Lost Cities of the Golden Age

Assos   (June, 2014)

St. Paul is said to have passed through Assos on one of his proselytizing journeys and the town is referred to in the Bible. In ancient times (6th-5th century BC) it was regarded as the most beautiful place in Asia Minor. I can certainly see why – the setting high over the Aegean Sea and looking out at the Greek island of Lesbos just six miles away is extraordinary. Assos is also where Aristotle founded a school of philosophy in 340 BC, supported financially by his former student, Alexander the Great.

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Phocaea     (June, 2014)

All you third-year Latin students probably remember the numerous references Vergil made in the Aeneid to the “superb mariners of Phocaea.” It was pretty exciting walking around the same harbor, and the same cobblestone streets, once used by those illustrious sailors, some of whom sailed (in legend) with Jason aboard the Argo. Today Phocaea is a small and very pleasant beach resort area.

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Priene     (June, 2014)

Priene, like Ephesus and Miletus, was one of the12 Greek city-states along the Aegean coast that comprised the Ionian League, a loose confederation formed around 650 BC for largely religious and commercial purposes rather than military defense. Like Miletus, it was abandoned shortly after being left land-locked by the silting up of its harbors and finally the entire surrounding area. It was pretty exciting riding my motorcycle from Priene to Miletus, about 12 miles away, on the flat fertile farmland that once was the seabed between these two ancient cities. It was easy to visualize ancient Greek triremes plying theses waters carrying wine and olive oil northward to Ephesus, Chios and beyond. Alexander the Great actually kept a residence in Priene, the remains of which can still be seen.

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Miletus    (June, 2014)

Between about 800-500 BC, Miletus had one of the largest populations in Ionia (now western Turkey), estimated between 10,000-20,000 people. It was one of the most important centers of learning and culture and if you remember your Philosophy 101 class, you’ll remember Thales of Miletus, the “Father of Greek Philosophy”. He was the first philosopher to begin making rational inquiry into the nature of physical existence. He was born, lived and studied right here. I found it amazing to be able to walk in the actual streets where he walked, sit in the same amphitheater that he sat in, and just generally hang out in the same neighborhoods. Even today the ruins are spread out over an enormous area and since there is no modern development anywhere near here, it remains just as it did when the sea around it silted up and left it landlocked in the 3rd century AD. You can really get a sense of everyday life here and what it might have been like.

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Didyma    (June, 2014)

The Oracle of Apollo at Didyma was one of the most important prophecy centers in ancient Greece. It was second only to the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. All that remains in Didyma now is the ruins of the enormous temple, the largest such temple in the ancient world. The present-day ruins are from the reconstructed temple built here by Alexander the Great after his string of victories over the Persians. Standing inside it is pretty awe-inspiring, a reminder that building such colossal structures to honor supernatural deities is not something unique to Renaissance Christianity.

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Mehmet, Jihadist Barber

Izmir, Turkey
June, 2014

I was admiring the interior of the small, nicely-appointed barber shop, complete with 19th century barber fixtures and chair and decided the owner must be off having tea with one of his neighbors along the pedestrianized cobblestone lane.  I stepped back out of the shop and started to leave when a portly, 65-year-old gent in a crisp white barber smock crossed the lane, walking briskly, dabbing at his pudgy chin with a napkin.  The buttons on his smock were straining from the volume and fluidity of his girth and he shouted something to me in Turkish as he waved me back inside.  The cheerful fellow must have wolfed down the last of his kofte sandwich when he saw me enter from across the lane.  His white whiskers were set off by a mustache waxed with upturned tips in the favored style of the late Ottomans.  He looked very much like the genie that evanesces from Aladdin’s lamp.

“Ingilizce?”  I asked hopefully.  “No, no.” he said smiling kindly as he shook his head.  Through his gestures, though, he reassured me our language barrier would be no problem.  He pointed at his chest and said “Mehmet”.  I pointed at mine and said “Mark”.  We both bowed and nodded and I took my seat.  I tilted my head obligingly as he fastened the paper collar around my neck, then he gracefully sailed his cape through the air like a toreador and clipped it together at the back of my neck.  He didn’t even try to ask about my tonsorial preferences but that didn’t matter since I didn’t really have any, other than leaving his shop with my hair shorter than it was.

