The Road to Ephesus, III

Crested larks the color of roadside dust fly at our approach on the drive to Didyma the next day, site of an Oracle of Apollo and my first official ruin. Early morning rain gives way to blue skies. My sister goes shopping while I pay the Oracle a little visit. There is something about these old stones, or perhaps my imagination has simply hit upon its own dementia in my old age: the columns of Aya Sofia, the abandoned houses of Eski Doganbey, and now these gigantic chunks of carved marble, some just cut to fit, others carved into fantastic faces, and the few remaining columns, jutting high into the air. The priestesses are long gone, and we can now go where ancient visitors never could – down the dark sloping hallway to where the priestesses took your offerings and retrieved your answers. No answers today. The holy places are open to the skies. I find a sea shell, no doubt an offering from some other wanderer, and put it in my pocket, leaving a penny in return. I sit on the sun-warmed steps awhile, pick a daisy, leave a piece of chocolate. Lord of Light.

We spend a day marketing for greens in Soke and having tea and Noah’s Ark pudding with Mehmet’s family in the village down the mountain. Muslim tradition contains many of the same stories as our own. Noah’s Ark pudding (Mount Ararat lies in the northeast corner of the country) contains a little bit of everything from barley to raisins to nuts. One of his daughters tells us that her mother’s family is from Bulgaria, her father’s from Salonika. She is a product of troubles elsewhere in the world a long time ago. Her mother, Zahide (Zah-hee-day), is one of the most striking women I have ever seen, her face lined from years of working in the cotton fields, but strong with piercing blue eyes and a somewhat sardonic smile playing about her lips. Her daughters hustle to serve us, seated in their nearly new living room with comfortable couches. Zahide sits on a couch for awhile, then moves quietly to the floor, comfortably at home, her eyes full of light as she watches her daughters. The eldest shows off her trousseau – handmade lace curtains, embroidered linens, a knitted prayer rug. She gives me a knitted washcloth to take home.

I finally memorize an entire sentence for Mehmet. Tesekkur ederim bir iyi kahvalti icin. Thank you for a very good breakfast. Today we drive to Lake Bafa and beyond, to Heracleia under Latmos, passing hills of olive orchards spread with daisies and windflowers, red and blue, pink and white.

On the way, we stop at Euromos, a wayside Temple of Zeus. Once, however, there was an amphitheatre, and even a town, I believe. Now one drives in just off the highway to a marble platform surrounded by ancient Corinthian columns, nestled in an olive orchard. I wandered about, plucking a black olive from the tree to taste, spitting out the bitter fruit. Olives must be processed before becoming edible. I trek gingerly up the hill into the orchard, looking for a sense of old times. Olives were a gift of Athena. They won the city of Athens for her, topping Poseidon’s gift of horses. Leaning on my red cane, I look back toward the no longer visible sea, and wish for a horse.

Mt. Latmos is crowned with storm clouds, but the air remains free of rain as we drive the winding road to Heracleia, past elephant-sized boulders, saddled donkeys, an old woman with a load of firewood on her back, and Turkish cowboys bringing the cows home. Tea is served in a small, charming pension, with the tall stone wall of a temple to Athena visible beyond a whitewashed house in the distance. I beg silent forgiveness for being unable to come any closer to her. I wish I hadn’t spit out the olive. I beg forgiveness for that as well. My foot hurts.

My foot is swollen and sore. It’s not any worse, but it’s not any better. The following day, Canan and I drive to Miletus, another ancient city, but I can only scan the theatre with my binoculars from the car window. A stork’s nest tops a slightly less ancient mosque nearby. Our next stop is the hospital in Soke, from which I emerge with a walking cast for a hairline fracture and orders for two days of bed rest. I comply.

The first day is for reading. Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres, is about a village like this one a hundred years earlier. Day two I can sit in the garden, soaking up sunshine and breaking up sticks for kindling. Day three there are thunderstorms and snow on the mountain behind the village. Canan allows me to walk about a bit, and takes me for lunch down the coast, driving past lagoons of flamingos in a sparkling sea. We have sea bass, beets, haval, eggplant and wine, and drive home before another storm, toasting ourselves before a fire while the wind howls through the almond tree and old stones