I have sold the new novel, Implied Spaces, for, umm, "the largest advance ever offered by Night Shade Books."
There. I think I said that right.
Walter Jon Williams speaks his mind.
2 April, 2006
We Meet The Goddess
Though there were about 90 great minutes, for the most part this day sucked.
We had to get up early and get on the bus for the long ride to Ankara, where we would spend only a few hours before getting on a plane for Izmir, after which there would be yet another bus ride to the Grand Blue Sky Hotel in Kusadasi.
Why so much frantic travel, when we could just fly straight from Cappadocia to Izmir?
Because the Museum of Anatolian Civilization is in Ankara, that’s why. The Museum of Anatolian Civilization is one of the great museums of the world, and was worth all those boring hours in planes and buses.
I was annoyed that we only got a couple hours in the museum. They’d take us shopping every damn place, but the archaeological and cultural feast was to be brief. I have no sympathy with those who prefer shopping to history.
The ride to Ankara was dull in the extreme. I presume we had lunch somewhere, and that the lunch began with lentil soup, but of the meal and most of the trip I remember nothing. Maybe I used the time to catch up on my sleep. The only moments of interest came in the vicinity of Turkey’s large Salt Lake, where we saw a lot more bird life than we’d seen elsewhere in the country, including herons and storks.
Ankara is an ancient city more than 3000 years old, and was formerly known as Angora, home to famous breeds of long-haired goats and rabbits. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk moved the Turkish capital from Constantinople to Ankara in 1923, and it holds his monumental tomb. Driving through the sprawling city, we passed a huge equestrian statue of Atatürk surrounded by statues of his soldiers, one of which surprised me by wearing a big World War I lugged German coalscuttle helmet. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, since in the Great War the Turks were Germany’s allies.
A note about the personality cult of Atatürk. The U.S. has many Founding Fathers: Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Lee, Hamilton, Madison, etc. The Turks have only Atatürk. Mustafa Kemal defeated the British and ANZACs at Gallipoli, formed the Turkish nationalist government in 1919, won the War of Liberation, organized the government, reformed the state, banned the fez as “feudal,” drove the Islamic fundamentalists from power, overthrew the Sultan and the Caliphate, secularized the government, served as president for nearly 20 years, introduced the Western calendar and the Western alphabet, moved the Day of Rest from Friday to Sunday, and still had the time to party. (He legalized alcohol and died young, of cirrhosis.)
There is considerable debate about whether or not he was a dictator. He was certainly authoritarian. But his policies kept Turkey secular— it remains secular now, even under what is ostensibly an Islamic government— and also kept the country from tipping into fascism or Communism.
His picture is everywhere: on all the currency, in every business, in many private homes, and in or on every state building. Statues to Atatürk are found in all towns and cities. There are bridges, dams, stadiums, and airports named after him. The entire country shuts down for a minute at 9:05 on November 10, the anniversary of his death. It’s flat illegal to say anything bad about him.
That said, some of Atatürk’s official portraits are rather eerie. His sharp-featured face with its turned-up eyebrows can look elfin or satanic, depending on how he’s depicted, and in some portraits he looks more like Dracula than a modern statesman. I wonder if the portraitists are engaging in subtle forms of political protest here.
Ankara is a large modern city built around the citadel on the old acropolis. The Museum of Anatolian Civilization is built in and around an old caravanserai snugged up against the citadel walls. It’s smallish as great museums go but exceedingly well organized, with a large central room devoted to monumental Hittite antiquities, and galleries surrounding the central square that take you through the history of Anatolia from the Neolithic through the Roman period.
Along with civilization itself, let’s start at Çatal Höyük, the world’s first actual city, dated to around 7000 BCE. The town was similar to classic Indian Pueblo architecture, in that the buildings had walls of mud with an entrance through the flat roof. In the museum I saw the usual Neolithic artifacts, spear points, knives, fish hooks, and pots. Deceased members of the community were buried under the floor, similar to other Neolithic settlements.
What made Çatalhöyük astounding— aside from its age— was its frescoes, the first known to exist anywhere. There were frescoes of hunting scenes, of scenes with leopards, and also a fresco— at picture of which you can find at the top of this post— showing the world’s first town plan, and also an eruption of the volcano Hasan. Since Hasan has been inactive for millennia, this may in fact be a depiction of Hasan’s last eruption.
(A detailed 3D reconstruction of the so-called “hunting shrine” may be found here, along with a link to a 3D fly-through of the town which didn’t work for me. Your mileage may be better, however.)
Supposedly many of Çatalhöyük’s frescoes did not survive the excavation, deteriorating immediately on being uncovered. The only record we have of them came from archaeologist James Mellaart, who supposedly sketched them in the brief time before they vanished from history. Mellaart is a sufficiently controversial figure so that the existence of these vanished frescoes was challenged by other archaeologists, who accused him of inventing them. No photos exist to support Mellaart’s claims.
