Thursday, August 30, 2007

Interview by the Tigris

In Hasankeyf bread comes in thick, enormous oval shapes. The cheese I had it with was unusually salty but the cucumber, tomato and mango fruit was typical for a Turkish breakfast, one which would prove to be my last.

As in Cappadocia, in Hasankeyf caves are built into the rock, a rock that is also Cappadocia's colour. These caves are effective for escaping the intense heat of day. Passing quite a few, I walked at high noon to the top of the ruins. I'm not sure I went where I was supposed to but I enjoyed going right to the edge of the sheer cliff and looking at Alfonso's restaurant 100m below. I was not aware of experiencing vertigo, but the more I wondered if I should be, the more I did. Happily unsuicidal, it was nonetheless a vivid moment - reflecting that I could be dead in less than a minute. Except when we drive, there are not that many moments in our ultra safe lives when we can say this (even if we try as we might to succumb to the fear-pummeling lusts of the architects of the war on an abstract noun).

During lunch, eaten in a cave with a raised carpeted area, I paused momentarily to film a group of dancing men in the valley beneath. Well, I say film - I used my Canon Powershot A530, with its broken shutter, in video mode.

I didn't use, then, the kind of elaborate device wielded by an American lady waving at me as I waked away. She was in town making a film about Hasankeyf and wondered if she could interview me, the first foreigner she'd met. I said yes and 90 minutes later, with a furry phallus in my face, we began.

Actually, we'd some time to chat before the film crew arrived about the forthcoming flooding. Apparently, last week, an agreement was finally signed stating that it would definitely go ahead. Until then I wasn't sure, and Alfonso had said he thought it would never happen. As I had thought, there are alternative possibilites to provide the same amount of water for the planned Hydroeolectricity plant. But clearly these are not as desirable to the Government. Perhaps this is why some Kurds think the flooding might be politically motivated. An anti-Kurdish move to sink a culturally significant Kurdish town. Another relevant issue is the unhappiness this redirecting of water from the Tigirs and Euphrates causes the Syrian and Iraqi Governments. An unhappiness that will presumably only increase. I optimistically expressed the idea that many of the soon-to-be-exiled residents might benefit from the move, remembering what the veiled teacher had said on the way to Siverek. The Film maker (Sakae Ishikawa, from New York) was sceptical, and had heard no expressions of enthusiasm from the locals she'd spoken to.

On camera, she got me to speak about these issues and asked how I'd heard of Hasankeyf, why I was here, and finally, what I thought of it overall. I don't think I was nervous as such (even though I have never been interviewed by professionals before), I think the problem was more that I was a bit pompous maybe. Or too exact and academic in my replies. I tried to be 'upbeat' and certainly I said nice things about Hasankeyf. But I'm not sure I cast that kind of a shiny, razzle-dazzle enthusiasm she might have been looking for, allied to a sufficently fraught sense of disdain about the planned submerging. And I think I was fumbling a bit too in my utterances. Who knows, maybe it was only I who thought it wasn't quite what she sought. It had been fun anyway, and made me feel sort of important for a while, which makes a change.

After signing the 'Your image is no longer yours' document, I left, emails exchanged, wondering if I'll ever get on PBS TV. Not that I really care of course, but I'll be wondering if she writes to me in a year or so to tell me I'll be on her documentary when it finally gets shown.

Oddly enough, just before we met up to do the interview I'd chatted with another filmer who I'd presumed was working with Sakae. In fact she works for the BBC and said she wanted a chat with me too, after I'd finished. As it happened though she'd disappeared by that time.

Carlos had spent the morning with the Swiss girls and was now sleeping at the river resaturant. Yes, it was tempting to join them but I know how grouchy I can get if I can't get some privacy in the evening hours, especially if there's loud revelry nearby. And what if my insomnia struck again? For that I need a light so I can read. I wasn't sure the moon would have been enough. So once again I left for the night after enjoying another excellent evening meal.

Still, the time spent at Alfonsos was definitely one of the best 'social' experiences I've had on my 2 month jaunt, probably the best. Travelling is magical the way it throws random people together in unusual settings, giving them something in common they'd otherwise lack. Unless I'd been introduced to Carlos and the girls in normal life in Europe I probably wouldn't even have talked to them. Even if we had talked, nothing might have come of it. Still, I'm not suggesting we're now best friends or anything. Usually I don't keep in touch with the people I meet, even when I try. I don't know how it is for other travellers but perhaps this is often the way of it...the lightness of the breeze that brings you together, forming connections on sheer arbitrariness and a common alienation from your surroundings, is not strong enough to survive in an ordinary milieu when far more selective criteria in friendship-making apply, when things like your personality and interests and, heaven forbid, your job and your income, that whole architecture of the settled life, become far more important and divisive.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hasankeyf and The English

Hasankeyf is an ancient town of considerable Kurdish significance, just a few KM from the remarkably named town of 'Batman'. Set on the banks of the Tigris, its most striking feature is a sheer vertical cliff, on the top of which are a scattering of ruins. Beneath these, on the Tigris riverside itself, the most noteworthy feature of Hasankef life are to be found - a string of restaurants. What is striking about them is that the mats and cushions you sit on are on wooden platforms erected on stilts above the river flowing beneath. Unless you're happy to get your shoes wet (as I was), you must take them off to even get to your seat. If you like you may take your drinks seated at a table in the midst of the waters, as waiters, in some real life sketch from Monty Python, splash towards you with your order.

These restaurants presumably exist to serve the regular Turkish people coming here on holiday. Being in the less appealing Eastern-Turkish zone, thankfully it's not a place heavily promoted by processed tourism. That said, in Hasankeyf's case, such a promotion might be justified, were it to save it from the damwaters it's shortly to be under, courtesy of the need for electricity. It's surreal and daunting to accept that soon enough (seven years so it's said) the whole town will be submerged by water up to 6 metres from the top of the highest minaret. Only the anciet ruins will remain, no longer a mountainous promontory but an island.

I was staying in the same hostel as Carlos. We'd spoken of meeting up yesterday and travelling together but hadn't managed it. Two other Swiss girls, Olivia and Justine, had also arrived but managed to get round staying at the only hostel in town by striking a crafty deal with one of the river restaurants. Free accomodation beneath the stars, on the banks of the Tigris for the price of their evening meal. After a longish chat with Carlos about life and work and travel and London (where he'd lived in Hackney in 1999 near me in Islington) we walked down river and met the Swiss girls at their lucky abode. Alfonso, the manager, spoke excellent English, offered us drinks and suggested we also stay. Alas it was too late but we had drinks and at my suggestion all went for a swim. The Tigris looks very dirty and its flow can be very fierce. Even in the safer stretch Alfonso took us to, it was sometimes an effort to keep my balance. Swimming against the current was close to futile while swimming with it dramatic. I'd taken my shoes off, Justine was pleased to note, but then had to tackle the walking-on-hot coals phenonemon which, for me and my sensitive feet at least, walking on river stones reproduces, even in shallow water.

