Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ephesus, Turkey

March 11, 2010
Cool, overcast, rainy

Yesterday we took a tour of Bergama’s ancient Acropolis and the foundation of the Temple of Zeus. As soon as we entered the city limit, we stopped to pick up another one of the glorious guides. “My dear guests. My dear guests. I am so happy to be with you.” He greeted us. His pompous manner immediately turned me off of anything he tried to say, and the way in which we herded us like sheep drove me crazy. On the bus, off the bus, gather round, listen to him say everything three or four times, on the bus, off the bus, gather round, another bunch of useless and repetitive stories. “Am I boring you!” he asked more than once. It was an accusation, not a question. When we got up to the Acropolis, and he gathered us around him facing a wall while behind us there were huge columns and ruins and a gorgeous view of hills and the town of Bergama, I ran off by myself.
I took a small path off to the side and went outside the Acropolis’ walls, and clambered down a grassy hill. At that moment, all of the mosques in the area started playing the same Koran verse, calling Muslims to prayer. The four minarets’ out of sync prayer calls created an eerie chorus that echoed over the hills and valley, and as I stood outside of the abandoned acropolis I felt the haunting sensation of a society on a precipice. I think that’s why Denny has brought us to areas most affected by climate change, then brought us to Turkey and showed us fallen city after fallen city. I think he wants to show us what our greatness can become, but when our cities are destroyed there will be nobody left to tour our ruins.
On top of that hill, I found an old oyster shell in the dirt. It was unlike any oyster I’ve seen before – the calcium carbonate layers formed a shell about two centimeters thick. The moments we see are fleeting milliseconds of geologic time: before this site was an abandoned city it was a dried up ocean. We piled back into the bus to eat lunch, and then went to the world’s first psychiatric hospital. Again, I wandered away from our awful guide, and as I was standing on the edge of a gigantic field of daisies Denny came to get me. He asked if anything was wrong, and I said that there was so much I wanted to see that the guide never showed us. Denny told me that I had to rejoin the group even though the guide was annoying, and that the Turkish Ministry of Culture would not allow us to come near a historic site without a guide leading us.
As much as I love Turkey, there is a certain frustration that comes with such an oppressive government. Before I came here, I couldn’t understand why Europe doesn’t allow Turkey to join the EU, but I feel like this government has values that are more suitable for a developing fascist nation instead of the progressive values more characteristic of European countries. I know that some portion of this extremism is in response to a fifteen-year refusal of the EU to include Turkey, but to become increasingly fundamentalist is a poor way to make friends.
Anyways, we went to our hotel and I was again exhausted and collapsed into bed. This morning, we woke up fairly early and went to Ephesus, an extremely well reconstructed ruined city. We were unable to find an official guide, and so wonderful Aysen took on that role. We wandered through the streets, sat on the ancient toilets, and sang in the gigantic amphitheater which seated twenty-five thousand. I really enjoyed the tour, especially looking at all the Greek and Roman writing on stone tablets, some of which I recognized. The library was especially amazing: huge pillars and archways with statues of goddesses. What was so intriguing about this site is that I could really imagine the Ephesians wandering around the streets, sitting on the ancient toilets, and singing in the gigantic amphitheater. It was far more than a pile of columns and some buried walls; it looked like a real city.
Afterwards, we ate lunch in a glorified cafeteria and went to two sites: St. John’s Basilica, where we saw fifteen hundred year old frescoes of Jesus and Mary, as well as looked out over the very cute town and walked through more daisy fields, and the house of Mary, a small stone building located on the top of the surrounding hills. It was very cool to be in the place where Mary and St. John lived, and the juniper trees smelled so good and the running water from the spring made a very idyllic location for a pilgrimage.
We went back to the hotel after that, and I took a very long nap.
I thought that being in Turkey would be very interesting right after the announcement about the United States declaring the Armenian Genocide a genocide, and I thought that we would see the impact of the fairly major earthquake that occurred a few days after we arrived. Neither has been evident. I wanted to write about the political drama and the treatment of Americans after the announcement, but the Turkish people have been nothing but kind to us and there have been no political statements of any sort that I’ve seen. I wonder what it means – perhaps we’re just too isolated in our tourist bubble to see reality.
One more thing, on the topic of my curiosity about bathrooms around the world: in the non-squatter flushing toilets here, there are always mechanisms that regulate how much water is used. For example, if there are not two buttons (one for mild and one for serious business) then there is a mechanism to stop the flushing when it becomes unnecessary. While we have one of the double-button toilets in our house, I rarely see anything but the single option water guzzling flushing fountain. I think that has to change. I’m not exaggerating: every single toilet I have encountered here has had a mechanism like this. If humans are replaced by something like super-smart octopi several thousand years in the future, and they come to tour our ruins, they will wonder why we didn’t even make this simple change to save ourselves.

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