The Post In Which It Is Clear That Some Jokes Just Don’t Work

My time on the Aegean Coast is coming to an end, so I was up before the sun and packing. I had breakfast, as I have every day, at the restaurant downstairs. The couple who run the restaurant speak little English, so I use a translator app to communicate to them that I did not want eggs this morning. The massive plate of olives, cheeses, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sausages will be enough. They seemed to appreciate this.


Having checked out of my room, I was standing across the road gazing at the sea when Y arrived with our driver to begin the day. It has been nice having some continuity with my guides here in Kusadasi. Both have been knowledgeable and very helpful. For the private tours, however, I am happy that I am working with Y, as his spirit seems to match mine more closely. I would recommend him to anybody coming to visit Kusadasi.

The drive to Pergamon (now known as Bergama) is long, 3 hours, and we spent most of the time talking about life in Turkey, as Y values this aspect of his job, and I certainly appreciate it. We discussed growing up in this country, as well as some of the traditions. For example, while all Muslim boys are circumcised (it’s a milestone, so yes it was discussed), some have the procedure performed at a later age than others. While it can be done in the first year, it is sometimes done as late as 5-6 years. Currently it sounds like they use anesthesia, but this is very recent addition. After the procedure is done, there is a party, and the guests come up and offer the newly-circumcised boy (who basically just lays there) either money or toys.

We also discussed arranged marriages. There is a great deal of stealthy communication and observation that takes place in arranging a marriage. Both families would like to make a good match, but also preserve appearances if the match is not a good one, so there are surreptitious means by which a potential bride may communicate dissatisfaction with a suitor, such as adding salt to coffee, that allow all parties to maintain discretion. These rituals are evolving over time, as the tradition of arranging a marriage dies out, and in their place new symbolism evolves. The coffee is still salted, but the suitor must drink it all, in order to show that he will be her when times are sweet and when they are not.

It really was a very interesting discussion


We finally arrive at Bergama, where our visit began well below the Acropolis of Pergamon. Our first stop is at the remains of the Church of Pergamon. The Seven Churches referred to in the Book of Revelation were generally not buildings, but instead communities. In Pergamon, however, there was a building associated with the Church, and this was it. Although this was built as a temple for the Egyptian gods, Y states that early Christians met here.


Our visit here moves fast, as there isn’t much to see, and we crawled back into the car and begin the ascent. Upward we go, circling ancient, narrow alleys in a precipitous climb. The houses are Greek, with large windows and arched doorways, but Y states that the Greeks were sent away as part of a population exchange at the beginning of the last century. Still, he says, the Greek genes live here yet, which is why the women along the Aegean coast are the most beautiful in all of Turkey. 


We at last find our way at the site of the ancient city, well above the populated regions below. A number of vendors are selling their wares, but I am enchanted by the sight in front of me.


But that is just the beginning. We climb yet further, eventually reaching the location of the Altar of Zeus. This is what many of us think when we think Pergamon. But the Altar isn’t here – it’s in Berlin (and was closed when I visited last year). Instead we get to see this poor representation of what it would have looked like.


In reality the Altar would have stood here, with the steps to the left side of the image. Behind me, what you can’t see, is the expansive valley below.


A few steps away, and we entered into the Greek theater. I’ve seen so many theaters on this trip, but never tire of them. Every time I see one, I can’t help but stare breathlessly. At the base of this theater, toward the right, you can see the Temple of Dionysus. Such a temple would have been present near every theater. 

We climb to the top of the theater and exit. Here was, at one time, the Temple of Athena, its remains now a few scattered fragments. In this photo, to the left, where you see the brick wall, once stood the second largest library in the known world, with a collection of 200,000 scrolls (the Library of Celsus in Ephesus was third, with 12,000).


We pass through the archway to the left of the library, to find this passageway. The series of arches creates a sense of solitude and calm. A sacred space. I mention this to Y, and he agrees.


And with on more climb we are at the top of the Acropolis. The remains of one last temple wait to be seen, the Temple of Trajan. This was a later addition, being from the Roman period (as were the arches – the Romans liked arches), and Y points out that Trajan placed his own temple higher on the hill than even Zeus and Athena, speaking to his own sense of self-importance.


We survey the grounds around the temple, noting the stark appearance lone tree that has taken root in this ancient land, a sentinel marking time. The tree strikes a chord in my brain, as it evokes imagery from “The Lord of the Rings.” 

We walk back to our car then, passing the vendors still hawking their wares. This is the slow season, and we have been two of a very limited number of passers-by. It has been good for me, but surely can’t be for them.

The car twists and turns its way back down the mountain and through the town. As we pass from street to street, the neighborhood becomes rather more neglected. Y attempts a joke, “We are taking you back here to steal your organs.”

It wasn’t funny. 


The drive to our final destination was brief, and we stepped out to a long pathway and beyond that a series of columns. We had reached the Asclepeion, an ancient center of healing. 


Beyond the columns, there once was a temple dedicated to Zeus Asclepius. Given that Zeus was the local patron god, it would have been offensive not to include him. This temple was unusual in that it was round, and most temples were square or rectangular. Before I have the chance to mention it, Y points out that the Pantheon in Rome is round.


We pass through underground passageways that actually had a therapeutic use for many of the psychiatric patients here. It sounds like they practiced some sort of sensory deprivation in these tunnels, and this tunnel in fact had the sound of running water, creating an ancient equivalent of white noise. You can see the water coming down the steps in the photo. In addition, healers would whisper words of encouragement to patients from above.

Frankly, now that I think about it, some of this therapy may have mimicked auditory hallucinations.


The baths here were therapeutic as well.


Finally we stopped by the theater. I hadn’t expected to find one here, but it was used for group therapy and music therapy, both of which are still practiced today. In the foreground of this photo you can see the sacred fountain, with healing properties. The water is potable, and I feel better already.

With that, our tour of the ancient Aegean coastline draws to a close. We stopped for lunch and then Y and I parted ways at the airport. My flight back to Istanbul was easy, and I checked into my hotel in the old part of town and ate a quick meal at an Ottoman restaurant.

By this time, the hour was late, but I just wanted to walk around for a little while, with no intention of wandering too far afield in a strange new city at night.


Then I found this. Oh yeah! This is going to be good!

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