Day 12 Selcuk
(The author, Holly Winter, standing on the castle at Saint John's)
I have no expectations and no plans as to what I want from a day when I’m traveling. I prefer to relax into a day and see what shows up.
“Are you ready now?” the mother I’m staying with asked first thing in the morning. I leapt to attention, thinking I had another half hour to be ready. I am never sure what I need for our days together, so threw a hat, a scarf, sunscreen and my purse into my day bag and ran out the door after the family.
We met friends at a park for breakfast. The mother’s friend bought a tablecloth that fit the picnic table perfectly.
“Did you buy this cloth for this table?” I asked.
She laughed. “No. It’s a lucky fit.”
It’s lucky to have a friend who is Turkish and speaks perfect English. I save most of my culture questions for her.
“Why is there jam with breakfast?” I asked.
She answered, “You mix it with this cheese, it’s the healthiest kind of cheese because it’s boiled. And some people eat the jam with bread.”
After breakfast I went for a walk with the mother and the father. We meandered around the lake. A stray dog swam in the lake. He watched us walking along and decided, as all dogs do, that the best place to shake off all of that water would be right next to us.
We moved the picnic place to the shade and the father set up a hammock for the daughter and her friend. Once we were all settled and the other adults had fresh cups of tea, the girls read from their new favorite book, “Green Eggs and Ham.” Those tongue twisters weren’t confusing them anymore; amazing what a little practice can do.
After a while the father kicked the girls out of the hammock so he might have a nap, and I teased the mother and her friend that it was their turn to perform. They decided we should dance.
“First the ‘Penguin Dance.’” the mother’s friend said. We lined up “Congo” style and her friend’s husband started the music. Leg touch to the right. Leg touch to the left. Hop forward. Hop backwards. Three hops forward. Well, well. We were doing the “Bunny Hop.” We laughed and hopped around our spot of shade. When we were done I insisted on finding the American version of the song and we danced the same moves to a different tune.
And so started the Turkish cultural dance lessons. The friend’s husband found a song, and we women and young girls stood in a circle. The music played. Step one way three times, then back and forth three times, then three touches and five claps--low to high. Repeat. Repeat. We laughed and danced and I tried to keep up with the music as it went faster.
They played and performed dances from the different regions of Turkey after I watched examples on YouTube. In one region the woman seemed to float next to the men. In another region the men wore what looked like military uniforms, and sometimes woman performed in those uniforms but you couldn’t tell it was women until the very end when they took off their hats. In the north they make moves that reminded me of a Russian dance. “That’s because that part of Turkey is closer to Russia.” the friend said. “You understand that borders don’t define people, right?” I nodded. “People mix different cultures with those who live near them.”
We spent the afternoon at home relaxing; the fast pace touring schedule had exhausted us all. After dinner the father said, “Let’s go to the Basilica of St. John.” I nodded in agreement. “Now.” he said. “Let’s go now.”
I helped clean the table, grabbed my bag and off we went. The daughter was still tired and decided to remain home.
We started the ten minute walk to the Basilica. The mother kept humming a tune. I hummed with her. The father played a song: it was the Edith Piaf song, “Padam.” We all sang along as we walked; when the song ended we walked quietly, then one of us would start humming and we’d all be singing the chorus again. The mother and I two-stepped at a corner and sang the chorus while we waited for the light. Padam. Padam.
The staff of the Basilica greeted the father warmly and we entered through a side gate. I was immediately enthralled with the columns and pieces of wall laying on the ground. We walked up the walkway and the father said the excavation house was closed, but we would go in anyway. “Now you meet the people.”
Inside we were greeted by a friend of the father and some interns from college; they lived on site. They fed us ice-cream and fruit and kept refilling our tea glasses. I thought the men were talking about museum stuff in Turkish, but I heard the father say in a high voice, “Oh my goodness!” and thought that I might be the topic. I laughed along with them and wondered how often I said that phrase.
Time to overhaul my speaking patterns.
We made our way through the church of Saint John as the father told me story after story and photographed the mother and I against every possible backdrop.
“You are a good archeologist.” I said to him.
