Thursday, 30 May 2013

From ancient to modern Greece

The view from Assos across to Lesvos
Between the Aegean coast of Turkey and Lesvos is broad channel of water, about 10 nautical miles wide, which we crossed on a lazy afternoon and, in doing so, re-entered Europe.

I hadn't given much thought to what that would mean while we were still in Turkey - beyond the availability of cheaper Cinzano and Italian coffee - but as soon as we docked in Greece I felt different. Turkey, though I try hard to ignore it, is a man's world. The hardening up of Islamic muscle power only makes it only more so. Here in Mytilene, which is the big town on Lesvos, women take up space. They are allowed to. They carry themselves like the girls back home. They look you in the eye, laugh loudly, speak directly and to the point. Alex noticed the blondes. I noticed the good-looking coastguards  - the women, that is. This is Sappho's island, and perhaps there's something in the air, but probably not. More likely that we are back in our own culture, give or take a few degrees of separation.

Some things stay the same. The fish in the photo above were hung out to dry over our restaurant table in Assos, a tiny harbour north of Ayvalik. We were there on Sunday (to look at ruins, of course). Yesterday we ate lunch in Mytilene on the harbour front and, lo and behold, were seated below octopi hung out to dry in much the same fashion. The people of these parts, who are so firmly bolted onto each other's history, put great store on their differences, but fishing habits threaten no-one's sense of identity.

I promised ruins in the previous post, and I hate to disappoint.

A prelude: Alex was in Turkey 40 years ago - he loves to mention this to young Turks who are duly shocked to find that they were either not born or still in nappies when he first visited their country since it implies prior or more knowledge of Turkey than they have. He and Jan covered a fair bit of ground in their campervan on their way through to India, but for reasons which don't matter any more, they missed Pergamon. So, ever since we arrived in Turkey on Enki, Alex has talked about going to Pergamon. Of course you can see more of the good stuff in the Pergamon museum in Berlin, but hey, are we going to let that upstage our fun?

I knew nothing about ancient ruins until I got the Lycian bug last August, and for all my enthusiasm now, I can only just keep a simple timeline of the ancient world in my head. So I didn't quite know what to make of my response to Pergamon. It's one of the Big Ruins sites - but for the first little while it left me cold. We prowled around the acropolis, trying to make sense of the layout. The view down to the modern town of Bergama on the plain was extraordinary. What a strategic holdout. Pergamon was a rich and powerful city in its heyday (between 335 and 159 BC). We knew that. But still, where was the magic? Where was the famous library? Where was anything?

The Roman temple of Trajan at Pergamon
Then we dropped down beneath the temple of Trajan on the top of the acropolis, walked past the stupendous arched vaults which support the mighty retaining wall which the Romans built to hold up their temple to the emperor Trajan (the Trump Tower of its time?). We squeezed into a staircase tunnel which extruded us out onto the back row of the steepest amphitheatre in the Greek world and then it happened. 'Ah, there it is'. The old ruins magic.

There was another 'ah' moment in the Middle City where, off the beaten track, there is a tenderly restored Pergamon house, once two-storied, with the mosaic floors designed to impress with their expanse and intricacy.

We hiked back up to the acropolis. Pergamonians would have been a fit lot. The cable car which takes modern visitors between the parking area for buses and the entrance at the top is not even at the lowest level of the ancient city which spilled right down to the plains.

Reconstruction of the Pergamon acropolis
In the Bergama museum down in town we found a picture (above) which reconstructs what the acropolis might have looked like. An imaginative aid. There's so little left - the amphitheatre, foundations of palaces, the base of a small temple to Zeus, the Trajan shell, a stump where the library with its 200,000 scrolls grew out from, a lot more that is indecipherable to the amateur, and rubble - so much still buried. In times of peace, who wants to live on a rocky outcrop when the plains below are so fertile and easy to live on?

There's no sculpture left on the site. The Pergamon school of sculpture was hugely influential  in its day, and the museum has some nice busts. But we saw many more and better sculptures from the Pergamon school in Istanbul's archeology museum, including the famous bust of Alexander. That's the way it goes.

The road  to Asklepion, looking back up to Pergamon
It's a fair hike from Pergamon to Asklepion (we drove). Asklepion is the ancient healing centre where sick people went for treatment when Pergamon was a flourishing city. Only pregnant women and the dying were turned away at the gate. Its doctor-priests used dream therapy, massage, mud baths, rest and rudimentary surgical operations to treat their patients. Galen, the most famous doctor in the Roman empire, was at Asklepion for a time. Alex knew of him from his general medical reading (I didn't). Galen's anatomical knowledge was the medical standard until 1628, and he performed operations to remove cataracts very much as doctors still do. Galen was originally brought to Pergamon to be a kind of sports medic to the gladiators. I liked that detail. I also liked the peace we found at Asklepion, which sits in a hollow, like a cupped hand. I drank from its sacred fountain, and tried not to worry about what might be in the water.

