Monday, September 3, 2007

Chapter 9. Cappadocia

The Kayseri airport was a small 50's-modern one story building with molded plastic chairs to sit uncomfortably on, and like much of what I was to find in Turkey, a bit dusty, slightly rusty, very clean. The people were quiet, nice, well-mannered and even elegant but appealing because no one was terribly tall, the women were plump and friendly, the men's clothes were dusty, rumpled pin stripe suits like my grandfathers from Russia used to wear. It was all familiar, spare, comfortable.

The women were of two kinds: young unmarried, slim and dressed in a relatively modern style, and married or older, plump, in pantaloons with a head scarf and sweet, intelligent faces uncovered. The men were all thin, to a man. Their faces were shaven so close it was almost startling. I wanted to reach out and touch their cheeks. The younger men were more modern and aggressive. They, like most young people, were on the make, trying to be someone or get somewhere, and less attractive to me. The old ones were better.

The other startling thing is that every one of the men was handsome! Where the women's faces were pleasant and soft, the men, though they were polite and gentle, looked like hawks, pirates, gentleman bandits. It was as though they came from a different species than the women. I thought of Ivan's film and the horse bowmen, was that what he called them, that flew on their horses across endless open miles of rolling grassy steppes.

A wall map showed where I was -- as much in the center of Turkey as it's possible to be. Sticking out left into the Meditteranean like a big loaf of bread, Turkey is easy to see on any map but there's more to it than meets the eye. It doesn't end on the right where it meets the Near East but its borders cut deeply into the land mass and grasp firmly the headwaters of Iraq's water sources, the ancient Tigris and Euphrates.

And the country is big. Flying in from Istanbul to Kayseri I looked down to see open prairie stretching out mile after mile for forever. If you seek out the area in the middle on the map you'll see the word "Cappadocia."
[some history here, what it really means, what Anatolia means, etc. Look in intro of Fez of the Heart, Searching for Osman, and Glazebrook.] Now, on the ground, looking out the large windows into the parking area and the desert beyond I only knew three things. It was flat, it was treeless and it was sunny. Very sunny. I'm not crazy about sun. It implies heat. Heat kills me.

"Djeen-jare?" a voice behind me asked and I turned around to see a boy about 16 years old with a brown face and bright black eyes a respectful ten feet away from me.

"Ginger maybe?" I responded, and his face broke into a huge grin. He immediately came over, picked up my luggage, carry-on bag and even my purse which alarmed me for a moment and then just didn't. He looked like the safest human being imaginable.Out on the parking lot the sun blazed down but the air was fresh, almost cold. Still, it was so bright I couldn't see the white truck until I was on top of it.

"You made it!" shrieked Pamela, and covered in something loose and purple, leapt agiley down from the passenger seat of a rusty pickup truck, billows of curly blond hair flying everywhere and embracing me. "I was sure I'd get a call. This is so great. Is that all the luggage you have? You're going to love our place.."

Someone else emerged from around the other side of the white truck, a carbon copy of my young luggage-bearer but about fifteen years older, a smile instead of a huge grin, but just handsome and charming. Good for Pamela, I thought. I was tired and the rest was a blur. We stopped in little village for lunch at a sort of cafeteria and then drove to their house an hour away through a remarkable landscape that, as the light slowly faded, looked sometimes like melting vanilla ice cream cones and sometimes like the white cliffs of dover. We drove through a small, brightly lit town and though it was almost midnight, all the stores seemed to be open and crowds of people strolled down the middle of the street. We curved down a bumpy, steep road and pulled up to a wall with heavy wooden doors. I was soon settled into an upstairs room that overlooked the village, but I was worn out by then and glad to climb into the freshly changed bed. I slept for many hours.

I woke to an empty house. I was upstairs in a small room with many windows and an ornate painted wooden ceiling and one piece of furniture, a stone block running along the wall just under the window, covered with Turkish rugs, which served as the couch or chaise or bench. Aside from my mattress on the floor, there was no other furniture. On the tiny terrace outside the door, there was a small, very low table and a few criss-cross pieces of wood with flat pillows on them that served as the surprisingly comfortable seats.

