It’s Thursday morning and I’m sitting at our hotel’s café on the Aegean Sea in a large port town named Kusadasi, Turkey. I’m sipping cappuccino from a machine with a button I pressed that read “café au lait.” It’s not very good coffee, which I’m finding is a pattern in Turkey.


We arrived here after a day of driving north in a rental car to view some astonishing ruins in Didyma and Miletus. I didn’t want to rent a car. I wanted to land in Bodrum and find a network of buses and vans that would transport us in luxury to all the archaeological sites, but no. Nothing so easy. So into a rental car I go, worried that the drivers in Turkey will be akin to the Indian variety, where traffic rules are mere suggestions. Turns out that everything was fine, that the drivers and the roads and the signs are all clear. The only problem was a poor decision we made in the late afternoon to plug onward to the north. The sunlight dimmed, the roads were full of tractors pulling cargos of cotton that flew in the air like feathers, and there were no hotels in the smaller towns. Onward into the darkness we went, forced to drive into the seaside metropolis of Kusadasi simply in search of lodging. Somehow we landed on our feet yet again, pulling into the Sozer Hotel at 8pm. It fed us; it lodged us in 1960s décor; it gave me a seaside walk at 10pm; but best of all is that it gave Dolora some conversations with Turks that I hope she relates. Just a snippet: When Liam told the man his name he said, “Ahh, that is a strong name. Are you able to port it?”


That’s brilliant. “Are you able to port it?” Are you able to steer your substantial self through the turbulent seas and into a harbor? Brilliant.


He has a lot more to say, especially about America’s love of war and violence. “Turkey, we have a history of war too, but you don’t see our movies full of the Ottomans at war. Why is that?” He loves Obama and hates George Bush, and thus became in an instant our favorite Turk.


I’m getting ahead of the day. We left Bodrum at 11am and drove 80 miles north to Didyma, the site of the ruins of Apollo’s temple. Along the way we marveled at the minarets that rose up out of the forests, and the one large mosque with its green dome. We stopped at a roadside stand selling fruit and olives and pomegranate honey that Dolora tasted and swooned. I put five Turkish lira into the man’s hand and felt the thick course callouses that told me all about his life.


To get to the ruins we passed through the town of Didyma. We stopped at a farmer’s market. I told Dolora that she might want to cover her shoulders, and I told Liam to “c’mon, let’s go” too many times. The farmer’s market in Didyma—I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of my highlights of the entire trip. It was vast and bustling, with such an array of produce—gourds the size of babies, cabbages the size of basketballs, pomegranates and nuts and bananas and carrots and eggs with chicken poop on them—that we celebrated the health of this region. Fecund? I want to use the word “fecund”—as in teeming with life—but am worried that I’m saying a Scottish curse. Anyway, besides the beauty of all this food were the images of the people, of authentic Turks squeezing tomatoes and chattering with each other, of nearly all the women in modest clothes that covered their entire body, of old ladies bent over at the waist like harvesters. This was a Turkish world, of Turkish farmers and the trophies of their labor and the good soil, and Turkish citizens who come to this vast market at 2pm and fill up their hand-woven baskets. I couldn’t get enough of it—couldn’t get enough of details like the pyramid of olives that a woman shoveled into a bag to cure at home; of the money at nearly all the stalls jumbled together in metal tins; of the man wearing an Oakland A’s baseball cap; of the woman entirely in black with just a slit for the eyes; of the woman with bangles around her thick waste; of the young boy selling pretzels with his head down on the top glass, asleep. We bought yogurt and honey, bananas, carrots—and each transaction was full of smiles and rough talk and the exchange of very little money.


“If we were staying in Didyma,” Dolora said, “I’d make the best meal tonight.”


It was fabulous. (I’ll create a photo gallery of images from this market.) As we returned to our car I thought that this experience alone justifies all the trouble of renting a car. No, even more: This market alone justifies all the effort and expense of the entire trip.


Onward to the ruins. I’m short on time this morning, so to be brief: They’re incredible, these ruins of a temple to Apollo, mainly because of something unique that we could never do in Greece. We walked among the ruins. Nothing was roped off, no guards were looming over our shoulders. We walked up the steps and put our hands on the columns and stood beneath the only section of roof still standing. We mingled among the fallen sections of columns, ran our fingers along the writing that a man chiseled into this stone 2500 years ago. We walked down a slanted corridor to the inner chamber, and there were two young Turkish couples making out in a corner. Why not? Finally, on our walk back to the entrance we were once again met by Zeus. Zeus, in the form of a turtle—yes, a turtle!—has appeared again and again on our visits to ruins in Greece, and here across the Aegean Sea in these ruins to Apollo, what appears behind a rock: a turtle. And another turtle, Zeus’s partner whose name I can’t remember because Greek mythology doesn’t hook into my feeble brain.


Later we visited the ruins at Milecus, an ancient theater that was crumbling on the surface but had intact chambers running beneath. Beyond the theater were other ruins that we mingled through and upon, again with no ropes or signs or guards. At one spot we played hide-and-go seek among the columns and half walls. Later in the ruins of a bath we paused at the sound of some rustling in the grasses in a corner. Who emerged, but… yes, that’s right: Zeus. Zeus mating with his partner.


So much more to write but the day calls. Off to Ephesus today—vast important ruins plus another place where the Virgin Mary did something—lived or died or stopped for tea and a biscuit.





  1. Titti

    Jim you miscredent! The house of the old Virgin Mary in Ehesus makes a great impression to anybody. Tea and biscuit… A comment like Indiana Jones!

  2. Susan Day

    Looking forward to the photos but your words are fantastically descriptive and evocative of images on their own.

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