Carlos and I decided to stay for dinner, during which we were joined by a throng of happy Turks. I enjoyed a sublime chat and considerable laughter with the charming Justine. She also did something you rarely find - she complimented the English. She said they were funny, that that was good and that she really liked them. I told her she should read "Watching The English" by Katie Fox. In this book, this anthropologist notes correctly how the English, especially men, never fail to turn any conversation into an opportunity for humour. That for the English, not to have a sense of humour, is the cardinal sin. I suppose this is good in a way, though personally I've sometimes found it frustrating, given the implied injunction against depth repose that underlies so much of this laughter. Not for us the continental languishings in gentle observations over red wine and brie. Still, it was great to be from a race applauded for a change. Usually, we're just trashed for being loud, noisy drunken thugs, or sighed at for our obsession with foreign property. Actually, though, I find more often than not the trashers of the English are other English people - people like me. Our vigilant cpacacity for self-deprecation can sometimes get out of hand.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Even though I'd spent two nights in Mardin I still hadn't properly looked around. As usual recently, I woke at about seven and walked along streets that were slowly, tentatively coming alive. I went to a cafe near the town's statue of Ataturk, where I sought some caffeine before climbing to the castle.

Oscar, who helped me order and chatted with me in near to fluent English, lives in Marmaris on the west coast. There, he is a dancer in a production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and spends alot of time, by his own account, collecting western friends, usually female. With his broad, shiny smile and extrovert playfulness he cuts in the context of party-happy-hedonism what I imagine must be the exact opposite figure to the one I do. So, a touch of envy traced the lineage of my thoughts as I watched this self-declared alpha male in action.

Sometimes I feel that if everyone was as sunny and blithe as people like Oscar, far too interested in having a good time to worry about 'important' things like religion and politics, the world might be admirable after all. Perhaps this is actually the unconscious creed of alot of young people who despair of history's grand narratives - that is when they have energy enough to pause from ther hedonistic strivings. The incontestable innocence collecting around a lot of mindless hedonism in a way can give one hope. One might imagine Palestinians and Israelis, high on ecstasy, recognising one another's beauty in the arms of tribal elysium.

All well and good of course - but can such a decoupling from the world of conceptual thought and its legacy of millenia of mental empires really work, really last, long term. One suspects not. The downside of this reaching for 'party heaven' which has shaped so much of our western post 50s culture, is the fact that it's rooted in a flight from reality, an unashamed spirit of abandon that refuses to let the recognition of its own escapism get in the way of its golden sentiments. The answer, as usual, is some kind of synthesis. While retaining the innocent breadth of spirit, that wide oceanic openess that crowned the sixties and can still be found - despite its abandonment of philosophical articulation - we should not consider 'square' or 'dull' or 'uncool', or whatever mindless moniker the 'radically hip' thought police now uses, the rich legacies of our ancestors' thought systems. We are rooted in their soil and it is fantastical posturing to suppose we can be real people cut off from them. Without any tradition at all - not even to converse with, there is no originality, there is only childish bunny shadows. What is the branch if disconnected from the tree. Happy maybe to be free of the tree - but dead nonetheless. T.S Eliot, moi?

Oscar is only in Mardin for a day to get a driving licence cheaper and easier than he would back home. He claimed to have a soldier friend who could maybe, if I wanted, let me into the castle on the hill. This castle, as I only then learnt, was hidden behind barbed wire - a part of a military compound. He also very kindly helped translate a speech for me I was thinking I might have to make to the Syrians when I next returned to the border: reminding them I was there yesterday, that they had photocopied my passport and that I was there to collect my visa. Pretty simple really. He gave me an insight into the elaborate nature of Turkish when what he wrote was almost twice as long as my version. To be fair though he did add some extra detail I thought wouldn't be necessary, just to be clear.

Gratefully declining Oscar's offer of a possible military escort, I climbed as high as the barbed wire would allow. Presumably this military compound is a hangover from the Kurdish-Turkish troubles which visited Mardin in the late 90s.

After strolling languidly down I explored the lively bazaar which uses donkeys to carry around the goods it sells. Buying my daily Turkih paper, alas for the last time, I headed off for my bus to the soon to be flooded town of Hasankeyf.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I left for Nusaybin after copying my photos onto CDd's for the second time this trip. I have taken about 1,200 photos so far. I also got some passport photos taken as I'd read the Syrians might need two for the visa. Oddly enough, getting ten made (for eight lira) was only two lira more expesive than getting six made, and it was not possible to get just two or three.

On the way to Mardin the bus spent quite along time driving along the border. I was surprised to see how militarised it was, with a wire fence and sentry posts cutting through the semi-desert. I hadn't thought it would be so fortified. Was this a legacy of Turkish suspicions from when Syria was supported by the USSR, or a reflection of Turkish wariness at its current authoritarian, military regime. Or maybe the fence is Syrian? As far as I know, a dispute is ongoing over the land around Antakya (ancient Antioch) to the west. Is that enough to justify this excessiveness? Maybe its meant to divide the Kurds, too.

When I arrived in Nusaybin I was directed towards the border, thankfully only about 200m away. At the first Turkish checkpoint I was able to ask an English speaker to enquire if I could get a visa. The immediate response, as I feared it might be, was that I neeeded to go to the Syrian consulate in Antep 300 km to the west. I asked if she was sure, since I knew this whole visa question was fraught with uncertainty and conflicting accounts. I was ready to lean on the fact I'd been living in Slovakia for the past few years, something I could even prove. Slovakia, I was sure, had no Syrian Embassy, so maybe they'd let me in after all. She said that she didn't know. After saying a few words to the official, I was waved through to Syria. It was not their problem after all. Their job was to get rid of me, not enable my entry to another land.

As I walked the 150 m towards the final checkpoint, I imagined feeling how in a more intense place and time I might be shot at for trying to cross a border without the proper papers.

Since I didn't want to leave the country today, I knew I shouldn't get a Turkish exit stamp, so I walked past Turkish passport control and managed to get a Turkish police officer to understand I needed a Syrian visa. I walked over to the Syrian policeman that he pointed at. Young, moustached and Arab-looking, at first, flicking through my passport, he looked worried and shook his head. Then, luckily enough, the same lady who'd helped me earlier explained my situation. He took my passport (!) and crossed back into the Syrian side behind the dividing iron gate. So it seemed, there was hope and he had gone to photocopy and fax my passport page and make enquiries about a visa. Up to now I'd basically thought it would be a no go and that I was only making sure. This was the first time I realised, shit, this might actually work. So much for Georgia and Armenia, a part of my heart plaintively sighed.

