Thursday, January 03, 2013

old stuff

And again I begin the post with dinner. We are in a room (sealed off by plastic for the winter, heated by a wood burning stove - what a surprise...) with four tables.

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We are the only guests, unless you count the guy who comes in halfway through to read the paper. Ali, the proprietor tells us --  he's a friend. From the army or the police or some such protective service. He's a friend to tourists! -- Ali adds, as if we'd somehow think otherwise.

Ali asks us what music we want. I tell him -- you pick.
Turkish then!

He fusses over us. The menu is necessarily limited, but the food is fresh and honest. Salads, peppers with yogurt, mushrooms with cheese. Lamb shishkabob (Ed winced, but quietly acquiesced), grated veggies. Rice. If you look at menus here, they are all just like that.

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We ask about baklava. His face falls. No, sorry. We assure him it doesn't matter, that we do not need yet another portion (see post below) of baklava, but you can see he hates to say no. He stokes the fire and brings chestnuts. He places before us a plate of fruits -- oranges and... what's that? I ask.
Quince! He actually beams when he says it. Have you eaten raw quince? We put it in paper napkins when he isn't looking. Ah, you like quince! -- Ali smiles, noting the empty plate. I bring more!
No no, we're very full, very full...

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As we leave, Ali shakes hands and asks shyly -- if you want, can you write something for TripAdvisor?

Ah, TripAdivsor. Just yesterday, I read with interest the NYTimes article on the benefits and drawbacks of the proliferation of Trip Advisor reviews (I do not agree with all that the author claims, so this is not necessarily an endorsement of the article). These reviews have opened doors for us for sure, but you have to feel for the small places that get maybe two or three reviews and they have to live with the consequences. I have been joining the cadre of reviewers for a while now, especially when places we visit are small and in need of numbers. (Unfortunately, I cannot get myself to write pissy comments, unless someone really hasn't made any effort to undo problems that arise.) Does this create too vast a network of reviewed places? I don't think so. Businesses often rely on local and word of mouth customers. And we rely on that kind of advice as well. Both Sirence eateries came to us on the recommendation of a lovely woman who works at our inn. But when I want to go beyond the guide books in my constant search for the small places, insignificant in the scheme of things but coveted by us (always searching for the small, the quiet, the clean and with WiFi!) --  TripAdvisor is, (for those of us for whom each travel day is precious, unlike for you, Mr. NY Times Frugal Traveler) invaluable.

But let me go back to what I have been avoiding: writing about this second day of January. It's a hard post to put up quickly and I knew it would be thus. You cannot craft well a story about something that touches you deeply when you are doing it on the run. And yet, the days move on -- I'll be on to the next one and the next one and so this is all I have to give and it will be so imperfect that I can hardly get myself to start.

Please know then, that this is inadequate, but this is the best I can do now, before the dolmus comes to take us away today, back to Selcuk and then another dolmus to Izmir and then another to the coastal town of Alacati.

Wednesday is the day we visit Ephesus.

First, our morning: wake up...

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Off we go.

There are bits and pieces of lost civilizations scattered throughout the planet. But it's rare to find the remains of a city that, after a glorious reign, was completely abandoned (and therefore not encroached upon by layers of subsequent civilizations).

Ephesus was once the most important port on the Mediterranean. For centuries BC (and then several in AD as well) it thrived (think - Alexander the Great). And then the silting of the harbor began and the port relinquished its touch with the sea and eventually it became a lost cause. Buried by time and only now scraped from dirt to reveal something that is so astonishing to see that it just stops you dead.

We set out early and with the hope of good weather. Waiting at the side of the road for the dolmus (small mini vans criss-cross Turkey -- it is the most common way to move from point A to point B), we are reminded how much Sirence is tied to its olive hills.

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(he's setting out to shake those trees without the help of a French shaker)

And how the wood trimmings (from olives, vines, fruit trees) serve as a source of heat for the village. I'm shooting into the sun and it's a foggy day, but do note how low the smoke stays in the valley. You never venture out without breathing in the scent of burning wood.

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Once in Selcuk, we pick up the dolmus for Ephesus. (It's a longish wait and we resolve to walk the several miles back on our return.) This is undoubtedly the best time of the year to visit this great archeological site: in the summer, it's hot and crowded. Now, it's nearly empty and the fog is still dense, making me somewhat wistful for an additional sweater. But not for long. As we reach the the Great Theater (1 AD, capacity 24,000, acoustics -- phenomenal), the sun breaks through. And so here is perhaps the most glorious moment of the visit. The Theater, introduced by the cats that roam these ancient ruins.

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The brochure calls it the greatest theater of the ancient world. It is not an exaggeration.

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Ed stays low and plays with the cats. (In the above photo, he is there, on the upper right.)
I scoot up as high as I am allowed.

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Eventually he joins me...

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... and we spend a long time (minutes? hours?) just sitting there. The sun comes through for us and I am warmed by it. There is a trickle of tourists. They come in small groups and inevitably, in each set there is someone who has to stand at the stage level and try out a hoot. Or (among the Chinese visitors) an aria. Or (among the American tourists) a dance.

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Ed says one could do a you-tube of all the different ways people like to express themselves when unexpectedly they're on a stage. Sitting up high, we can hear every word below and it is riveting to watch the progression of people, I we think all the while about the progression of time. (I note one other person in the audience, who, like us, is lost in the beauty of the place on this now increasingly sunny day.)

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From the Theater, you can look out to the avenue which once led to the water.

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We think we have learned so much and yet here we see civilizations that knew of things we can't begin to imagine. As we move on to the Great \Library (still shrouded in the low lying mist)...

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...we can sense how our wisdom, however great, was preceded by the wisdom of others. People who knew how to read words that had no beginning or end...

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...who built arches and latrines for the public and who put together mosaics and carved intricate designs into marble stone.

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We sit down again, in the smaller theater, this time with the sun receding, reminding us that time is measured not only in centuries but also in the hours of the day.

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And here, let me give a small tribute to the East Asian visitors -- outnumbering by far all others at Ephesus.

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If we travel far to come here, they have traveled even farther. The awe and respect that they display for the old, the delight that you see in their faces each time they come to a new cluster of stones is palpable and you have to admire their curiosity, their willingness to endure the tedium of travel just so that they can humbly face the creative genius of another world.

We walk back slowly. Once Ed immerses himself in the history of his surroundings, it's hard to pull him away. He wants to taste every detail.

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And so the sun is very low by the time we hike back on a pleasantly expansive stretch of sidewalk to Selcuk, passing the occasional farm, looking to the misty ramparts and fortifications of the Selcuk castle...

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...and pausing when these three beaming girls beg me to take their photo. When was the last time anybody has begged me to take their photo!

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We want to see a bit of Selcuk, but after Sirince, the older houses here are not as memorable. But the heart of the newer town peaks our curiosity. Humble cafes dot the pedestrian streets and it doesn't take much to lure us to one of them -- this one is attached to a bakery and we order two baklavas and a tea. The salesperson gives us a plate with the pastries, the man from the cafe across the street -- here, from this cafe:


...brings us the tea.

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(The men sitting at the one a cross the street all drink tea and most of them wear the boots we see out in the olive fields.)

We like the baklavas here so much that we order another plate of them (and another tea). And as we walk back to the bus station and pass other baklava selling stores, Ed comments that we should have had a baklava tasting run through the city to decide which are the best of the best.

Next time, next time. For now, we take our dolmus back for one last night in Sirince. And we eat in the small dining room of the Sirincem Restaurant, where Ali attentively hovers and treats us, in his words -- as if this is home.