Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Log of the Eclipse (7)

30 March, 2006

Tomb of a Poet

The day began at a brutal hour of the morning. Our bags had to be packed and ready outside our rooms by 6am, so that hotel minions could carry them to the buses. I would have been perfectly happy sleeping an extra half-hour and carrying my own bag, but apparently tours are used to rich people who have barely touched their own bags, let alone carried them.

We had to be on the bus by 6:30. The breakfast room had been opened half an hour early so that we could grab a meal. The day was cold, cloudy, windy, and rainy, which showed how lucky we were to have had near-perfect weather for the eclipse the previous day. I shoveled food into my mouth while watching the weather with dull, sleep-filled eyes. I would have liked a pot of tea but didn’t know when we’d get a bathroom break, so I refrained from too many liquids.

As our bus wasn’t completely full, one seat was designated the Seat o’ Crap, and the Astroscan, other telescopes, and various spare rucksacks and bags were placed thereon.

The bus roared off, through beautiful green Pamphylian countryside soured by rain and grey cloud. The Tauros mountains grew closer, and as we began our winding journey up the slopes the weather brightened. We passed the parking lot that Paul had chosen as our alternative eclipse-viewing site in the event of bad weather, and here the sun shone brightly. “If it’s raining on the coast,” he’d been told, “try the mountains,” and the advice seemed to have been right on the money.

The Tauros range can get up to about 3000 meters, and in March the topmost peaks were still snow-capped. The mountains were cut by deep green gorges and rushing water. Sign of human habitation was just about everywhere— you would see a tiny village with its domed mosque and a minaret or two on the only flat space available, with hand-cut terraces for agriculture.

There are still nomads in this part of the world. They stay in sunny Pamphylia over the winter, then move with their flocks to the high summer pastures in the spring. We saw flocks, but couldn’t tell if they were nomadic or not.

Once over the Tauros, we were in the ancient land of Cappadocia. (Cappadocia is the ancient name, which a modern Turk would probably not recognize.) Cappadocia is a high plateau smack in the middle of Turkey, and has a wildly different climate from happy, rich Pamphylia down on the coast. The winters are bitter, and the growing season short. In contrast to the three crops a coastal farmer can gather in a year, a Cappadocian can hope only for one, usually wheat or chickpeas. The area is covered with apricot trees, which were blooming quite beautifully during our visit, lovely soft white blossoms everywhere you looked. (Indeed, if you buy a package of dried apricots in the US, odds are it will say “Product of Turkey” on the package.)

When I state that Cappadocia is an ancient land, I’m not exaggerating. Hattusas, the capital of the Hittite Empire, is in Cappadocia. So is Çatalhöyük, the world’s oldest city, dating from 7500 BCE. More on Çatalhöyük in another place, but you have to wonder why people first decided to take up urban life in the relatively inhospitable uplands of Anatolia, as opposed to the Fertile Crescent just a few hundred miles away.

Our first stop in Cappadocia was in Konya, where Perseus supposedly slew the dragon. In classical times the city was known as Iconium. St. Paul preached there and was run out of town, but nevertheless converted St. Thecla among others. Later, Konya became the capital of a kind of rump empire of the Seljuk Turks, and though it was held briefly by Crusaders it was recaptured by the Seljuks in time for their whole empire to be flattened by Mongol invaders in 1243, after which the city was held by Mongke Khan. The last Seljuk sultan was so unimportant that nobody’s even certain of his name.

Konya is now known as the capital of religious orthodoxy in Turkey. It’s supposedly the one city where you might have some difficulty finding wine or beer to go with your meal. To outward appearances, though, there were no signs of greater piety here than in any other Turkish city. There seemed no larger percentages of young women in headscarves, for example.

Be that as it may, our principal reason for stopping here was a pilgrimage to a religious shrine. In Konya we find the tomb of the man the Turks call Mevlana, but who is known in Persian as Muhammad Balkhi, and in the West as Rumi. “Rumi” actually means “the Roman,” by which was meant an inhabitant of the part of the Seljuk empire that was formerly Byzantine. Actually Mevlana Celaleddin Mehmed Rumi (to use the Turkish spelling) was born in what is now Afghanistan, but as a boy was brought as a refugee to Konya by his family to escape the Mongols. His father was a Sufi religious teacher, and Mevlana inherited his father’s job.

Mevlana was not only a religious teacher, but the founder of a mystic order and a world-class poet. He wrote in Persian, but his works have been translated into dozens of languages, and his work has profoundly influenced Turkish, Persian, and Arabic poets.

Mevlana founded the order of the Whirling Dervishes, formally called the Mevlevi order after him. The Mevlevi are still run by Mevlana’s direct descendants. (More on the Whirling Dervishes later, in the proper place.)

As a religious teacher, Mevlana was nothing if not ecumenical. Consider these Whitman-like lines:

What is to be done, O Muslims? for I do not recognize myself.

I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Magian, nor Muslim.

I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;

I am not of Nature's mint, nor of the circling heaven.

I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;

I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.

I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin

I am not of the kingdom of 'Iraqian, nor of the country of Khorasan

I am not of the this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell

I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwan.

My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless.

Technically you don’t even have to be a Muslim to be a Whirling Dervish, though you do have to listen to a lot of readings from the Koran, and also from the Spiritual Couplets of Mevlana, called “the Persian Koran” by his followers.

It is this general Sufi atmosphere of tolerance that infuses the Turkish brand of Islam, and which causes more strict sects (Wahhabis, say) to view the Sufis as heretics, and want to, well, wipe them from the face of the Earth.

Mevlana has also become a sort of gay icon in the West because of his relationship with the hard-partying Dervish wild man Shams Tabrizi, though I believe we sex-mad literalist Westerners are supposed to understand their relationship as a spiritual one between master and student.

