Sunday, September 30, 2007

could be bulls, could be eunuchs

It takes one taxi ride (with another pause for cow roadblock) and three dolmuşes to get from Lake Bafa to Selçuk. There's lots of budget accommodation in this town, and I choose to stay at the Australia New Zealand Guesthouse. After the solitude of Selene's, I'm pretty sure I won't be the only guest in a hostel. Directed to the massive basement dorm, I'm told "take any bed you want, they're all free." Indeed they are. Goldilocks-style, I tried out a couple before settling. The common areas are covered in pillows, carpets, and one bouncy kitten. The hostel owner also has a carpet shop, and one of the brothers who runs it offers to give me a tour of the town. We stop for a Turkish ice cream, which is called dondurma. It's heavy and dense, and the ice cream man scoops it out with a flat metal spoon that has a handle at least two and a half feet long. I get chocolate and vanilla, and he puts the flavors into four layers, then dips the top in chocolate. Munching our cones, Mehmet asks me to not mention it to anyone at the hostel, since he's supposed to be observing Ramadan. Aha, I'm just an excuse to get away from the hostel. But more than having the munchies, he really wants a cigarette.

Selçuk is a small and tidy. In Bodrum, everything felt crammed together and piled up, but here the city feels more open and spread out. There's an ancient aqueduct strung along the marketplace, abandoned storks' nests on top. The storks are all gone now, except for one recovering from a broken wing, who now hangs out in a vacant lot. No one is sure if it'll be able to fly again. It has a little cardboard house next to a nearby café, so I think it leads an okay life. The aqueduct runs toward the Basilica of Saint John, final resting place of Saint John the Evangelist. There are ruins of old Turkish baths, and the fourteenth century Isa Bey Mosque, displaying a number of Arabic tombstones in the courtyard. Mehmet points out a reappropriated stone in a stairway with some Greek letters in it.

In the marketplace we get some chicken doner for dinner (the sun still hasn't set). The cook dumps in two spoonfuls of chili to pep them up. My nose runneth over. Doner in Turkey is served on bread, not pitas. Fresh bread is everywhere here and a basket of bread is served at every meal. Stand on the street and look around, and someone will be toting a bread loaf.

A zippy chicken doner for 1.25 YTL is a good attraction for any town, but Selçuk's main draw is Ephesus. I pretty much reached peak saturation on ancient ruins sometime back in Greece, but made room in my brain for this. I really should have gone in the evening to escape the tour bus groups, but maybe the doner chili fried my brain a bit and I went mid-morning. Small tour groups are okay, but the big ones with full busloads of people wearing identical bright hats stir some blood lust in me. I don't object to having an educated guide, but rather to their manner. So often at these places a tour consists of over 40 people being led around by a guide who has no compunction about stepping into the way of everyone else, and parking it there while giving their extended spiels about ancient toilets and whatnot. I want to seize one of those long dondurma spoons and smack them all around. Ephesus is heaving with people, but my two favorites are a couple of older Indian ladies who are making gentle yet sardonic comments about the tourists and stray cats, and trying to make sense of what is what from their Lonely Planet guidebook (Ephesus is quite extensive). I kept bumping into them as I worked my way through, our last moment shared sitting across the the Temple of Hadrian, admiring the pediments. And waiting for a tour group to get out of the way.

The pièce de resistence is the facade of the Library of Celsus. You'd have to be the village idiot to not want to study here. The Library and the Temple of Hadrian are both on the back of the 20 lira note. Words can't do it justice, you'll just have to look at the pictures. Not mine, they aren't that great, and I didn't take too many of the Library. It came at the end of the three hours I spent there, and I decided to just sit in the shade and spend my time looking at it. Taking pictures of buildings is difficult in general, and taking pictures of ruined buildings is even harder. I've stopped trying so hard to get a good shot, since most of the monuments I'm seeing everywhere have already been photographed with cameras fancier than my digital point-n-shoot. Photo fatigue is also starting to set in. Anyway, more optical trickery is afoot here, the center columns being higher and wider than the ones on the side. Those wily ancients; I'm always fascinated by humanity's ability to solve perplexing problems, whether it's a matter of perspective or a matter of navigation in the middle of the ocean.

