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June 16th, 2008

Turkish Delight--6/14

Saturday, we were in Kusadasi, Turkey. Which was once a fishing village outside of the ancient seaport of Ephesus, and is now a thriving (you guessed it) port town entirely organized around parting tourists from their money. Openly. You look in a shop window, somebody comes out and says, "You want to spend some money here?" Word.

There are beaches, an amusement park, hotels in every flavor from basic to Five Star with decorated towers like a pasha's palace, rug merchants by the thousand, jewelers, ditto. Countless sellers of pashmina shawls and brightly painted ceramics, and magnets shaped like Turkish slippers and tote bags made of Oriental-rug-like polyester brocade and blue glass evil eye charms. Outside some of the rug stores, a woman sat at a small loom, hand-knotting in front of your very eyes.

We got out of there so fast, our feet barely touched the ground.

We hired a taxi to Selcuk, where we'd learned there was a market. And boy, was there ever. Biggest market I've ever seen, with real produce from the real countryside, sold by real farmers, mostly. Weathered, lined, gnarled folk of indeterminate age, the women in head scarves and bright calico long-sleeved blouses and baggy pants (usually in different flowered prints). We bought fruit--peaches, apricots, cherries--plus two kinds of loves and fresh cheese yogurt and tomatoes and a very salty goat cheese. We know it was goat because Ellen baa-ed at the young girl minding the stall and held her fingers up to her head like horns, which produced many giggles--and the cheese, of course. There was also horse furniture--saddles and bridles and headstalls--and bells for your cows and goats and new heads for your hoe and your mattock and coffee pots and underwear and baggy pants in fussy prints and heaven alone knows what all else. If there hadn't been a taxi driver and a ship waiting for us, we'd have been there still.

But there was. We met the driver at the hour appointed, and he drove us to Ephesus.

Words fail me. Genuinely. It was once a good-sized city (for ancient values of "city"), with a harbor and an important temple of Artemis and apartment buildings and baths and a big library and fountains and office buildings and a market, two theatres, a brothel, a sewage system, running water--everything, in fact, that a major metropolitan center needs. And then the harbor silted up, and the city died, gradually, but definitively. They've been excavating it for over a hundred years, and they still haven't come to the end of it.

It was beautiful, especially the mosaic floors of one especially well-preserved apartment complex, and the library, which still looks like a building and has the founder and major donor buried in the basement, and the two stepped theatres (one for politicians, one for entertainment). It was also very, very hot and very, very, very bright. We dodged from shadow to shadow, guzzling water and cherry juice, sitting under trees and in the lee-side of walls, eavesdropping on other people's tours (which is how we learned about the guy buried under the library). One of them was Japanese. Most of the women were sensibly carrying parasols or wearing sunhats, but some of the older woman were swathed against the sun in long-sleeved shirts, gloves, scarves over their heads, sunhats over the scarves, sunglasses, and parasols. One of them had a filmy black scarf over her head and face, and had put her sunglasses on over that, creating a kind of Star Wars alien effect. I don't know why they didn't melt (it's about a kilometer from one end of the ruins to the other, and you can't bail out half-way).

So we wandered and we photographed, and when we came to the end of the ruins, we ran a gauntlet of more merchants selling more tourist tat. We succumbed to some lovely little ceramic bowls, then climbed back into the taxi (blessedly airconditioned) and drove back to Kusadasi.

My goddaughter graduated highschool this spring (I went to her graduation, in fact, the day we left on this trip), and I wanted to get her a present. In one of the shop windows, lurking among the Grand Lady jewels, I saw a simple gold necklace with turquoise beads on it, and thought, "well, I haven't given her a birthday present or a Christmas present since she was maybe 10. It's time, already." So we go in, and we look at the necklace, and we look at others like it (many of them set with emeralds), and the guy asks where we're from, and we talk about New York, and he asks if Ellen is Jewish (we've already noticed the big mezuzzah on the door), and there's some discussion of Turkish politics and the necessity of having a Turkish and a Jewish name (with corresponding passports, for when he wants to do business in Dubai). And the price of the necklace keeps going down and down and down until finally, I'm paying what I can afford for it (which is about half of what he was originally asking), and I haven't actually done any bargaining, just listened while he and Ellen chatted.

It was really quite restful. And now I have a lovely necklace for my goddaughter.

Sunday was a sea day, thank heaven. My feet and legs needed a day of rest, not to mention the blisters. I worked on my book pretty much all day, and I'm glad to say that the saggy, baggy middle of the book is now tighter, lighter, and altogether streamlined. I had to kill a whole long scene which I loved, but it's better without. I'll save the scene for a short story, maybe. It has some of my favorite characters from the last book in it.

I suspect we'll be coming back to Turkey some time. It's a beautiful, stern, friendly place, and Ellen likes it very much. Food's good, too--reportedly, since all we ate was a rather ordinary turkey schwarma at a take-out stand. I'd like to see Istanbul again.

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