What a remarkable day yesterday (Fr?day 27th) was. I am up very early th?s morn?ng (5:30am) after a very late n?ght last n?ght (bed at 12:30am) ?n order to record all that happened.
We are stay?ng ?n the Anemos Hotel ?n Izm?r (Smyrna). Luck?ly there ?s an ?nternet room here and I don’t have to go out search?ng for a connect?on. It ?s a very very n?ce hotel that belongs to a member of the Bus?ness Assoc?at?on network that ?s host?ng us.
The boys from last n?ght–Izzenet and Emre–turned up early th?s morn?ng to shepherd us on our way, dr?v?ng ahead of us ?n the?r car. They stuck w?th us all through the day to care for our every need. S?nce they were both dressed ?n dark su?t and t?e, and regularly talk?ng ?nto the?r mob?le phones (they were tak?ng a day off from the?r bus?ness for our sake) they looked rather l?ke our body guard or m?nders.
There was a good road from Izm?r to Ephesus (Selçuk)–a major 3 lane freeway. The coastal pla?n ?s qu?te flat but then r?ses sharply ?nto mounta?nous areas (the average alt?tude of Turkey ?s 1100m). As we drove along we could see anc?ent Crusader castles h?gh on the r?dges of some of the mounta?ns. There ?s much clear open agr?cultural land, but ?t ?s clear that the agr?culture ?s done on a small scale and w?th labour ?ntens?ve techn?ques.
They day ahead of us (and yesterday for that matter) was go?ng to be l?ke the equ?valent of a f?n?sh?ng year of my Bachelor of Arts degree at Adela?de Un?vers?ty, where I stud?ed Class?cs, Byzant?ne h?story, lat?n and ph?losophy. I was not really prepared for many th?ngs that I saw and exper?enced along the way. When we arr?ved ?n Selçuk the f?rst th?ng we not?ced was an old mosque w?th storks nest?ng on the m?naret. A scene out of a story book–there are storks everywhere on all the h?gh places. As I walked up a h?ll to get a better photograph, I stumbled across the rema?ns of an anc?ent Roman aquaduct. It was go?ng to be that k?nd of a day.
Ephesus (or Efes as ?t ?s locally known) ?s a few m?les out of Selçuk. F?rst however we went up ?nto the mounta?ns to the House of Mary, the place where the Blessed V?rg?n ?s sa?d to have l?ved w?th St John and from where she ?s sa?d to have been assumed ?nto heaven. It ?s also the place where Pope Bened?ct celebrated mass last year ?n November–the very outdoor altar area ?tself ?s a permanent construct?on. Th?s house ?s not an anc?ent place of p?lgr?mage. It was “d?scovered” through a v?s?on of Cather?ne Anne Emmer?ch–wh?ch ?s as good a reason as any to be doubtful of ?ts authent?c?ty. In any case, the h?story doesn’t really matter here. Today ?t ?s a place of prayer and many people–Chr?st?ans and Musl?ms–come here and make ?t a place of prayer. I was happy because ?t was the f?rst place I had v?s?ted here where I could openly pray and s?ng w?thout g?v?ng offense. It was expected by our hosts that th?s would be a spec?al place for me. I l?t three candles–one for my two daughters and one for Cathy–and sang Ave Mar?a, Reg?na Cael? and the Pater Noster for all my fam?ly and fr?ends.
