EXPloring Turkey: Study Abroad Course Dec. 2008
Today we visited Pergamon and the hospital in Asclepion. I take particular interest in Asclepion and Byzantine medicine as the city was created as a type of medical spa. At the time, Asclepion would not have been considered a spa, but by our medical standards today, it was really nothing more.
Originally, Byzantine medicine was the influence of Greek and Roman medical advances, however advances in their own time went on to influence that of the Islamic medical sciences. Medical science in the time Byzantium was improved in status, due to the fact that all doctors (both men and women) were educated and trained at the University of Constantinople. Byzantine medicine was also well known for its production of medical textbooks containing thorough compilations of illnesses and their treatments. One of these books was "The Medical Compendium of Methods," written by Paul of Aegina in the late 7th century BC. The book's strong influence lead to its survival in the medical world for over 800 years.
The first hospital (in Asclepion) was created by Basil in the late 4th century and was later developed by Hadrian. A center named after Asclepios, god of health and healing. As the story is told, Asclepion was born to Apollo and Coronis--a birth that would take the life of his mother (Apollo). In an effort to save his unborn child, Coronis performs a C-section, thus giving his child the name Asclepios (in Latin, meaning "to cut open"). In a mystical connection to his beginnings, Asclepios grew up to find talent in the field of medical science and became the most renowned doctor of his time. However, his "talents" were not seen as such by Zeus, who eventually killed Asclepios for raising the dead and accepting money for his evil actions (basically for his attempt to play a god when he was not).
In another myth-related story, it was said that a shepherd guarding his sheep was bitten by a snake. He rushed to the hospital in Asclepion for treatment. Upon his arrival, he was told the hospital was for those with spiritual handicaps, and he could not be healed. However, the physicians did offer him poison to help him die faster. In a true miracle of science, the two poisons reacted in a way that caused the man to survive. For this reason, the symbol for medicine- often engraved into the marble walls of the cities- was a snake-entwined stick supporting a basin -- a caduceus.
Historically, Asclepion was a healing center that focuses on mental, emotional and physical correction, but placing more emphasis on the first two. Patients were cured with techniques involving water and underground streams in addition to spoken cures by oracles. Other methods involved group activity, such as attendance at theater performances. Overall, the hospital offered a holistic approach to mental and physical health through therapy, medicine, exercise, relaxation, dream interpretation and entertainment. The hospital included the use of a sleeping room, sanatorium, theater, site for athletic competitions, bath tubs, mud baths and the Sacred Spring (which was said to have healing powers). By our standards today, Asclepion would have been nothing more than a spa and would have been considered more of a vacation than a health-altering experience. However, many medical practitioners today are reverting to this more holistic approach.
On this trip, I have learned a great deal, possibly too much to fathom at present, but I wouldn't have changed one bit of the experience. I have seen and encountered another culture--one different but similar to my own, and have come to understand another way of living. I have gained insight into the lives of people, and I feel very matured by the experience. Traveling abroad was a great way to start my academic career here at Culver-Stockton, and I believe it has opened my mind to some great possibilities and opportunities in the future. This has been a once in a lifetime journey with some very amazing people that I may never have come to know otherwise. Turkey wasn't what I expected, but in the end, it filled every expectation I could have had.
Well, every trip ought to have a logistical glitch just to remind us that we aren't really in charge, right? So, our flight from Rome was about 2 hours late, then the Customs line moved painfully slowly, and, finally, our subway train broke down on the way to Union Station. 35 minutes made the difference between making it home Friday night or Saturday at noon - as you can guess, we stayed overnight in Chicago and took the morning train to Quincy Saturday morning. After 26 hours in transit, we were each a bit haggered and frustrated, but enjoyed our first really soft beds and restaurant menus we could read, so all was not lost!
Now that we're home, I continue to feel blessed to have travelled to this historically and culturally rich country with this amazing group of people. We didn't know each other and most of us had very little information about the place to which we were travelling, but we opened ourselves up to one another and took risks which expanded our minds and hearts. I hope many more students, faculty and staff will take the opportunity to study abroad!
Coming to Turkey has been a great experience for me. Not only do I get to learn more about my fellow travelers, but I also get to learn more about a country that I have never studied before. My favorite part of this trip has been getting to go to ruins of ancient cities and imagining what could have happened in the everyday life there. The city that inspired me the most was Pergamon because its structures, layouts, and location were extremely different from the other ancient cities that we visited. Troy was also another one that amazed me because I thought that I knew quite a bit about Troy, but listening to our tour guide, Macit, there was a lot that I haven’t learned about that city.
Not only did I get to learn about ancient cities, I got to learn more about the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. We each had to give a presentation about something that we were visiting on the trip, and I chose to do the goddess Aphrodite because we were going to the city Aphrodisia. Through this report, it was my goal to distribute information that might be helpful on our visit to Aphrodisia. When I was researching Aphrodite, I found out many interesting facts including: she is the goddess of beauty and love; some items that represent her are apples, pomegranates, clam shells, pearls, swans, and doves; she was able to ease a person's longing for a mate; and she is one of the reasons for the Trojan War. Not only did she help people fall in love, she also had many affairs herself. When we arrived at Aphrodisia it was really neat to make connections of items and information that I researched on.
All in all, when I look back on this trip I am pleased that I was able to attend. This has been a phenomenal experience for me, and I will never forget it.
RUINS AND GODDESSES
This trip to say the least was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced in my life and I’m saddened to think it's coming to a close with only one night left.
There was so much to see that I can hardly tell all, but I have to say the most significant thing to me on this trip had to be seeing all the ruins. I can’t believe something so old could still be there standing for me to see now. Also the thing that influenced me had to be the temples dedicated to the different goddesses. We visited the temple of Artemis, also known as Diana, and a whole city of Aphrodisia that was dedicated to Aphrodite. These places were so interesting to me because I studied the worship and rituals of goddess worship just for this class.
The problem with studying rituals and worship is that there isn’t much left to interpret, and the societies centered around the goddesses were so secretive. The best source we have on goddess worship and ritual is the hymn to Demeter. The worship and rituals of this goddess were not located in Turkey but in Athens, but the hymn is still crucial to understanding the study of other goddess worship.
The story behind Demeter is one of love, sacrifice, pain, and forgiveness. Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, was taken to the underworld by Hades, the god of the dead, and married to him without Demeter’s permission. When Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, heard of this she went into a depression and caused great famine in the world of men. Eventually, Zeus, the king of the gods and persephone's father, forces Hades to allow Persephone to return to the world of the living; but Hades tricks Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds, which means she has to return to the underworld for part of the year. According to most versions of the myth, the earth has spring and summer when Persephone is in the land of the living and fall and winter when she returns to the underworld.
At one point during her search for Persephone, Demeter relented long enough to teach a man named Triptolemus the art of agriculture and, from him, the rest of Greece learned to grow and harvest crops. This myth of the beginning of agriculture was the central focus of the ritual and worship of the goddess, which were led by a hierophant or interpreter of mysteries. We don't know many of the details, but we do know there were men and women involved in the worship, that there were initiates each year that were called mystes, and that there were mentors of the initiates called "mystegoges." We don’t know much about the actual ritual except it was more about the experience than actually learning something, so scholars say.
As I said, the ruins of this ancient culture and the places they worshiped were the most interesting for me to see, though there was much, much more to the trip than what I have covered
THE LESSON IS IN THE DETAILS
My experience in Turkey has taught me a lot. Not only did I learn more about myself and my fellow classmates, I have also learned a lot about a country I barely paid any interest in before this journey. While in Turkey, I viewed many historical sites and was asked to present information to the class about one particular topic. I magically drew the straw for one of the first destinations we visited: the Hippodrome in Istanbul.
In my research, I learned that a Hippodrome was a place for horse and chariot races. The ancient Hippodromes were truly the center of social life and entertainment. There was not always a "happy ending" to each race. Many race endings caused huge riots to occur by the fans of the losing team. I also found that the Hippodrome we visited was huge; at one point it was able to hold 100,000 spectators! The clearest way to explain these events is to picture a modern day Nascar race where the two biggest rivalries race each other with no rules at the starting line. With this picture stamped in my mind, I arrived at the site of the ancient Hippodrome only to find three massive structures standing in a line: a fountain and two obelisks. These items used to sit in the center of a dirt race track and today without any historic background of the Hippodrome you would almost mistakenly think it was a park!
I was truly amazed that the objects were still standing. However, now seeing other structures of that same time in history, I am shocked and disappointed that there is nothing but three fragments still standing from such a massive structure! In reality, this summarizes my entire journey! I expected a large Hippodrome, yet only small elements remain, forcing me to focus on the elements given. My habit at C-SC was to see the large indistinct amount of people. However, now experiencing such a trip as this, I got to know a group of individuals among the large structure. Therefore, I benefit from this experience because I better understand each individual person or thing, and the unique stories each entails. I know I never would have developed this understanding without this experience.
Also, I will never forget my 21st birthday (today) that's for sure! A group of strangers came together and created the most creative birthday party ever, and I thank them all for that!
Therefore, I believe this is the best benefit I will take away from this experience as I complete my journey to becoming an elementary teacher. As I face a classroom as a large structure, I will focus on each individual and the unique stories they reveal so that I can improve my teaching -- all because of my experiences studying abroad in Turkey.
WEDNESDAY IN TURKEY
It took me a minute to think about what day this is - the days begin to run together on a trip like this with so many amazing sites to see and a variety of different cities and hotels. It's been wonderful though; I'm sad we'll be leaving in another day. We're in our last new city -Antalya - and will be flying back to Istanbul in the morning for one more day in Turkey. Friday morning (6 a.m. ... ugh!) we fly back to Rome then Chicago, with the train to Quincy being the final leg of the journey. It's been a whirlwind and a bit like a roller coaster - some days you think you've been on the road forever and you just want to go home, other days you feel like you could travel nonstop and never go home! Luckily, most of us have felt the latter during the vast majority of this amazing journey.
As we wind things up, I thought I'd share a few of the things that have caught my attention or fascinated me. Perhaps you'll be similarly intrigued ...