Pam and Saladin were gone. I remembered them saying something about restoring a house a few miles away. There was a hot pot of coffee waiting on a modern stove surrounded by a ledge that had been carved out of the black rock of the walls. I guess this really is a cave, I thought. I finished my coffee and climbed down steps that had been carved into the stone and set out through the village to buy some warm loaves of bread sprinkled with sesame seeds, and sat on a bench by the wall of a mosque. It was still early and horsedrawn wooden carts clattered on cobblestoned roads leading out of the town, driven by small, wiry men each with their plump, wife beside them, s heading out this time each dawn to their small garden plots. Each of the carts was painted many colors with flowers and designs and sometimes surprising postcard-like scenes all the same, of a New England cottage on a lake with swans in the water.

It was the start of a very peaceful week. I spent a lot of time alone, which was what I wanted just then. Pam was too lively and we actually had very little to talk about so I was glad she was busy. The little porch just outside my room overlooked the back of the village as it crept down into a steep ravine and then back up again to the other side, white or grey stone houses all in a jumble, some with arched windows crowned with lovely carved geometric designs. A half mile away on a high plateau I could see the new, ugly red brick apartment buildings that were going up all over the outskirts of the old village, desireably modern, and loaded status, but lacking all the charm and coziness of the old houses like the one I was in.

One morning I had just settled in, prepared to stare out over the town, listen to the recorded call to prayer and avoid thinking as much as possible, when the doorbell rang with the half-audible sound of a bird chirping or gurgling, and by the time I figured out what it was and crawled down the uneven stone stairs to the front entrance, no one was there. A small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a rough string rested on the road just outside the door. I picked it up and saw my name on it and some handwriting I didn't recognize. The return address revealed the name of Ivan Verischenko. He had found me.

I ran out and looked around the corner of the building up the dirt road, and saw a mailman, who turned and waved to me. No, Ivan himself had not sent the book, of course. Slightly disappointed and a little relieved I went inside and opened the parcel to find a lovely old book wrapped in celophane. It looked like a first edition or some kind of rare collectible. But I could find no note anywhere. I took the book up the stairs to the little bench outside where I'd been eating, hoping no one would be returning home soon and looked at the title:

Vagabonding At Fifty by Helen Calista Wilson and Elsie Reed Mitchel. I wasn't sure what kind of message that title was supposed to send, if any, but I was oddly happy holding the solid book in my hands. I settled in to read as I broke off a chunk of warm bread to chew with sips of my still hot, black coffee.

The inside cover was sepia with age on which spidery thin lines etched a map illustrated with drawings. Across the top where shaded hills and, in a curlicue script, the words, "Ural Mountains," On its right was the sketch of some railroad cars on railroad tracks and, in the same script, 'Trans - Siberian R. R.' under which was a rather disconcerting sketch of horse-pulled covered wagons, like those I had only seen in books about Americans going west.

At the bottom of the page, going from left to right was written 'Bokhara,' 'Samarkand,' 'Tashkent' and 'Kokand' above the word 'Pamirs.' To its right, was scrawled 'Valley of Ferghana' and some cute little hills. And all the way to right was a band of riders, the first with a Russian-looking hat, riding fine horses labeled 'Genghis Khan.' In the center on the right was the River Ob and the Altai Mountains being charged from the right by what looked like a horned milk cow, udders flying led by small dog.

And sweeping down from the upper left into the center of the drawing with more bravura than the army of Genghis Khan in an area labeled 'Hungry Desert" was a group of carts and cattle and sheep surrounded by riders streaking ahead in a flat-out gallop on horses and camels. Right under them was the word 'Kalmyks'

I smiled.

The authors, a pair of very nice communist ladies from Berkeley, after serving their volunteer time in a Siberian town, decided to trek across the lands of Inner Asia in 1927 and wrote a lovely book about it: Vagabonding at Fifty: From Siberia to Turkestan.. And as I flipped through the pages, I came across this passage:

"The Altai Kalmyks -- who are they? And who were they? The statement of Professor Sapozhnikov of Tomsk University that "they speak a Turkish dialect and represent the purist form of Turkish culture," needs some explaining...[pg 128-130] [To Come]


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