable soup, cheese rolls, beef with eggplant puree, and chocolate cake with ice cream (all for $16). With every course I made some sort of inquiry and he answered everything.

I need to back up a step. The first thing that has greeted us each night is fresh bread with a side of herbed olive oil. Aysha told us this is the olive oil producing region of Turkey, so we expected the oil to be good, but the stuff last night was amazing. We asked Mehmet and found out that he is an olive grower and presses the oil the hotel uses himself. (Needless to say, some of it is coming home with us.) He told us his family has grown olives for years, but he just bought an olive farm – 220 trees – and is now doing it himself. He went on to tell of the restaurant’s commitment to buy only fresh organic produce (you should taste the tomatoes) and make everything fresh everyday. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen here in Selcuk, but I’m going to tell you to come here mostly to have dinner.

When we got up from the table, Mehmet asked, “Are you here tomorrow night?”

Yes was our answer. We will be the last of our impromptu band to leave this little town for our next adventure. But we have one more night for one more great dinner, for a couple of hundred questions about Turkish food, and for one last encounter with a friendly face who has made our meals richer by being there.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

the view from here

I never thought I would start a blog entry by quoting the Jackon Five, but “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” Aysha, our guide for our tour of the ruins at Ephesus, or Efes to the Turks, was wonderful. So was our tour group. This time the whole group was English speaking, but just as diverse coming from Australia, England, Malaysia, and the US (us). We were a smaller group, too – only ten. Our trip today included Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis, and the site of the house where Mary, Jesus’ mother, lived out the last years of her life.

Diversity comes in many packages. Our tour group in Greece was all from North America, yet covered a wide theological spectrum. Our first group in Istanbul was twenty-two people from ten or eleven countries; we hardly shared language in common, which made it difficult to find out if we shared much else. Our group yesterday was all English speaking and incredibly diverse in age, outlook, and world view. Somehow we seemed to get along with each other best of all. The fun part is eight of us are on the same tour today, as is Aisha. We all seemed quite pleased to find that out.

I didn’t expect what we found when we got to Ephesus. Of all the sights we have visited, this was by far the largest and the one that fed our imaginations the most. We wandered through the ruins for over two hours as Aisha told us about the different incarnations of the city dating back for several centuries BCE. Most of the ruins that have been excavated are Greek and Roman. Several of the main streets have been restored. The site was crawling with visitors, so walking down the marble roads left me feeling as though I had a taste of what it might have been like when Paul walked the same streets, bumping shoulders with others traveling the same path.

The city was a cultural crossroads for as long as it existed, drawing visitors, merchants, and conquering armies from every direction. There were temples to various gods, both Greek and Roman, the biggest of which was the Temple of Artemis, the goddess of fertility, which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. During the two or three years that Paul lived and worked in the city, it was vibrantly pagan. In fact, the silver merchants who made most of their income because of the worship of Artemis, were the ones who ran him out of town as a fledgling church began to take hold. Some time later, he wrote back to the young congregation with words that are some of my favorite in his letters:

I pray that, according to God’s riches in glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit and Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (3:16-21)
I wonder what it felt to know the dimensions of the Temple of Artemis, with its multiple rows of columns, each one ninety feet tall, and then to read Paul’s prayer that they might have some sense of the unfathomable dimensions of Jesus’ love for them. However tall the buildings, however deep the wounds of persecution, however wide the Roman Empire, however long the wait for the pain of life to ease, Christ’s love exceeded those measurements. I can only imagine they read the letter over and over again.

As the first century turned into the second, and Christianity took a strong hold on the city despite everyone else’s efforts, John, the apostle, and Mary, Jesus’ mother, lived in Ephesus. Some of the materials we have suggest John might have written his gospel from here. He returned to the city after his exile from Patmos and died here. We are going to see his tomb in the next couple of days. We did go to the site where Mary’s house was to have been. It was a wonderfully peaceful place on the top of a hill overlooking the old city. There is now a small chapel built on the ruins of the foundation of what is believed to have been her home. We learned that Pope Paul visited the site in 1967 and declared it holy so that Catholic pilgrims come here every August 15. No one seemed to know why the Pope picked August 15. On the May 3, the area was sparsely populated, which gave us time to walk, reflect, and enjoy the beautiful serenity we found there.

The “us” I’m talking about was Ginger, me, and two guys from England, Adam and Joel. The others chose to go to the museum. The two guys left England several weeks ago with a plan to travel, some money in their pockets, and a promise to their girlfriends to be back by the end of the year. They have tromped through Europe, are headed from here around the Black Sea to Russia, and then across Mongolia to China. They have a skeleton itinerary as they are making things up as they go. They already have more stories than they will ever be able to tell. Another pair, Cam and Rachel, are from Australia and are doing much the same thing. Part of the way they are financing their trip is to get jobs when they start to run out of money. They don’t have anyone expecting them back anytime soon, so they have no idea how long they are going to be gone. They told us today they had gotten jobs at the hostel here in Selcuk and are going to hang around a couple of months.