1. Even the smallest towns seem to have a lovely mosque, each with a beautiful minaret. I'm not sure why this surprises me ... even our small towns in American typically have a church with a steeple. But, these mosques seem different somehow - some square roofs, but most have the domed roof with a minaret that was used for the priest to climb up high and issue the "call to prayer." Nowadays, of course, a speaker system saves the clergy the climb, and it's lovely to hear the call to prayer five times each day in the smallest towns and the largest cities. We've learned quite a bit from our guide, Macit, about traditional Islam, which is so different than fundamentalist Islam we see in the media constantly. The inclusivity of the faith, honoring Judaism and Christianity too, is quite beautiful.
2. We noticed solar panels and large barrels on the roofs of most apartment buildings - it turns out these are the hot water systems used most frequently here in Turkey. The sun heats the water, which is then piped into the building for use in showers, etc. Very interesting ...
3. Apartment living is the most prominent type of housing here, even in the country. These people are not nearly as wealthy as we are, thus they live in apartments; and children live with their parents much longer than we do in America. The apartment buildings demonstrate the stratification of classes, much as our single family home sizes/styles do. Buildings painted a color are home to wealthier families than those that are simply the color of concrete. And, if you live in one of the buildings that is tiled in the beautiful mosaics we've seen throughout, you're quite wealthy. The paint colors used here are much more vivid and varied than we typically see in America. Buildings are pink, purple, peach, blue, green, yellow, etc. Colors here are quite extraordinary in architecture and landscapes.
4. CATS - we've seen stray cats everywhere! At monuments, museums, ancient ruins, big cities, small towns...EVERYWHERE! Most are friendly, as are the few dogs we've seen too.
5. Turkey seems to be a highly patriotic country - the Turkish flag is everywhere, just like cats. We've even seen a few places where the flag, made with stone or gravel, is evident on a hillside. Several of us have commented that our own country, which professes strong patriotism, does not display our flag in nearly as many places or ways.
6. The foliage here is also quite interesting. I didn't expect to see palm trees or even citrus trees, but both are quite plentiful. In fact, the region we're in today is known for exporting tremendous quantities of citrus. We've also seen cacti, olive trees, oak, pine, scrub, magnolia and fields of grapes, cotton, cauliflower and tobacco. The diversity has made for beautiful drives throughout the eastern coastline of this gorgeous country!
7. Finally, the thing that catches my eye the most frequently involves the beautiful tile work done here. Iznik tile (the style named for the region) is just gorgeous and can be seen widely. Not all mosaics are Iznik, but they are all quite lovely in mosques, apartment buildings, hotels, storefronts, and even ancient ruins. The artistry of designing and creating mosaics seems to be a lost art in the west.
So, for what it's worth, those are my thoughts as I contemplate our departure in 36 hours from this beautiful country with such rich history and culture. More again Friday as we journey home...
THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE LIVES
The Byzantine Empire to me seemed to represent a piece of history and an ideology that is gone, dead, and no longer reocgnized as a part of our world. As you might guess, when I went to Instanbul, the Byzantine Empire was very much alive. To say that the culture still existed is not an accurate statement, as the call to prayer is part of everyday life in Instanbul. Islam has been in control of the Bosphorous for over 500 years now, but even so Constantinople peeks through the cracks, and makes its presence known through its monuments, and even through the ideologies of the day.
The monuments to Constantinople gave me hope that hope remains for future historians who would wish to understand the past. So much of the city existed within the very walls of the Roman city. Walls, built in the 3rd Century A.D., still stand tall on the outskirts of the city. I cannot describe to you how it felt to place my hand upon the walls that have withstood time for almost 1,700 years.
It is my belief that much of the Byzantine's long existence is attributed to the strength of these walls, and the prestige of this city. An empire that ruled Egypt, and reigned through the Italian Pennisula could be traced to the strength of the city of Constantinople. I placed my hands upon the walls that ruled an empire...there is not much to compare to this. throughout all the empires and kingdoms that have ruled the Bosphorous -- the Persians, the Thracians, the Trojans, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Turkish --none can compare to the grandeur that was the Byzantines.
DAY 6 - EPHESUS, PART II
It’s two evenings after Ephesus. We’re eating dinner at a Pamukkale hotel. Brandt Beckman and I are conversing in German.
Earlier, at the hot springs of the ancient city, Brandt and I started to speak German to each other partly as a joke, and then we just kept doing it. Macit was walking just behind us with the other students. There was some giggling. A student asked: “Hey, who are the German tourists?” Macit asks us, “Are you sure you are with the right tour group?” There were 20 buses parked outside the Pamukkale city exhibit proper. I recall estimating that about 80 percent of the tourists on the buses were German.
So Brandt and I are asking each other, in German, what different items are called in German. I am not paying attention to our eating companions. As I look down to fork a piece of food, Brandt says, “Cass (Cassidy Litle) is mad at us. He doesn’t understand what we’re saying.” I look up and Cass has a grin on his face. Cass has abided enough of my courses and enough of my crazy academic exercises that I easily recognize the facial expression. It says: “irritated tolerance.” I ask Cass the next day if it would be okay to describe the incident. “I thought it was just funny,” he tells me. “We’re in Turkey, and you guys are talking to each other in German.” I still don’t know whether Cass was angry or not.
I’m going to be very frank. Rural Missouri is a terrible place for language acquisition. The range of human response to languages they don’t understand is, in my experience, very broad. My wife and I have taught our son Marvin swatches of various foreign languages. When he was about 3 years old, he went to a local Canton daycare and started spouting some phrases in French. When I picked him up, I overheard one of his caretakers tell another: “I sure hope they’re teaching him English.”
But I need to be fair. It is common to respond with discomfort to anything incomprehensible. Are we hardwired to assume, automatically, that any speech within our range of hearing ought to be significant to us, even if it’s not directed at us? This is a strange idea. It’s like telling someone, “When you have something important to say, I’LL let you know.” The act of speaking a foreign language is, however unwittingly, the act of excluding others – not, in some cases, just from the conversation, but from the “inside” of your group.
I now believe this was a pretty large part of my motivation for returning to German. Maybe I just needed my own private club for awhile. I needed to keep people out.
Culver-Stockton, as an entity positioned within a socially conservative rural area, is not conducive to language acquisition because (and I’m trying to scour my brain banks for contrary evidence) a foreign language speaker at Culver-Stockton will only converse with herself, or himself. Rarely do you hear two people speaking in a language that is, for both, their less familiar language. There is no “inside,” no private club, excluding an “outside” of people who have learned only English.
The extreme intellectual pessimist (and I do not claim to be such myself) will say that any kind of discourse, English or otherwise, that strays outside the ken of an intended or unintended audience is likely to be dismissed or discounted, if people overwhelmingly assume (and this is an assumption with enormous mass) that the burden of clarity always rests upon the speaker. The complementary assumption is that the crafter of language is not allowed comment on the value of his or her piece of constructed language.
“When you've written something important, I’ll let you know.”
In Canton, Mo., we are not conditioned to feel the stress of foreign speech at all – or, if so, only as a minor irritant. There is little or no urgency to learn a foreign language in Canton, Mo., because there we live an interior space that places no demands on our language translation equipment.
Try to conjure an image of a shoe-shine man walking down 4th Street in Canton, Mo. Before stepping into Primos for a lunch pizza. He drops his brush. You pick it up and offer it back to him. He takes it. He asks you, in Turkish, “You ever been to Turkey?” He asks you, in Turkish, “You have a children?” He tells you, in Turkish, “I have daughter. She has not the legs.” He tells you, in Turkish, “I am a hungry. You give me food.” He tells you, in Turkish, “I am the thirsty. You give me the water, yes?”
You stop long enough to brush your hair back and scratch the beginning of a tickle on the side of your nose. Then, you lunch.
After my 1991 trip to Turkey, I would tell people: “You want to learn a foreign language? Try to stay alive by selling some product to people who don’t speak your language. You’ll learn fast enough.” In 1991, the then-robust American economy bred swarms of American tourists and drew them all over the world, drew them to Turkey. Rug sellers’ shops were all over Istanbul, and every one of those guys could hold up a pretty mean conversation in English. They could, for that matter, hold up a pretty good German conversation. I talked to people all over Istanbul, in English and in German. Yeah, they wanted my money. I’d be naive to deny it. But neither did they learn English because they “just really like Americans” or “just really want to be like us” – a terribly misguided assumption that arises, I believe, from a kind of bad faith that is not challenged frequently enough – that everyone in the world loves Americans and loves the idea of being American.
More likely, the tough upstart rug merchant is saying to himself: “The more conversation I make with Americans, the more I learn the American language. The more I learn the American language, the more I will attract American customers. Rich Turkish rug sellers know many, many, many things about America.”
My favorite H.L. Mencken quotation goes like this: “English was good enough for Jesus Christ, and it’s good enough for me!” It sounds bizarre, I know, but I sometimes wonder if American perceptual tendency isn’t to hear everyone speaking English, but to hear it as a terribly garbled and (intentionally?) grotesque English. Foreign language as personal insult.
Humans will do almost anything to avoid being moved out of their present state. Even if they’re responses aren’t rational.
After we’ve visited Ephesus, Macit takes us to a Turkish rug dealer, where we can see rugs being made and listen to a very detailed introduction to what rugs are and why rugs look the way they look. The owner of the shop looks like other Turkish people we’ve seen, but also looks and acts utterly American. He wears a denim shirt rolled up just below his elbow. He wears blue jeans. He has a substantial mustache, a tan complexion, and his salt-and-pepper gray hair is long in the back and bound in a ponytail. And his informational pitch about Turkish rugs has been refined and honed, a rich array of vocabulary and musical cadences delivered with intensity and with a calm ease.
He uses the word “pixels” to illustrate to us American computer users why the more square knots a rug has per square inch the greater its richness of detail. He makes his voice tender and describes that the rug making master (usually from the rural area east of Turkey’s urban Western coast) makes rugs for the equivalent of $350 in pay per week; and that this is okay because, in the rural country, households have more people, and a household together can bring in a good income. Then later he can bring a warm sparkle into his eye and a grin to his face that feels completely free of guile while inviting us to walk on a 15 x 7-foot silk rug and telling us “You’re walking on about $20,000.” He will tell you he has tens of thousands of rugs in his warehouses at just the moment you are asking yourself “does he have a big enough selection?” and not when you’re subtracting the labor costs from the final selling price and realizing that the people not doing the actual work are taking a pretty huge cut. It is a rhetorical tour de force. Its crafter and deliverer, sans Turkish accent, could pass for a college professor on Madison, Wis., Market Street.