The Asklepion compound, healing rooms at bottom left

I switch quickly now to Assos where, on a perfect day, after our lunch in the harbour under the pegged fish, we climbed up to what is left of the ancient temple of Athena, and the Byzantine walls which later enclosed it and, alongside the walls,  one of Turkey's oldest Ottoman mosques. History piled on top of itself, as is usual in Turkey.

Choosing mezes for lunch at Assos
Assos harbour
What's left of the temple is pretty sad. Its exceptional sculpted friezes are kept in Boston and the Louvre, I believe, as well as in Istanbul. But if you stop a while, the coastal views of the gulf of Edremit and across to Lesvos allow you to imagine the glory that was. Someone's had a go at drawing what they think the temple might have looked like, and that helps too.

What the temple of Athena might have looked like
When our friends on Angel Louise, Ed and Sue Kelly, left Turkey for Greece a couple of months ago, they wrote - "we have left ancient Greece for modern Greece". That's how I feel too. The ancient world had shifting boundaries, as does the modern one, but Greeks inhabited Asia Minor (what the Turks now call Anatolia) over many centuries and modern Turkey goes about its business very much on the foundation stones of that culture, and of the empires which followed. Greece will be different.

Looking back towards Turkey from the castle at Mytilene
Mytilene harbour
Main street Mytilene

Here in Lesvos, we've begun hearing different stories. But they can wait for the next post.


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Our coasting stops at Ayvalik

Sailing in very gentle winds from Cesme to Eskifoca

Ayvalik harbour front

It's funny how things pan out when you're travelling by boat. The force and/or direction of the wind, which matters next to nothing to a land traveller, will either stop you in your tracks or send you rocketing past a place you'd rather liked to have seen. In our case, add a teensy bit of back pain, and the inconvenience of a weekend, when exiting and entering countries by sea is usually best avoided, and before you know it you've been somewhere a week. Somewhere like Ayvalik where, in another life,  I might have settled down.

Greek church converted to a mosque

We've been tied up at Ayvalik for longer than we ought to have been, given the horrible daily rates charged by Turkish marinas. This is as far up the coast as we're going now (we've abandoned Canakkale and the Gallipoli peninsula). On Monday, all going well, we'll peel off for the Greek island of Lesvos.

We were always going to come in here for a day or two so we could leave the boat and drive to Pergamon, the ancient ruins at Bergama, about 50 km south-east of Ayvalik. More about that in another post. I knew that Ayvalik was famous for its olive oil production (and that excited me), and that it used to a Greek town before the population exchange of 1922. It's a fishing town, obviously, its harbour sheltered behind the islands of the archipelago.

But what I didn't know was how mellow life is here,  nor how much the Turks love the place. There's are few foreign tourists (compared to the south) but lots of Turks enjoying the place. They've built ugly holiday "villages", as they call their tree-less coastal developments, around the harbour, but from inside Ayvalik's narrow streets you don't see or sense these changes. It's a place for stopping a while.

A backstreet Ayvalik olive oil shop
It almost goes without saying that there's a Thursday market which flows around the cobbled streets like water seeking out channels, and that I found great treasures there. This week, gooseberries in their fragile cases, and fresh and dried cherries. I am already steeling myself for the relative scarcity of fresh produce on Greek islands.

The top end olive oil shops are very fancy
After half a day of wandering the streets and hills behind Ayvalik, we returned to the boat with several types of olive oil. Alex placed himself horizontal, but I ventured out again with a purpose.

A chance encounter on a Turkish food blog pointed me towards Cop(m)adam, an experimental project in Ayvalik designed to give work to women who hadn't ever had jobs, and to recycle waste material. It pinged something in my famously bleeding heart, so off I went with my Google map. I walked past Cop(m)adam's shopfront probably three times before I saw it. "Everybody gets lost in Ayvalik," Tara Hopkins said, when I walked into her workshop and out of the late afternoon heat.

Cop(m)adam's workshop

Tara sat just inside the door at a table covered with cats. The room was small. Five or six women were packing up their work. It was Friday, but nobody seemed in a hurry to leave. Women were chatting, comparing work, laughing.  Did I want tea? No, I wanted to know. A huge thirst for information overtook me. What's happening here? Tell me quick.

Tara Hopkins and a bottle-top bag

I could have stayed and picked Tara's brain for hours. A lively, politically-alert American who's lived in Turkey since 1989 - a journalistic goldmine! Civility prevailed however, and I took what information I was offered as an interested passer-by and left as tickled as an Alice who has fallen into wonderland.

In brief (and do check the Cop(m)adam link), this project is Tara's attempt to advance the "civil society" theory she's taught for years, most recently at Sabanci University in Istanbul, from another tactical vantage point. She used to train activists, but you do wonder, don't you, about fighting the system, and you do get tired. Why not trying working from the inside? At Cop(m)adam, she employs about 10 women full and part-time, and another 60 who work from home. Cop(m)adam's "garbage ladies" make bags, purses, embroidered work, funky accessories and so on from donated waste material. The goods are sold in boutiques in Istanbul, and on-line.

