I am traveling by gulet between Kas and Kos.
A gulet is a type of wooden boat, either two or three masted, found in this part of Southern Turkey. If you look on your Rand McNally Golden Map of The World--if you look very carefully-- you might see a boat floating off the coast of Southwest Turkey bound for Ephesus. I am on that boat.
Yesterday I added the East Mediterranean Sea to my list of swimming holes—Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Indian. Now, off the coast of either Kas or Kos, I found my latest swimming locale.
The water is dark blue but it turns turquoise the closer you get to shore. The impact of the salt water on the skin brines you immediately; the skin tingles on impact. I lay on my back and float as easily as lying on the sofa at home. Tiny fish swimming past in huge quantities; they tickle your toes as you tread water. They are so thin as to be transparent. You reach to touch them and the shimmering school parts like a curtain.
Above us are the mountains of gods. We are learning about them as we walk on the land that once was their home. Especially the goddess Artemis who resided here in mythological time.
Earlier today, within these Tauris Mountains we drove past the birthplace of Saint Nicholas who changed costume and nationality to become Santa Claus. Is this true? Every country claims Santa Claus as their own. Within the land of Turkey, the longer you are here, breathing its air and bathing in its water, you can believe that inside Turkey reside the origins of everything.
The gulet has a flat top roof, suitable for sleeping out in the stars at night. That is exactly what I intend to do; to lie under the dark starry sky after a few Rakus—with a taste similar to pastis, a sharp intake of anise- and drift along with the world.
There is a chef on board this gulet a large gregarious man, who is a genius. Even now the aroma of roasting peppers reaches me on my perch on the roof of the gullet. Dinner is simple but fresh and fragrant. Tomato, beet, pomegranate and especially melon, all remarkable. The fish, as they say, jumps out of the Sea and lands on your plate. The honey this morning arrived accompanied by a swarm of hungry yellow wasps.
I am given a couple of hours to walk around Kas. Or is it Kos?
It would be great to come back to one of these marina towns and live for awhile anonymously among the British retirees. There are the typical shops for tourists arriving in chartered gulets; they are bursting with color and commerce. I walk past them looking for someone who peddles musical instruments. Some perverse creature in me believes I am going to buy an oud or a ney, without the slightest idea about how to play one. Instead, I find something better—a shop selling used Turkish CDs….when I see several CDs marked Alte Mikrofon with various dates ( 1965, 1966 and so forth) I can’t believe my good luck. I have in my possession what turns out to be a collection of Turkish garage bands from the Fifties and Sixties! The song “Lorde Lorde" by Solvetier, for instance, Turkish surfer music or the song "Kasik Havasi" by the same artist, resembles the theme from Rawhide, the iconic Western TV show- snapping bullwhips and all.
From here we will be going to Ephesus and within a few days, finally Istanbul.
I am the youngest person on this tour; the other travelers are retired, teachers, businesspeople, etc. One gentleman is the son of an iconic American photographer. Other than this, not another single artist in the group. At dusk, every night, we gather around to discuss the trip, our selves, and with some consternation, the riots that are breaking out in the center of Istanbul.
Visiting Rumi’s home village in the town of Konya, we passed a trail of Syrian refugees, creating a camp, an impromptu village formed out of found objects and backpacks, sheets and goats. I don’t think I have ever been this close to history as it is forming before my eyes before. In Turkey, history from the past is uniquely intertwined with the future. Within a few weeks, the trickle of refugees will become a stream and then a flood.
The town of Kayakoy is eerie and beautiful, abandoned houses dot the mountainside in great numbers, a testament to many sad earthquakes and horrible evacuations.The stone buildings are shells now, vacant churches, silent marketplaces, ghosts of history.
Earlier on this journey, another amazing time warp. We spent a day and a half in Cappadocia, which is an UNESCO World Heritage site and unlike anything else in the world— acres of wild hallucinogenic mountain formations, turret-topped landscapes that stretch for miles. The towers of Cappadocia, with their volcanic lava textures have been speaking to humankind for centuries. Some resemble softie freeze ice cream cones, others are crumbling boxes, or a checkerboard with pieces missing, decayed, vanished. Caves that were carved out centuries ago are still miraculously in use, the proud homes to local inhabitants. Herodotus writes about Kapadokia, claiming that the name, or a version of it, was given to the region by the Persians. The inhabitants were thought to have been Hittite. Cappadocia, as an entity, figures in the career of Alexander The Great and is mentioned in the New Testament and the Talmud. More recently, Pasolini used it as the sinister and otherworldly backdrop to his film based on the Medea by Euripides, featuring Maria Callas. It’s a moonscape, both magnificent and strangely fragile as the shell of an egg.
I have never been in a hot-air balloon before, but it seems inevitable that the ancient terrain will provide me with my first balloonactic experience. We are awake at 5:00 AM and hustled off in darkness to an open field, littered with massively deflated balloons that are being pumped with hot air by massive and deafening flamethrowers; beached multi-colored whales slowly inflating as the sun rises. The men who put the apparatus together ( and it is all men!) are concentrated and efficient. They are awake well before 5 am and they are finished with the whole enterprise around 9 AM and suddenly driving off to a second job. On site, they briskly go about their tasks and get the tourists into the baskets and up in the air before we have a chance to change our minds. Suddenly we are loosened from the earth’s grasp.
Once aloft, my fear and trepidation subsides and is replaced by the jawdropping realization of how enormous and far reaching this landscape is and how far it reaches into the past.
I turned a significant decade while in Turkey and in fact, I spent part of my birthday in an ancient Roman theater, located in Aspendos. It was gigantic and it’s true what they say about the acoustics in these ancient places. I kept my Shakespearean elocution to myself, thank God. The size of the place was too intimidating. On stage, above the action, is where the gods and goddesses would be, watching, hovering, and I assume commenting on what they were beholding—the characters acting out their fatalist plots with predetermined outcomes; their tragedies bending toward inevitability. An actor could beseech, weep and wail and plead directly to them, in the time honored tradition. The presense of the gods was palpable. The performance was in their honor.
Recommendation: Invest some effort and try to locate the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. He is one of the most prominent of the modern Turkish film directors and his films win accolades and awards throughout the world. His style bears the influence of Bergman and Tarkovsky; in other words, they are filmed at a leisurely pace, let’s say meditative, but it allows him to delve deeply into his characters, revealing the troubling or melancholic undercurrents within. His use of the diverse Turkish landscape is brilliant. In one of my favorites Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkish detectives comb the unaccommodating landscape, looking for the body of a mysteriously murdered man, with only the company of one lone untrustworthy suspect to guide them. In Winter Sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan pays homage to Chekhov, exploring the contradictions of each of his characters. It is this film that Ceylan shot in Capadocia, adding to the weirdness and surrealism of the narrative. As a glimpse into modern Turkey, his films are indispensable. In his films, modern day Turkey and its denizens always appear to carry the heavy burden of its past on their shoulders.