“Yes.” he answered.
“Maybe one day you will stop that and be a photographer.” I said.
He laughed for a long time.
We finished poking around the church. “You want see castle?” He asked.
The guard gave him the keys to the castle which was already closed.
The mother looked at me. “Keys to castle.”
“Now my house.” I said and we laughed.
Gigantic wooden doors with one key hole. We entered and stood in the center of the inside of castle. Most of the innards were gone, few walls, no roof, but there were many piles of rocks. The outer wall surrounding the castle stood tall. We walked around and climbed on things and stayed in awe of the history around us.
I’m not sure who started it: Padam. Padam. The mother and I danced where the floor of the castle once was. We laughed, then got back to exploring.
The father said, “We go up. Be very careful.”
He started climbing the crumbling stone steps to the very top of the wall, where you might shoot arrows down on invaders. The steps were narrow and steep and crumbling; there was nothing to keep you from slipping over the edge.
I hesitated. The mother took my daybag and slung it over her shoulder. Up I went, hugging the inside wall. I got to the top and stood along a narrow ridge admiring the view. Again there was no railing and nothing to keep me from tumbling over the edge. I was thinking that it was a good thing that I wasn’t afraid of heights.
Falling. That was my fear when standing four stories up on a narrow ledge that’s not part of the general tour. Mind you, I wasn’t afraid of dying from a fall, only afraid of the fall itself.
“Be very careful.” the father said again as he walked along the ridge.
We’re walking up here?
I followed behind him and the mother and I posed for pictures. She wasn’t as nervous about being up there, likely she’d been up there before; it’s amazing what a little practice can do. We stopped and admired the view from a number of vantage points and the mother started belly dancing to music from the valley below on that narrow ledge which is amazing since she was still carrying my bag.
When we made it to the other side, the father asked if we wanted to go down the easy way or the hard way. The fact that he asked scared me. I looked at the mother and she said something to him in Turkish. He turned and jumped off the wall onto another wall.
I looked at the mother. We stood rooted in our place. He called back to us in Turkish and pointed to places we could climb down. The first ledge was the most difficult to scramble down. Once we got our footing, we only had a few more ledges to scramble down and we were back on the ground.
“This is it.” the father said as we walked around to the side. “Read this information, it’s in English.” We laughed and I read the sign.
Saint John spent his last days in this room when he was 90 years old, praying and writing his part of the bible.
It’s one thing to know the bible is filled with stories, but it’s another thing to walk into those stories and see the vistas that historic figure saw and touch the place where he sat to pray and write.
“You pray here.” the father said as he and the mother walked out.
I sat down and gushed my gratitudes for being in Turkey and for finding people on my journey who felt like family. I gave thanks for my continued safety on my trip and asked for a blessing on the children of the world, especially the hungry ones and the ones who were fleeing war zones and seeking asylum.
One the way out with sat with the excavation team and watched the sun set. From my vantage point I could hear them speaking Turkish around me, I could see the one remaining column of Artemis’s temple, the mosque next to it and the valley below Saint John’s.
The mother asked me if I was bored. No. Not at all. I was drinking in the beauty around me.
We shook hands with each intern before we left and on the way out the mother said, “My friend English teacher and maybe we go.”
“We go now?” she asked.
“Yes.” I said. Every time I think the day is over, there’s always one more chapter.
The father’s phone rang and I recognized the song. “Padam. Padam.”
“Yes.” the mother smiled.
The father had shown me a video of the two of them dancing to that song in Paris. They had been together/married for 19 years and their favorite song was alive and well in their lives.
“Your song.” I said.
“Yes.” the mother smiled.
We entered the home of a lovely woman and her guests. We sat and ate roasted chickpeas and peanuts and the conversation flowed in English and Turkish. One woman asked me, “Why did you come to Turkey?”
I wanted to say that I came to have a picnic with friends in the park. I came to relax away an afternoon. I came to climb the upper ridge of a castle. I came to watch the sun set over sacred ground. I came to eat roasted chickpeas with new friends.
But I ended up saying something about adventure.
That was a part of the reason, too.