Another rather plump, very smiley Syrian appeared, his superior I presumed. He was confused by my passport. He seemed to think my name was 'Jonathan Mark'. Well, that's a part of it, but I supposed he thought that was my surname, so I stressed, no, my family name is 'Tillotson'. I'm not sure he understood. Then he asked what my Father and Mother's names were, though again was more interested in their first names than Tillotson. He was also unsure about the 'Ireland' section of 'and Northern Ireland' at the end of the absurdly long, official name of my country. He seemed to think I might be Irish. My saying I was English or British didn't clarify matters much, perhaps because there is no mention of 'England' in the country's name, only something called 'Great Britain'. What then was the 'United Kingdom' bit, they might have been thinking. Finally, he managed to get me to understand that he wanted to know my profession by saying 'work?'. When I said teacher he beamed with an enormous smile and recoiled as if very impressed. He then disappeared and about 10 minutes later returned with my passport and told me I could come to Syria whenever I wanted, even today if I'd like.

Back at the first checkpoint a Turkish soldier asked to see my passport. I tried to explain I hadn't come from Syria and so wouldn't have a Turkish entry stamp. Not sure if he understood or not, but I was shortly let through into Nusaybin.

Slightly elated at this turn of events I thought I might as well prepare as soon as possible, so went to a bank to change some money. The bank couldn't give me any Syrian money, only Euros or dollars. Luckily a Woman told me dollars are good in Syria, not Euros. I didn't know then if you could change Turkish money in Syria, so thought I'd better have some dollars. Curious isn't it, that the dollar is the international currency of choice in a country maligned as a state sponsorer of terrorism by the US Government. Presumably this is becasue oil is sold in dollars, and that money trumps politics, especially if you are demeaned by a superpower against whom you are powerless.

Very charmingly I was offered some tea as I waited for the man who dealt with currency exchange to return from lunch. Never before have I been offered a tea in a bank, well except by the ones I've taught in in Slovakia. Well, there was that time I was 17 and a girl at the Alliance and Leicester asked me if there was anything else I wanted. I said 'Well, I'll have a black coffee if you're offering' at which my friends Tim and Robin burst into embarrassed laughter. I'm not sure she understood me, and looked slightly puzzled.

Back at Mardin I bought Todays Zaman again and took tea on the roof of another of the expensive boutique hotels. Before turning in I met Carlos, a Spaniard who'd just arrived at the inglorious Otel Baskan and was sleeping on the roof. Oddly enough I'd never seem him before, but he had seen me twice, both at the Karadut pension and while I was swimming in the pool with the Aussie girls in Goreme. Well, I've never been the most observant of people. Well, maybe of some things, but evidently not of Spaniards.

Yazidis and The Syrian Question

The next morning I walked along another section of the walls. This time I was called up to by young men swimming in pools directly beneath. Did one of them encourage me to jump? No idea, but it felt like a nice idea, even though I'd probably have killed myself, given the water's depth.

Ater walking through and getting lost in a labyrinth of old streets I was let into an old Chaldean Church by the local caretaker. Only 50 Christian families live in Diyarbakir and the ones descended from Babylonians worship here. I asked him if there were any Yazidis in town, but he said no - they are further south, in Mardin. The Yazidis' Peacock worshipping belief in the control of the world by seven archangels seems intriguingly gnostic to me, a sign of a refined sensibility to the complexity of the cosmos. Alas, such ancient subtlety provokes some to think them 'devil worshippers'; it was people drawn from this group who only two weeks ago suffered 572 murders at the hands of suicide bombers in the North Western Iraqi town of Qahtaniya in the biggest car bomb attack since the beginning of the insurgency.

The Armenian church being locked, I decided to call it a day for Diyarbakir and head to the ancient Assyrian-Christian town of Mardin. More multi-cultural than Diyarbakir it is set in a commanding position beneath a castle overlooking pale yellow fields of the Mesopotamian plain stretching south to Syria. Only 30 km from the border, it was hard to know, sipping a turkish cofee, stunned by the beauty of the view, if I could see Syria itself. Later, as I chatted with an aimiable customs officer who bought me a tea, the idea began to form that I might as well try to get a Syrian visa at the nearby border town of Nusaybin.

As I thought this I knew the chances would be low. By all accounts only people from countries that don't have Syrian embassies in their home countries can apply for visas at the border. I knew I'd probably get a visa if I tailed back to Antep or went all the way to Ankara but I didn't want to do this, perhaps because in truth I didn't want to go to Syria that badly. My default plan was still to explore the deep south east and then head up via Van, Ararat and Kars to Georgia and from there to Armenia. As I went to bed though I thought I'd give it a try. I knew I still definitely wanted to go to Hasankeyf, 100k to the north, so even if I could get the visa I'd leave my entry for a couple of days. So, tomorrow I'd leave my bag in Mardin and go 57km south and see if I could get one. If I couldn't, as I suspected I wouldn't, I'd still get to see the border and perhaps a picture of Bashar. I'd then go to Hasankeyf, from there east to Sirnak and Hakkari. If I could, however, I'd return to bag and Hasankeyf, from there returning south to Nusaybin and crossing over into into the adjoining Syrian town of Qamishle.

Plan in hand I wandered along the Yeni Yol, the street running to the south of Mardin, just after buying a copy of the English speaking paper, 'Today's Zaman'. An informative newspaper about Turkish affairs it had not been available in many cities, though I'd found one in Konya. Then, after my most expensive meal in awhile in a boutique restaurant (about 12 euros) I retired to my very dingy room in a hotel that didn't have a shower.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Carpets and Insomnia in a Kurdish Heartland.

In Diyarbakir I had my third proper chat with a carpet salesman. The first two were in Konya and Goreme. Love them or not they cannot easily be evaded. If a well spoken Turk, or in Diyarbakir, Kurd, comes up to you in a street and is friendly beyond cursory greetings, the chances are carpets are in his eyes. Naturally this can provide ample fodder for cynicism. But if you get past that, these meetings can provide good opportunity to get to know someone over a tea, learn about carpets and, if you ask questions, any other matter of the local culture you like.

On each occasion I made a point of stating clearly at the beginning that I wasn't going to buy a carpet. Since my lack of ambiguity didn't discourage them I went with the flow, feeling they'd been properly warned. Clearly, they had time on their hands, or perhaps foolishly thought I was deceiving myself. Perhaps they also wanted to practice their English.