Mevlana’s tomb, called the Green Dome, is part of a large complex that once made up an entire spiritual community (but is now a museum). There was a room with a (rather small) stage where students would practice the whirling dance. There is a small, quiet cemetery where Dervishes were laid to rest under apricot trees. Some of their grave markers were topped by a carved tall fez, part of the Dervish uniform. Around a large courtyard are the modest apartments of student Dervishes and their teachers, much like the cells of monks. Like Western monks, the Dervishes lived in poverty and spent their days in spiritual exercise. (They were allowed to marry, however, so they weren’t expected to be chaste in addition to everything else.) The curriculum was very challenging and many students left before graduation.

The tomb proper follows the rules of the mosque, so we wore plastic-and-elastic pampooties over our shoes, and women had to cover their hair. (The women seemed not to resent this, as it gave them a reason to display the gorgeous allegedly-Pashmina shawls they’d been purchasing from vendors.)

The tomb is spacious and brilliantly ornamented with tiles, engravings, calligraphy, and gold. Mevlana’s coffin is has the peaked Turkish lid, and on a post at one end is his green turban (indicating his descent from the Prophet, if memory serves). Most of the space is given over to a museum, with displays of carpets, musical instruments, and gorgeous illuminated Korans, some written and illustrated in a microscopic hand, others huge and beautiful as the Book of Kells. The Arabic writing in some of the Korans swept in waves like the ocean, and was sometimes illuminated with tiny flowers, so that the Prophet’s words seemed to be sprouting flower gardens. The tourists, in their plastic booties, crackled as they walked in the tomb’s respectful silence.

Our next stop was the Tile Museum, housed in the former Karatay Madrasa, or religious school, dating from the 13th century. The original tilework has been severely damaged, presumably in earthquakes, though it’s still very impressive. Most of the tiles on exhibit come from a sort of country hunting lodge owned by the Seljuk sultans. They feature scenes from nature, with birds, animals, and fantastic creatures.

Our lunch was in a former Seljuk caravanserai, places the Seljuks built every ten miles or so along major trade routes, so that traders would have a save place to rest every night. Food, fodder, lodging, and sometimes entertainment were provided free for up to three nights, as part of the Muslim obligation to care for travelers. The caravanserais are big, plain, square buildings that look like forts, with an elaborate arched entrance full of carvings and inscriptions. Ruined buildings of this sort are visible all over the former Seljuk empire.

The food was tasty, though not free, beginning with the ubiquitous lentil soup, the equally ubiquitous lamb stew, and followed by pastry or fruit. I had not yet grown tired of this meal, which we got pretty much everywhere. After was a long coach ride through bare, rolling Cappadocian hills. On our right we saw the perfect cone shape of a snow-covered volcano, one of those that shaped the unique topography of the region (of which, more later).

Eventually we arrived at our destination, the five-star Dedeman Hotel near Nevsehir. It was another huge hotel off by itself in the countryside, with all the amenities, and with a shopping center in the basement that was only open at night, when the tourists were actually in the building. We were again treated to a huge buffet meal of perfectly adequate food. I would have preferred to step outside the hotel and find a cheap and fresher meal elsewhere, but since we were out in the countryside there was nowhere to go.

Except to bed.

O you who've gone on pilgrimage _

where are you, where, oh where?

Here, here is the Beloved!

Oh come now, come, oh come!

Your friend, he is your neighbor,

he is next to your wall _

You, erring in the desert _

what air of love is this?

If you'd see the Beloved's

form without any form _

You are the house, the master,

You are the Kaaba, you! . . .

Where is a bunch of roses,

if you would be this garden?

Where, one soul's pearly essence

when you're the Sea of God?

That's true _ and yet your troubles

may turn to treasures rich _

How sad that you yourself veil

the treasure that is yours!

Rumi: 'I Am Wind, You are Fire'

Translation by Annemarie Schimmel

Next: The Fairies Have Chimneys!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

3000 Years in the Making

This year's coolest teen comedy.

Ten Things I Hate About Commandments.

From the folks who gave you "The Shining."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Corona, Si

Here's another fine picture of the sun's corona, taken from Side.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Shadow of the Moon

March 29, 2006.

Shadow of the Moon

On the day of the eclipse I was permitted to sleep late, so I did. When I made my leisurely way out of the buffet carrying my breakfast, I found Kathy on the terrace overlooking the sea, talking with a Belgian couple who had flown down for the eclipse. The husband understood English, I think, but wasn’t up to talking it; the wife spoke English fairly well. Kathy speaks French much better than I do, so a bilingual conversation had begun by the time I arrived. Coping with a foreign language is not the first thing I care to do of a morning, but after a couple cups of tea I found my French coming back, and managed to slur out a few complete sentences.

The Belgian gent claimed to be from Bastard, a town in the Ardennes. He was surprised more Americans hadn’t heard of it, since a battle was fought there in the Second World War. Since I didn’t want to appear a complete chowderhead, I allowed as I had heard of Bastogne, and St. Vith, and Spa (where my citizen-soldier father was injured during a retreat), but that Bastard had somehow escaped my attention.

(I suspect that the town of Bastard may be some kind of Belgian in-joke, since my attempts to find it either on a map or online has failed. Google reveals a lot of in-jokey references to “Belgian bastards,” though.)

Our group had originally planned to view the eclipse from Side. Seeing the eclipse through the frame of Roman arches or past the pillars of the temple of Apollo would have been downright cool, but the Turkish government was unable to guarantee our privacy. Apparently thousands of people were going to Side for the event, some of whom were going to participate in neo-pagan ceremonies. I have no particular objection to neo-pagans or the things they get up to, but the last thing I wanted during an awesome major astronomical event was a bunch of damnfools chanting at me, or yelling “So mote it be!”, or beating drums, or (even worse) playing solos on the Native American flute. (Those guys should be choked.)

I prefer my spirituality silent, thank you.

A large chunk of the beach in the front of our hotel had been reserved for our group, and we were provided with box lunches that were pretty good, as box lunches go. We didn’t quite see the point in getting sand in our shoes when the hotel itself provided so many excellent platforms with which to view the eclipse. All of those stepped-back balconies, for instance. We tried to set up the telescope on one of the hotel’s two helipads, but discovered that they were reserved for some rich French asshole and his friends. We ended up putting the Astroscan on the same terrace where we had breakfast, and watched the eclipse with Debra and Cheryl and an assortment of passers-by and hotel employees.