A chief characteristic of Çatalhöyük was its religion— another controversial point on which Mellaart’s views were questioned back in the day. But excavations at other sites have confirmed Mellaart’s findings, so I think this particular controversy has shuffled away in total embarrassment.
To my mind, it’s clear that Çatalhöyük had rooms that were devoted to religion, and that this religion had to do with nature and fertility. (I mean, duh. Look at the pictures.) There were rooms with stacks of bull’s heads and horns planted in the walls so that a whole phalanx of horns would present itself to the viewer. There were altars with horns on them. There were a lot of goddess figurines, the big-hipped, pregnant-looking female whose images are found all over ancient Europe and Russia. Some of the goddess figurines have two heads and four breasts, which is kind of unearthly.
And there is this goddess in particular. She is seated, with huge hips, thighs, tits, and calves, and a vast pregnant stomach. She is supported on either side by wild animals. She may have just given birth, as there’s the tiny figure of a boy-child underneath her, with his head between her ankles and an impish smile on his face.
This particular Goddess, it seems to me, bridges the gap between formal religion and something that have originated as a cult figure or fertility charm. Though later in her history she slimmed down and acquired a big mushroom-shaped headdress, the motifs of the wild animals and horns were to stay with this goddess for millennia as she appeared under many names. She was known to the Hittites as Kubebe, to others as Kubaba or Kubele, to the Greeks as Cybele (pronounced “kibbili”), and to the Romans as Magna Mater, the Great Mother. Over the years she acquired a more well-defined mythology involving her resurrected son Attis, a habit of hanging out in caves, and priesthood of castrati who dressed as women.
I’m not qualified to judge Mellaart’s claims that Cybele has survived into the present day as a common motif in Anatolian rugs, so I’ll just pass on the meme and see what happens.
Later in the Copper Age we see various ceremonial objects which continue the bull’s horn motif, the latter also having solar disks which may combine Cybele’s horns with a male sky god. (“Ceremonial object,” by the way, is usually archaeology-speak for “we don’t know what the hell it was used for,” but it’s assumed that these were carried in formal procession.)
The museum’s central area was full of wonderful Hittite statues and reliefs, including the usual huge Hittite guardian lions, kings in chariots hunting or trampling their enemies, fantastic animals, and seraphim.
Elsewhere in the museum is found nothing less than the reconstructed tomb of King Midas. Yes, this is Midas of the Golden Touch, who in addition to being a figure of legend was a perfectly genuine and extremely wealthy 8th Century king of Phrygia. His body was found surrounded by precious objects in a wooden tomb buried under the Great Tumulus at Gordion. Much of what was found in the tomb was made of wood and hasn’t prospered over the centuries, but include his bed and an ingenious folding table. Also found was a portrait bust of Midas himself, which shows him to be a round-faced man with a haughty expression and a pug nose. He looks like a belligerent Irish pub crawler. Pictures and descriptions of many of the treasures can be found here.
From the Hellenic age there are displayed pots, statues of Olympian gods, reliefs, coins, and jewelry. From the Romans are some remarkable portrait busts, including a bronze Trajan, and a seated statue of Cybele, who has lost a lot of weight over the last 7000 years and got a new hairdo.
On leaving I wanted to get a museum guide so that I could linger over pictures of all the treasures I hadn’t got to linger over in person, but I couldn’t find one in English. (In fact, finding souvenir books in English was a consistent problem. I don’t know whether they don’t print enough, or whether swarms of Americans always carried them off just before I arrived.)
So I am now the proud owner of Museum Für Anatolische Zivilisationen. Even though I can’t make a lot of sense of the German, I’m better at reading German than Japanese, which was my other choice.
We now drove to the airport. Again there was much suspense over the fact that Kathy was still carrying a ticket identifying her as “Paul Hedges.” Once this mistake had been made, there was apparently no way to correct it. I hung around behind Kathy as we went through multiple security lines, ready to assure the guard that this was in fact my beloved wife, Paul. Once again, nobody noticed the discrepancy.
Despite the flight lasting no longer than 45 minutes, Turkish Air served us a full and tasty meal, with wine.
As we flew toward Izmir (Smyrna) and the Aegean, we could see many greenhouses below us, and we looked forward to chowing down on the fresh vegetables therefrom. The Aegean coast was clearly a garden spot.
Once in Izmir we were packed onto another set of buses and driven to our hotel, a drive that took over an hour. The final part of the drive, past ever-more-exotic hotels and a huge amusement park, on winding narrow roads overlooking the sea, was spectacular.
The hotel was grand and gorgeous, perched above a mysterious cave on the Aegean coast, with the waves beating against the cliff below. Our room had a balcony with a sea view, showing the nearby town, with boats moving in and out.