That was cetainly the case with my Kurdish salesman who had studied in Cyprus and before taking me to his emporium showed me the main 900 year old mosque, which used to be a Byzantyine church. He was very jolly. Before long, sipping tea with he and his brother, while carpets were laid out before me, I directed the conversation to politics. 90% of the people in this town are Kurdish and this city used to be a refuge from the fighting between the military and the PKK. They told me they hoped there would one day be an independent Kurdistan, but didn't seem to understand when I said I didn't think the Turks and the other countries with Kurdish minorities would allow that, that it might only be confined to Iraq. He agreed that the present Government had been nicer to the Kurds than previous regimes, and said things were much better than they were.

The carpets were excellent, no doubt, but what would I do with a carpet? As I said when a salesman in Istanbul asked me why I didnt want a carpet, I replied 'because I haven't got a floor.' I also worry I'd just damage a carpet in my bag.

To my surprise I managed to get my DVD player fixed in only one hour. Still it's not fully restored, as the main speakers don't work and I can only hear through one headpiece of my headphones. Nevertheless, that's enough to keep it. I still haven't seen all of the animated 'Hercules' I bought in Greece.

Before being absorbed for an evening's entertainment in the arms of the internet I walked around a section of the high city walls. Fully circling the city and 6km, they are said to be the next longest to the Great Wall of China. Having both seen, and cycled around the top of, the walls in Xian, China, I can't easily accept this. Certainly the walls in Xian are thicker and generally more impressive. Nevertheless, Diyarbakir's are pretty impressive anyway, as are the views they give of the city and surrounding countryside if you climb to the top.

Walking along a 1km stretch, 10 metres above ground, numerous groups of children called up crying 'Hello, hello' in that innocent, almost meaningless persistence only children can perfect. Sometimes they added 'money, money', which clearly had more purpose. Trying to reach them on their level I took to answering back saying 'mony, money' in reply, which drove them wild.

In the evening, an insomniac, I watched 'Singing in The Rain'. I loved the flirtatiousness between Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds but apart from that the only great moment was the famous dancing scene with the umbrella. As is often the case with me and films, the actual stories can mean the least.

Journey to Diyarbakir

My bag was strapped to the roof of the minibus that took me to Siverik. I decided to trust it had been tied on correctly and that I'd closed all the zips. It made me feel adventurous looking out at the shadow of my bag on the road as it bumped along beside us.

On the journey I talked to a female Turkish English teacher whose name I've forgotten. She was from a small town nr Istanbul, spending a few months, as all teachers from the West must, in the Eastern regions - in her case Siverik. She was friendly and I couldn't resist politely asking about her headscarf. It only covered her head, like most headscarfs in Turkey, so she didn't have a veil covering her mouth, face or eyes. I already knew headscarfs are not permitted in schools and Government buidings because of the enduring Ataturk ruling. She wasn't happy about this but could do nothing about it. She likes to wear her scarf and at school feels different and uncomfortable without it. At home, however, she takes it off. Herein lies the explanation for her wearing it, or so it seems. The veil forms a kind of portable wall between the public and private domains of her existence. At home with her husband and kids, and presumably close family, it is not worn - and joyfully so - but in publıc it is, and happily so. I suppose then, by not being allowed to wear it while she teaches, indeed anywhere on the school premises, she must feel as though her private existence had been impinged upon by the world, as if she'd been caught somehow naked. I am speculating you understand.

As for why "the veil" (the hijab, be that mere headscarf or headscarf plus facial cloak) exists at all, though, why there is a need for it. Hmmmmm. I can only imagine it's because the societies that embrace it deem men far too lustful and lascivious, too uncontrollable to be trusted not to pounce and devour any non-familial woman not already in their possession if her wonderful and sumptious hair, and possibly her face and eyes as well, are not obscured from the rapacious male gaze.

I am trying to work out, however, if the veil culture in the Islamic world -varied as that culture is- might actually be more derogatory towards men than towards women. Maybe it is. Ok, the women are the ones who have to wear hijab - or else face the possibility of anything from social rejection to an honour killing. But it's the men who are considered so lacking in poise and sophistication, so incapable of self-control, so internally unmotivated to treat a woman kindly and with respect, that they cannot be permitted to see half of the human race except under the cover of a sometimes all enveloping fabric.

Am I against the hijab, as it were? Well, I'm not going to wear one in a hurry iof that's what you mean? I'm pretty sure I'd say this if I were a woman, too. I can only imagine that even in a relatively cool climate such as Europe's it must get pretty sweaty and uncomfortable within. I'd rather not imagine what it's like in places where you can die of heatstroke just by dressing lightly. I asked my Turkish friend this. Isn't it sweaty? She said no. Really I thought? Maybe she's got used to it. Then she pointed at my cap and said 'It's just like that, it protects you from the sun'. Fair cop I thought. But on later reflection I knew there must be a difference. I wear my cap only to keep the sun's rays from my eyes (courtesy of the marvellous extended flappy thing) and besides I can take it off whenever I want. I can't believe hijab helps much against the sun's heat. And we know that isn't why it exists or its wearing is enforced anyway.

It was interesting how when I asked her why she wears it she replied 'because I believe in God.' I found the logic hard to follow but I didn't let on. I was looking for a rational explanation, something that would make sense more than the mere assertion of an unexplained command.

Actually I might sound mocking but honestly it doesn't bother me at all. It makes no difference to me. The scarfs and veils have even become interesting to look at all. They make a change. A break from Slavic hairstyles for sure (much as I love them:)). As long as women want to wear hijab, why shouldn't they? Ahhhh, and there's the rub, Sherlock. Do they? And if they say 'yes' how do we know that isn't becasue they've been brainwashed by a patriarchal, oppressive society which from birth was impossible to resist.

But you can't second guess people's psychic integrity in this matter. Otherwise you might just open the way for the imposıtion of your own alternative oppression (such as our modern liberal fascism and extreme feminism do in their smugly triumphant and comforting wars against everything traditional).

Surely one just has to hope that if they say they like to wear the veil they mean it. And if they really do, well, what can you legitimately do but be baffled?

On our way east to Siverik we had to stop and cross the Ataturk Dam by ferryboat. The building of the Atarturk Dam was the attempt, largely succesful in its aims, to flood large tracts of Turkish lands to provide water for irrigation and to increase Turkey's Hydro-electricity output by syphoning off water from the Tigris and Euphrates. While we waited for the boat my Headscarved friend explained how the Turkish Government had been quite generous in compensating those kicked off their land. Actually some people have now become much richer than they were before, from the cotton and other crops they can now farm and sell. The dam building scheme (the Southern Anatolian Project) is still ongoing and looks set to flood under 90m of water the ancient, wondrous Kurdish town of Hasankeyf further to the east despite protests from the local population.