After his pitch I come over and sit next to him on a long cushioned bench. He instinctively mirrors my body posture and leans toward me slightly. I first ask him if he’s been to the United States. He tells me “Never.” I ask him if he’s studied English in college. He tells me, “I learned all my English from my customers.” I ask him, point blank, how many years have you used the word “pixel.” “For many years,” he tells me.
In the confidence-game trade (as far as I have gleaned from limited experience and watching movies), a “short con” requires only one dishonest or deceitful person. The con artist bears all the risk and is not required to put his trust in another conspirator. But his earnings are usually much smaller, almost certainly because people are more likely to believe more than one person than only one person. A “long con” requires the coordinated effort of more than one co-conspirator. In the long con, the potential earnings are much higher. After all, how often does more than one person lie to us?
A true “con,” though, is as a crime. The criminal takes everything and leaves you nothing. I give a shoe-shine most of my money. Not all of it. My shoes are still shiny, yes? No crime, right? The rug dealer isn’t running a criminal syndicate either. Neither are his sales techniques necessarily dishonest.
He has your sympathy moving in a certain direction. Isaac Newton was right, even about emotions. An object moving in a certain direction tends to stay moving in that direction. The rug dealer just adds the acceleration. A good salesperson is just someone who’s really good at helping people go ahead and do what they’ve always done or always wanted to do.
All humans experience stress – whether it’s the stress of earning a living or of responding to someone who is confronting us with our own desires, and showing us visions of our desires fulfilled. Some people seem to respond to it with greater creativity and resourcefulness than others.
At the present moment, I’m completely convinced that the basis of knowledge is self-knowledge. I’m convinced, in fact, that if we ignore the Socratic dictum to “know thyself,” someone else will know us for us.
Will I wake up tomorrow, have three cups of coffee, and think otherwise?
Am I one of those who will build up treasure for others?
DAY 6 - EPHESUS, PART I
As far as I know, the shoe-shiners in Istanbul have been running the same short con game since at least 1991, the last time I visited Turkey. The technique is simple. The shoe-shiner picks a “mark,” a person who is obviously a nice, but culturally naïve person. He might ask this person if he needs his shoes shined and the person may say “no.” He positions himself to meet you a second time coming the other direction; as he passes, a brush falls at your feet. What do you do? He’s still walking away. What do you do? This is how he makes his living. Will he need the brush to eat? What do you do?
You pick it up and you say “sir,” and then, louder, “sir!” and then even louder “SIIIRR!” You’ve taken an adamant interest in his personal well-being. He comes back and thanks you profusely. He asks you where you’re from, if you have kids. He tells you about his kids, and about how his daughter has no legs and doesn’t have a wheel chair (or maybe that his twin babies both have tuberculosis – whatever). He has your sympathy moving in a certain direction. Isaac Newton was right, even about emotions. An object moving in a certain direction tends to stay moving in that direction. The shoe-shiner adds the acceleration. He asks if you want a shoe-shine. You say “no” again. He plops his box down and tells you to put your shoe on the box. “Just friends.” His body says “victim,” his eyes soften. “You help my family?” You put your foot up. He shines your shoes. You take out your wallet, and pull out the smaller bill. He says: “That is change; other bill!” You give him the other bank note. Why did you do it? He turns to walk away. What do you do? You say: “no, no, no; and make the universal hand gesture for “give it back.” He hands back a small bank note. You keep gesturing. He hands back two more small bank notes. He walks away with most of your money. You get a shoe-shine that cost 5 times what it probably was worth.
Humans don’t like to change. They tend to like who they are, and when confronted with an unexpected stressor will tend to want to respond to the stressor with the same techniques they’ve always used. Your average Istanbuli shoe-shiner ain’t going to use a word like “stressor.” He will never get a sniff of "Intro to Psych." But he sure as heck knows some psychological principles – and a lot better than your average college sophomore. He knows: if you can get someone into an emotional state, he will do almost anything to avoid being moved out of that state. Even if it’s not rational.
It’s the sixth day of our Turkish journey. We’re visiting the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. When I say the word “Ephesus” to people in the United States, it almost never registers, but if I say “Ephesians,” it does most of the time. The Christian residents of Ephesus were the recipients of Paul’s letters – the “Ephesians” of the New Testament. There is some intriguing evidence that the author of both “Luke” and “Acts” in the New Testament wrote them from Ephesus. It’s very likely that Paul wrote some of his letters from Ephesus. So, I’m standing on a street in Ephesus, perhaps the birthplace of nearly a third of the entire New Testament.
On this street, Kate Gutheil and I are looking through the stones of a Roman arch. The sky here is an unusually dark, rich shade of blue, and we can see this blue through the cracks between the top “key” or “load” stone of the Roman arch and the stones adjacent to it. The load stone must rest at the top center of the arch. It gets its name because it bears most of the weight load of the arch structure. It is the “key” to the arch’s physics. When put in its place, the keystone bears the stress of the other stones and the whole thing stands up. Take it out and it collapses.
Kate and I are looking at the blue sky through places you’d think we couldn’t. The arch has been reconstructed by archeological experts, the original stones have eroded so that they no longer fit precisely, but yet the original principle of physics is still retained. There’s enough stone surface bearing enough weight to keep the whole thing up. Ephesus is, in fact, an architect’s fantasy land. Evidence of centuries-long stretches of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine styles and ideas can be found in areas no larger than half a football field.
Not more than 50 meters away, we face the enormous façade of the great library at Ephesus, which features Greek columns nearly 30 feet tall. In 1991, the last time I stood here, the library façade had only been reconstructed for about four years. Kate and I look around at the Doric, Ionian, and whatever other named Greek columns scattered about like so many pale gray Lincoln Logs.
The day before, several of us were talking about our earthquake experiences on the bus. Ariana Calderaro and Brandt Beckman both described what it was like as children being in the great 1994 California earthquake. Beckman said: “it was like a gigantic monster was shaking our house.” Turkey also has earthquakes. In the late 1990s an earthquake shook northern Turkey killing 20,000 people. Some of the sections of Constantinople’s old wall did survive the quake, as did Justinian’s aqueduct. Their builders used the Roman arch principle in their construction.
The shock waves of earthquakes move horizontally, not vertically. Brandt Beckman is right. Think of buildings sitting in a box. The monster shakes the box violently from left to right. The building falls down. When archaeologists measure Greek columns, I imagine they use the word “length” rather than “height.” They are fallen creatures.
Stress. Greek columns suffer stress, but – unless they're in an earthquake -- it’s all straight up and down. There is plenty of marble around here as well. The difference between marble and granite is their levels of having been compressed. I imagine the Gothic cathedral builders picking the appropriate stone for supporting 300 feet of vertical structure. They picked marble because marble was used to doing that job.
Kate Gutheil is an English major, and we’re discussing the physics of Roman arches. We’re rushing through a guided tour of Ephesus and don’t have lots of time to talk. I tell her we’ll discuss later how the Roman arch connects to the study of literature. It’s later, and I try to explain how an early 20th century literary scholar uses the Roman arch as the central metaphor for defining what a poem is. A poem, he argues, uses pre-existing materials. We write poems with words that have established definitions or at least recognizable social usage. They are not, in other words, objects invented by the poet, any more than the stonemason invents the stone. Words and stones pre-exist us. They are things we come upon. They do not pop into existence for our benefit.
But here the scholar’s argument turns ingeniously: poems are combinations of materials. But it is the reader who adds the stability – the cohering stability – to the poem, not the poet. Like the Roman arch, which does not need cement, the poem relies on the stress of scrutiny the reader exerts on the poem. The controversial argument is that poems (as poems) don’t even exist until the reader applies the cohering scrutiny to the juxtaposition of words.
The ingenious turn of the principle of the Roman arch – a shift in technique from the Greek column – is that not only is the Roman arch able to support more weight than the Greek column (which will support an enormous amount of downward stress). The Roman arch actually becomes sturdier with greater stress. Which means: not only will the Roman arch stay vertical, you can keep building more and more rows of arch structures on top of the base, go higher and higher, and the base actually becomes stronger.
Why does Justinian’s aqueduct remain intact during a late-20th century earthquake? Why do 20,000 Turks die in the same earthquake?
“We always build apartments this way!”
Ask a gigantic monster to shake your average Istanbuli apartment violently, from side to side, and watch what happens.
Roman architect: "We must use Greek columns and pediment for the front of our library! It is not about the stone! By our edifices we pay homage to the idea! The Greeks discovered the unchanging idea of the beautiful. It is our duty to God to honor this idea, not corrupt it!"
Roman shoeshine con-man: “Yeah, but the next earthquake’s going to knock the whole thing down like children’s toys.”
Humans don’t like to change. They tend to like who they are, and when confronted with an unexpected stressor will tend to want to respond to the stressor with the same techniques they’ve always used.
Minerals get stressed out. So do people. I’ve been meditating about jet lag and how helpful it’s going to be for someone at Culver-Stockton to create a “jet lag manual.” Jet lag can be defined as the psychological confusion that goes along with moving out of one’s normal time zone. Istanbul is eight hours ahead of Canton, Mo. The jet flies just under a third of the way around the earth opposite the earth’s rotation. When we fly back, day after tomorrow, we will be, in effect, suspended in time, flying in the direction of the earth’s rotation, moving along with the sun. One of the effects of jet lag is a heightened sensitivity to stress, even to the point that your brain creates fantasies of paranoia. I tell Brandt Beckman, my hotel roommate, he has “jet lag neuroses.” Here’s the thing about paranoiac neurosis – it’s completely convincing to the person experiencing it, no matter how well in advance Steve Long knows it’s going to happen.
Flash back the night before: Brandt Beckman is having a really hard time. He hasn’t had a sustained eight hours of sleep in roughly 36 hours. He’s telling me repeatedly “I’m hitting the wall, Dr. Long!”
