24 July 2001 Kusadasi and Ephesus

Between the late night and the vast dinner, we slept in by necessity, waking only to pick up the prints from the resume shots. These did rather well at making me look something resembling professorial.

Kusadasi (which Billy Vader insisted on calling "Kiss-a-tushy") is an old port town in Turkey, gateway to several extremely religious sites. Our tour took us to several of these.

The most powerful was the smallest. According to scripture, after the crucifixion, John the Evangelist rushed Jesus' mother Mary out of Jerusalem to safety near Ephesus. Her humble home still stands as a shrine, high on a hill protected from, well, everyone. It's a simple dwelling, with a kitchen and common room. One passes through, shepherded by sisters of a local order and bade to cover shoulders and knees out of respect with shawls they provide. Though the house is small and very crowded it is unspeakably powerful, carrying a presence unlike anywhere else I've been. Jen felt her Grandmother Caroline's presence, a devout Catholic and the recently departed matriarch of the family.

We saw the ancient basilica of St. John, now a foundation and a few walls, the temple having been destroyed by earthquake. The temple had been built in the shape of the cross, much like the cathedrals we visited in England. The bones of St. John himself had rested there until the Crusades, when they were hauled off. It was an interesting experience to visit a country that found itself on the wrong end of King Richard's conquests. After Mary's home, Jen could not help but find the basilica's ruins to be "not religious enough." Our experience of Turkish vendors began here. One such weathered codger sidled up, holding his palm close to his chest. His eyes dart sideways and he breathes, awestruck: "Old coin?" "Um, nope." Sighing: "Oh my God, no old coin."

Above all, we landed in Kusadasi to visit the ancient city of Ephesus (as in 'St. Paul's

Mary's house; you can see most all of it from here.

The Library of Celsus, hold the lions.

letter to the Ephesians'). Ephesus is an archeological wonder, much like Pompeii, with several key differences. The scope of the city is vast, though no where near the scale of Pompeii, but it's more vertical. Several façades, such as the impressive Library of Celsus, have been erected to show off their original height. (Oh, to visit the library when it was stocked with scrolls!)

Ephesus spent much of its career busily dying; the current excavation comes from the fourth city to stand on the site. Several factors contributed to the city's recurrent demise. The nearby river mouth, which brought myriad sailors in to peruse the expansive brothel, kept blocking up. This caused everyone to contract malaria, which was not the tropical disease the sailors were after. The port location, however, encouraged rebuilding. Occasionally, someone like Alexander the Great would stop by to burn everything down again.

The current configuration is the city where Saint Paul lived for several years, however, and it really delivers the impact of the scale of classical culture. I heard a frame drum being struck, low and steady nearby. It came from a great amphitheater, which still stands well preserved. I loved the opportunity to walk among the bleachers, and sing from the ancient stage. Everything you've heard about the Greeks' perspicacious understanding of acoustics is utterly true. Dozens of centuries later, in Renaissance Italy, the Camerata invented opera because they didn't trust these acoustics. They assumed the Greeks must have had to sing their dramas in order to project their voice to such an enormous outdoor crowd. I can assure you that ancient Greeks actors could have done so with speech: cut deep into the hillside, the amphitheater carries sound better than the indoor recital hall at the Kennedy Center. In fact, Elton John had performed for some 20,000 people in the amphitheater only the previous week. Scary, huh? Throngs of visitors scrambled over every ruin in sight. A tip: visit Ephesus soon; with this kind of wear, it won't last long.

Like Pompeii, it was not just slightly hot that day. Unlike Pompeii, however, the circus was not kept outside the dig. Even behind the façade of the library stood a man selling his paintings. Vendors with identical trinkets stood everywhere, blocking exit points. A typical exchange went something like this:

"Hello! Excuse me! Yes? Flute! Two for three dollars."
"No, thanks…"
"Okay, three for five dollars!"
"Jesus Christ, man, what the hell would I want with three flutes?!"


Even stepping off of the bus, Jen literally had to dodge a man attempting to polish her sneakers. Needless to say, we weren't still suffering from that shopping bug contracted in Venice when we reached the portside bazaar. This, like the perfumery in Eze, was another 'value added' stop for the tour: a demonstration of the legendary Turkish carpet making. Jen and I made a solemn pact that we would not, absolutely not, actually buy a carpet in Turkey. In the "Bazaar 54," the atmosphere was decidedly more nonchalant than at Ephesus. They served apple tea and harder drinks, and showed why a handmade rug is superior to, say, the $100 job you see at your neighborhood Home Depot. Handmades aren't as stiff, nor do they fall apart when you pull on the threads. They are made by individual knots on different kinds of looms: wool, cotton or silk. You can tell which is which by looking at the thickness of the fringe. Thick wool allows for less knots; finer cotton or finer still, silk, offers a higher DPI. Silk on silk rugs are the most expensive because they have a ridiculous number of knots in a square inch, allowing for very fine resolution and more intricate patterns. They showed us rug after rug, including cotton loomed "Tree of Life" patterns, fiery red with kaleidoscopic birds in the branches. Our will power, our determination not to spend a thousand bucks won out. We haggled. It looks great in the living room.

A turn through the "Oriental Bazaar" was another experience. Some stores sport "Princess Recommended" stickers, assuring that they won't try to gouge you quite so much as their neighbors, or at least will be awfully polite about it.

The Library of Celsus, hold the lions.

The matriarch of one such store shoved her daughter toward the door to assist me the moment I crossed the threshold. Jen decided that this would be a good warm-up for the legendary chaos of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, though she was awfully cute and we did spend rather too much. "OK, my turn now! You look at leather jacket?" "No, thanks!" "Awww, why not?!"

Back on board, we spent a lovely, long evening with Stuart and Cheryl. Jen's flight attendant in from JFK had given her a bottle of champagne (no, I did not ask), and we brought it with us to the Greek-themed dinner, then recessed to the bar for real drinks. The evening's cabaret, "Words and Music" was a nice blend of American show tunes by Porter, Styne, Rodgers, Bernstein (though picking Schoenberg of "Les Miz" over Irving Berlin or Sondheim will prevent it from securing the Time-Life award for definitiveness.) We realized at that point that these folks could easily remain friends, and Stuart kindly gave me a business card.

A few casual strokes with a washcloth before bed swiftly gave me dependable notice that I had incinerated my neck in the heat of the day, as Jen had done her shoulder.

Aloe. Bed.

Next: The word that you heard. It's got groove; it's got meaning.

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