We would have liked to have explored the hotel and the area, but we never had time. The only time we spent in the hotel we were sleeping or eating the remarkably bad food on the hotel buffet.
Sharing the hotel with us was the European Chess Championship, which allowed me to discover the answer to a ageless question: Who is more nerdy, chess players or astronomers?
Astronomers, definitely. Not even close.
Next: Top This, I Dare You
Trip Diary: April 1, 2006
Over and Under Cappadocia With the Whirling Dervishes
When we checked into our hotel, we noticed that our room was on the same floor as the Presidential Suite. Heh, we thought, like some president is going to stay here!
Next day there were two well-suited bodyguards sitting in armchairs outside the Presidential Suite. Someone saw a limousine with Albanian flags on the fenders pick up a dignitary. Apparently the President of Albania had come to Cappadocia for a couple nights.
Maybe he wanted to buy some carpets.
I was impressed that people in our group knew an Albanian flag when they saw one.
Trudging past the bodyguards, who eyed my camera case with modest suspicion, I got up early for the second day in a row, again in hopes of getting my balloon ride. The weather had been so miserable the previous day that I had given up hope— but greatly to my surprise, the weather turned out to be brilliant.
I was slotted for the second round of balloon rides— the balloons were so much in demand that they were flying in shifts. When we took off at 7:00 the sun was still bright, and low enough to cast long dark contrasting shadows— perfect for aerial photography.
We were taken to the balloon fields in vans manned by support crew, who talked constantly to each other and to walkie-talkies. At some point I realized that they were talking in Arabic, not Turkish, and concocted sleepy morning fantasies about al-Qaeda kidnaping and violent revenge. Instead, what we got was some lovely scenery, far more spectacular in the bright sun than it had been in the previous day’s drizzle.
We got out near a farmer’s home from which I heard the sound of turkeys, the only turkeys I’d encounter in Turkey. Half a dozen balloons were in the brilliant blue sky. (I am going to use the word “brilliant” a lot in this installment. Be warned.)
The balloons began to ease themselves toward the ground. We piled into our vehicle and bounced down primitive roads toward our particular balloon. It was very large, with a wicker gondola that could hold sixteen people jammed elbow-to-elbow. Fortunately we had only a dozen or so, which gave us just enough room to move around.
The gondola had a few foot-holds to step in when clambering in and out, but still it required a degree of athleticism. An American woman who claimed she lacked the strength to use even the foot-holds had to be dragged out head-first, flopping along like a seal out of water. She didn’t look that out of shape to me. I think she enjoyed the attention.
I clambered in without doing myself or the balloon any damage. Our captain had started as a glider pilot, served in the Air Force, and then taken up ballooning. He said he preferred balloons, because they’re more social.
A sustained blast from the burners and we were airborne. I hadn’t had a balloon ride in nearly twenty years, but I recognized at once the chill sensation on my neck of the cold rain of unspent propane. (The captain apologized for this phenomenon, and said a dealer had stuck him with inferior propane.)
Several thousand feet below was the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, spires, contorted hills, deep valleys, winding tracks, small fields, natural amphitheaters, and cave homes. The strong sunlight and deep shadow made picture-taking criminally easy. I shot over 100 photos, and none of them sucked. Every single one was right on the money.
There was no sense of motion at all, and the only sound was the roaring of the propane burners as we gained altitude. The captain expertly shifted altitude to find winds to push us in the direction we needed to go. We were moving in step with half a dozen other balloons, drops of rainbow color in the sky
Slowly we descended. We passed the rim of a valley, then continued to drop. Hoodoo spires rose all around us. Fields and lovely blooming apricot trees grew closer. We brushed the top of an apricot tree, and then we were moving up Pigeon Valley, the very same valley whose rim I had walked the day before.
This was better. The spires marched past like the pickets of a fence. We could gaze directly into the windows of some of the cave homes. I could look left and right and see other balloons flying up other canyons. I looked up and saw a farm wife on the rim, arms akimbo as she glared down at us. (Damned tourists stealing my apricots again . . . )
We began to run out of valley, and the burners opened fire. We climbed rapidly, though the gondola lightly touched a cliff-face in doing so. The gondola didn’t rock, it just bounced away.
Again, for a while, we had a view from several thousand feet. The twin horns of the Uçhisar castle were far below us. Other balloons began their final descent. Our captain aimed us at one particular ridge, but missed, which resulted in much yelling into his walkie-talkie as he directed the ground crew to the new landing spot.
At length we thudded to earth on the edge of an arroyo. Somehow we managed to avoid tipping in. When the ground crew showed up, they walked the gondola to a level place and helped us out.
I was filled with transcendent bliss the whole time we were aloft. Difficult to describe, but there you are.
Back at the hotel I paid the captain his $180 US, had a few minutes to change and wash propane off my neck, and then ran for the bus to visit the Kaymakli Underground City.