I imagine Paul traveled with much the same kind of itinerary; he never planned to live in Ephesus for three years. He got here and there was stuff to do and he could make a living while he was here. Then he was off to the next place, so he could discover where he would go after that. The ruins and the stories of our temporary traveling companions made Paul more real. I can see where he walked. I can see what he wrote. I can see how he traveled. All together, it makes for quite a view.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

quarter moon in a ten cent town

We have had wonderful guides on this trip. Betty, who took us all over Greece, knew more about well, everything than most anyone I have encountered. She was a fount of knowledge. Alsi, who showed us around Istanbul our first day, made us glad we had come. Gulden showed us parts of the city we would not have otherwise encountered. We’ve had some great people show us some great things – until yesterday.

We signed up for a trip up the Bosphorus, along with a few other stops. Hadil was our guide. We still got to see some great things, but Hadil, for reasons known only to Hadil, phoned it in. He was not rude or bitter, just detached. He didn’t appear to have any particular attraction to us or the things he was taking us to see. And he took us to see some great things. Part of the disappointment for me was I’ve gotten quite used to feeling some connection to the folks who have showed us around. I like the human connection as much, or maybe more than the historical one. He never gave us a chance to make him part of our memory.

The Bosphorus is the body of water that divides Europe and Asia and connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. Istanbul sits on both sides. The name comes from Greek mythology. The story, as told by the Lonely Planet guide is worth quoting:

Bous is cow in ancient Greek, and poros is crossing place, so ‘Bosphorus’ is the place where the cow crossed. The cow was Io, a beautiful lady with whom Zeus, king of the gods, had an affair. When his wife Hera discovered his infidelity, Zeus tried to make up for it by turning his erstwhile lover into a cow. Hera, for good measure, provided a horsefly to sting Io on the rump and drive her across the strait. Proving that there was no true justice on Olympus, Zeus managed to get off scot-free.”
Now you have a story to tell at your next party – unless it’s at our house. As old as this city is, there was not a bridge across the Bosphorus until 1973. The population has, and continues to move back and forth using a fleet of ferries that go across the strait while 100,000 ships a year move up and down the waterway. We were on the water for a little over an hour and got a wonderful view of the city.

After lunch we went to the Dolmanbace Palace (pronounced Dol man BACH ay), which was built by Sultan Abdul Mecit to show that the Ottoman Empire was neither in decline nor broke. By the time he finished building the palace, the Empire was bankrupt from paying the construction costs and struggled to last through three more sultans before hanging the “Closed” sign on the palace gates. When Turkey became a republic in 1923, the new president, Kemal Ataturk, used it for official functions, as it is still used today. He died in the palace at 9:05 a.m. on November 10, 1938; the clocks were all stopped at that moment and have never been wound again.

After we left the palace, we crossed the bridge to Asia. For about a half an hour, we were on another continent – the same as everyone from Karachi to Calcutta to Canton. During our time in Asia, we had our picture taken and drank a cup of tea. Ah what a lovely continent!

An intercontinental visit was not the highlight of my day, however. The first thing we did was the best thing for me: we went to the Spice Bazaar, which is an L-shaped building about three or four hundred yards long filled with small shops selling spices, dried fruits, and even Turkish Delight (which is not as evil as C. S. Lewis would have you believe). I had fun moving from shop to shop, asking questions, tasting samples, and buying spices. Ginger had fun taking pictures of me while I was in Spice Heaven.

At the end of the day, Hadil dropped us off there again so we could get a bit of a walk in before we got back to our hotel. We moved across the section of the city with which we have become somewhat familiar, up small alleyways filled with shops, along large streets lined with shops, and found our way back to the Tashkonak to say goodbye because we had a flight to catch.

Just an hour in the air put us in Izmir, a much smaller city south of Istanbul. An hour’s drive landed us in Selcuk (SEL chuk), a much smaller town than Izmir and the modern town closest to what was once Ephesus, where we are going tomorrow. (Here’s a question: how can Turkish Airlines manage to serve a small meal with choice of sandwich or salad on a forty-five minute flight and our American airlines claim they can’t afford more than peanuts no matter how far you are flying?) The guy who picked us up at the airport in Izmir didn’t speak English, so we rode with him and his girlfriend on a mostly moonless night down highways we knew nothing about to a place we could barely pronounce. All we could see were the same stars we see standing on our back deck in Marshfield.

When we checked into the Kalehan Hotel, we asked if the restaurant was still open. They said we could get small things, or, if we wanted more, they would call the cook to come back because he lived nearby. It was ten o’clock. I couldn’t live with myself if I made a fellow cook come back to work in the middle of the night. Ginger and I ordered the cheese and fruit tray. While we were eating, a little kid who is just learning to walk managed to introduce us to her parents, an American man and a Japanese woman who live in Slovenia. They have been here several days and are going to Istanbul tomorrow. We swapped stories and recommendations. By the time we finished eating and took a walk out into the courtyard, the quarter moon had risen above the fortress walls on the hill above the hotel. It reminded me of one of my favorite Emmylou Harris songs:
Quarter moon in a ten-cent town
It’s time for me to lay my heartaches down . . .
That’s where we are tonight. I can’t believe what we ‘re getting to do. Today I straddled two continents; sailed on one of the most storied waterways in Western civilization; gathered spices in an ancient bazaar in one of the world's largest cities; and rode through the night to a place Paul came to start a church, the place Mary, Jesus’ mother is said to have lived out her days; and the place where John, the apostle, died. I never expected to be able to see any of these things. Grateful is not strong enough a word, but it will have to do.