Democrats, that’s us.

Each hotel in the area had some gimmick to attract tourists wanting to view the eclipse. The Sunrise Queen had classical music, in the form of a trio that was gamely playing away near one of the ornamental pools. On those rare occasions when I could actually hear them— when I was going to the men’s room, usually— they didn’t sound particularly inspired.

Not that I cared. Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Radio Symphony could have been booming away and I would have granted them the same annoyed scorn I would the chowderhead with the Native American flute. And I like classical music.

It’s just that when Nature puts on a sublime spectacle, no sound track is required.

The morning was hot. I had packed a wardrobe suitable for Istanbul in March— a Maritime climate with misty cold mornings and bright crisp breezy afternoons, so I was forced to improvise. I changed into a pair of bathing trunks, and I rolled up my sleeves (I had brought no short-sleeved shirts). I bought a baseball cap in one of the hotel shops to keep my head from blistering in the sun. They had gimme caps with “England” on them, and the royal arms, and “France” with fleurs-de-lys, but nothing local. I asked if they had a cap with something Turkish on it, and the salesman went into the back room and got a cap with “Türkiye” in flowing script, along with a tulip. (More on the tulips later) I wondered why you would go to Turkey to buy a baseball cap with “England” on it. I still wonder this.

The night before our departure I had made two solar filters, one for my camera and the other for the Astroscan. Both used Astrosolar film, which is best for this sort of thing, as well as cardboard and duct tape. The results looked incredibly crude and I was a bit skeptical of my handiwork, but on the day both filters worked splendidly.

We got a good view of the sun. We saw only three sunspots in the lower right quadrant, and a couple of flares near the pole. (Because the telescope image was inverted, these phenomena were actually at the top of the sun, assuming the sun can be said to have a top.) A small number of sunspots means a large magnetic field, so we were looking forward to a really big corona.

First contact was at 12:38 local time. If we had been down on the beach with the main group, Paul would have given us a very precise time reading, but since we were by ourselves it was pure chance that I happened to be looking through the Astroscan at the moment when the sun was first touched by the edge of the moon. After a moment of silent rejoicing, I announced this fact and reached for my camera to take a picture.

And so it went for over an hour. The moon slowly crept across the face of the sun. I took an occasional picture, ate my box lunch, chatted with Kathy and Cheryl and Debra. Occasionally Kathy would invite some folks over to look through the telescope or to use the telescope to project the eclipse on their shirts or other parts. The day remained sunny and warm. We kept looking out to sea to discover if we could see the shadow of the moon advancing across it, but we didn’t see anything of the sort until literally the last minute.

Wispy cirrus clouds formed in the sky— right around the sun, where I guess the air was cooler. This didn’t prevent us from getting a good view of the solar disk, but it probably meant we wouldn’t see as much corona as we would have otherwise.

I’d been told that it is possible to see the corona before totality, so I tried blotting out the sun with my lens cover while I squinted skyward, but I couldn’t tell whether the blazing white object I saw was the corona or merely glare. I suspect the latter.

When the sun was down to a sliver the world turned eerie. A weird sort of half-twilight descended and the air grew chill. Fitful half-breezes gusted from every corner of the compass. Venus blazed bright in the sky. You could see a nebulous area of darkness rushing toward us over the sea, like something in a horror film.

Something was very clearly going wrong with the foundations of the universe. If I were a primitive person, I would have been scared witless. I must be more primitive than I thought, because I could feel my heart racing.

There were a number of things I could have done, observation-wise. I could have looked for shadow-bands, a kind of weird strobe-light effect you can see on the ground just before totality, but I was so excited that I forgot. (I don’t think there were any to see. Nobody else reported them.)

And then the sun was gone, eaten by this huge black monster. The corona glowed around a bottomless hole in the sky. Cheers roared up from a neighboring hotel. (Our hotel had classical music; theirs had drunken frat boys.)

One of the exotic things about a solar eclipse is that, drunken cheers aside, it takes place in silence. It’s so cosmic that you expect a sound track. Not a Native American flute, either, but the furious howl of the moon-monster as it devours the solar disk, or maybe some kind of bizarre choral piece by Györgi Ligeti.

I took off the solar filter and began methodically taking pictures. Snap, move one shutter speed setting, snap. Kathy was yelling at me to look through the telescope. I told her I was busy right now. Snap, move one shutter speed, snap. Kathy kept yelling. I told her to let Cheryl and Debra look, fer chrissake. Snap, snap.

I was going to take all the pictures I could right at the beginning, then reserve the rest of the three minutes, forty seconds for gawking. The best of the snaps can be seen online. All the pictures here show the corona as far smaller, and with far less detail, than I could see with the naked eye.

Eventually I’d run down all the shutter speeds, and took my place at the Astroscan, where the sun and corona leaped straight onto my retina. The details of the corona were far more visible.

The corona isn’t just a ball of faint light surrounding the sun. It has texture to it, bands of streamers woven in complex patterns. You see it in three dimensions, with structures reaching toward you and other structures leaning away. It’s a pearly ivory color with a slight greenish tinge, and other colors have been reported as well. I’ve found some good pictures of the sun’s corona here, here, and here, taken with much better equipment than I had available.

The corona was smaller than that of the 1998 eclipse we’d watched from Curaçao, a disappointment because, given the absence of sunspots, we’d expected something bigger. Probably the high wisps of cirrus had something to do with this.

One of the things I could have done at this point was look not at the sun or the corona but at the moon. The moon isn’t actually dark during an eclipse, because it receives a good deal of reflected light from the Earth. People have reported that the moon turns red during an eclipse, and has flashes of other color.

I was so carried away that it never occurred to me to look at the moon at all.

I looked around instead. Standing in the center of the moon’s shadow, we could see a red sunrise completely surrounding us, all 360 degrees.