As we waited for the ferry to leave I judged I'd time for a piss. Asking where the WC was I deliberately strode towards it, knowing I didn't have long. The stone under my left foot gave way and suddenly, as if by magic, I was on my butt clutching my left shoulder. My left hand had received the full brunt of the fall's force. After crying 'Fuck' very loudly' I worried my shoulder might be disconnected. About five men quickly surrounded me and were very helpful. I pointed over at the boat, concerned it would leave and felt a strong wave of nausea. One of my helpers sensed my primary worry and indicated I should raise my arm. Since I didn't writhe and shriek in panicing agony I was clearly going to be ok. They let me go. After my piss I staggered to the boat, feeling confused, unsure why the fall should have made me nauseous.

In Siverik I changed buses. After a maniacal taxi ride from the station in Diyarbakir, I was glad to check into the first hotel I found. Quickly reviving, I set out for yet another kebab and too much bread.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I'd travelled to the car park beneath Mt Nemru by bus. I'm sure this was just as well. It's a 12km walk from Karadut Pension and my body's not what it was. Actually, my body was never much but you know what I mean. For my return journey I decided to walk and regretted it immediately. Still, I couldn't brıng myself to stick my thumb out for a lift. Carrying on, there was only one occasion when I could cut off the head of one of those looping arches roads make when they travel up and down mountains. It's great decapitating such meanders, getting one over the wheel beasts, although this tıme I had a tough job not falling over as I edged steeply downwards over loose stones and flint.

My lying down on the side of the road after 90 minutes might have raised a few eyebrows if I'd been awake enough to notice. After my forty minute snooze I continued to a pension where I rested over a Turkish breakfast and, yet again, more bread than a non-masochist could eat. The final stretch took another hour, and three hours after leaving the mountain I was 'home'. As usual the triumphant feeling of having achieved something commendable, which I often have after completing semi-serious exercise, did not last as long as I'd have liked but was nice in any case. My legs would thanks me in coming days for the stress inflicted on them by my sustaıned knee-jarring descent. Following another snooze I had to wash my clothes by hand for the first time this trip. Memorıes of performing this awkward and regrettable experience, in South America and India, kept me company as I scrambled around on my knees and got myself and the floor very wet. As only the timing of the non-fictional could contrive, it then proceeded to rain for the first time in my seven week trip hours minutes after I hung up my clothes.

The rest of the day I just relaxed. Ambling through the village, learning some token Turkish, talking to the pleasant Aussie couple whose names I never knew. They didnt ask mine, nor I theirs and for some reason it didn't matter. Or did we ask and forget at the beginning? I forget. They were both from Melbourne and in him I at last found someone who knew where 'Stead Street' was, the street where I spent a week with my my ex-girlfriend in 1991. As an electrician he also wisely stopped me opening up my broken DVD player. It played DVD's fine but the headphone socket was broken and rattling around inside. He explained why this also had the illogical effect, well, illogical to a layman like me, of shutting off the external speakers. He told me I'd need a soldering Iron to fix it. As I was on the point of throwing the heavy contraption away, he suggested I might find an elctrician somewhere who could do the job. OK, so I'd give it one more chance. Otherwise I needed the room and it would be history.

Just like in Goreme, records were either casually taken, or not taken at all, of whatever beers and drinks I had drunk. After totting up as honestly as I could what I owed, I went to bed and prepared for the next day's departure; for Diyabakir, perhaps the best claimant to be the unofficial capital of the unoffical Kurdish nation.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Harran and Sunrise on Mt Nemru

Unlike the faultless, inter-city buses, the smaller minibuses, or Dolmuses, do alot more work between the smaller towns and in non-tourist areas. They are far more creative, with deeper soul.

Take the bus that took me to Harran, for example. It left with only one passenger, me. But then, wıth its sliding door wide open, barely crawling from the station, I realised we were hunting for prey. By the time we finally left Urfa's outskirts, I was surrounded by a heaving Turkish bulk of tolerant, cheery, flesh. I sensed this forebearance at the inevitability of crush was genuine - the product of years of accepting the proximity of strangers which the communitarian cultures of the Middle East don't strive to avoid. There was not that intense repression of annoyance at the imposed intimacy of the alien you find on the London Underground, for example.

Perhaps in the west we're just not used to a lack of private space (a fruit of our imperial stretchings perhaps?). Or is it more, as I suspect, that for us the self-conscious, demarcated ego, for good and ill, is far more robustly defined. Being so much more unique in ourselves from one another - or so it appears - there is so much more of us to lose if we are challenged at our boundaries.

After deflecting hopeful efforts to inveigle me onto a private tour, I took off to see the ruins of the oldest Islamic University in the world. An impressive pile of stones, an arch and high tower, set like Harran itself in the midst of semi-desert 15 km north of the Syrian border. An official looking guy, whom I first thought wanted to charge me for something, offered to let me climb the tower for a reasonable 5 lira (2.7 euros). But I was in one of my stubborn as bugger, miserly moods aghast at my inability to budget.

Harran has groups of Beehive houses, which look like beehives(!). Some are still lived in, including the ones I looked around. Alas the Grandparents of the purple-headscarved beautıful guide were not there when I called, understandably unwilling to be eye candy for voyeurs. It was delightfully cool inside. I almost bought one of the unpatterened lilac shawls that I was assured were for men.

Abraham lived in Harran for awhile so it's said, but nobody knows where. All that's known is there's a well 2 kilometers away which he's supposed to have drunk from. I thought I'd give that a miss. Jacob also lived here, for twenty years, courtesy of Laban, before returning to Canaan to sire Joseph and his 11 significant brothers, who were destined to make Andrew Lloyd Webber a very wealthy man.

As I walked back to the bus stop, determined children tried to sell the stubborn Englishman wall hangings he told them he'd only break. Probably they wouldn't have been impressed with such sourpuss excuses even if they'd understood. So they cried out for 'bonbon, bonbon' instead.

Bus shenanigans repeated on my return trip to Urfa and then again, even more so, on my way to Kahta. Halfway there in Adıyaman, the driver walked off with my bag and loaded it onto another bus. Clearly he'd decided he wasn't going to Kahta after all; but since he decently paid the new driver for my onward journey, I could hardly complain. And I got my own free crawling tour around the streets of Adıyaman thrown in for free.

In itself Mt Nemrut is not a particularly remarkable mountain. Less than half the size of Mt Ararat (5,137m) near Turkey's border with Armenia, it must have been underneath the waters of Noah's flood by at least 2,500 metres. But it's a much visited site because of a 30m high tumulus on its summit containing the remains of one Antiochus I, Kıng of Kommagene from 64 to 38BC. And not just that. There are 2m high stone heads scattered on the ground, as well.