Flash back two more days: It’s 3:00 am Istanbul, Turkey time; 7:00 pm Canton, Missouri time. I am ABSOLUTELY convinced the tour guide is ripping us off, and that I can’t afford to give him any more of my money. “You give me more money! You give me more money! How is daughter to have wheel chair? My daughter, she has no legs!”
One hour and three cups of really good coffee after I get up, and there’s no conspiracy to take my money.
REFLECTIONS IN TURKEY
Turkey is... Man oh man; I don’t even know how to describe this place. Turkey is one of the most interesting places I've been. In comparison to other parts of Europe that I have been it is like the misfit child of Europe. Yes there are old things...But, holy cow, they are really really old. The people here are great, and the food is pretty awesome too. I have few, if any, complaints about this land where Europe meets Asia.
Tonight I am sitting in a very nice hotel room overlooking the crimson crystal waters of the Mediterranean Sea. This is the same sea that just hours ago I was swimming in while watching the sunset behind the mountains that hug the coasts of this country.
The thing that has really caught my eye about the sights that we have seen is the theatres. Of course, they would. I as a musical theatre major have been most fortunate to actually perform a small scene from a Greek tragedy in an actual Greek theatre. I presented some information about Greek theatre to the rest of the group and then got to use some of my collegiate training to present an example of Greek theatre.
Talk about a rush. These theatres are HUGE!!!! I barely had to project, my voice was so well amplified, and the acoustics were incredible. I have stood and studied in places that date back to the 4th BC. How many people do you know that can say that?
DAY 5 IN TURKEY
It’s a really good story. Macit, our guide (whose name I misspelled in an earlier blog) gives a lecture on the great WW I battle of Gallipoli between British and Turkish troops.
In 1915, British and German troops had quickly fought to a stalemate of trench warfare. Two enormous armies are entrenched face to face in a continuous line reaching from northern France to the Mediterranean. A young British government figure, Winston Churchill, proposes a bold plan: the British would attempt to fight its way around the enemy’s lower flank by landing troops at the mouth of the Dardanelles in Turkey, fighting overland, and capturing Istanbul from the European side. If it worked, the British army could attack the German enemy from its backside, surrounding them, and breaking the stalemate. The plan was a disaster. A young Turkish commander, Mustafah Kamal, defies his German command partner and, on a hunch and with a desperately hurried march, moves his Turkish troops to the tip of the country’s southern border near the coastal city of Gallipoli. He guesses right the bulk of the British and Australian expeditionary force is landing exactly where Kamal predicts. Kamal has just enough time to position his automatic machine guns. The British and Australian troops never advance farther than five kilometers into Turkey.
For a time, the Turkish and Commonwealth forces, mirror the trench warfare happening to their north. But a strange and minute events occurs happens, and is now entrenched in Turkish national mythology. “There is a British soldier wounded in no-man’s land between the trenches. He is calling for water. And an obese Turkish soldier runs from his trench with a canteen. The British troops tease him very loudly about how fat he is.” Macit speaks in broken English. “The obese soldier gives water to the British soldier. This small act commences another very strange phenomenon. The armies are killing each other, but then, for 10-minute periods of time the enemy troops come out of their trenches and meet between the lines – a defiant grass roots détente, a still line of stasis between two warring cultures.
Flash back in time two days. We are having an educational debriefing session with the students, myself, and Dr. Hotle. Students are asked to articulate their most surprising observations. Daniel Coffman observes how rarely one sees obese people in Istanbul; but, paradoxically, one sees little evidence of physical exercise. “Here they fill a rock quarry with trash, and grow the Garden of Eden,” he says. Why was the Turkish solider obese? How does Kamal push or pull this obese soldier into this position in the first place? Is his unexplainable act of kindness partially explained by his obesity?
From whence is one equipped to comfort one’s enemy?
Human conflict at all levels seems to always tend toward stasis. Two modern idiots about to have a fist fight will begin to repeat one another’s vulgar insults, verbatim. Boxers fall into a mirror images of one another. Two armies mirror trench warfare techniques (substitute whatever two armies you want – Occidental or Oriental).
Our group stops at a beachhead, a tiny section of land about 10 kilometers north of the larger British Gallipoli landing. I am facing out into the sea of the Dardanelles. I walk to the beach and then turn around. I look down the beach to my left-hand south. The skin of my whole body contracts into goose bumps. The great film Gallipoli, starring a young Australian Mel Gibson, is conjured whole in my head. A huge fleet of British warships are anchored behind me, and a large cluster of terrified Australian troops cling to a tiny strip of beach, completely exposed to Turkish mortar and machine-gun fire. My imagination erases completely the forest cover at the base of the steep rock ridge just above the beach. The film shows the battle ground as sterilized of all forestation.
When I turn in the direction of the machine guns, I have, in effect, taken a side. I leave the comfort of the static middle and I channel, for a few brief moments, the utter terror and hopelessness of the doomed Australian troops. Their options: (1) hunker in a trench, OR (2) when ordered, walk uphill – very slowly – into Turkish machine guns and almost certain death.
Stasis is symmetrical, but stasis is incredibly rare. Asymmetry is more natural. To take a side is to take a point of view. The act of seeing from a side makes a conflict asymmetrical. And the inescapable result is that when we intentionally see something from a single angle (can seeing NOT occur at a single angle?) we change completely the entire observed object – even an object as enormous and enormously complex as a World War.
Flash forward one day of time. We’re looking at silk Turkish rug that is 15 feet long. I get onto my hands and knees and look at this carpet. Seen from about a 30-degree angle from the floor, the rug is an almost glowing white. I walk to the other end of the room and again kneel to the floor. I call Daniel Coffman, who sits opposite me at the other end of the room, to come and look at the rug from my point of view. Here, the rug is a deep, cobalt blue. Yeah, you can do the scientific explanation thing – you can talk say that photons bounce off the forward grain of the silk thread differently, depending on whether or not the grain of the threads is toward or against the observer. But the real point is psychological. Silk rugs are the horses in the “Wizard of Oz” Emerald Palace. They literally change colors. The viewer, through the intentional mode of her viewing, LITERALLY changes the appearance of the object.
Flash backward two days in time. Cassidy Litle and I are discussing the most random of subjects – cosmological physics – and more specifically, Superstring Theory and its relation to the Quantum Theory. I tell Cass an analogy Dr. Robert Sadler gave to me, to clarify (if that’s possible!) the Quantum Theory. Q: “If humans rely on photons bouncing off much larger objects and into our ocular apparatus in a certain specific way, then what happens if they photon is relatively the size of a Volkswagon, and the object it would normally bounce off of is, relatively, the size of a basketball? A: It won’t bounce back into our eyes; it will knock the basketball 500 feet away – relatively. At an extremely minute level, an act of observation changes what is being observed.
At the Gallipoli beach monument, I talk to some serious-looking tourists. I discover they are Australian. I ask an Australian woman whether she had relatives who fought or even died at Gallipoli. She tells me “no,” but that some of the people there behind her do. I look at the four small rows of military gravestones. They are inscribed with British names. In a small row perpendicular to the main ones are four gravestones with traditional Arabic names. They are identified as mule drivers, serving the British Navy. An Arabic phrase runs right-to-left across the top of the gravestone. Macit tells me that these are the first words of the Koran.
Macit next takes us on the bus to the top of the mountain, by my rough estimation about 1,200 feet above the beach, to the site Kamal’s of defensive stand. So much that is crucial is still there. British trenches in Word War I France are almost always represented as around 6-7 feet deep. The troops used ladders to climb out. The German trenches were even more complex – deep, dry – rooms, even, mined into bedrock and kept tidy. Kamal’s trenches are, MAYBE, 3 feet deep, sometimes even shallower. Trenches built by soldiers on a desperate race to protect themselves as quickly as possible. Trenches built by troops exhausted by terror and depleted from many miles of forced marching with full packs of provisions. We can kneel down into these actual trenches and reflect how difficult it is to keep the tops of our heads from poking up into a jet stream of British bullets. We can gaze outward at the western-most spear of land, the finger of European Turkey pointing west.
What if I’m a Turkish soldier, worrying about the top of my head, and I see the bulk of the British Navy below me anchored in the Dardanelles. I see tens of thousands of British and Australian troops, a swarm at first and then, terrifyingly, the soldiers acquiring individual characteristics. The swarm turns into a collection of individual killers. Kamal is said to have told his troops before their march,”We do not go to fight; we go to die.” He was right, by and large. Even with the gigantic strategic advantage of much higher ground, the British managed to kill 60,000 of Kamal’s troops. Kamal himself at one point must have thought he had been killed. He was hit with shrapnel in the chest and saved only by a pocket watch.
Historical events sometimes teeter on a narrow balancing point. On a line of stasis. Mustafah Kamal goes on to become Ataturk – not only the inventor of modern Turkey and a leader that the Turks have done everything but deify, but one of the greatest leaders in World history. Winston Churchill, so deeply disgraced by his strategic blunder at Gallipoli, asks and receives a command position in the European trenches – by almost any set of WW I officer mortality statistics, an act bordering on suicide. Astoundingly, he survives. And then he goes on to be a leader revered by Brits and canonized by world opinion.
Humans tend very, very naturally towards asymmetry. Stories, almost by their very nature, require asymmetry to be interesting (or at least repeatedly compelling). We need winners and losers. And winners are traditionally defined only by someone else’s losing. We so very, very rarely see history from one end of the room and then allow ourselves to be persuaded to come to the other side and see the same room from the other end. How do we manage to hold two different histories in our minds simultaneously – especially when we make ourselves emotionally vulnerable from each side?
Can we weep at both ends of the room and still remain the same person?
Flash forward 19 years from the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. Ataturk delivers a stunning eulogy at the Gallipoli shoreline – a eulogy for his enemy. The words are still there, in stone:
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers, who sent your sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
From whence is one equipped to comfort one’s enemy?
Many soldiers go to fight. Many fewer go to die. Precious, precious few are willing to share his enemy’s embrace, in life and for eternity.
Greetings! Our students are just the bee's knees! The computer Patrick packed has been a truculent beast and we are tempted to toss it into the Bosphorus! Amber Priebe has generously lent me her computer so that I might send this note. She is masterful at keeping an eye on all of us, making sure no one misses the buss and I love the way she interacts kindly with the world around her. She will make a fine teacher one day.