Outs?de Emre and “The Boys” were look?ng at all the prayer notes attached to a wall nearby. Emre expla?ned to the rest of the group that Musl?ms regard such pract?ces as “superst?t?on”. I sa?d that that wasn’t qu?te fa?r. It m?ght be superst?t?on ?f ?t was a matter of bel?ef that st?ck?ng a prayer on the wall worked l?ke mag?c–but ?t ?s better to see ?t as an act of fa?th ?n the grace of God. Later on last n?ght Emre made a comment about the Musl?m custom of say?ng an ?ncantat?on aga?nst “The Ev?l Eye”. “And that’s not superst?t?on, Emre?” I asked. “No, because ?ts our fa?th.” I suggested that our rel?g?ous pract?ces m?ght be a good top?c for further d?alogue…
We left the “V?rg?n Mary Culture Park” (yes, that ?s what ?t was off?c?ally known as) and went back down the mounta?n to the ru?ns of the anc?ent c?ty of Ephesus. Gav?n had been here about seven years ago and commented that even ?n that t?me there has been a lot of reconstruct?on work done. I must say I found th?s overwhelm?ng. When you f?rst arr?ve, you see the Odeon and the government area–and you m?ght be led ?nto th?nk?ng WOW, but also “Is that ?t?” because the rest of the c?ty ?s out of s?ght. Then you go around the corner and down the h?ll and there ?t ?s ?n front of you–anc?ent h?story all around ?n the stones of the past. I could have spent a whole week there. As ?t was, my camera batter?es were runn?ng low and my photo card came up “full” after the f?rst two p?ctures. The bus had gone around to the other s?de and so I had to use a smaller resolut?on, delete some photos, and use the ?nternal memory. We were on a t?ght schedule w?th Emre hurry?ng us along at all po?nts, and ?nev?tably some major attract?ons of the area were m?ssed. We suddenly found ourselves at the other s?de where Can was wa?t?ng w?th the bus–and I had hoped that we would be able to cl?mb up the ma?n theatre where St Paul was caught up ?n the r?ot reported ?n the book of Acts. At the t?me also, I was unaware that th?s was the s?te of the Church of St Mary–the anc?ent church where the Counc?l of Ephesus was held. I thought that was a separate locat?on. As ?t was, I had actually walked r?ght past the spot–AND taken a photograph of ?t–w?thout know?ng what I was look?ng at. It appeared to be s?mply the cont?nuat?on of the old Harbour Street. Th?s led to a ph?losoph?cal reflect?on later on ?n the bus: can you say you have actually been somewhere ?f when you were there you d?dn’t know you were there?
We lunched ?n the sun alongs?de the sw?mm?ng pool at a new Hotel that was be?ng bu?lt nearby (also owned by a member of the Bus?ness Network). Qu?te a surpr?s?ng place. It could have been ?n Queensland. Th?s effect was made part?cularly strong by the fact that there were gum trees and wattle trees planted all around the jo?nt. They were much older than the hotel–so they must have been planted by a prev?ous owner. The Wattle trees d?d g?ve us an opportun?ty to po?nt out to our dr?ver Can why the young Austral?ans at ANZAC cove were wear?ng green and gold (he had asked about th?s). Over lunch we talked a l?ttle about Austral?an h?story w?th our hosts and w?th Emre–?nclud?ng the h?story of the Second World War and the feared Japanese ?nvas?on. They had not known that the h?story of Austral?a wh?ch could be sa?d to have begun w?th Gall?pol? could have ended ?n 1944. Th?rty years later. That would not only have been “A Short h?story of Austral?a” but “THE Short H?story of Austral?a.” Emre posed a quest?on asked by Gülen: Wh?ch ?s more ?mportant–the mak?ng of h?story or the wr?t?ng of h?story?
On the way to lunch we v?s?ted a weav?ng school where we saw s?lk be?ng unravelled and carpet weav?ng be?ng done–wool on wool, wool on cotton, s?lk on s?lk–qu?te amaz?ng, but also lead?ng us ?nto an understand?ng of what ?s ?nvolved ?n the construct?on of the carpets and why d?fferent carpets are valued d?fferently.
Then we headed back ?nto Selçuk where I thought we were go?ng to see the old fort of St John that was bu?lt by the Crusaders at th?s po?nt. In fact, I was ?n for a surpr?se: there ?s no access to the fort because th?s ?s st?ll a m?l?tary establ?shment–BUT just below ?t are the ru?ns of the Church of St John. Th?s place ?s an eye opener and make no m?stake. Arch?tecturally the bu?ld?ng ?s
a l?turg?olog?sts dream. It shows perfectly the anc?ent cruc?form bas?ll?ca shape, the large separate bapt?stry w?th sta?rs go?ng down and out of a deep pool, and a small s?de chapel w?th well preserved mosa?cs. Most exc?t?ng was that ?n th?s l?ttle chapel were the four legs of what was once a altar–w?th the top (“the mensa”) m?ss?ng. but although the chapel runs north south, th?s altar faces EAST. So there was no ?ntent?on of the pr?est celebrat?ng fac?ng the people–who would have beeen on h?s r?ght dur?ng h?s celebrat?on–h?s ?ntent?on was to face the r?s?ng sun as an or?entat?on toward the resurrect?on. I then real?sed that the whole bas?l?ca was or?ented East-West and that the ma?n altar would have been fac?ng East also.