Since the tufa that underlies much of Cappadocia is soft, you don’t have to dig into a hill or a hoodoo to make a shelter. You can dig straight down.
Kaymakli Underground City lies beneath the town of Kaymakli. It, and other underground cities in the area, were built over many centuries as a refuge during times of trouble or invasion, though the passages were used for storage in times of peace. No one knows how old these excavation are, though Hittite inscriptions and tools have been found, which means that some at least are over 3000 years old. The Kaymakli Underground City was lost for hundreds of years, and only rediscovered in 1964. It’s possible that Cappadocia is riddled with undiscovered underground cities.
Kaymakli is alleged to descend over 1000 meters, but the lower levels are dangerous and largely unexplored, and tourists are allowed only in the first five levels. There are also alleged to be long galleries connecting different underground cities, but they’ve never been found and I don’t believe they exist. Not only do I have trouble crediting the notion that these ancient people had the engineering chops to drive 20-km-long tunnels with perfect accuracy, I doubt they had any need to do so.
During a time of invasion by the Mongols (or whoever), the inhabitants would descend into their underground town and seal the tunnels off. The invaders would encounter what appeared to be a deserted town, and move on.
The uppermost level consists of stabling for domestic animals. The next level or two were for people. Below that was storage.
Kaymakli was a complete city. There were wells for water and shafts for air. There were hollows where wine grapes could be stamped. There were kitchens. There was a winery, a graveyard, a church, wine storage, a “saloon,” and “stone for beating of the spice.” At intervals one would encounter a huge round millstone-shaped door, sometimes more than six feet across and 500kg in weight, with a little hole in the center, that could be rolled to block a passage at strategic intervals. These millstone doors looked as if they had been carved in place out of the tufa, but the guidebook says they were made out of a harder material and somehow transported into place. Invaders would find it impossible to get enough leverage to move these doors from the outside, and would also be vulnerable to a spear thrust through the central hole.
After visiting Kaymakli, I give Moria more credence than formerly I did.
Just because Kaymakli had all these features didn’t mean it was comfortable. I imagine refugees from above would make the place more homelike with rugs, hangings, and familiar items from home, but living underground would still be an oppressive existence. None of the rooms were very large, or very private. Connecting tunnels could be narrow and low. There was one 50-foot passage where I had to duckwalk along, getting jammed in place every so often by my camera case, which kept wedging itself between my body and the wall— it seemed a lot longer than 50 feet, and I emerged breathless and sweating. In another place I just gave up and crawled.
Shorter, more slightly-built people, coming along behind me, kept asking me if I was all right. Do you know how annoying it is to have to answer, “I’m fine, I’m just stuck in a tunnel”?
I’m not normally affected by claustrophobia (except at science fiction conventions, when I’m packed into an elevator with a few hundred fans, all bellowing at the top of their lungs), but at Kaymakli there were uncomfortable moments.
The most annoying thing about this visit, however, was that none of my photos came out. My flash is now completely out of synch with my hitherto-reliable Pentax. Not a single photo I took with flash came out.
After Kaymakli, we went to the Göreme Outdoor Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Göreme is a town just down the valley from the castle of Uçhisar, and consists of the parts of that town that just spilled over onto the valley floor. In a series of valleys near Göreme is the oldest Christian monastic community in the world.
It was Saint Basil the Great (who incidentally is the Orthodox Father Christmas) and his brother Gregory (who invented the concept of the Trinity) who established the monastic communities of Cappadocia in the 4th Century. Prior to that, there had been hermits living in caves or atop pillars, but Basil thought it would be more useful to gather contemplative types into useful communities, where they could live, eat, worship, and study in common (as Buddhist monks had been doing for a thousand years).
Cut from the tufa are dozens of structures, dorm rooms, kitchens, dining halls, and many, many chapels. The chapels all feature brightly-painted frescoes, many of which are in surprisingly good shape. The oldest date from the Iconoclastic Controversy, and are geometric compositions. The few representations of living things are very abstract, so that no one could possibly mistake them for idols. After the iconoclasts fell from power, it was all right for people to depict human figures again, and many of the chapels are covered everywhere with brightly-painted scenes from the Bible and from Christian history.
To name just a few: there is the Dark Church (the darkness preserving the incredibly bright frescos of the life of Christ), the Buckle Church (actually four churches carved next to and on top of each other, and where the frescoes are less well preserved), the Hidden Church (lost until 1956), the Church of Mother Mary, the El Nazar Church (partially collapsed, and its artwork now destroyed or open to the elements), the Apple Church, the Sandals Church, the Church of St. Barbara, and the Snake Church, which features a rather startling picture of St. Onouphrios, depicted as a naked hermaphrodite (albeit fig-leafed) with a long white beard. There’s a story there, but I don’t know it.
