Sunday, June 21, 2015

(Almost) alone at the Artemis Temple

I'm not proud of it, but I've got to admit, over the years, I've become a bit of a ruins snob.

I've been lucky enough to be able to visit some stunning, awe-inspiring, downright reverence-inducing ancient sites -- from the colosseum of El Jem, where you can walk through the cellars that once held wild beasts of all types, to the temple complex of Baalbek, with its mysterious megalithic stone blocks -- many of them blissfully free of crowds.

The downside of this good fortune is that it takes more than a towering structure or a well-preserved frieze to impress me (and that it makes me embarrassed to feel so blasé when other visitors are clearly wowed). A ruin usually sticks in my mind and my heart not because of its size, age, or level of preservation, but because of its setting and the experience I was able to have there -- whether hearing the call to prayer rise up from the modern city of Bergama while gazing out over the ancient ruins of Pergamon, poking my head into the 2,000-year-old shops of Ostia Antica, or rambling freely over the remains of Patara.

So while intellectually I can appreciate the value of Ephesus, heralded as the the best-preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean, traipsing down its mile-long main avenue along with thousands of other camera-toting, flag-following tourists can feel more like a slog than a privilege, especially in the midday summer heat.

The Temple of Artemis, annoying tout not pictured

I thought I'd found my Selçuk-area bliss instead at the Temple of Artemis; one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it now scarcely merits a single-line mention in most guidebooks. But what could be more evocative of the tides of history and twists of fate than this once-grand temple reduced to a scant few architectural remnants rising out of a murky green swamp, birds nesting atop its scattered capitals? I sat happily on part of an old column in the shade of a mulberry tree for some time, listening to the birds all around and watching them wade, swim, and dive in the plant-filled waters. The dusty, hot modern town was largely hidden behind layers of green, affording a wonderful view of the İsa Bey Mosque and the Basilica of St. John.

Just one thing disturbed my reverie, like the buzzing of a mosquito all the more difficult to ignore the longer it went on: the insistent voice of the sole other person at the site, a vendor calling out "Lady, postcard! Postcard, lady! Laaaady!" 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ode to the night bus

I love the feeling of waking up in a new place, of drowsily realizing that the rolling hills out the window are not the concrete caverns you left behind....

I love the bustle of the mola dinlenme tesisi, with its rows of giant buses being hosed down and crowds of people shopping, eating, and smoking as if it was midday and not two in the morning...

I love arriving not at a sterile, interchangeable airport but at a dusty small-town bus station or boisterous big-city otogar, its halls echoing with the shouts of touts calling out their company's destinations, or the drumming and singing that sends a young man off on his way to become a soldier...

I love watching families being able to accompany their travelers until the last minute, coming onto the bus to make sure they're settled into their seats, waving madly as the engine starts, even running alongside the bus as it starts to pull away...

I love stamping through snow at a midnight stop en route to the beach, where it's still warm enough to swim in the sea, reminding me how big and geographically diverse this country is...

And, I'll admit it, I love the little paper cups of Nescafe, and the snack-packs of processed cookies too.