I must return this machine to her as we are packing and preparing to leave for Sardis today.
It's quite surreal to travel around the countryside of Turkey visiting ancient ruins in places like Pergamon and Ephesus from the comfort of a climate controlled bus with iPods, cameras and cell phones! Despite our modern conveniences which serve to remind us how spoiled we truly are, I think we have each felt a sense of awe, wonder, humility and respect for the experiences we're having and the history that has come alive for us here.
Seeing the ruins at Pergamon and Ephesus, as well as the location known as the "Virgin Mary's House" has truly been a blessing. We've had wonderful weather and few crowds, which has yielded time for teaching and reflection. Our guide, Majit, has shared facts, stories, and insights I have found invaluable; and, Dr. Hotle has woven the threads of historical relevance and connections between the various places/sites we've seen. Steve Long and Mary Oatman have also served as educators along the journey through their individual connections with students, sharing their questions and observations with us all, and by brainstorming with Patrick new ways to keep this travelling classroom engaging and inspiring for the students.
I would imagine each of these fabulous educators echo my belief that our fellow pilgrims, the students, have served as teachers as well. Amber, Ariana, Brandt, Cass, Daniel, Danielle, Erin, and Kate have worked hard to maintain their focus, enthusiasm, attention and inquiry during this journey. They have experienced a multitude of new things, travelled by air, land and sea, walked miles, packed and unpacked, and become friends with each other in just under one week. I appreciate their persistence, patience and humor, and look forward to our second week learning and teaching together.
Day 6 – Ephesus, Part 3
I walk outside after the rug dealer’s information pitch and the subsequent invasion by his team of sales subordinates – around 4 or 5 men who show up ready to pull out whatever kind of rug you want to look at. I walk outside, because (a) I’m not going to buy a rug; (b) I don’t’ have enough money, and (c) it’s not fun to look at a huge buffet of food when you’re hungry and can’t eat it.
The courtyard of the dealer’s shop seems vaguely Japanese – it is sparsely decorated with carefully positioned stones and walkways. It’s intended, I’m thinking, to make people feel calm. Here in the courtyard I’m looking at a small evergreen tree growing out of a ceramic pot that’s about half a meter wide and deep. It’s a large version Bonsai tree. A bonsai tree is a grown to be small. Trees are planted in small ceramic containers. The tips of their branches are trimmed regularly. When the tree grows too large for its container, it is carefully removed, its roots are combed out long-wise, and the ends of the roots trimmed. If you want a slightly larger tree, you replant it in a slightly larger ceramic container.
The bonsai tree is the severe example of topiary – when humans impose their artistic wills on growing plants. In Istanbul, I was looking at a long government-looking building of some kind. The building was precisely symmetrical. In front there were two very gnarled pine trees, positioned equally distant from the center line of the building. These side trees grew out parallel to the ground, each pointing in the precisely opposite direction. A third pine tree was growing up straight as a flag pole right in front of the center line of the building. Topiary is what happens when people want plants to look the way they want them to look. Bonsai-making is, in its pure essentials, an act of inward-pressure containment. With other types of topiary, the plant is pushed or pulled, out or down or up or out – otherwise than the tree itself would tend.
Earlier in the day we were walking into the mountain entrance to Ephesus. The fact that we even know an ancient city exists, let alone that we have anything at all to look at after thousands of years, bears witness to its original settler’s careful choice of site. To have guarded this city from destruction while people still lived here must have also been a formidable challenge. We had traveled to the top of a small mountain to visit Pergamum the day before. That city’s natural defense is easy to figure out. By my rough estimate, Pergamum sits at about 300 feet higher than Kamal’s Gallipoli ridge defense. The military commander at Pergamum could have positioned sentries on four corners of the city and seen enemy ships approaching on the Aegean from 15-20 miles away, and could have seen overland armies from all other directions. Pergamum looks like a big gray-brown rock, very little vegetation of any kind. I’m thinking about Kemal’s ridge of defense in Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli completely defenestrated, apparently, by machine gun and mortar fire. You can’t shoot, lob mortars on, or impale with arrows what you can’t see. Enemy soldiers can’t be seen in thick forest.
Yet, the people of Ephesus relied on two modest mountain ridges on its north and south side as geological defense. A fairly thick cover of pine forest grows along the south mountain ridge.
Was this ridge forest still here during the Apostle Paul’s first visit here? Would Paul (setting up his tent-making equipment, his gaze framing would-be converts, gauging their vulnerabilities to the Word, honing and calibrating a newly forged set of sermonic tools) have been comforted or made nervous by the city’s military defense system?
Pine trees seem to prefer high altitudes. We see very few of these species of pine tree in lower elevation Turkish cities. On the south ridge forest the trees are dense enough to turn the side of the mountain a greenish black. Pine trees will find root nourishment in the most amazing places. Here, you can see pine trees growing sideways out of cracks in boulders, but mostly they’re growing straight up and down, perpendicular to the horizon, parallel to gravity. Take your average boulder-crack pine tree: it doesn’t continue to grow sideways. If it is old enough to be a tree it will have taken a turn toward the sun.
On the Ephesus south ridge the trunks of the trees are straight, not, generally, bending and gnarled. In a dense-growth pine forest all the trees are competing with each other for the sunlight. How do you get to sunlight as quickly as possible if you’re a tree? You grow straight to the sun. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
All geopolitical entities are, in some way, containers – whether they be something as large as the “United States” or as small as a “polis” – a city-state like Athens or Ephesus. They keep out what needs to be kept out, protecting what lives inside. More important, however, the “geo-political container” exerts an inward stress on what lives inside. A philosophy professor and war historian I once knew used to tell his students, “We fought World War II as much to keep ‘us’ in, as to keep ‘them’ out.
Humans impose their artistic wills on complex organic objects. If a tree grows in a forest and no one is around to bend its branches or trim its roots, it is a simple organic object. Complex organic objects are what happen when people want organic objects to look the way people want them to look.
Flash back to earlier in the day, in Ephesus. I’m looking down the valley that was the container of Ephesus – two hands cupped as if to hold water, their fingers extended toward water.
The “container” that was Ephesus may have been an imitation of Athens, Greece. Athens is protected on all but one side by mountains. Like Ephesus, Athens opens to the sea. The people of Athens developed perhaps the best navy in the world. But, when they went to war with their neighbor Sparta (who, it seems, were bothered not in the least by the mountains), they quickly built a protective wall around three-quarters of the city and then extended the wall from either side of the wall opening clear down to the Aegean sea. Ergo, they keep the Spartans on the outside, unless the Spartans want to attempt the sea entrance to the city, which would mean playing into Athens’ strongest military hand. They’d get cut up on the water. The water access wall played another crucial role for those living inside it: it allowed the Athenians to wait out long military sieges because they could maintain supply lines of food and water to its citizens and soldiers by water way. Justinian’s walled Constantinople echoes this same principle, slightly. He expends unprecedented resources building miles of water aqueducts that would channel water into the city, enough water to irrigate crop fields within the city’s walls, enough crops to feed citizens and army, even during a long siege. Ephesus must have held up and, more than that, held up both fists to the rest of the world in roughly the same way as its polis / Grandfather Athens must have.
A military defense is a “protective shell” and obviously sends a message outward, to all those who would transgress its boundaries, that “you are not welcome here”; “you will not be integrated here.” This rhetoric easily translates to “you are not who we want us to be.”
Kate Gutheil and I are looking around at the sheer variety of Greek columns strewn around Ephesus like so many pale gray Lincoln Logs. Kate Gutheil is an English major, and we’re discussing the physics of Roman arches. We’re rushing through a guided tour of Ephesus and don’t have lots of time to talk. I tell her we’ll discuss later how the Roman arch connects to the study of literature.
Patrick Hotle pops out from under a Roman doorway and gives us an urgent hand gesture that is the universal sign for “come on! Hurry up!”
We next approach the library of Ephesus. I like books, so libraries make me emotional generally. This one, though, makes me really emotional. The façade of the library is about 30 meters tall and consists of giant Greek columns. It was a building of which the Ephesians obviously took enormous pride. I am really emotional when I think that these people expended such enormous sacrifice for learning. In terms of their library’s total holdings, the cities of Sardis and Ephesus were second and third only to the library Alexandria’s in the entire world. What must it have been like to read here? What great scholars must this city have drawn to it?
Our current Anglo-Euro-American culture takes libraries, information itself, completely for granted. Who needs sand in the desert?
We stroll down past the library through a squared doorway and into one of the most impressive ancient amphitheaters in the classical world. Daniel Long, my father, is standing in the middle of the stage, the other students and the older trekkers are sitting on the benches up in the middle range of a seating facility that can accommodate maybe 15,000 people. Macit gives dad a verbal signal and he sings the hymn “Amazing Grace,” the sound waves that move out in front of him, bounce back off the marble benches, then off the marble façade behind the stage, and then -- crisp and intact -- into our ear canals. The amphitheatre contains, reverberates, preserves.
Now I’m thinking about Walt Whitman’s poem, ”Song of Myself.” This poem flowed out of Whitman throughout his life. The only stop to it was Whitman’s own death. The poem could sprawl on forever because it’s not a story. It is, essentially, a list of described things – things American, things human. It is the literary equivalent of a huge Rorsarch Blot. When we read it with interest we inevitably seek out its pieces that are most familiar, the pieces that brush across our private nerves. When I read the poem, after awhile, it becomes a cybernetic extension of me. But it’s much more than that. Whitman fancied himself a politician. He seems to have looked at himself as the person who could contain America itself – not just as his own personal ideologue’s projection, and not as a vast imagined America. Whitman tried to contain all the stuff (all that is checkered, soiled, sanitized -- the pure and the damned, the raw and the cooked) within himself. To be everything: all people and all things to all people and all things. Read “Song of Myself.” Listen to it. Whitman’s boundaries are large. But he sees to the center of this massive “self” – and it is the protective care of his oversight, his solicitude, his gathering of himself to himself, that compresses the thing – America – into a kind of preciousness.