Clearly a man of healthy self-esteem he erected a 10m statue of himself on a throne next to four other throned statues of his favourıte Gods - Fortuna, Zeus, Apollo and Hercules. Presumably, since Hercules started his career as a mere mortal, he must have thought he was onto something. Not only did he build such statues once, however, but twice, on both the Eastern and Western sides, so that in perpetuity they could all watch together, in harmony and soaring unreachability, the glorious risıng and setting of the sun.

Only, they could have if only their heads hadn't toppled off. Still, it was a bold move. It indicates the sort of thing you can do if you have a Kingdom, a mountain and have earnt sufficient leisure, sufficient repose from war by making peace with your Roman and Persian neighbours. So bravo and all hail to Antiochus. I'm sure if he hadn't been so cocksure, hadn't built what he built, he wouldn't have attracted, two thousand years later, an unceasing river of tourists to experience the other highlight of the place - a serene enjoyment of the very sunrise and sunset that the Gods, by their falls, have been robbed of.

So it seems they come because of the ruins, but they come to see the sun. After all, pretty much any mountain summit can give an unhindered solar view so Antiochus provides the reason to single out his particular mountain. Sure enough, once the sun has done its party trick the people shortly leave, after a cursory wander around the heads, in keeping with tourist convention. By day the site is almost empty.

Still, I don't blame them for being more impressed with the sun than the statues, even though they,re pretty good. I was too.

Actually this was the first time I'd ever bothered to sit down and watch a complete sunrise, from hinting crepuscular rumours to the defiant overwhelming of night.

Of course it would have been nicer if people had been silent......for example as they are in Church. Not that I mean to imply I'm a sun worshipper, but a sunrise is a pretty uncontroversially awesome thing, I would have thought. The sky's answer to the ceremony of childbirth, which certainly concentrates minds. So why not this too? Just because it happens everyday and allows us to do irritating things like go to work doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to forget such overlaid assocıatıons once in a while....especially, I might add, when you've just gone to all the flipping trouble of climbing a mountain to see it.

I can't knock them for taking pictures though. I took loads...a sequence capturing the enire emergence. I was struck by how the area of sky above the yet hidden sun became its intensest shade of pinky-orange a certain time before the actual arrival. Then, though the sky as a whole grew always brighter, this shading itself paled and grew dımmer. Then the clouds above the sun formed rings of gold around their edges, and only then, as if unannounced after such a long, drawn out overture, by whıch time the sky was blueıng and the stars completely banished, did a fiery glimpse of crescent appear and crawl steadily upwards.

That's when most people started taking pictures, and were actualy paying their full attention, which was nice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Urfa and the Fish

In Urfa, after shrugging off my sedative induced irritability, I strolled through the colourful bazaar. Noticing that the hole in an embarrasing region of my old green chinos had grown unmanageable, I scanned the lanes for some trousers. Given the abundance of bread Turkish restaurants pile on at every opportunity, my waistline hadn't shrunk as I'd thought it would with all my wandering and modest consumption of beer. What Turkish culture considers 'XL' just won't do. Eventually some graciously loose fıtting blue slacks appeared, however. So that was lucky, and I could sit down in peace, unworried I'd unnerve any onlookers.

Urfa, or Sanlıurfa (Glorıous Urfa) as its been known since 1984, is famous for being the site of Job's patient exasperation with God and the birthplace of 'Father' Abraham. Well, the Iraqis say he was born ın Ur south of Baghdad but it would be mean-spirited to quibble. Of course, some think this ancient desert wanderer is an irrelevance today, even if he existed, which they might question, along with the rest of the Genesis account. Yet, even if Abraham is only a phantom, a potent phantom he has proved to be - with historical consequences rivalling the impact of the contemporaries of Agamemnon and Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

Without Abraham, no Judaism, no Christianity, no Islam. 'Oh, what a joy!, a world without the desert God of death and destruction!', I hear simmering on the lips of the bold. Yet, whatever your paradigm and purview, his significance remains. Regarding Islam, he is an interesting point of departure between this religion and its grandfather, Judaism, if Christianity be considered its Father. While both religions accord Abraham special sıgnificance, Islam especially honours his first son Ishmael, the reputed ancestor of the Arabs (naturally), while Judaism places special honour on the head of his younger half-brother Isaac, the father of Jacob, later called 'Israel', the ancestor of the Jewish people (again, naturally) and possibly, depending on your taste for hidden history, the lost ten tribes of Israel, wherever and whoever they might be.

I say that, but then it's a little intriguing, to the likes of me anyway, how Islam honours so many of the Isaac- descended prophets written about in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (including Jesus), and then suddenly switches in the seventh century AD to consider a descendant of Ishmael, Muhammad, to be the last and greatest of all prophets. Why the switch, I'm wondering? And why, if Ishmael is so special, didn't God send prophets to the earth, or even only to the Arabs, through Ishmael instead? Maybe Joshua in Pammakale was right after all. Maybe Muslims still do, or at least should, view the Jews as God's chosen people, despite their irksome habit of clinging to a pre-Islamic creed.

Hmmmmmmmmm.....answers on a postcard please- to my head. I think I need to get me a an Imam to talk to.

In Urfa there is a lake filled with a wild conflagration of tusslıng fish. They tussle even more furiously when you feed them the fish food you can buy. Are they the best fed fish ın Mesopotamıa? No doubt. They are supposed to symbolise the burning coals set alight by Nimrod to burn Abraham on. The water in which they swim, or try to swim- as they don't get much room given their number - symbolises the fire that was set to do the burning. Thankfully history was saved from an absence of monotheism. Abraham was hurled into the air and landed in a bed of roses. Phew!

I'm not sure If I'm coming across all smarmy and scoffy. It's not my intentıon. I guess I just like having fun with religion and don't see why it should be a creature of fear, or docile unprobing thought patterns. Presumably the creator the Unıverse has liberty enough to be a jolly and joyful fellow?

After walking around the citadel and to the Otogar (bus stop) to research buses to Harran, I had the most fabulous meal yet consumed in Asia Minor by this humble stomach, and retired to bed.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Leaving Goreme

Goreme is the eastern-most point of that part of Turkey most visited by travellers, especially those going with tour companies. The one exception is Mount Nemrut, north of Urfa, 500 km to the east, which is also heavily visited, though many will go on return tours from Goreme. Obviously, western tourists can be found in Eastern Turkey but in strikingly lower numbers, as I was to discover.

After writing my last blog, I killed a delightful few hours waiting for my bus to Kayseri strolling through the nearer of the two 'Love valleys' and swimming with my Aussie friends in a hostel pool I helped them find.

