Day 11: Ephesus
(Looking for Love? Ephesus, Turkey)
The daughter of the family I’m staying with said to me during an English lesson, “Come to kitchen. Something big.” I followed her into the kitchen, took one look at what was going on and said, “Oh my goodness.”
It’s a big responsibility being the only American these people have spent time with. Their culture is so different in so many ways that I’m dropped in to a state of WOW so easily.
Do they think I’ve been locked in a closet my whole life? A vine ripened tomato makes me stare. So does tulip shaped glasses or fresh sheep cheese that is creamier than I thought possible.
I stop to photograph stray cats and every meal they prepare. I am constantly telling them how novel it is to be able to walk around at 11:00 PM and feel safe. I’m filled with wonder over their clothes line hung three stories about the ground, (I asked the daughter what happens if you drop your underwear. She said you tell the people below, ‘It’s not mine.’ and buy new ones.)
I note our similarities: clothes with English writing, a love of books, the daughter fetching another glass of tea upon request, and relish our differences: plain yogurt at every meal, three vegetables to one protein at every meal, buying bottled water for all drinking purposes.
Years ago my friend Theresa noted that I punctuate the space around my sentences with the word, “Perfect.” I didn’t think much of it until I heard the mother, the father and the daughter each do that same thing within a few minutes. Using the word “Perfect” does not make a sentence perfect, but my verbal tick is now a part of their lexicon.
I am trying my hardest not to act like I am the final authority on the United States culture and etiquette. “My country is so big, there is not one main food we all eat for breakfast.” “My country has many different climates, where I live....” “Not everyone in my country celebrates Christmas, some people celebrate Hanukkah.”
I stood inside the kitchen door with the daughter so she could show me. The counter was filled with pots and pans and dishes and the table had an enormous amount of fruits: cooked and raw, and vegetables: cooked and raw, and eggs and sausage and yogurt and cream and various jams. Their typical breakfasts have a lot of food, so seeing more than double that amount was shocking.
While we were eating, I added some rose jam to my yogurt. They watched me and murmured to each other in Turkish. The father finally said, “Is it good?” I smiled at the idea that flavored yogurt is unusual and told them it was good.
When the father asked me if I wanted to go to the bazaar, I thought he was suggesting I buy a keychain of Turkey, but he went to do the family shopping for the next few days. Repeat: next few days. This was a farmer’s market on steroids. Enormous piles of ripe food stacked on tables ready to be eaten; no need to set your peaches on a windowsill for a few days so they can ripen. This fact alone, that the foods are sold ripe, is a wonder.
The father methodically worked his way through the stalls, choosing each piece of produce carefully, then stacking them in his wheeled cart and restacking all of the plastic bags with each purchase so the potatoes would not sit on the grapes.
Every stall offered a free taste and I gladly accepted a half a peach here, a half of apricot there, and a piece of cheese at the cheese stall. I didn’t count everything he bought but noted that he bought 18 large tomatoes for a family of 3 (plus me.)
“That’s a lot of tomatoes.” I said to the mother when we got home.
“No.” she answered. “It right.”
The father took me to Ephesus, a place I’ve wanted to go my whole adult life. Since he is an archeologist, he knew everyone there. They treated him like a celebrity and me like an expected guest. We were waved through lines, invited behind the scenes and one of his friends moved his car to the staff parking lot while we explored so we wouldn’t have to walk the long road back to it at the end.
The city itself was large and surrounded by plush trees and flowers and mountains. It’s humbling to stand around pieces of history: columns, walls, sidewalks, statues and parts that are looking for their wholes. These same artifacts were in the Ephesus inside museum we went to yesterday. I kept wanting to say, “That piece should be in the museum, too.”
Mosaics on the floor, stairs leading to the upstairs of a municipal building that we could climb up, pieces of wall paper and frescos. Knowing that the place had been ransacked and broken apart by people for centuries, it’s amazing that there’s so much left.
There is an exhibit of ongoing restoration called the Terrace House that has raised see-through floors throughout a building that once held six fancy houses. Inside archeologists are puzzling together bits of marble that had been attached to the wall. There are tables and tables of these random pieces of rock that are waiting to find their place back on the wall. This area that’s roped off from the public demonstrates what being an archeologist is like: painstakingly intricate work. I’d prefer reaching my hand into the sand and pulling out a golden teapot.
The father explained everything I saw, and pointed out things I would have missed. (His English is broken: I won’t reflect that here.) “That foot and that heart painted on the ground,” he said as we stood over an unnoticed area on the side of a road, “See the way the first three toes on the foot are longer? This means if you are looking for love, come to the third house away.” I laughed. “You understand what this is?” he asked. “I understand.” I said.
In the building after the library, he read out loud some writing on the wall that described a sarcophagus of a notable man, then got down on his hands and knees in front of a small, unmarked grate in the wall. “It is here.” he pointed, insisting I got down low to look. I got on my knees and bend down to the floor to look through the grate. Musty smell. Dark. I waited a moment to see if my eyes would adjust, and they did: I could make out a round piece, maybe an emblem. “Do you see it?” he asked. I answered, “I see something round.” He nodded. “Yes. That is it.”
I’ve traveled with a small carry-on suitcase for this trip. I have three shirts that I wear on rotation, but on this leg of the trip I’ve put two of the shirts on repeat. I wear one, then wash it and let it dry while I wear the other. Tonight I wore the third shirt and the family gasped when I sat down for dinner.
I’m glad I can add a little “wow” into their lives, too.