The names of these churches are modern, and usually based on motifs found in the frescoes. We have no idea what the monks called them. Which is a shame, because a thriving monastic community existed here until 1923, when Turkey expelled most of its Christians, shipping 2.5 million of them to Greece (whether they were Greek or not), in exchange for half a million Turks being shipped the other way.
After 1923 the site was abandoned and largely forgotten. It was “rediscovered” in the 1950s, when the Turks figured out they could attract tourist money to the area. But much damage had been done in the meantime, with the frescoes deteriorating and the long Cappadocian winters cracking the domes of the chapels, and sometimes destroying them altogether. The Turks are trying to make amends, and are re-capping the domes of endangered chapels, piling up some form of earth-colored, natural-seeming concrete on top of them in hopes of keeping the ice from cracking them. May they succeed.
Walking through a sunshower to the parking lot after visiting the Buckle Church(es), I encountered the only rude Turk I met in the entire journey, a young man who called me a “dickhead” for not buying his ice cream.
From Göreme we went to the famous pottery factory at Avanos. By now I was not terribly surprised to discover that most of it was underground— when you want to expand in Cappadocia, you just build downward, it saves having to buy more property.
The factory makes all sorts of pottery, from silly kitsch (a porcelain cuckoo clock, anyone?) to glorious, intricate works of art made by masters. Though I collect pottery, and though I lusted after some of the larger, more spectacular serving platters, I wasn’t terribly tempted by the pieces we could actually afford, and we didn’t buy anything. I think some of the salesmen were dreadfully offended.
That night we went to see the dervishes whirl.
The local dervishes had their headquarters at the Sanuhan Cultural Center, which is an enormous old Seljuk caravanserai, a massive walled structure with towers, ornamented with carvings I didn’t have a chance to inspect. It was a rainy night, and we walked across ancient flagstones as we crossed the courtyard to the main building. In the vast building, beneath gigantic arches, we discovered a smallish dance floor surrounded by bleachers for visitors. We waited while more groups filed in, until the area was packed.
There had been dervishes before Mevlana, and there had been Sufis, but the Sufi dervishes hadn’t whirled. The whirling dance was Mevlana’s innovation, as well as the music that accompanies the dance— music had not previously been a part of Muslim religious tradition. The dance originated from a line in the Koran which states that all matter whirls, down to the smallest atom. (I have to say that the Prophet got that part right.) Though I know I’ve read the quote somewhere, I’ve since been unable to find the exact wording.
The whirling dance, called the Semà, goes through several stages, and is meant to invoke divine love and symbolize a mystic cycle leading to perfection. I was reasonably confident that we were watching the real ritual, not some tarted-up tourist dance, for the simple reason that a lot of the ritual is actually quite dull, and if this was a cabaret show they’d make it more exciting.
The orchestra entered before the dancers
2. There followed a bang of the drum symbolizing the Creation.
3. There followed an improvised flute solo performed on the ney, representing the first life-giving breath of the Creator. This went on for five or six minutes, and left me fidgeting.
4. At this point the dervishes entered, wearing their traditional costume, which consists of a white blouse and jacket, a long white skirt, a black sash, a very tall beige-colored fez, and a black robe resembling those of Oxford dons. All of this presumably has symbolic meaning— I believe the skirt represents the covering of the ego. They march about the dance floor counterclockwise, form in various lines, and greet each other by bowing, which symbolizes the salutation of soul to soul concealed by shapes and bodies. It reminded me of the various salutations employed by strict, traditional Okinawan martial arts.
5. Finally we got to the whirling. The five dancers removed their black robes, though the head dervish did not. (This symbolizes opening the heart to the divine essence.) The whirling dance is performed to music and consists of four parts, called “selams” (salutes). In each the dancers whirl counterclockwise while moving in a counterclockwise circle around the dance floor, and each ends with the dancers forming up in lines and bowing to one another.
The dancers begin the whirling with their arms crossed. As they begin the whirling, their hands move down to the waist, and then the backs of their hands move up their bodies to the top of their headdress, and then out. The head is tilted to the right to help avoid dizziness. The right hand is palm-up, open to the divine love, while the left hand is palm-down, to send excess energy into the earth. Once the final arms-out posture is attained, only the legs move.
5a. The first selam is man’s birth to truth by feeling and mind. 5b. The second selam expresses the rapture at the splendor of creation, 5c. The third selam is the dissolution of the ego into love, the annihilation of the self, and the unity of all things. 5d. The fourth selam brings the dervish home from his spiritual journey and returns him to his state of subservience to God. He ends the dance once again with his arms crossed, representing the unity of God.
The dervish tries to escape all dualities and unite in oneness with the Creator. The head dervish participated in the bowing but not the whirling, though sometimes he’d march in a counterclockwise circle around one of the dancers. Sometimes he would hold his robe open over his heart, to show that he was open to the Divine Influence.