It was sad to leave the Traveller's Cave pension. Here I'd enjoyed the finest bed since the awesome one at Ohrid's Sunny Lake Hostel and spent many amused minutes watching some twin puppies fight with each other. Another striking thing was the owner. The hostel he ran was so laid back nobody seemed to care how many beers you had or whether you used the 2 lira per hour internet or for how long. He hadn't even taken the names, let alone the money, of the Aussie girls who went on the expensive Balloon tour. As I discover it's normal in Turkish hostels to pay for everything at the end, but I was right to suspect that if I hadn't admitted drinking two beers and using the internet for an hour I wouldn't have been charged. Naturally (or perhaps not?), I was tempted to overlook these debts but there was something so compelling about the gentle man's trust that forced my conscience. I wonder, though, how much money he loses in a given year through this commendably noble attitude. He also kindly gave me a book of his I was clearly coveting - an Islamic authored 'Terrorism and its Remedy' arguing that Islam seeks peace and that the UN's declaration on Human rights is compatible with the Koran. Many may disagree with that no doubt, possibly even me. For now my knowledge of Islam is too thin to comment. And I know what a flexible demon interpretation can be.

On the short bus trip to Kayseri I was treated to my second conversation with a member of the military. The jolly man to my right was in the airforce and intitally joked that it was secret when I asked what exactly he did (manufacture missiles from what I could gather). He was very friendly, though linguistically our conversation couldn't stretch as far as we wanted. My first encounter with a military man was with the driver on my Cappadocian tour the day before. Whilst the others were still strolling around the Onyx factory, I returned to the bus and sat with the silent looking man, someone I'd shamefully supposed wouldn't speak English. In fact he was friendly and fairly fluent. After some prodding he explained he'd been a tank driver in the late 90's, miming as he did the explosion of a rocket and stating with a grimace of resolution, 'PKK'(the formerly terroristic, or freedom fighting - as you will- Kurdistan Workers Party).

Arriving in Kayseri, the contrast with Cappadocia was extreme. A wild and burly energy emerged, and not a sign of written English anywhere. Clearly the rawness of the East had dawned. I had four hours to kill before my night bus to Urfa so walked into the centre. Here I saw, inevitably, another statue of Ataturk, the Turkish demi-god, this time seated on a horse, lit from below, mid-way between the main Mosque and the Hilton hotel. Ataturk, or Mustafa Kemal, was born in what is now Thessaloniki, Greece, ın the late 19th century. After rising to fame keeping the allies at bay at Gallipoli, he proceeded not only to establish but to mould and structure the new Turkish Republic, implementing a throughgoing reform of Turkish habits and lifestyle in an attempt to modernise and westernise his country and bury the old fashioned, Ottoman traditions of the past (such as the Fez!). Although Turkey's population is 98% Muslim, and religion clearly an evident concern, Turkey is resolutely secular in its constitution and governance, and its army has a proven track record of willingness to step in and flex muscle whenever Communism or, more usually, Islamism rears a threatening head. The tension between Islam and Secularism (or Laicism as it might more accurately be put - since unbelief is very rare) forms the background to the current conundrum of what to do with the Turkish presidency; namely whether to allow a man, Gull, whose wife wears a headscarf, to become the Head of State. Trivial? Essentially, no doubt. Symbolically, not at all. The head of the Army has intimated concern, and after three coups in 50 years that means alot.

Perhaps one of the reasons for their anxieties is the economic success of the country since the pro-Islamic AKP party took control of Parliament in 2002. Such economic progress, though welcome in itself, might suggest to secularists that the Islamists might inveigle themselves through a 'Trojan Horse' of economic competence into an unchallengeable position from which to introduce Islamist laws such as those seen in Iran. The AKP's man, Gull, becoming President might be seen as a step down this road. But from the look of things it doesn't look like this is the AKP's plan. Tell me, if you wanted to turn your country into a theocratic dictatorship would you, as the AKP has done, make strenuous and successful efforts to prepare your country for a possible accession to the EU; or do more to reassure your major minority group than any previous Government has done in years?

In central Kayseri it was pleasant to receive a cast off International Herald Tribune in a cafe from a departing Hilton bound American couple. It really is a good paper. I enjoyed reading about International affairs for awhile. I didn't manage to ask the couple why they were in Kayseri, if it was as adventurous travellers or on business. I suspected business.

In Goreme I'd kindly been given a strip of sedatives by a Kiwi Girl, to help me sleep on buses. I didn't catch their name or what they were for (I don't think they are sleepıng pills). But they certainly worked. Efforts to continue reading 'Millenium People' by JG Ballard were compromised within what seemed seconds of swallowing. Weary, sunken and confused were my two moments of arousal during the trip. And when I arrived ın Urfa, hauling myself into a functioning state was an irritating effort, not eased by a throng of well meaning taxi hawks.

Reality check - I am actually writing this in Diyarbakir, four days ınto the future. So space-tıme wıse we're way out of synch. This is how it may have to go for now. I see no alternative, given the patchy availability of the internet and my current phase of effusiveness.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Cappadocia has got to be one of the wierdest looking places I've ever been. Not that the architecture is unusual or outlandish. What conventional buildings there are are non descript. It's the natural landscape which is bizarre; bizarre in ways that attract and appeal. Blimey, the oddness is even enough to persuade you you're living on another planet, that it wasn't just a hope that an oxygen rich alternative to the world- ravaged blue Earth might be possible.

Until that is you spy, as you must, the plethora of tourist establishments. But I should be fair. It's not that bad or trashy or imposing. In fact the tourism seems to blend with the environment and the indigenous population's daily life in an harmonious, laid-backish way that reminds me of Northern Dharamsala, India. There the pervading serenity, happily blunting the sharp edge of mercantile desire, can be explained in terms of the abundant Buddhist vibes emanating from everything. Here, perhaps, the serenity can be attributed to the sheer energy of the surreality radiating from the enveloping 'honeycomb cliffs' and 'fairy chimneys' surrounding Goreme and the nearby valleys. The extra-terrestrial quality of the rock, in terms both of colour and formation, attracts the eye and sends the meditations it generates up into the ether. This effect is especially enhanced at dusk. Maybe it is for this reason that the silence hangs so densely here; perhaps what you see short circuits the ear in some way. Who knows. But it is odd, the layered quality of the quietness. Even when you hear clear, distinct, obvious noises the background, heavy, space-age hush is there.

Anyway I won't go overboard describing the ineffable formations since you can see them for yourselves here or at any other number of random sites. Some of the so called 'fairy chimneys' look distinctly phallic. This you're not meant to to comment on, especially since the area attracts Christian pilgrims to the churches and underground cities built by early Christians wanting to hide from Roman intolerance and Arab incursions. But it's perhaps why one valley, replete most fecundly with these thinner, taller pinnacles, has been called 'Love valley'.