Walking the three kilometers back to town I meet an old codger who tries to sell me "Roman" coins that he's dug up from his tomato patch. He's holding an unlit cigarette and hacking up his one remaining lung that's able to draw air. First I humor his sales pitch, and then I tell him to quit smoking. A couple of kilometers later another guy is sitting on the side of the path with a cart full of fruit that he's handing out to passers-by, which is only me at the moment. He has a garden full of figs and melons, and just gives them away. I eat some fruit, listen to Turkish pop music, admire his garden, and decline his marriage proposal. At least, I think it was a marriage proposal. Whatever it was, I said no. Hayir. He doesn't seem terribly disappointed, and gives me a bag of fruit to take back to the guesthouse. When I get there, both the owner and kitten are fast asleep on separate couches. Siesta time. The days are still hot and sunny, but the nights are mercifully starting to be cool. Since I walk everywhere I'm still doing my fair share of sweating and feeling sticky, but at least it's no longer on a 24 hour basis.

I need food to prepare for the Ephesus Museum. Pide is Turkish pizza, elongated instead of round. I get a veggie pide and take it back to the guesthouse to eat in the comfort of the cushions. It's made to order, and is still warm and melty. I commit a complete faux pas asking the owner (now awake) if he wants any (he's Muslim). I didn't actually realize until the next day what I had done, and Harry hadn't seemed offended at all, but I still mentally banged my head on the table. As another hosteler put it, she was pretty sure she offended at least one person every day.

Speaking of food...Turkey has all sorts of sweets drenched in sticky syrup. I bought a tray of these little donuts fresh after being fried up. Straight from boiling oil to a a pot of syrup to my gullet.

And I took this surreptitiously at Ephesus. I've been looking high and low through Turkey to find another carton of this, but so far have had no luck. Must be a special brand:

The Ephesus Museum is quite small, the main draw being the two statues of Artemis. Ephesian Artemis isn't the same as Greek Artemis, and she has many of the same attributes as Cybele. I've only found a very basic explanation of why she is called Artemis; more of the proverbial research is needed. And all those bulges? Not breasts, as originally thought. No, current theory has them as testicles, either of the bulls sacrificed to her, or of her eunuch priests. Maybe she can be the new poster child for having your pet neutered, but obviously the eunuch theory is way more interesting. Either way, they weird me out a bit.

The Temple of Artemis is called the Artemision, and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Massive. It has a bigger footprint than the Parthenon. Not much is left today except a foundation in need of a weedwacker, a flock of geese, and a couple of re-erected columns. The tall column is shorter than the original height, and the short one is barely there. The overall impression is kind of underwhelming. Given its Seven Wonders street cred, and proximity to the the major tourist draw of Ephesus, I would think that its presentation would warrant more attention. If you missed the rusty sign at the gate, you'd know you were walking through something from the days of yore, but probably never realize you were walking through major ancient history.

I spent my first night in the hostel dorm alone with one other person whose identity I never established. Something was breathing behind a sheet of fabric draped over the bunk bed. The third night has the place at least half full with travelers from all over the place and full of fun stories. Harry offers a nightly barbecue on the rooftop terrace, and most of us spend the evening sitting in the fresh air, eating good food, and talking until the nighttime chill drives us inside. It's a fairly international group, and topics range from cultural perceptions to how to dispose of a body (hypothetically). And travel. If someone is staying at a hostel, chances are likely that they love to travel. It's not everyone who can put up with funky bathroom doors that don't lock properly, deal with alarm clocks going off at all hours, wear the same pair of socks three days in a row, and still retain good humor. We may wish our laundry was clean, but we're not going to let it ruin our day or get in the way of exploring. Give me a band of whiffy happy hostelers over freshly bathed group tour group lemmings any day.

My original plan was to continue up the Aegean coast from Selçuk to Bergama/Pergamon and Assos, but my brain has now reached critical mass on ancient ruins. It won't absorb any more information involving anything with marble columns and pediments, so I decide to no longer chase Greek and Roman antiquities. Instead, I'm going to head east in favor of something even older, and way weirder.

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