The eclipse lasted something like three minutes, forty seconds. Down on the beach Paul was shouting out a countdown, but up on our terrace I had no idea how much time had passed. I could think of nothing more to do than repeat everything I’d already done. I looked around. I looked through the telescope. I took more snaps. I gaped in awe.

The western sunrise rushed toward us over the sea. I grabbed my camera. Bailey’s Beads appeared on the edge of the moon, where the sun shone through deep valleys in the lunar mountains. I managed by luck to snap a gorgeous diamond ring formation, then one with another, bigger diamond before the sun blazed out fully and blinded me.

It was 1:59 pm. We put on our solar filters once more and bade farewell to the eclipse.

It’s an anticlimax between third and fourth contact, as the sun is slowly uncovered. As the day brightened, we took last looks at everything and then picked up our stuff and carried it back to our room. Along the way I noticed that the leaves on the trees were casting crescent-shaped shadows, reflecting the shape of the sun shining through them.

What to do with the rest of the afternoon? We longed to see the Antalya Archaeological Museum, which is one of the great archaeological museums of the world. Among other things, it contains many of the statues of gods and heroes from the huge courtyard built in Perge by the Plancia Magna mentioned in our last installment. It would normally have been on our tour, but instead the day reserved for Antalya was taken for the eclipse.

I checked with the concierge, and found out that the while our hotel was 50km east of Antalya, the museum was several kilometers on the other side of the city. A cab ride would cost us 50 Euros each way. It would have taken over an hour to get there, and an hour to return. Reluctantly we decided that even if we spent the money, we wouldn’t have enough time in the museum to see everything we wanted.

For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed. I went to the open-air bar, drank a couple shots of raki, and brought my diary and expense log up to date. I wrote postcards. I considered taking a Turkish bath, and didn’t.

In the lobby of the hotel was a brightly-colored macaw, who every I time I passed I tried to teach to say “Achtung!”, which I figured would startle the German tourists as they walked past. To my astonishment I succeeded— the one time in my life I’ve taught a talking animal to say anything at all. The bird would stare at me in furious concentration, work its tongue and beak around as it tried to puzzle out the unfamiliar sound, and then say “Achtung!” very clearly, but unfortunately not loudly at all. Unless you were right there, you couldn’t hear it.

Another few days, and I’d have had the bird barking the word out like a proper German feldwebel.

The evening featured a raucous celebratory dinner, including some pictures of the eclipse and a video by Ken Lum, one of our group who seemed to own more photographic gear than a man who has any right to possess. Since his video also had audio, we could hear the shouting, howling, and wisecracks of the folks who had watched the eclipse from our beach.

Afterwards, the hotel itself put on a show for us, by way of thanking us for our custom. It started with some Russian acrobats who were truly fine and imaginative, and then went on to a band who started their set by playing Frank Sinatra’s “Something Stupid,” and then went on to address us in German. Apparently nobody had told them who we were. People deserted in droves. I think the band played the last of their set to a room empty except for busboys picking up dishes.

(Kathy, by the way, wants to take up a collection to buy the poor Turks some more modern pop music.)

The climax of the entertainment was a belly dancer, but by the time she appeared she had no audience. I heard she performed in the lobby for anyone who happened to be there, but by that time Kathy and I were in bed. We had a very early call the next day.

Coming next: Tomb of a Poet

Monday, May 22, 2006

Shatner Sings to Lucas

To comment on this would be superfluous.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Thai Mastery

Inspired by the terrific meals I've been getting at Albuquerque's Thai Tip restaurant, I've been trying to learn to cook Thai food. (I'd eat at Thai Tip every day, but it's a 75-mile round trip.)

Thai cuisine is nourishing, flavorful, healthy, and (if you stay away from the coconut milk) low in fat. It has a wide variety of flavors, and (if you cook it right) has a brilliant fresh taste and what the wine snobs call a "long finish," meaning that after time the taste doesn't turn sour or unpleasant in your mouth after time. (At least I think that's what "long finish" means.)

Also, the cooking is dead easy.

My favorite Thai soup (thank you, Terry Boren) is tom yum, which has a wonderful balance of sweet, heat, bright, and sour. Tonight I tried making it using this recipe from Tyler Florence. I was a little worried because my lemon grass was old and dry. I threw in more than the recipe called for. My kaffir lime leaves were getting a little long in the tooth as well, so I chucked in a couple extra.

I needn't have worried. Walking into the kitchen and inhaling the cooking smells convinced me this one was going to turn out all right.

It was fantastic! Thai Master Walter strikes again!

I would throw in a graphic of the soup, or a graphic of a cartoon animal looking smug, but I've just had a great meal and I'm too lazy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Log of the Eclipse (5)

28 March, 2006

Pamphylian Progress

In the morning we found a breakfast buffet waiting in a brilliant, sunny, glass-walled room with a view of the Mediterranean. The buffet itself occupied a space slightly larger than our spacious four-bedroom house. There were twelve kinds of bread, twenty types of muffins, eight types of cereal, and one type of hard-boiled egg. There was sausage a la Bologna and English-style bacon (ick!) and coffee and tea and several kinds of juice and a place outside where you could have omelettes made just for you. There was a couple kinds of goat cheese and some less interesting non-goat cheese. There were cucumbers and tomatoes and many kinds of olives and many kinds of— well, I think they’re called “salads,” but I’d call them salsas, because they were intended as sauces and not standalone dishes.

Along with my balanced and nutritious meal, I had something that seemed to be orange juice, but clearly wasn’t. There was something strangely familiar about the taste. I was trying to think of what mixture of juices— papaya? guava?— could possibly be involved, but when I went for a refill I saw that the label on the back of the dispenser read Tang. I was drinking the Mercury astronauts’ beverage of choice.

Turkey is the last great refuge for the Tang aficianado. Rare is the Turkish hotel that won’t offer to start your day with this tasty vitamin C-pumped mixture of chemicals and nutrients.

After breakfast, we checked the list posted by Jean and Michel in the lobby to discover which bus we were on— it was #4— and dragged ourselves on board. There we met Mehmet, our guide for the next ten or eleven days.