But here ?s where the real surpr?se came. Under the four columns that would once have supported the cover?ng canopy or “c?bor?um” over the altar (wh?ch ?s no longer there) was a marble plaque say?ng “The Tomb of St John”. You’re k?dd?ng, I thought. Why d?dn’t any one tell me about THIS? Why d?dn’t I know about ?t? Why–for goodness sake–wasn’t the place st?ll a l?v?ng church w?th a constant throng of p?lgr?ms? All these quest?ons are st?ll ?n my m?nd, but s?nce th?s was the f?rst t?me I had ever been at the tomb of an Apostle, I ?mmed?ately added ?t to my l?st of dest?nat?ons on my p?lgr?mage and knelt to pray for my w?fe and daughters, my fam?ly and fr?ends, and for my deceased grandmother. I w?sh I could have l?t a candle or someth?ng.
Down the h?ll (yes, I was gett?ng the hurry up aga?n…) we went ?nto the old 14th Century mosque that ?s below the bas?l?ca, Isa Bey Mosque (Lord Jesus Mosque). In the last days of the Bas?l?ca (before ?t was f?nally ru?ned by earthquake) ?t was used for both a church and a mosque. Now blocks of stone from the Bas?l?ca were used to construct th?s rather spec?al mosque. Emre went ?n to pray, and I went ?n to take a look. Hold on, I thought, there’s someth?ng wrong here. The mosque was fac?ng–and thus determ?n?ng the d?rect?on for prayer–not to the east but to the South and sl?ghtly west–a full 90 degrees away from the d?rect?on of Mecca. Emre d?d not bel?eve me, so I left h?m to h?s prayers and wandered outs?de to get a better look of the mosque’s or?entat?on ?n relat?on to the Church above ?t. There and then I could not solve the problem, but last n?ght ?n bed I dec?ded that what I should do ?s Google Earth the s?te wh?ch would prove ?t. In fact, ?f you look at the satell?te p?cture on the page I have l?nked to above, you w?ll see what I mean. The courtyard of the mosque ?s at the “back” of the mosque and the front wall ?s clearly fac?ng southwest.
As I was wander?ng around outs?de, I was d?stracted by the souven?er stalls. I don’t really l?ke haggl?ng ?n a fore?gn language–but there was someth?ng that I wanted (I would descr?be ?t here but I want ?t to be a surpr?se when I get home). Eventually I bought two ?tems–the second ?tem thrown ?n made both ?tems cheaper–for about half the or?g?nal ask?ng pr?ce. Nevertheless I d?dn’t have enough cash on me and Can eventually ended up solv?ng the problem by loan?ng me a few l?ra. In fact Can was babbl?ng on ?n Turk?sh to the stall owner all the way through the transact?on–and I had no ?dea what the two of them were say?ng. Later I sa?d to Emre that I w?shed that Can could speak Engl?sh–Emre translated to Can and he repl?ed that he ?s glad he doesn’t speak Engl?sh or I would talk non-stop to h?m too! Sm?ley face.
We went back down the coast then. Our m?nders, Emre and Izz?net, took us to the coastal tour?st town of Kusadas?. Th?s ?s a town on the Aegean Sea w?th about 47500 people. I tr?ed us?ng my Mastercard to get a cash advance from an ATM here but w?th no luck. I w?ll have to try my VISA today. I also had the opportun?ty of st?ck?ng my toe ?n the Aegean sea. Izz?net and Emre must have thought me crazy as I just pulled off one shoe and sock and put my foot ?n the water just to say I had done ?t! The Boys then took us up to a tea house on the h?ll above the town where sat and breathed ?n the sea a?r and relaxed for a wh?le before head?ng home to Izm?r.