I watched the dervishes closely during the dance. The youngest dervish was clearly in another realm— he was “in state,” totally at one with the dance, his face at once intent and completely relaxed. Students of Zen meditate for years trying to find this place in their minds. One of the older dervishes looked quite psychotic— his eyes were rolled up in his head, and he performed the dance blind. The others seemed comfortable, but if they achieved ecstacy they didn’t show it on their faces.
6. After the dance, the dervishes bow to each other, then pick up their robes and march out. The dance ends with the singing of a piece of scripture or one of Mevlana’s verses.
After the conclusion, the dervishes either return to their cells for meditation (tefekkür), or they flop around and party, all depending on which version of this ritual you care to believe.
After the Semà, our group was invited to stay and ask questions of the head dervish and his youngest disciple. (In the end, the youngest dervish never spoke.) I’m not sure quite how we rated this favor, but I appreciated it. We had to wait for the other groups to leave, and then asked questions through one of our guides. I don’t remember the other questions, unfortunately, but this was mine:
Q: “During the whirling dance, do you try to maintain in your mind a thought or meditation, or do you try to empty your mind entirely?”
A: “We try to empty our minds so that it can be filled by the Divine Love.”
I was trying to relate the whirling dance to martial arts, where kata or forms can be considered a type of moving meditation. In Kenpo we typically try to hold an idea in our mind while performing kata, which can be literal (“I’m punching this guy!”), theoretical (“I am at the center of my dynamic sphere”), visual (“My enemies are tiny and I am a giant”), elemental (“I am performing this block exactly as I was meant to”), symbolic (“I am a crane”), or cosmic (“I am dancing with the Void.”)
But emptying the mind works, too.
After the Q&A we left the caravanserai and went into the greater cosmos, where it was still raining. The day had begun and ended with transcendence, and in the middle featured a journey to the Underworld. I felt like a hero out of Joseph Campbell.
Where and how could it possibly get any better?
Next: We Meet the Goddess
After time off for workshops and Westercon, the Turkish trip diary resumes with our first full day in Cappadocia.
Cappadocia— both Cs are hard, by the way— is a high plateau right smack in the middle of Turkey, with harsh winters and brief summers. A modern Turk would call the area by its modern Turkish name, not by the ancient name that once belonged to a Hellenized kingdom and a Roman province.
Trip Diary: March 31, 2006
Cappadocia— both Cs are hard, by the way— is a high plateau right smack in the middle of Turkey, with harsh winters and brief summers. A modern Turk would call the area by its modern Turkish name, not by the ancient name that once belonged to a Hellenized kingdom and a Roman province.
The topography of Cappadocia was formed by fire and water. Much of the province was once filled by a lake 300 meters deep, but a series of enormous volcanic explosions filled the lake with great flaming chunks of basalt mixed with volcanic ash, which hardened into tufa.
Tufa is a very soft stone. Basalt is very hard. Remember that.
Just because the lake was full of debris didn’t mean that the water went away. The water was still there, and began its work of eroding the stone. Erosion was aided by the area’s severe winters and frost heaves. The soft tufa eroded easily, but the hard basalt did not. When a chunk of basalt sat on top of tufa, it protected the tufa immediately underneath from erosion. The result was formations of eerie spires, of the type known as “hoodoos” in the US and as “fairy chimneys” in Cappadocia.
The scenery reminded me of places on the Colorado Plateau, particularly Bryce Canyon, where similar geological processes are at work. But Cappadocia is more than just geology, it’s a cradle of civilization. People have been living among— and in— the hoodoos for thousands of years. Because the tufa is soft, people armed with little more than a hammer made of a harder rock can hack away at the tufa to create rooms, homes, and sometimes entire cities. Geology and humanity have combined to create Cappadocia’s unique topography. We saw single-family homes that were carved out of a single hoodoo, as well as towns and castles carved out of mountains.
For a remote plateau with forbidding weather, a lot has happened in Cappadocia over the centuries. Civilization proper began in Çatal Höyük, the first known urban settlement dated to 7000 BCE. Hattusas, the capital of the Hittite Empire, is in Cappadocia. So is Konya, the capital of the Seljuk Turks. The name “Cappadocia” was given to the area by the Persians, and it may mean “Land of Beautiful Horses,” or possibly something else. After the Persians were thrown out by Alexander, an independent but weak Cappadocian kingdom arose, to be a pawn in the conflict between Rome and Perseus of Macedon, then Rome and Antiochus, then Rome and Mithridates VI of Pontus, and then between various Roman generals like Antony and Octavian, until the kingdom was made a Roman province. Under Byzantine emperors, the first Christian monasteries anywhere were built in Cappadocia. Under the Seljuks, the whirling dance of the dervishes was introduced.