Tour guides in Turkey have to pass some kind of exam, and I suspect Mehmet was near the top of his class. He was chock full of facts, and was amiable and accommodating besides.

We set out for our one-day whirlwind tour of the ancient province of Pamphylia. If you haven’t heard of Pamphylia, or its neighboring province of Lycia (not to be confused with Lydia, Anatolian home of King Midas) I’m not surprised. I’m deeply interested in ancient history, and though I could have pointed the provinces out on a map, I couldn’t have told you a single thing that happened there. As far as Lycia and Pamphylia were concerned, history was mostly something that happened someplace else.

“History,” in this case, meaning major battles, the rise and fall of empires, the acts of world-changing heroes or villains, the appearance of major religions or philosophies, the emergence of new technologies. What happened in Pamphylia was what is happening today, which is the tale of an isolated but rich province quietly generating wealth unto itself.

Pamphylia was a district of the Hittite Empire, but became independent on its fall. It was Greek when it was Greek time, Lydian when Midas had the golden touch, Persian when the Persians were in the ascendency, Athenian when the Athenians rocked, Hellenized in the wake of Alexander, Roman when the Romans turned up, and Byzantine when Byzantium became the New Rome. By the time anyone got around to writing any of the area’s history, they wrote it in Greek. The name means “All-Tribes” in Greek, and the Pamphylians seem to have taken this as a philosophy as well as a description.

Now the new tribe are Germans, bringing Euros, kultur, and a new language. Our hotel had a half-dozen German TV stations, and only one, intermittent, in English.

Pamphylia and Lycia owe their relative obscurity to the fact that their district is surrounded on three sides by the Tauros Mountains and on the fourth side by the sea. Until the invention of air travel, the area was isolated. The first real road through the Tauros was built in the 1960s.

The area is blessed with rich farmland and warm weather. The weather is so cooperative, and the soil so rich, that the local farmers can bring in three crops per year. Driving through Pamphylia, you see rich farmland everywhere. At the tail-end of March, the wheat was knee-high, and will be harvested in June. After that, most of the land will more than likely be replanted in cotton.

Our first destination was actually in sight of our hotel, the ancient town of Side, pronounced “See-day,” and meaning “Pomegranate” in some ancient language or other. Although it’s difficult to tell this from standing in the ruins themselves, the town is built on a peninsula, as were many ancient cities (see: Byzantium, Chalcedon). Peninsulas were defensible— all you had to do was run a wall across the peninsula. And if you also dug a canal through the peninsula, you could generate revenue by charging ships to use it, in preference to the somewhat more hazardous route of rowing around.

All we saw of Side at first was a large dirt parking lot. Since the locals didn’t want rumbling tour buses destabilizing the site, there was supposed to be a “trolley” taking us to the ruins, but this didn’t turn up, so we walked. The modern road through the area follows an ancient road and goes smack through the main gate of the city. The old sidewalk alongside the road still exists and is covered with mosaics in a geometrical pattern. “I’m walking on a two-thousand-year-old mosaic,” I thought to myself, scandalized that such a thing was even permitted. But the alternative was getting run over by a car, so I continued.

There was a processional route that entered the town (I’d guess from the old harbor), with pillars on either side. There was a Temple to Apollo and signs to a library, which we never actually found. There was an elaborate fountain or nymphaeum and a large Roman theater, where carvings of comedy and tragedy masks are still visible on randomly-scattered chunks of ruin.

During the first century BCE, Side was menaced, then taken over by the Cilician Pirates, who sold their ill-gotten slaves in the market. When the pirates were finally crushed by Pompey the Great (“That’s Pompeius Magnus to you, barbarian!”), the good burghers of Side welcomed him as a liberator (and continued their piracy on the quiet). As a result, Side was never officially annexed to the Roman empire, but allowed substantial independence. The city had its own (slightly piratical) navy, minted their own coins, elected their own officials, and sold their own (slightly pirated) slaves in their market.

Roman political figures, the emperors especially, often tried to have special relationships with the cities of Asia Minor, because Asia Minor was a lot richer than Italy. Pompeius Magnus clearly had one of these relationships in mind for Side, and you can bet that during his subsequent war with Caesar, Side provided Magnus with troops, ships, and cash.

The city gradually lost population and influence to nearby Attaleia (now Antalya), and was never rebuilt after being sacked in the 12th Century CE.

After viewing the theater we took a walk through modern Side, which is built on the very tip of the peninsula. It’s clear that a lot of the stones used in the buildings came from the ancient town.

The trolley turned up— it’s one of those diesel-run fake steam locomotives that haul tourists around in fake railroad cars— and took us back to our bus. We went across more lovely Antalyan countryside to Aspendos, a city in the midst of considerable natural beauty, where beautiful green farmers’ fields contrast with craggy ridges.

Aspendos was supposed to have been founded by the Trojan Mopsus, one of many displaced Trojans who wandered around the Mediterranean founding states, but coins suggest that it was the “Estwediis” founded by King Asitawada of Adana, a neo-Hittite monarch who lived in the 7th Century BCE.

The primary site for visitors is the huge Roman theater, which holds around 15,000 spectators, and which is still in use for plays and festivals. I climbed around this colossal thing, trying to get a picture of it from the top, but found that it didn’t lean against the hillside behind it, it was built outward from it. (Greeks put their theaters in natural amphitheaters, and had little or no backdrop behind the stage, as I remember from seeing The Trojan Women produced by the Greek National Theater at Epidauros; but the Romans had the arch, and so built their own structures for the theaters to lean against. They also had monumental backdrops behind the stage, which contained not just dressing rooms and stage machinery, but gorgeous marbles and mosaics and patterns and niches for statues.

Because I still wanted a picture from the top of the bluffs behind the theater, I had to climb down the theater, then up the hill behind it, taking zigzag goat paths through flowering bushes buzzing with hazardous bees. I only had something like ten minutes to do this in, so I did my best to run uphill. I arrived panting and out of breath, and was promptly greeted by a young hustler who handed me an orange and a bundle of wild thyme. While I was taking snaps, he tried to sell me some ancient coins he claimed his brother had dug up in his field. I didn’t for an instant believe that these coins were remotely ancient— you can find reproductions in shop stalls everywhere— but I did end up buying some, after considerable negotiation. I blame lack of oxygen after the hard climb.