Stress always involves movement. Therefore, stress always involves direction. When we feel stress, the movement has to tend somewhere. Outward, and we tend toward disintegration; inward, and we tend toward either implosion or, hopefully, a more intense personal coherence. Responses to stress involve varying degrees of creativity. Stressed outward, we may give ourselves over to chaos, or we may be forced to confront and meet, even benefit from, the strange – the “not us.” Stressed inward, we may hunker in a cave, or we may discover personal resources about which we did not know – or even contact a formerly unknown toughness or genius, ready to announce itself and push back.
It’s a day later and we’re in a museum, and I’m looking at the staggered bricks in the wall of the museum. Then I look at a photograph of a Roman aqueduct. The arches on the top row are staggered, a top arch positioned between two lower arches.
I call Kate Gutheil over to look at it. I tell her to look at the bricks in the museum wall and then look at the arches. I ask her to tell me what they have in common. At first she sees the bricks themselves in the aqueduct, which are, likewise, staggered. “No,” I tell her. “Look at the larger level.” She tells me the arches aren’t on top of each other. I ask her why. She starts making “Uh, Uh, Uh, Uh…” searching-the-brain-bank noises. “It distributes the weight?”
15 minutes later and I’m looking at a photograph of the Coliseum in Rome. The Roman arches are not staggered. They are positioned precisely on top of one another. I call Kate over again to look at it. “Why could they build the Coliseum without staggering the arches?”
“Uh, Uhhhhh, because it’s in a circle?”
THE HISTORY OF TROY
For my individual research, I chose to learn about the historical city of Troy. And in order for you to have a better understanding of the impact of what I saw in Turkey, you'll need a little history of the city for yourself: Troy is a very special city; no doubt you have heard of it because of its infamous war. And even though archeological evidence supports the existence of the war, it did not happen the way the Homeric epics, or Hollywood, describe it. Unfortunately, the exact history of Troy or its people is not a clear, complete picture.
Troy was first excavated in the late 1800s by a man named Heinrich Schliemann. His obsession was in looking for King Priam’s treasure, and thus the ruined city of Troy. Because archeology wasn’t as a refined science as it is today, as Schliemann dug for the treasure, he destroyed many layers of valuable information. The city of Troy was actually rebuilt many different times, always on top of the ruins that still remained from the previous city. Therefore, Troy contains nine different layers that can be identified by the time period in which they were built. The Trojan War is thought to have happened during the time the sixth layer was in existence. That is a basic overview of the city and its recent history. And I also need to mention that one of the reasons that the city seemed so small to me at first was because everything that has been found there has been removed to museums. We were lucky enough to have seen these various artifacts the day before we went to the site of the city.
On the day we went to Troy, it was raining. But it was really no big deal, because we could all deal with a little bit of rain to see this infamous city. When we first arrived at the site, I was a little disappointed because there were no towering replicas of buildings or anything else that would indicate the magnificence of the city that I expected to see. However, when the tour started, and we began walking on the boardwalk though the ruins, I was amazed that such a little place had such a big history. My thoughts of “This is it?” were quickly replaced by “This is amazing!” There was one part of the tour where we were standing on the boardwalk and looking to our right where the entrance to the city had been. What it looked like today was a grassy ramp lined with stones, but I could just imagine the splendor that it would’ve had when the Trojans entered the city. It was an awesome moment for me that will take a long time for me to forget.
Another place that sticks out in my mind is a hill that the boardwalk didn’t run beside, but it was still very easily seen. The side of the hill had various stones sticking up from all different places, almost in a random sort of way. But as I looked closer, I realized that they were not in a random formation at all: each grouping of stones were what remained of ancient buildings. And not only that, but each grouping had been labeled with different colored cards that had a Roman numeral on it, telling from which layer of the ancient city it came. It was fascinating to see how all the layers sort of blended together, and yet they were still separate. It was like looking at a cross-section of the entire history of Troy. And I couldn’t help but think of what a challenge it must’ve been to figure out which stones belonged to which time period and layer.
Troy was such an interesting place to learn about and to see, as was the entire Byzantine Empire. Even though our visit to the city of Troy was extremely short, the place has left an impression on me about how important it is to learn about history, and how much more significant your learning becomes once you have actually traveled to the place about which you are studying. The history of Troy, and the Byzantine Empire, will continue to be something that I want to learn about for a long time.
Veiled in the blue of dawn, Istanbul rises to a choir of muzzeins, thier sonorous voices intermittently overlapping one another,calling the faithful to prayer, summoning us to the journey of a new day.
Our students continue to delight and inspire. Their enthusiasm is infectious! I so enjoy hearing their thoughts on life, their studies, their plans for the future and their thoughtful responses to this adventure.
While in the 17th century Blue Mosque, surrounded by its breath-taking tiled walls, they listened with openess as Macit, our well educated, well traveled guide gave a rich and personal explanation of the Five Pillars of Islam. Danial Coffman quickly drew lateral connections between the sun salutation of yoga and the physical movements practiced while Muslums pray. Later, while discussing the architecture of the Blue Mosque, which was fashioned after the 6th century Byzantine church Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, Cass Litle noted that the former "...did not carry the obvious history that shouts out to you from the Hagia Sophia." Oh! And when Brandt Beckman completed his on-site presentation about the massive walls that fortified Constantinople, which are now Istanbul's brooding sentinals from another age, he and his classmates spontaneously stormed the mighty ediface, some climbing its ancient stones as if being led by the spirit of Mehmet the Conqueror.
It is good to see their worlds opening before my eyes. I must say, it restores my soul.
What an amazing country this is! The cities are bustling and a mix of ancient ruins with modern stores, homes and businesses; and, the countryside is scattered with more ruins, quaint towns, and breathtaking waterfronts. We've seen the Agean Sea, the Dardonells, the Bosphorous Straight, the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, and even the Black Sea. We've eaten new and different foods at restaurants specializing in various delicasees from the regions, and we've even passed up a McDonald's and Burger King for traditional Turkish fare!
Today's highlights included Gallipoli and Troy! The first is home to what is now a national park comemorating the 250,000 deaths during a World War I battle in which Turkey, led by Ataturk, maintained its sovreignty. I was inspired by the fact that there were monuments paying tribute to fallen soldiers from a variety of other countries, not just Turkey (Australia, France, England, etc.). While Gallipoli holds a great deal of additional historical significance, this 20th century commemoration was a dramatic contract to the ancient ruins of Troy, some of which date farther back than 2500 B.C. With its unique convergence of history and mythology, the nine layers of the city of Troy were astounding to behold even in the rainy cold weather. Many of us cannot even fathom how old these ruins really are, but we certainly appreciate the tremendous work archaeologists undertake to help us see them. The Trojan Horse located at this site was the 1st replica we've seen - everything else has been original and awe inspiring.
Though we end each day exhausted from our travels and our information overload, we are thrilled to have this experience and are learning more than I can express. Suffice it to say, we have each wondered what our legacies will be and what future generations will uncover of our time. We've also been reminded time and again that we're not the center of the universe and that ours is but one culture, society, experience in this time and on this planet.
DAY 4 IN TURKEY
The first site we visit is Chora – a medieval Greek Orthodox monastery. I am going to refer to this place as “eccentric” in the most literal sense of that word. I'm going to try to explain. Justinian’s original walled city, known then as "Constantinople" is a triangle, and we have good reason to assume the “front” point of the triangle points into the Bosphorus toward Asia.
Yesterday, we visited the Topkapi Palace – itself an enclosed complex of buildings at the front point of Justinian’s enclosure, overlooking the Bosphorus. From where we ate lunch there, at an outdoor restaurant, we could see the Bosphorus connect to the Black Sea, on our right, and to the Golden Horn, on our left. Students were hungry enough to pay for 18-lira chicken sandwiches – about $11.84 in U.S. currency, at the rate they exchanged their money. The students, of course, complained about the high prices. I’m thinking, in response to their complaining: “You’re not paying for a sandwich; you’re paying to eat a sandwich in what was the center of the known universe – if we are assuming that the person with the most money and the best military at his command is the person who declares where the center of the universe rests.
Chora was built inside Justinian’s wall, but was spatially opposite his palace, at the back side of the triangle – as if the monks wished to cloister themselves as far away from the emblems of worldly power as they can. The paradox, of course, is that this protective shell of Monastic repose depended entirely on the Emperor’s military protection. A thousand years later, visitors inside the monastery can still feel simultaneously astonished at the sheer grandiosity of the place and also its calming effect. I’m standing in the middle of the central domed sanctuary, and I feel a quiet energy like I’ve never felt – feng shui on steroids. Put a bed and a kitchen in here, and it’s the ultimate studio apartment.
We’re looking at the ceilings of Chora and trying to fully absorb one of the best collections of authentic Byzantine mosaic artwork in existence. It displays astonishing detail -- natural human form, and a narrative depth and complexity that none of us here can begin to fully translate. Above me is an especially "normal" Jesus turning water to wine. He is standing above several large earthen jars foreshortened to show their large number. To the right, a man with another jar over his shoulder is captured in full stride running toward Jesus. His urgency unlocks the story. “Am I too late!?” he says. We ask: Did Jesus have a wine-making quota? And: If word is spreading that someone is making wine out of water, wouldn’t there be a stampede to the well? And we might be apt to wonder, “Will I get mine”? “Will Christ suffer one more? And one more, and one more?”
Patrick Hotle points to another image of Jesus centrally located above the entrance to the sanctuary. He refers to it as “panocrate,” a Greek word he translates as “ruler of the universe,” and then to the colloquial translation (perhaps an inside joke among medieval historians) of the word as “grumpy Christ.” Jesus’ eyes are two lasers of judgmental scrutiny. Chora’s utter lack of cliché fascinates me. A substantial portion of its mosaic and tempera stories derive from the apocryphal gospels. They are fresh and thought-provoking. My favorite story-icon is an image of Christ floating above a kind of cemetery – but a cemetery out of place and out of time. The space below Christ’s feet is a black and white stew of ambiguous refuse – keys (to jail cells?), chain links (previously draped around the eternally damned?), bones and bone fragments. With his right hand he pulls a man from a coffin. With his left, he pulls a woman from her coffin.