I don’t know about you, but I really love getting a haircut.  Between the electric clippers purring across my scalp and the comb methodically raking and then the faint tugging at clumps of hair as the ends get snipped off, I quickly enter a pleasant trance-like state.  My haircuts always seem to end about 15 minutes too soon.

I sleepily opened my eyes as he moved his handheld mirror around, letting me examine his handiwork.  I glanced at it and said what I say after every haircut.  “Looks great! Thanks!”  He still had his big cheery smile on as he removed my collar and shook out the cape.  I started to get up to pay him but he gently nudged me back into the chair.  He announced, in a way that made me feel like a genuinely special customer, “I do Turkish Delight!”

I had no idea what that might mean but I figured Turkish Delight?  How bad could THAT be?  As he reclined my seat all the way back I started anticipating maybe a nice scalp massage or a clean, smooth shave or maybe some hot towels on my face.  He was fiddling with something while his back was to me and he appeared to be stirring something.  He turned around, still beaming, and presented me a thick ceramic bowl of steaming hot brown pudding of some type.  I looked at it blankly, having no idea where THAT stuff was going.  Since we couldn’t communicate, I just laid my head back and waited for the soothing reverie to begin.

As he began mushing this hot goop into my ear with a small trowel, my head shot up and I looked at him, pleading wordlessly for some explanation.  “No, no! Good!” he assured me.  I put my head back and he kept scooping and pushing this hot stuff in until it reached my ear drum.  It was quite painful.  I started having a claustrophobic reaction – I just wanted to reach in and get that crap out of my ear.  But, not wanting to appear ungrateful, I just figured this was some kind of depilatory, like Nair, which just sits there for a while and then gets flushed out.  Then he did the other ear, carefully molding the stuff so that it covered my entire ears, inside and out.  I thought Thank God, we’re almost done.

He returned to his laboratory table, then turned around and came toward me with two 6-inch-long wooden Q-tips.  He swirled them in the hot goop, getting big globs on the ends and I thought  Where in the hell are THOSE things going?  I didn’t even have a chance to inquire before the first one went right up my left nostril.  I instinctively blurted out “OW!”  which is Turkish for “You’re insane!” when he slipped the other one into my right nostril.  Then he squeezed and mushed my nose around to spread the hot goop around inside.

As I reached up to wipe the tears dripping from my eyes, I caught a glimpse of my hapless self in the mirror, Q-tips protruding from my nose and mounds of brown goop drooping from my ears. I thought Geez I sure hope I don’t die right now, this will be the last memory I have of myself.  He leaned over me showing me three fingers and pointed to his watch.  Great, I thought, only three minutes and we flush this stuff away.

As he busied himself with cleaning up his evil laboratory, I tried to relax, praying for a speedy end to my Turkish Delight.  Three minutes later, he returned, leaned over me, and began pushing and prodding around my ears.  Then, just as I realized to my horror that the evil goop had HARDENED, he faced me head on and gripped my right ear like he was grabbing an oar on a rowboat and started twisting and squeezing it like it was his worst enemy.  Then he gripped an edge of the hardened epoxy, paused, then yanked it hard.  What followed was a mixture of anguished cries, yelps and arm-flinging that together could be variously interpreted as “SWEET MOTHER OF JESUS!!!!” or “I’M GOING TO SET FIRE TO YOUR GRANDMOTHER!!!!”, depending on where you’re from.

He carefully examined my new ear-mold, then proudly pointed to the results of his masochistic mayhem – five little hairs sticking straight up out of the hardened goop, like little palm trees on a desert isle.  I feigned amazement at this remarkable success and he repeated the unholy exercise on my other ear.  I was really dreading the upcoming Q-tip yank as I recalled once trying to pluck a single hair out of my nostril.  Then he applied his crazed twisting to my nose, a technique last used by Moe on Curly.  YANK… YANK, out they came.  I was sweating heavily by this time but could lean back and relax, knowing that I most assuredly would die with whatever grew in the place of these depilatated follicles.  No one was ever getting this close to my cranial cavities again.

In the days that followed, whenever I found myself face-to-face with a Turkish fellow, asking for directions or whatever, I couldn’t help but notice the aberrant hairs curling out of his nostrils.  Poor chap, I thought, it’s such an easy fix.

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