Behind me atop the bluff was the acropolis of Aspendos, where the citizens tried unsuccessfully to hold out against Alexander the Great. (He demanded and got a huge fine. Alexander had a brigand’s attitude toward finance.) There were some monumental ruins there which I had no time to explore, but I’d guess they were a Roman basilica. There was also a monumental way leading up to it.

Aspendos was later pillaged again, by the notorious Roman magistrate Gaius Verres, who some years later pillaged Sicily. [Verres said that he had to be governor of Sicily for three years, so that he could (1) pay his debts, (2) get rich, (3) and have enough left over to bribe his judges. He was prosecuted by Cicero in front of some honest judges, fled into exile, and later executed by Mark Antony.] Verres rolled wagons into Aspendos and took all the statues from the public places. He carried them to Rome, where he sold them or set them up in his house.

After conquest by the Seljuk Turks, the theater was used as a palace, and then as a caravanserai. Under the Turks the city declined and faded away.

Fearing I was late, I bounded back down the mountain again, until I ran into Pat Price. I figured the bus couldn’t leave without the wife of our scientific advisor, and so it proved.

Lunch was at a pleasant, sunny restaurant called “The Waterfall” in Turkish, because it’s near a famous waterfall. (I wandered around afterwards, but failed to find it.) We were given our first introduction to lentil soup, a Turkish specialty, which we were to have at every lunch break for the next ten days. Though the soup is tasty and can be made in many different ways, I grew really bored with it by the end of the trip.

We were offered a choice of meatballs on skewers, chicken on skewers, or grilled fish. I took the meatballs and they were tasty, but everyone envied the people who had ordered fish, which came from the kitchen grilled to perfection. Dessert was baklava, of which I did not get bored by trip’s end.

In order to get to and from the restaurant, we had to pass through a sort of tunnel lined with displays of all sorts, textiles and tourist crap. Again I failed to buy a fez. I believe it was here that Kathy purchased some allegedly pashmina shawls. The Turks specialize in allegedly pashmina shawls. They’re lovely, but I suspect they’re mostly rayon.

The afternoon was spent at Perge, the ruins of a very substantial city founded by good ol’ Trojan Mopsus in the 10th Century BCE. We passed by its substantial theater, having already seen two theaters, and entered the city through its stadium, where athletic competitions, pageants, and probably gladiatorial combats were held. (It’s not big enough for chariot racing.) The stadium is for the most part in ruins, but the disassembled blocks ruins have detailed carvings that show how elaborately the place was ornamented in its prime.

We walked through the first of two big gates, built during Roman times. (At some point in the past, the city expanded and built a new city wall with a new big gate.) Ahead was the much more impressive Hellenic gates, with two distinctive round towers built of stone a different color from the rest of the ruins. For a visit of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, the inner part of these gates were spruced up with a vast courtyard, with many statues of gods and Trojans, all paid for by a rich local woman named Plancia Magna, who was a priestess of Artemis and a daughter of the Roman governor of Bithynia (the part of Asia opposite Istanbul).

Though Perge was technically an independent city in the Roman period, that didn’t stop them from sucking up to royalty.

Perge was another city plundered by Gaius Verres, who stripped the gold from the statue of Artemis Pergaia, the chief goddess of the city. (The goddess was worshipped in pre-Hellenic times under the name of Vanassa Preiia. It was only when Greeks turned up that they decided Vanassa was coequivalent to their own Artemis.) The temple is on the main colonnaded street that runs from the Hellenistic gates toward the old acropolis (which I believe has never been excavated). One of the pillars of the temple still has a carving of Artemis on it.

The main street is broad, with a pillared colonnade, and in Roman times would have been lined with civic buildings and toney shops. A water channel runs right down the center of the street from the base of the acropolis, where a large nymphaeum was kept full by the water god Kestros.

To the right of the Hellenic gate, entering, is a large agora, square with colonnades, where the ancients would have found slightly less toney shops than those on the main road. To the left of the Hellenic gate is the palaestra, an open area where young athletes would have exercised, and behind this is the Roman bath, divided as usual into frigidarium, caldarium, and tepidarium, depending on the temperature of the water. (Turkish baths still employ the same divisions.) The caldarium still shows the hypocaust underfloor heating system.

After this rather thorough day, we returned to the hotel. I went for a swim in the Mediterranean. The beach was lovely, all sand gradually shelving very gradually into the water, which however was colder than I would have liked. Normally I’m a vigorous swimmer, but with my midsection diced up by multiple surgeries I wasn’t sure how much swimming I could take before something or other gave way, so I paddled gently around for fifteen minutes or so, then headed back to shore.

That night was another massive buffet, followed by a final briefing about the next day’s eclipse. I asked Paul ahead of time if he was going to lecture us about f-stops, and he said, “God, no! Look at the booklet we sent you!”

“Booklet?” I replied. Kathy produced our copy later that evening.

Paul reported that the weather report was promising and the primary site was Go.

Tomorrow we would stand in the shadow of the moon.


At Worldmapper, they create maps with the nations sized according to the item of interest.

See the world's nations sized for demographic trends, production and consumption of specific goods, immigration, and other categories.

Check out this image for Royalty and License Fee Exports. As someone who makes a good part of his living exporting intellectual property to foreign countries, what can I say but: Go Us!!!

Friday, May 12, 2006

From McSweeney's

Just discovered:

Notes from James Joyce's writing workshop.

Creeped Out

Okay, so I had this weird dream last night.

It started as a wintertime visit to relatives in Minnesota. The relatives featured in the dream are in actuality dead, but in the dream they were alive. There was some intermittent but not particularly perilous walking on a frozen lake, and looking through the ice at the bubbles trapped underneath.