Dr. Hotle tells us the images represent Christ saving Adam and Eve from Hell. This is an astonishing theological idea. Adam and Eve as the “people” we blame for our own leanings toward sin – Adam and Eve as Arch-Scapegoats of humanity, irreversibly culpable – is an idea that glues together the whole Roman Catholic Christian tradition and its complex family of descendants -- i.e., us, too. Here, though, in a Greek Orthodox context, Christ salvages humanity at its mythical source. Byzantine icons flaunt the notion that time must be linear -- that effect must follow cause in one direction, that we only “read” history from our left moving to our right. Iconic logic even explodes anachronism itself. That is, causes and effects don’t occur at single historical moments – Adam and Eve, for example, didn’t sin in a particular moment on a certain day and a certain place, and then do something different the next day. Iconic logic allows Adam and Eve to sin everywhere and anywhere, at all particular times, simultaneously. Viewers may, then, comprehend a Christ that SAVES Adam and Eve – and us – everywhere, anywhere, any time, perpetually.
The great literary scholar Harold Bloom introduced a powerful symbolic concept called “Tessara” -- which, roughly, refers to the phenomenon that stories are extrapolated from the remaining "tiles" of an incomplete "mosaic image” (or, more precisely, out of the remaining fragments of a linear story structure). We imaginatively complete the fragmented stories of the past. The choric mosaics are, on two levels, “tessaraic.” We fill in the missing pieces in our imaginations; scholars fill them in, literally. We fill in the missing sections of a story where/when we find the segments of it missing. Our imaginations must complete our pasts.
We visit a back section of Justinian’s wall. We take turns “storming” the wall. Daniel Coffman and Cassidy Litle help each of us climb into a window in the wall 9 or 9 ½ feet above the ground, and we each get our pictures taken. We discover afterwards that a dog has relieved itself underneath the window because both Cass and Daniel have doggy-doo on both their feet and hands. I wonder: did a special Eunuch of the Emperor walk the Emperor’s dog outside the wall, and did the Emperor’s dog leave messes outside the wall, and did the enemies of Byzantium, stormers of the wall, get doggy-doo on their hands and feet?
We then go to Istanbul's Archeology museum. There are ceramic pots of every size. In almost all cases, the pots have been reconstructed from hundreds and hundreds of broken pieces -- thousands of hours of jigsaw puzzling and meticulous gluing. In one room we find the scant remains of an ornamental peak of a building. There’s one original corner piece and not more than 20 small chunks of the original object, each piece glued to a white, plaster approximation of the original. Maybe the archeologist had other clues, but the presentation seems like the scholarly equivalent of recreating, visually, the image of an entire jigsaw puzzle using only a random sampling of 10 percent of the puzzle pieces. The museum has been designed as a vertical core sampling of the stacked strata of the Turkish region. In successive rooms we wander among the artifacts of death (two rooms of various and sundry sarcophagi); rooms devoted to the visual rendering of the human body – male and female; a room of eating utensils from Troy.
I walk with Erin McAvoy. She returns to the Troy display to gather some last-minute information about Homeric mythology. We read that the actual Trojan war fought by the Aecheans was probably motivated by their wish to expand their military and political influence into the Black Sea, by securing control of the shipping lanes into the maritime entrance to the Black Sea, the Dardanelles. Troy, positioned near the mouth of the Dardanelles, must have been a home base for sailors throughout time. Sailor-soldiers patrolling the bottleneck entrance to the Black Sea might very well have returned to temporary or permanent homes in Troy. Why build and covet a city like Troy? Because, clearly, he who controls the shipping lanes into the Dardanelles controls and receives the wealth stream of the known world. And he who controls the wealth stream of the known world must surely be the ruler of the known world.
Then, Erin and I walk down a lesser-used staircase in the museum. The ceiling of a special exhibit on the first floor also serves as inventory storage for artifacts yet to be assembled. Hundreds of boxes resembling in size and shape grocery store milk crates, each labeled and filled with a pile of related stuff. Most are filled with pottery shards, but in one I also see what looks to me like a human femur. In the United States, I imagine, there would be special sanitized rooms where people dressed like German automotive engineers in white lab coats gingerly position each separate set of artifacts into sterilized storage bins. Here, the milk crate bins that don’t fit on the temporary roof are stacked, willy-nilly, at the base of the stairs. Within this mass of broken history there are almost certainly the pulverized remains of two people buried in her and his private plastic sarcophagus. And what lab-coated puzzle builder, magnifying glass in hand, slouches toward these two, prepared to receive them back into completion?
Day 3 in Turkey
Our tour guide’s name is Macic (pronounced /MAH-jeek/). He is a very likeable man who is bald and wears a goatee. He is also short and looks as if he had been a powerful athlete at one time. He seems able to talk in a fair amount of detail about nearly all features of the country.
We are at the Byzantine hippodrome, or what is barely discernibly left of it. It is several hundred meters from the Bosphorus and was once a very elongated oval chariot racetrack. It would have had very tight corners on either end. The same competitive concept, I suppose, as Talladega Race Track in our NASCAR car racing circuit insofar as the very, very tight turns would have required competitors to slow down considerably. Not like Talladega in terms of the extremely long straight-a-ways. There must have been plenty of wrecks. I’m thinking the Byzantines liked their racing mixed with a little blood – or a lot of blood. What fun is watching a race (we might hear someone from Byzantium or Birmingham, Alabama say) if there is no chance of death?
The Hippodrome was THE center for entertainment and public spectacle, Macic tells us. He’s a natural diplomat. He’s extremely practiced at selling any kind of historical event to any kind of audience – maybe even audiences whose direct relatives were killed in the events he’s describing.
I think about Macic, an ethnic Turk from Izmir, whose job it is to teach Anglo-Americans about Byzantine Greeks. You don’t have too venture far back into history to discover that “geographical displacement” gives birth to the deepest and hottest cultural animosity. “Constantinople,” “Constantine,” or “Istanbul”? Naming rights are everything. Whichever military leader can use his army and navy to push the other guy off the spot gets to name the spot. What is this city? It’s the “Mountain” in “King of the Mountain.”
Macic is talking about the Greeks in the age of Justinian, but he’s also talking about the Greeks living today a peninsula to the left (facing Europe). He says -- with a dryness, “We get along with the Greeks now. We have big love.”
* * *
For me, one of the great introductions to “tough-guy, expatriate sophistication” is Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises.” In it, the character Jake Barnes describes economic exchange as the European socio-cultural groundwork for human relations: “I give you money, and you give me something in return.” In the very European sections of Istanbul money establishes relationships. I walked to a corner snack market down the street from our hotel yesterday evening and found, against my expectation, that the proprietor’s products all had clearly priced labels. For the first time since hitting town, I felt like I knew how much money I was going to get back in change. Shop owners will sometimes list prices on a white board (an extremely ephemeral communication device). Prices can be altered throughout the day, if necessary. Or, often, prices aren’t listed at all, and the shop owner waits for a bargaining process to begin. Or, all too often, the savvy Istanbul shop owner benefits from the unseasoned American tourist’s tendency to underestimate other people’s levels of motivation and intelligence.
Last night, I sat at a patisserie next door to our hotel and ate a kind of cheese-filled Danish and some Turkish cai (pronounced /chIE/). A group of four men sat across the very small room from me, smoking cigarettes, and observing my interactions with the shop owner with intense scrutiny – the kind of scrutiny (my imagination filter feeds me) that people might have applied to chariot races when they smelled disaster. But Istanbul does yield its gifts to anti-materialist sentimentalists like myself.
Just outside the Blue Mosque, a sudden cat. My perceptual habits have not been trained to see cats, but, suddenly, there it is. We are standing in line for our tour of the most famous Islamic mosque in Turkey, ready to remove our shoes, and here is a cat. A very small girl of what appears to be not more than two years old breaks from her parents’ grip and runs to pet the cat. Now, the scene repeats everywhere. I wonder if there’s anything more elemental – more authentically human, more universally human – than a two-year old tending in the direction of a cat. Cats are allowed everywhere in Turkey. One of the more permanent images I will take from the Haiga Sophia – simultaneously the oldest, the most impressive, and most venerated architectural structure in the entire country – is a little girl about my daughter Helen’s age raucously refusing to go home with her parents because, it appears, she will not leave a cat behind she has recently befriended. She could be my daughter. She could be anyone’s 8 year-old daughter anywhere on earth.
The Blue Mosque looks like it has, literally (and I mean “literally”) over an acre of carpet. In the middle of this expanse, a lone man moves a vacuum cleaner, connected to around 50 meters of extension cord, back and forth. Here, Macic gives us the compacted substance of Islam in a 15 minute lecture. He tells us how to pray. He tells us the five requirements for becoming Muslim: (1) pray five times daily; (2) visit Mecca once in one’s life (IF one is physically or financially able – prior to the 20th Century, this meant a 7-month commitment and a very long camel ride); (3) believe in the Holy books of Islam (which automatically entails a deep respect for the great figures of Jewish and Christian traditions, without making any of them part of the Godhead); (4) give 1/40th of your wealth to the poor; and (5) Say “I believe in only one God and his prophet is Muhammad” (and believe it when you say you believe it).
Macic tells us a common topic for a Muslim sermon – warnings to men (Muslim sermons are always directed to males) against gossiping. Ten or fifteen intense arguments I’ve had with my wife buzz across my memory. “Men who gossip,” Macic paraphrases, “cause wars”: “gossiping about someone else’s daughter and who she’s sleeping with will result in murder; and that’s how wars start … gossip leads to the sin of murder, and only God has the right to take life. To take one’s own life is a sin. To fly an airplane into a building is not to practice Islam. Only God has the right to take life.” Macic is the consummate diplomat.
We next visit the Emperor’s palace. I see a girl of around 12, her head covered in a bright, pastel-colored silk scarf. Muslim? She carries a “High School Musical” book bag. We enter the section of the museum reserved for the sacred relics of Islam. In here a PR system broadcasts a man singing passages from the Koran. Later, there he is. Sitting in a sound booth perpetually singing in order, I discover later, to clear the impure spirits from the place.
In the relic line, I come on a clay plaster caste of a footprint. The plaque says that it is the actual footprint of the prophet Muhammad, dating from the 7th century. The caste itself has been broken in half, the pieces reattached with brass hinges. The foot that made the print might – MIGHT -- fit into a size 14 men’s shoe. I quickly look down at my own shoe, contrasting sizes. I could fit my shoed foot inside the plaster indention with plenty of indention to spare.