I had signed up for a dawn balloon ride over Cappadocia, but bad weather forced a cancellation. Of course I had to get up at predawn hours anyway. Breakfast was eaten off the usual vast buffet, but with one interesting addition: an elderly lady in a head scarf, who knelt with her apparatus in one corner, would hand-roll a large, hearty pancake, which she would then cook on a griddle and stuff with vegetables and meats. I never ordered one myself— they were too vast even for my appetite— but I did nibble off the plates of others, and found the pancakes tasty and filling.
After breakfast we drove through rain and mist to visit the fairy chimneys. We stopped by one site where an entire village had been carved into the rock, including a small church with an altar, a font, and some faded red ochre frescoes. Our guides took us to a place called Pigeon Valley, where a community had been carved high in the rock. Some of the dwellings had more than one storey. As with Anasazi cliff dwellings in the States, we had to wonder how the inhabitants ever reached them.
Many of the cliff homes were not intended for people, but for pigeons. I assume that people raised them for food.
Many of these troglodyte homes were been abandoned in the 20th century as the locals were either expelled (for being non-Turks), or as they grew prosperous enough to own more conventional homes. This was the case until relatively recently, when the Turks realized they could make money off tourism. Now there are troglodyte hotels, and troglodyte shops, and single-family homes where you can rent a room.
Rain continued to drizzle down as we walked along the edge of the valley, washing out the colors into a uniform grey. Many booths for tourists had been built along the rim of the canyon, but many of the tables had been covered and for once the vendors weren’t pursuing us. Along the rim of the canyon, we saw two unique local trees. The first was a pottery tree— an ordinary tree with its limbs capped by clay pots. Presumably it’s a way of displaying pots that have holes in them, or that you otherwise don’t need anymore. The second was a wishing tree— when the locals make a wish, they tie a bit of white cloth (or piece of plastic) around the tree. The trees end up completely covered with these wishes, which produces a colorful sight but of course kills the tree dead.
At the end of Pigeon Valley is the castle of Uçhisar, an entire two-horned mountain hollowed out over the centuries and turned into an elaborate fortress, with a cave-town all around it. It’s a spectacular and intricate sight. We didn’t have much time to spend there, so I sped over as much as I could in the time allotted.
Uçhisar is quite the tourist mecca, filled with shops and cave hotels. We’d seen such fantastic sights that I was taking a lot more pictures than I’d planned, and somewhat to my surprise I found a couple booths selling slide film, which is hard to get anywhere. I bought their entire stock, and promptly took some snaps of a very uncomfortable-looking Japanese tourist, along with his doubtful-looking wife, as they enjoyed their first camel ride.
The only camels I saw in Turkey, by the way, were those ridden by tourists.
After the visit to Uçhisar we had lunch at another caravanserai, except that this one was a modern imitation, built to feed large groups of tourists. The ever-popular lentil soup led the menu, followed by another lamb stir-fry.
Following lunch, we were taken to Yuksel Carpets, so that we could all spend money on gorgeous things.
I believe we all performed as expected.
We had the tour first, from a smiling sales manager who probably delivered the same patter ten times a day. We began in a room where women were weaving carpets, just so that we could see how it was done, the wool pile hand-knotted knotted onto the warp (or weft, I’ve never known which was which), 250,000 double knots per square meter. The dyes are all organic— woad, madder, camomile, pomegranate— so that the colors grow more mellow as they age. The patterns are usually chosen by the factory managers from the thousands of traditional styles available, and the work is done almost all by women in their homes. (The only men to make carpets in Turkey are the inmates of prisons, in contrast with Iran or Afghanistan where all the weavers are men. Persian carpets also use the single knot for their pile, highly inferior from the Turkish point of view.) A typical rug takes about 300 days to weave.
The weavers are all anonymous— none sign their work. This entire vast industry is based on thousands of unknown women working part-time for what I suspect is not a lot of money.
The dowry for a traditional young woman is often the weaving that she’s done while growing up, starting with small items woven at the age of 10 or 12, and finished with a full-sized rug to demonstrate her level of domestic accomplishment.
In recent years Afghanistan and Iran have lost most of their weavers to the expanding economy— they earn a lot more in fields such as construction. Despite somewhat more limited job opportunities for women, the weavers in Turkey are starting to follow them. Whole carpet-weaving traditions may be lost in the next generation.
At one point Kathy suggested to the sales manager that each rug come with a Polaroid photo of the weaver, as many Navajo rugs do here in New Mexico. I don’t think the manager quite understood the point of buyers getting to know the weavers.
After the lecture on rug making, we were taken to meet the silk master, a middle-aged man standing over a large pot of warm water in which bobbed dozens of silkworm cocoons. Fifty of the cocoons were unraveling onto five large wheels— it takes ten strands of silk to make one thread, and when a strand breaks or the cocoon is completely unraveled, it’s up to the silk master to pick up another strand and weave it into nine others. He does this by picking up the strand with the tip of one wet finger and flicking the strand onto a kind of straining apparatus that gathers the strands together. He does it in the blink of an eye, too fast for the eye to follow. I have to wonder how many years it took to acquire that skill.