But then the dream shifted to this documentary about this old Minnesotan guy who sort of looked like Santa Claus except without the dentures and without the clothes. He had a pug nose on a rosy pug face and lots of broken veins and cellulite. I knew it was a documentary because we were restricted to the point of view of a single camera, and the colors were the sort you get with Technicolor after about thirty years of time has screwed with the emulsions, and there was narration furnished by a plummy-voiced announcer typical of nature documentaries in the Fifties. This was clearly a novelty documentary of the Ripley's Believe-It-or-Not school.

This old dude was so full of deep wrinkles that a colony of bees had taken up residence in a fold in his upper left thigh. There were shots of the man's rosy-red face and toothless smile, and the bees flying in and out of their fleshy hive. And then a fox, trying to steal honey, dived head-first into the colony of bees, going so deep that only his tail and hindquarters were visible.

But the joke was on the fox! He drowned in the honey! We got close-up shots of the old man's thigh pulsating as the fox went through its death throes, with the old guy grinning the whole time, as if this sort of thing happened every day.

That's when I woke up, totally creeped. When had a pleasant visit to some dead relatives turned into this fucked-up shit? I had to shift from my first sleeping place to my second sleeping place and go back to sleep in a different position, just by way of telling my subconscious that I did not want to return to this dream. (As to why I have two sleeping places, check the Five Weird Things essay I wrote some time back.)

Herr Doktor Freud, eat your freakin' heart out.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Log of the Eclipse (4)

Monday, March 27, 2006


As I mentioned in another post, we were planning on joining a tour sponsored by Sky and Telescope Magazine, which would include not just the eclipse but nine or ten days of sightseeing. The tour was organized by TravelQuest, which specializes in astronomical destinations.

I’d never taken a tour before, with the exception of a two-day tour of Xi’an, which I took because you can’t see the Terra-Cotta Warriors unless you’re part of a tour. Somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed that tour and learned a lot.

Still, I thought we were taking chances joining a tour for so long. I’d never toured with a busload of strangers and I didn’t know whether I’d like it. On the other hand, if we made our own arrangements, we wouldn’t see nearly as many cool things. And the strangers were likely to be people who were interested in the same kind of things I was interested in, simply because they were going with Sky and Telescope instead of Let’sGoShopping.Com.

So here’s the positive things I learned about tours.

1. If you pick the right tour, you see lots of amazingly wonderful stuff that you might not otherwise know existed.

2. You find like-minded people with whom you make friends. There’s always someone to talk to or to hang with.

3. There are always minions to help you carry your crap around.

4. You end up in really nice hotels that otherwise you might not be able to afford.

5. If you get in some kind of jam, the tour personnel are there to handle it for you.

6. You never have to stand in line to buy tickets or negotiate with foreigners who do not have the good sense to speak English. You can soak up the sights while other people handle all that for you.

And the negatives:

1. Your time is not your own. You get on the bus when you’re told to, and you to go where you’re told to.

2. You eat when it’s time to eat. This means you’re often eating when you’re not hungry (and thus overeating), or you’re starving after traveling for hours and are then presented with a huge buffet (and thus overeat).

3. While the food is plentiful, tours are usually stuck with big buffet meals at big hotels, and the food is mediocre to poor.

4. Too much time devoted to dragging us to places to shop. I want to see cool stuff, not fashion shows. And in a place like Turkey, I want to get away from the ever-present hucksters, not be thrown to them like a beef bone to a pack of hyenas.

5. Contact with the locals is limited to waiters and salesmen.

6. If the tour operator screws up your arrangements, your tour experience can take a swift lethal turn straight to HELL!!!!


Our Monday started very early, to catch the flight from Atatürk Airport to Antalya on the south coast, where we would view the eclipse in a couple days. We— or I should say Kathy— was carrying one unusual item of luggage, an Edmund Scientific Astroscan telescope. For those hopelessly uncool, lost souls among you who haven’t read The Rift, where an Astroscan becomes a significant plot element, let me point out that the Astroscan isn’t shaped like a conventional telescope. It looks like a giant red cherry bomb, or maybe a trench mortar. This means that if you’re carrying the thing around on a shoulder strap (as Kathy did when we were shifting from one hotel to another), people are always asking you what the big red thing is.

The appearance of a tall red-headed woman in apparent possession of a trench mortar can also pose a problem at airport security. The Astroscan looks a lot more like a weapon than it looks like a telescope. So Kathy was always careful to explain to the security people what the thing was before she ever put it through the x-ray machine.

I should point out that, as the Big Strong Guy among us, I had volunteered to carry the telescope. But I was also carrying my beloved old Pentax KM, which I bought new but which is now a vintage collectors’ item, and which with my Vivitar 28-210mm zoom lens weighs about as much as a Sherman tank. So Kathy out of her great compassion said she’d carry the Astroscan herself.

(“Do people ever make fun of you for not going digital?” I was asked on the trip, by someone else who had an equally vintage camera. “Not once they see my pictures,” I said.)

In Turkish airports you go through a security screening right at the door, before you go on to the ticket counter, and we flung our stuff down on the x-ray machine and went through a metal detector. It was only later that I realized with horror that I’d put my camera case on the x-ray machine with everything else, and that if the x-rays were as strong as those in American baggage scanners, I’d just lost all my film. This was a horrific worry that stayed with me through the trip, right up to the point where I got my slides returned, and all the pictures turned out gorgeous.

(And yes, I take slides. I like to see pictures that, once projected, look as big as the real thing.)

Once we got into the airport, we made our way to the area of the Turkish Airlines counter and immediately found a cluster of North Americans standing around looking lost. They turned out to be our new friends, with whom we would spend the next twelve days.

Because we had made our own arrangements to fly to Istanbul and back, we had not acquired actual physical tickets. There was supposed to be someone from TravelQuest at the airport to hand us our tickets.

We waited for this person for a long time and he didn’t show up. (Some people later say they’d seen him, but that he was very shy and sort of crept around on the fringes.) But our reservations actually existed, supposedly, so we all ended up checking our own bags and standing in line to get our tickets.

