Scribbles from the Aegean

Ephesus: InscriptionFrom my travel journal:

May 26, 2009: We left Istanbul at noon. Navigating Istanbul traffic from Sultanhamet to the Yenikapi ferry port wasn’t too hard. Getting the ferry ticket and embarking was a cinch. The ferry to Yalova took about an hour. Amanda and I listened to the music on her iPod as the wine-dark waters of the Marmara skimmed beneath us. We disembarked, gassed up and sped off into the Bithynian hills. We stopped for lunch along Ulubat Golu, a pretty lake just west of Bursa. Watched a young family play futbol along the shores and shared an Iskender kebab. Lots of tea, as always! We stopped at a pastanesi–sweet shop–about 3/5ths of the way to Izmir. Honey and pistachios. How can one go wrong?

We drove up into a set of low, lumbering gray rocks and olive mountains. We made the pass and there before us shimmering silvery and blue lay the crescent harbor of Izmir. The windows were down, the breeze strong, smelling of olives and the sun was warm. A retelling of Romeo and Juliet by the Decembrists trilled on the radio. I navigated the streets of Izmir and got us on the road to Selçuk. I don’t know how. But I did. “Follow the signs,” I kept saying aloud. Outside Izmir the hills grew stepper and more arid. It was all very Greek. A sharper contrast to the smooth pastels of Bithynia and Lydia. Orange groves and apricot orchards proliferated. Olive trees were all encompassing. Farmers doddered home in horse-drawn carts piled high with peasant women and produce.

We drove through Selçuk, a lazy village in a narrow valley. I sniffed a hint of salt spray in the air mingling with the oranges. We arrived on the beach at Pamucak just before sunset, falling below a low bank of hills across the Aegean, but not before burning out in a pyrotechnic display seldom equalled, all oranges, fiery crimson, raging pink and then the soft amber hues of early night.

May 27, 2009: Did nothing but sit under a warm Aegean sun today. Listened to Jame McMurtry: “I looked out the window and saw too much.” I can relate. But I see what I see and live to see it. Nothing else really matters anymore. Three Kangal shepherd dogs amble along the beach, barking up a ruckus, white splotches against a sapphire sea. Another sunset: coral blue waters, old sun dripping into the sea. Two in a row.

May 28, 2009: Woke up at 800am. Showered. Journaled til 930am. Had breakfast then drove to Ephesus. What a site! It was big. Quite possibly the largest classical site I’ve ever seen. It was really huge, sprawling. The only one bigger that I can think of is Persepolis, but that’s not Greek or Roman–it’s Achaemenid Persian. Athens? Nope, not even close. And I haven’t been to Pompeii so I can’t say. Although I have seen Roman ruins now from Hardian’s Wall in England to Ephesus. Good thing I can still read and decipher Latin inscriptions. Who knew that would come in handy?

After Ephesus we drove to Şirince, a former Greek village de- and then repopulated after the settlement of the Greco-Turkish War in 1923-3.

The Turks have taken good care of the agricultural land they got in exchange for Thessalonica. All rocky hills, olive groves. Apricot trees. Plums. Vegetable gardens snug against white washed houses two-stepping up the mountains. I hate to use this word, the bane of all writers, but the village was ‘quaint.’

Amanda twirled the blackberry wine in the afternoon sun, furrowing her brow, head under a baseball cap. Olive trees ran up the steep hills. Someone snapped seabeans softly behind her. She narrowed her almond eyes pondering some archeological concept and blurted, “abandonment!” Pointing at a dilapidated house behind and below me. I twisted around and nodded. But she’d already moved on.

“Reuse,” she said. Her dimpled cheeks smiling. I looked at the tiles and nodded.

“So, what did you see at Ephesus?” I asked, rising to the bait.

“It was abandoned quickly,” she said. “But I know so little of the Old World, you know? I’m a New World archeologist. What do the books tell you?”

“There was a serious crisis here in the 7th and 8th centuries,” I said.

“First, came the last Persian War. The Persians devastated Asia minor. Disrupting imperial trade networks. Looted and destroyed cities. Clive Foss, a late-classical historian wrote about it in an interesting ‘scholarly paper,’” I said, fingering scare quotes in the air.

Foss wrote: “When information again become available (after the Persian invasion) all had changed. The cities had for the most part disappeared. And the country was dotted with castles and small towns.”

I continued talking: “Anatolian cities went from open to walled within a 50 year period. Mostly during the reign of Heraclius the Great. But that was only the first crisis. Heraclius did defeat the Persians. And had his defensive planning not been so great the Byzantine Empire, like the Persians, might have fallen during the second crisis.”

“Which was,” Amanda asked?

“The Arabs. Heraclius was a broken man by the time they stormed out of the desert wastes of Arabia. The Byzantines lost Syria, Palestine and worst of all, as far as the Constaninopolitans were concerned, the bread basked of the empire: Egypt. It was only Heraclius’ defenses in depth which saved the empire. And of course, the Theodosian Walls. Oh, and several earthquakes happened in the same time frame. Ephesus was devastated in one. Antioch and Beirut in another.”

Caught the sunset again. Brilliant. Three in a row. Can I have ten, please?

May 29, 2008: Yesterday we sat on the beach for a few hours (I think I have the best tan of my life right now) and then shot off to Priene.

“Two reasons,” I said, “why I like Priene better than Ephesus.”

“The mountain?” she asked.

“Make it three,” I said. “The mountain, one. The fact that it hasn’t been restored, two. And three, that it is empty. No tourists. I have the place to myself. I can let my imagination reconstruct the city, or just appreciate the transience of human endeavor.” (Gawd, do I really talk like that? LOL)

“It has been restored,” she said. “Or at least, a little and it has been surveyed. The lines are clear, at least to my archeological eyes. See the red numbers painted on the debris?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “You can read rocks like I read a text, can’t you?”

She smirked.

“But for me,” she continued, “the view, the site is excellent. Very beautiful. A much prettier location than Ephesus.”

We walked along in silence. A keening wind blew through the pine trees, birds chirruped and the Meander River below us, meandered on to the wine-dark sea.

One Response to “Scribbles from the Aegean”

  1. One Year Ago Today « The Agonist

    [...]    Friday Cat Blogging » One Year Ago Today By Sean Paul Kelley, on May 28th, 2010 Aegean sunsets, wine and archeology. I do believe this was the best tan I ever had in my [...]

Leave a Reply