Turkish rugs are made of silk, wool, and/or cotton. You can’t put a silk pile on a wool or cotton backing, because silk is the second-strongest natural material in the world (after spider silk), and the silk would cut the lesser fabric and destroy the carpet.
The pure silk carpets are the smallest— usually tea-towel size— and the most expensive, but the glowing colors and the patterns are brilliant, sometimes breathtaking. Touching a silk carpet is a wonderfully sensuous experience. The silk threads are smaller than wool and the dexterity required to knot the carpet is incredible, 625 double knots per square inch.
Silk is also used to make bright ornamental embroidery on kilims, the simplest flat-woven carpets. They don’t knot the silk into a pile, as wool is knotted, so the silk won’t cut the threads.
Having got the tour, we were shown into a vast showroom, and we were offered apple tea, coffee, soft drinks, or raki. The sales manager called in several assistants to roll out carpets for us. They started with kilims, flat-woven carpets without pile. Then cicims, zili, and sumaks, which are kilims with various forms of embroidery, each more spectacular than the last. The salesman explained what we were going to see, then all the carpets were unrolled simultaneously, so that sunbursts and flower gardens seemed to bloom all at once before our eyes.
Then the carpets proper, those with knotted pile. Wool-on-wool, then wool-on-cotton, then silk-on-silk. Each layer of carpets was covered with another more gorgeous and more expensive. (Cunning, that sales technique.)
As it happens, there was a part of our living room floor that would be enhanced by a carpet. Kathy and I had talked about the possibility of acquiring a carpet for just that spot. I had spotted a few that might be just the ticket. But after the long lecture and carpet show I needed to use the men’s room, and hastened thence as soon as I could.
When I came back, I was intercepted by a couple salesmen and taken to a small showroom, where I found Kathy with the rug she had loved above all others, a roughly 6x8 rug, madder-red, with black and gold geometric patterns.
But that wasn’t all. Once they knew our, or rather Kathy’s taste, they went into their warehouse and got maybe half a dozen other rugs that were roughly similar to the first. We paced about the rugs, because with a high-quality rug, the colors shift as you move about. Eventually we decided we liked another rug somewhat better.
The salesman quoted a price, in US dollars. We didn’t have to fake our look of horror.. They gave us a somewhat lower price. At this point it was Kathy’s turn for the rest room, and she dashed off.
The salesman called in the manager who offered us an extra-special wonderful price— nearly 25% off. (There’s nothing like walking out on a negotiation to bring you to the base price very quickly.) I concluded the deal before they came to their senses.
Kathy returned from the ladies’, firm in the belief that we hadn’t bought a rug at all, and was surprised to learn that we had.
We went to the main desk to present our credit card and make the purchase. Our friend Karin, whose enthusiasm for carpets was perhaps enhanced by the raki she’d consumed during the show, was on the phone arguing long-distance with her credit card company. (The argument continued well past our time to leave— in the end, Karin, having bought a number of rugs, was returned to the hotel by a Yuksel car.)
We also went to a local winery for a wine tasting. The white was perfectly acceptable. The red caused me to raise my eyebrows and look at the fellow next to me. “Almaden Mountain Red,” he said. I have not had the pleasure of ever drinking Almaden Mountain Red, but I will bow to his expertise.
Several of our group purchased wine, I trust the white.
Dinner was the usual vast buffet. Afterwards we were taken to a Folk Dance and Music Show, held in one of Cappadocia’s numerous underground vaults, where we all sat at trestle tables in alcoves off the dance floor, and were provided with complimentary snacks, salads, and drinks, in my case raki. There was a live band providing music heavy on the percussion, and a cast of young local men and women in native costume, all demonstrating athletic skill and considerable aerobic fitness.
The cast had learned the lesson that the best way to engage the audience is to drag various audience members on stage to be humiliated in one way or another, and this duly occurred. One poor fellow was dragged up to participate in a courting dance— the maiden had already shot down one of the locals— and our comrade was forced to dance energetically, make muscles, and otherwise demonstrate his masculine fitness. The maiden shot him down anyway.
In the end we were all dragged from our tables, formed into a long snakey line, and danced up the ramps to the outside, where we danced about a huge bonfire, yelling and cheering. The moon floated above us in the smoky sky. I had a lot to celebrate and had a glorious time. The raki helped, I imagine.
There was also a belly dancer who descended onto the floor in a glass elevator. I’m not sure whether this is a criticism of Turkey or a compliment to New Mexico, but I’ve seen many better belly dancers in Albuquerque.
And so back to the hotel and bed, breathless and dreaming of New Mexico’s belly dancers.