A number of shocks immediately followed. First, though our group had supposedly been booked to fly on a single aircraft, we found we had instead been booked on two. And we— Kathy and I— hadn’t been booked on either of those. I had been booked on a flight that wouldn’t leave for hours, with a flight number that did not appear on any of the signs scattered around the airport that listed gates and times of departure. And Kathy hadn’t been booked on any flight at all. There was no Kathleen Hedges with reservations, but there was a Paul Hedges. Kathy, no fool, immediately claimed to be Paul Hedges, and got her— his— ticket.

So now we had to wait around Atatürk for the whole morning and a large chunk of the afternoon while those booked on earlier flights got to spend the day frolicking on the white sand beaches of Antalya.

I do not drink alcohol in the mornings. I rarely drink in the afternoons, and then only in company. But I needed something to numb the creeping sense of dread that I had somehow booked us onto the Tour of the Souls Lost in Purgatory, and that the real Paul Hedges would show up at any second and demand his ticket. There was a bar selling beer in giant 20-oz pilsner glasses (for something like $10 each, but never mind). I had several of these. We also found some crunchy sandwiches on Italian focaccia, and so had a pleasant enough lunch.

While waiting we also met several other people from the tour who were likewise condemned to our particular limbo. The only two I can recall at this moment were Cheryl and Debra Silver, two sisters traveling together. At least if we were going to be in limbo, we had some pleasant people with whom to share our doom.

In Turkey passengers also have to go through security before going into the boarding area. Everything got x-rayed again. I went through just behind Kathy, hoping that the security guard wouldn’t notice that the name on her ticket did not match the one on her passport. The guard either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

Our flight was never posted on any of the signs listing departures or gates. Here’s what I think happened: a whole lot of people booked to Antalya for the solar eclipse. Turkish Airlines overbooked, assuming the usual percentage (30%?) would cancel their reservations, and instead nobody canceled at all. (Because it was a solar eclipse, you idiots!)

If this was the case, then I have to say that Turkish Air stepped up to the plate. They simply laid on a whole new aircraft with a whole new crew to speed us on our way.

Once we were actually on the plane and my hideous dread began to ebb, I commenced to enjoy myself. During a flight that lasted maybe 45 minutes, the cabin attendants provided us beverages and an entire meal, which was pretty good as airline food goes. Turkish Air, it turns out, is an old-fashioned state-supported airline, and you get real service with real food, and the knives and forks aren’t plastic, and when they have too many people booked on the flight they just give you a new airplane! I heartily recommend Turkish Airlines for anyone who isn’t doing Izmir-for-three-quid on Ryanair or whatever.

There was a certain amount of suspense concerning whether we’d be met at the airport by anyone from TravelQuest, or whether we’d have to get a bunch of cabs to our hotel. (At least we knew what hotel we were supposed to be at.) But there to meet us was Michel Girardin, our head TravelQuest person, to guide us onto a very own air-conditioned bus. Michel is from South Africa, owns and runs Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge in Limpopo, and hires out as a sort of mercenary travel consultant for TravelQuest when they need someone who is very good at logistics— which, since this tour ended up with three or four times as many people as expected, was what was needed here. He and fellow South African Jean Morrison fought a perpetual battle against lost and looney reservations, incompetent hotel managers, reluctant kitchen staff, and strangely absent functionaries of all sorts. My hats are off to them, as whoever made our actual reservations royally screwed them up (as my wife Paul will testify).

We never actually saw Antalya. The airport was outside the city, and our hotel was an hour further on. The bus transported us across a green and pleasant land, covered with farms and the homes of retired Germans, thousands of whom have settled here permanently.

All private homes, I was pleased to note, have solar roof panels. This is universal in Turkey except for the north coast, where 360-day-per-year clouds and rain make them pointless. (One remembers that the ancient Greeks called the Black Sea the Euxine, meaning the “Friendly Sea.” They didn’t call it this because the sea was in any sense pleasant, but for the same reason they called the Furies the “Friendly Ones”— they were trying to flatter the gods of the sea into not dumping quite so much bad weather on them. History, by the way, records that this strategy failed.)

We passed a series of increasingly stately and majestic hotels to finally arrive at the five-star Sunrise Queen Hotel This enormous, stunning edifice looks like a Raymond Loewy-designed ocean liner that has inexplicably stranded itself on land. It has, to quote the archive, * panorama lift * restaurants * bars * conference rooms (up to 800 persons) * miniclub for children * outdoor swimming pool with children's section and waterfalls * entertainment programmes * tennis * fitness centre * beach volleyball * basketball * table tennis * aerobic. Payable locally: billiard * squash * bowling * sauna * Turkish bath * massage * water sports.

Pretty comprehensive, neh? And the list doesn’t even mention the two heliports on the roof. In addition the Sunrise Queen had a beautiful white beach and the winedark sea beyond.

I would never have stayed in a place like this except that TravelQuest made me. Damn, it was torture!

Our room was up in the eighth sub-basement. That is, eight floors below the entrance. But because the building is on a hill, we still ended up with a private terrace looking directly at the tall cypress hedge that overlooked the ocean.

That night the whole group assembled in one of the dining rooms for drinks, a multi-course meal, and to get a briefing from our leaders. (This was our fourth meal of the day, for those of you who were counting.) The meal was a colossal buffet, the first of many. There was a table the size of my living room for just the desserts. Food was free, drinks were extra.

By chance we happened to sit with Sky & Telescope editor Paul Deans and his wife Pat Price, who became our friends during the ensuing days. Paul was our technical advisor for the eclipse, and gave a talk about what we might expect. In addition he was in touch with ace Sky & Telescope meteorologists in the Mediterranean area, and briefed us on what the weather might intend for The Day. Since the weather so far had been cloudy, we were cheered to discover that on there should be a day of clear weather on the 29th, sandwiched between two other weather systems.

Bloated with many drinks and numerous desserts, we made our way to the sub-basement and bed.

Next on Walter the Eclipse-Chaser: Procession about Pamphylia.