4 a.m. in Istanbul
It is nearing 4 a.m. in Istanbul. For the past two hours, a pale amber moon has sailed silently above the sleeping waters of the Golden Horn. Only the colorful candle-like reflections of shore lights mark its smooth surface. On the street, five stories below, the ceaseless rhythm of traffic encircles this finger of the Bosphorus, the automobiles' rushing volume rising and falling like wavelets on a sandy shore. The cool night air, albeit bittersweet with exhaust fumes, enters our window gently and a cluttered array of apartment dwellings, juxtaposed at odd angles and of varying heights, waits quietly for the dawn. It is good, once again, to be in the city of Constantine.
Our transit, unlike the great armies of the 4th Crusade that sacked this city in 1204, was one of unmatched comfort and ease. And, unlike the Ottoman Turks in 1453, we breached the city walls with the swiftness of an arrow. Best of all, our army of Culver scholars, eight in all, is bright, well prepared and eager to intellectually capture the historic and modern treasures of this land. I am deeply proud that my alma mater has set their young hearts and minds "Sailing to Byzantium".
FIRST FULL DAY IN COUNTRY
Wow, what a gorgeous city this is! Such a mix of European and Mediterranean influences here. Our tour guide, Majit, is fabulous, and the students have been wonderful travel companions! It took us 24 hours to get here, including the train to Chicago and flights to Rome then Istanbul; and, we've all gotten our body clocks on the right time after a good night's sleep.
We toured several historic sites today - the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sophia Church. Each was magnificent in its own way, and I'm continually amazed by the beautiful mosaics and tile work. Hagia Sophia was built back in the 6th century and is in remarkable condition after all this time. Interesting to see Arabic writing in a Christian church, and more fascinating to discover that the church was used as a Mosque during part of its history.
I hadn't realized how large a city Istanbul is - 13 million people call this place home. It's amazing to be in a place with such a combination of ancient and modern architecture. You can see a new apartment complex built right next to a section of the old wall that surrounded the city! This is such a great reminder about our world being comprised of so many different cultures, peoples, religions, histories, etc. In the craziness and egocentricity of our everyday lives, it can be so easy to forget this and think we're the center of the universe. Personally, I love this reality check!
We're taking tons of pictures and learning so much from Majit, Dr. Hotle, new friends and each other. We look forward to sharing our experiences when we get back to campus. More again soon...one more day in Istanbul, then it's off to smaller albeit historically significant destinations! Stay tuned...
Day 2 in Turkey
My best guess is that I got about 2½ hours of sleep on the airline. The sun breaks above the Western horizon over Alpine France. With so few people on the plane, a few of us congregate around the windows on the port side. From directly above, the Alps appear completely snow-covered, but the valleys are black with evergreen forest. With no direct sunlight, everything is a varying shade of blue. However, we can see many villages and a fewer number larger cities, usually indicated by small strings of light.
The landscape is littered with fantasy vacations. I am imagining having lots of money, spending two weeks in one of those little places, sleeping in a small inn, eating copious amounts of black rye bread, and sausage -- skiing every day until I can’t stand up.
By the time the sun itself breaks over the horizon, we’ve crossed enough of the Mediterranean due south of western Italy to reach the Island of Corsica, where the sharp northern faces of their mountains reflect sunlight back at us. A Turkish woman from Istanbul sitting behind us with her three year-old son asks us what we’re looking at, and only then do I know she’s not Italian. When I tell her, she says she wants to come back there on vacation. The Turkish woman is living in the U.S. and is bringing her son to see his grandparents. She is the type I predominantly associate with Turkish people – friendly, easy to talk to, very trusting and warm. Later, she asks my parents to watch her baggage while she goes somewhere to attend to her son.
We reach the western coast of Italy and fly south down the coast toward Rome. In the descent toward our landing we can see the rural seacoast farmland, checkered with different shades of green. It’s hilly and rich, and the hedgerows appear to separate sections of land whose divisions were determined a long time ago. It’s easy to imagine ancient traditions played out over hundreds and hundreds of cyclical seasons.
The Rome airport is all business. In line at baggage check, while I’m separating everything I’m carrying into examination tubs, a tiny stooped old woman tells me in Italian to put her tubs onto the conveyor belt. I do so, and then quickly lift mine up and on. I go through the metal detector quickly, but half as quickly as the security crew would like, and one of my bags is missing. I let three people know, who appear to ignore me. I find that I have forgotten to put the other bag through. Two security women, both only slightly larger than the old lady, inform me – extremely loudly and into my sternum – that it is not their job to put my bags through security. When my bag gets through X-Ray vision, I’m told to take it off quickly. I do so, but half as quickly as she would like.
I cleanse myself with a $2 cappuccino. Yes, it was very good.
The shops in the Rome airport are all very expensive boutiques. I stop and look at a window display that shows matching green leather shoes and a purse. The women’s shoes are priced at 350 Euros – what I estimate to be around $500.
* * *
About 5:30 in the evening, Istanbul time. We checked into our hotel at around 3:30. I come down to the hotel lobby and the scene through the large plate glass front window is looking down at the inland waterway known as the Golden Horn. The city of Istanbul rises out of the water, a deep blue swarm of buildings. Buildings everywhere. None of them, seemingly, under three stories. Buildings dominating the depth, width and nearly the height of my vision. The outline of Muslim mosques, though, crown (spectacularly) the horizon line – enormous domes, each with at least two minarets -- thin tall columns, sharply pointed at the top – standing alongside.
The remaining sunlight filters through a pink-gray haze. The visual impact is nearly overwhelming. It’s my own reference to full-force romanticism – children’s storybooks with impossibly complicated palaces built on the sides of mountains above the sea. The scene represents -- not just Turkey – but the whole historical specificity of the location -- of Byzantium, its Roman past, its Greek Orthodox Christian past, its Ottoman past, its Muslim past and present, its secular past and present. It is tightly packed metropolis. It is teeming humanity. It is the mass wrestling match of Occident and Orient, of Europe and Asia, of Ancient and Medieval, of Medieval and Renaissance, of Modern and Postmodern. But no opponent will be subdued.
It’s been more than 30 hours since I’ve had anything close to good sleep. Much to my relief, the hotel swimming pool two floors below ground level has unheated water. I float up to my neck in the pool and watch a Turkish father and his two pre-adolescent daughters take turns diving to the pool floor to retrieve their hotel room key.
‘Got to stay awake until 8:30,’ I tell myself.
We’re cruising at 1,007 kilometers per hour 10,700 meters above Quebec, Canada. It’s a little after 6:00 in the evening in Canton, Missouri. Tonight, we’ll fly across the North Atlantic and slice down through Europe before arriving in Rome, Italy, somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning Rome time. Counting the car ride from Canton to the Quincy Amtrack station, beginning at 5:00 am, we’ve been traveling nearly nonstop for 13 hours.
We’ re flying Alitalia Airlines, and were served a shockingly good dinner of chicken, spiced pastrami and barely cooked vegetables. The Italian airline food server looks almost exactly like the minor supply clerk character on M*A*S*H who had a never-ending feud with Corporal Klinger. Before dinner, we were served drinks, and this man asks me, in an accent I have trouble decoding, if I’d like something to drink. When I say “coffee,” he gives me a pained and exasperated expression and tells me, “Coffee is after dinner!”
Now dinner is over, and it’s ink dark outside. I think I see the moon directly parallel to us, and it looks like a flashlight held sideways on high-beam, but it’s really the wing tip light. Amber Priebe is looking at the networks of small towns more than 30,000 feet underneath us. I’m thinking: visible civilization is made of light. The towns appear as two-dimensional clusters of light connected with stringy filaments. ‘Down there’ looks like an extremely large, dark textbook image of synaptic brain nerves, complete with the barely discernible bundles of light and energy moving between them.
I’ve left my wife Jayme behind in Canton. She had a bunion operation a day before Thanksgiving. Dr. Freel put two screws in her foot. She’s getting my two “profoundly active” children ready for a bath – on crutches – somehow. About 2½ hours ago, sitting on the carpeted floor of O’Hare Airport, I lost a chips-only poker game to Brandt Beckman. I went all in on two pair -- Jacks and 8s -- and this freshman hits me in the back of the head with a flush on the river card, and at this moment my wife is putting my writhing, sleep-deprivation crazed son into a bathtub.
I feel like I’m fleeing the scene of an international crime.
I do a quick check of the airline radio listening options. There’s an all children’s station advertised with an album cover of Kermit the Frog with a guitar, titled “Kermit Unplugged.” For a minute or so I listen to Kermit covering The Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.” I notice that, for a little money on my credit card, I can listen to a station devoted entirely to the music of Coldplay. I opt instead for a “Refreshing Toilette.” I expect to smell lemon but am greeted instead with a complex floral ambience. Europe is just so different – at least the Europe someone fit onto a jet airplane.
Maybe it’s the world economy spiraling downward, but the ease of our passing over from one continent to another has been, well, surreal. We walked directly to the ticket counter for bag check-in. We made it through customs and security check without waiting in line. Not 10 minutes after boarding the plane, the captain was backing us out and queuing us up for take-off. It’s an overnight flight. At any other time in history airlines are packing intercontinental flights tight enough to give a sardine claustrophobia. Here, all persons willing to flip up a couple of armrests have, basically, an entire lumpy bed to themselves.
And we’re headed toward Rome. No, no. We’re headed toward an airport in Rome – which is like saying (statistically) “We’re headed toward _____ International Airport,” and you can fill in the blank with whatever sophisticated cosmopolis you wish.
Yes, the pessimist in me says that all airports anywhere in the world are pretty much like any other. I’m hoping Rome will be an exception. Tomorrow, after very little sleep, we’ll be laying over for about 2 hours in Rome before hopping over the Greek peninsula and landing on Istanbul. My first plan is: find a genuine Italian coffee shop, purchase coffee that I will need to chew 12 times before swallowing; then maybe I’ll stay awake. I’ll find a good window somewhere in the airport and get as good a look at Rome as I can.
They’re serving breakfast on this flight as well. I wonder: what do Italians eat for breakfast? Or, rather, what do Italians feed each other on airline flights?