I keep gett?ng d?sor?entated as we travel. Everyth?ng ?s back to front: the Sun ?s ?n the wrong place, the days are too long, the traff?c ?s on the wrong s?de of the road and goes ?n the wrong d?rect?on. It ?s as ?f I have gone “through the look?ng glass”–or perhaps even better to say that I have fallen down a rabb?t hole ?nto Wonderland (we even have our own l?ttle wh?te rabb?t–aka Emre–go?ng “I’m late, I’m late…”).
Many surpr?ses today, but the greatest surpr?se was reserved for ton?ght. We have eaten very well on th?s tr?p–I m?ght even have put on a few ounces. We have eaten ?n f?ne restaurants, at schools, TV stat?ons and ?n the homes of great men–but ton?ght we were ?nv?ted ?nto the home of a young man and h?s w?fe ?n the?r suburban apartment h?ghr?se block and ?t was the best hosp?tal?ty we have rece?ved yet: because they gave freely out of the?r few resources. Our host was Fehm? (who manages a school canteen) and h?s w?fe Gülcan. They had three ch?ldren: G?zem aged 12, Enes aged 9 and a l?ttle newborn just 45 days old, Hal?d. Hal?d was asleep when we arr?ved but he was brought out later to everyone’s ooohs and aaahs. (I have a great p?cture of Izz?net cradl?ng the l?ttle one–wh?ch broke another stereo type for me of the Turk?sh male). Fehm?’s fam?ly were ass?ted by the?r ne?ghbours Isma?l (a phys?cs teacher at a tutor?al school), h?s w?fe Betül and the?r daughter Nes?be also aged 12. The two g?rls had dressed up ?n trad?t?onal turk?sh dress from the South East of Turkey and looked very smart. They offered the more ornate dress to Chr?s to try on–wh?ch after a b?t of coax?ng she d?d. She looked absolutely regal ?n ?t. Aga?n more beaut?ful p?ctures w?th her cuddl?ng l?ttle Hal?d.
The apartment was very small. Ten of us crowded around a small table made for s?x wh?le the ch?ldren ate at a separate table (as we do at fam?ly gather?ngs)–and our hosts (as seems to be the custom) s?mply served us and d?d not eat themselves. Aga?n we were completely rel?ant on Emre for translat?on but the conversat?on was d?verse and ?nt?mate. We talked about the ch?ldren’s schools, about food (we were served a spec?al p?laf wrapped ?n pastry from SE Turkey), about hosp?tal?ty, about fam?ly–just the same as we would w?th any of our fr?ends. Unl?ke anywhere else on our tr?p, the ch?ldren and w?ves jo?ned ?n the conversat?on and were always present. The food was as good as any that we had rece?ved from any restaurant.
After dessert (and after I used a turk?sh to?let for the f?rst t?me) we went upsta?rs to Isma?l’s place for tea. By th?s stage ?t was about 11pm and I was gett?ng sleepy. We were served l?ttle sweets w?th our tea called “Rum?” loll?es (after the suf? poet)–they looked l?ke mothballs and were pure sugar. As Emre sa?d, a few of these and you w?ll be wh?rl?ng l?ke a derv?sh! They asked ?f we wanted to smoke, but we expla?ned that we don,t smoke ?ns?de ?n Austral?a (desp?te the fact that several of us are smokers). Th?s led (for some reason) to a d?scuss?on of alcohol ?n Turkey.
Kev?n offered pamphlets about h?s school ?n Turk?sh to the ch?ldren and encouraged them to ema?l h?m. Betül asked us a s?m?lar quest?on to Emre Mk II’s quest?on last n?ght: “What were our ?mpress?ons of Turk?sh people and how has th?s removed preconcept?ons?” Th?s formed the bas?s of conversat?on for a wh?le. Then ?t was t?me to say goodbye–and they presented us w?th beaut?ful g?fts each: Selçuk ceram?c handmade plates of trad?t?onal des?gn. We left there very grateful and very t?red–ready for bed.
truly a day of surpr?ses and hosp?tal?ty.