In behind the workspace is a largish room stuffed to the ceiling with bolts of cloth, plastic, leather, even a pile of donated parquet planking - "we don't know what we're going to do with that yet". She'll figure it out. She measures the growth of her project not just in sales. A condition of the pieceworkers'  employment is that they must come into Cop(m)adam's little workspace one day a  week. Tara's sub-text isn't subtle - get women out of their homes, and they will flourish, grow in confidence. "One of my ladies went out the other day and bought her first lipstick," she tells me. "Some ladies are buying bathing suits for the first time." That's counter-cultural. In Turkey, there's a big push from the top for women to cover themselves up. And they are. We see covered women, young and old, everywhere. From her quiet corner in Ayvalik Tara won't stop the traffic, but the theory is that from little things big things grow.

One of Tara's ladies - she's 73, devout, and proudly uncovered

Ready for more ruins? They come next.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Keeping Greek waters to the left

From the top of Cesme castle you can see across to Chios
We are well up the Aegean coast of Turkey now. If we wanted, we could be in Europe - or what's called Europe - in less than an hour. The Greek island of Chios is 8 km across the water from Cesme (pronounced Cheshmay). This morning I re-assured my mother that yes, we were keeping well clear of the "dangerous part of Turkey". From New Zealand, you might imagine that anywhere in Turkey is far too close to the Syrian border, but if she could see Cesme she'd understand. It's a tidy town, with zero tolerance for trouble-makers, I'd guess. The marina is expensive, and reeks of Izmir money.

Enki (centre, front, with yellow kayak) at Cesme marina

What's this?  Cold and wet - Samos on the horizon
We should have been out of here this morning, running before a fresh southerly up to Ayvalik, 70 miles further north. But the forecast for fresh winds firmed overnight into a near-gale force warning - and we're done with thunderstorms having ridden out one which slipped beneath our on-board forecaster's radar a few days ago - so we stepped ashore to visit Cesme's castle instead. We are parked right beneath it, in fact.

Old school harbour protection

It's a good-looking castle. The Genoese built it in the 14th century as a fortress. What were the Genoese doing over this way, I ask myself? Genoa was a city-state with a powerful navy, says Alex...Ah. Plus the Genoese were Christians, and the Christian emperors in Constantinople were only just holding out in the 14th century. Not for much longer though. In 1508, the son of Mehmet the Conqueror (he who attacked Constantinople and finished off the Byzantines) re-built and strengthened Cesme kale (castle). Apparently the Venetians (another city-state with a rampaging navy) destroyed it in the 17th century, but the Ottomans rebuilt it. In 1770 the Ottoman navy was blown out of the water in Cesme harbour by the Russian navy (Catherine the Great's lot). That sea battle was Cesme castle's finest hour, defeat notwithstanding. The Russians are back in Cesme, buying villas along the coast. A museum guide told us that the billionaire Roman Abramovich owns a beach over the hill, back towards Kusadasi - he and Alex were talking about football at the time. The international language.

Grazing inside the keep

We came up from Kusadasi yesterday. We stopped there a couple of days, mostly so we could visit Ephesus again.

The Ephesus Library facade - totally fabulous

From the top of Curetes Way you see the library

Domestic floor covering, Ephesus style - featuring Artemis, the town idol

The wealthy lived well in Ephesus - apartment restoration
I'm not sure if there's anything new can be said about Ephesus, but I'll remember sitting  with Alex in the famous theatre of the Ephesians and hearing a voice rising over the clappity-clap of tourist guides. The singer, who belonged to a tourist group milling about down below, continued for a minute or so with snatches of opera, by which time all talking on the terraces had stopped. She was obviously a professional, and the applause for her was loud. It was quite something, that little performance. It helped me imagine more easily how Paul's voice might have risen to the back of the theatre which in its days held 25,000 people.

The road led from the harbour to the theatre
Speaking of large spaces, I'm going to roll out a few photos from ancient Didyma's Temple of Apollo. We had no expectations of this place. It is enfolded by one of the ugliest coastal towns we know of, Altinkum and we were only there because, there being no anchorages on that desolate, silted-up coastline, and we hopped into the D-Marin marina at Didim. It is barren too, so we caught a dolmus to the temple in the 'burbs.

Get the scale of those columns?

The inner courtyard of the temple of Apollo

Temple maiden

What's left, from the front steps
Can you believe this place? Apparently it missed out by only five columns on being one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (it was the second largest temple, and there are no prizes for second now or then). We strolled, and basked, and people-watched, and marvelled at the fantasies that drive human beings to keep raising stone columns to the heavens. Most of the good statues were carted away long ago for "safe-keeping" in the British Museum,  but there's enough left at Didim to satisfy a thirst for ruins in the late afternoon sun.

Mega Medusa 

Clouds in the south, lit from the west, at Didim marina