(As an aside, the Abrahamic, fretful attitude towards sexuality is a fascinating preoccupation about which reams can be written, for, against or sideways. For now I shall only say I find it sad that just as the Heavens are sundered from the Earth, spirituality is sundered from sexuality. Even though I can perhaps understand why this has had to happen - given the potentially virulent triumphalism of reductive, earthbound earth worship, for example- that doesn't stop it being sad.)

The strange formations by the way are the result of volcanic explosions erupting thousands of years ago, depositing their lava in creative combinations then moulded in some manner. Beyond that my scientific aetiology loses grip.

On my first evening in Goreme it was pleasant and engaging to meet Justin, a vigorous yet balanced, liberal Georgetown university gradiate from 'DC' (so yet another crushing blow to the head of the 'all yanks are dumb and insensitive' school of philosophy). Since his field of study had been International Relations, it was great to talk to him about the Middle East and absorb what he knew. I was also surprised that he'd been able to travel from Jordan to Lebanon despite having an Israeli stamp in his passport. Why that was I don't know but it may bode well for my future if I want to explore such sensitive regions of the Earth.

Perhaps his most interesting comment was that it is now impossible in America not to be a radical. At first I thought he meant by radical extreme against Islamic fundamentalism, or whatever. But in fact, more subtly, he meant a radical in terms of not allowing for any middle ground with a political opponent - extreme and fixed in your own position (Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Green or whatever).

If this is true, I'm thinking, and if it's also true that America is in terminal decline, perhaps this internal, unyielding, dialectical enmity may be revealed in the long run as a cause. Well, combined with its generally langourous, decadent consumerism.

Something of a spine, then, appears to be missing in America. But not a spine, I'm thinking, of the kind that an extreme, cultural triumphalism - a la Bush and Fukuyama for example- would feel supporting its endeavours. This is not true spine, it is apparent spine, strength born of declining desparation. The loud, impressive cry of a sinking man. True spine invigorates and bears confidently on its way the man, the woman, the culture that knows who and what he, she and it is and therefore doesn't feel the need to lather itself over with the pyrotechnics of radical posturing or beam itself out of reality by resource to the glitter and glamour of a merely simulated, media reality. True spine that is strong enough to be weak, confident enough not to know and curious enough to deride image and seek the real. Naturally, this is not only America's problem, but Justin was talking about his country (which he wants to leave) , so there we are.

I'd begun to think Kiwis and Aussies (the correct spelling) are not to be found in Central Western Turkey. But a whole load appeared yesterday, with whom I enjoyed a very pleasant organised tour around one of the biggest of the underground cities (Derinkuyu)* Inside I got really ill, after crouching and walking snugly through one of the tunnels that lead from the cemetery. Perhaps I was ill, or maybe I'm just very unfit, or maybe a ghost of one of the buried Christians had a go at me. Apart from that, it was a great place to see. The Christians, up to 2,000 of them, could live down here for up to 3 weeks, hiding from the Arabs. I was reminded of the Tin mines of Bolivia I saw in 1990 and of various caving trips I went on as a child.

After my second valley walk we went to an Onyx factory and for answering a question correctly (what does Cappadocia mean? Answer - Land of beautiful or well-bred horses) I was given a small egg he had just sculpted. Outside, domesticated pigeons were leaping in backwards sommersaults in the air and refusing to eat the grain that I'd bought them out oif my hand.

Possibly I shall live to regret not spending 110 euros on a hot air balloon ride over the area, a morning voyage many people say is the best thing about Turkey, let alone Cappadocia. But spoilsport as I am, I couldn't help thinking I could imagine what it looks like from a height. Or probably it was the bastard money talking. That said, I have availed myself of 5 new books at the excellent second hand bookshop in Goreme, now that I've finally finished 'Saturday' which I thought got really very good towards the end. Since I plan to head east (to Urfa) I cannot expect to find any more reading material for awhile. Knowing what it feels like, from India, to lug around a backpack full of books, I bowed to the irritating wisdom - both financial and physical- of selling 'Saturday', as well as a book about Greek culture, both my 2003 Eastern Europe and only recently bought 2006 Greece Lonely Planets. But now, with my new purchases, I'm glad to have more than Harry Potter parts 6 and 7 to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dervish Whirling

Sublime, sumptious and serene would be 's' words I'd use to describe the gracious, gentle dervishes.

Not that their gentleness prevented any displays of ardour in their movements; yet everything they did was controlled by a mellifluous calm, flowing from an acute concentration obvious on their faces.

The room in which I watched them was L shaped and a little small. Nor did I get a front row seat as I was too busy eating my spicy meze upstairs on the balcony, gazing over at Mevlana Rumi's mausoleum. Therefore my view was impeded. But this was all that was negative about a performance that also had the sometimes underrated distinction of not lasting too long.

The first section set the mood, introducing us to a folkish classical music, with small guitar, reed flute, kettledrums and some raw, heartfelt, melodious singing that at times sounded more like wailing. Evocation of subtle, curious presences established, six dervishes slowly walked across the floor. After bowing to a candle that in the past would have been a Sheikh or other religious authority and kneeling to kiss the floor, they sat down and waitied for the music to finish. They wore tall, grey, flat topped conical hats, and long black cloaks under which you could see the white robes that would later appear and whirl. The hats symbolise their tombstones, the black cloaks their tombs; so their white robes, which are revealed when they dance, presumably represent their spiritual souls, though in this I'm only speculating. I also read that the white robes symobise 'the sky, the divine universe and the world of spirits'. In any case, the relationship between death and life and the liberation from death that union with God brings seems to be a central theme.

One Dervish, the leader, the 'Dede', kept his black robe on throughout the 'Sema' (the name for the ritual dance), and formed the central axis around which the other five dervishes circled and whirled. Their movement, both in their wide circular movement around the hall and their faster movements around themselves, was anti-clockwise, or right to left from their perspective. The Dede, however, who was also older than the others, didn't always stand still but sometimes walked around and between them. Towards the end he also started to whirl, though slower than the others whilst with his right arm revealing only the upper half of his white robes.

I would say eighty to ninety percent of the 40 minutes dancing time of the other dervishes was spent spinning on their own axes. Presumably, training gets them used to this and they don't get dizzy. Certainly they didn't wobble when they would abruptly halt, as they did at regular intervals to bow once again to the Dede and the invisible Sheikh. I'd thought I might get dizzy just looking at them, but I didn't. I wonder if this was because their movements were so controlled and harmonious.

As they whirl their heads are bent slightly to the left, their arms raised perpendicular to their shoulders- the left slightly higher than the right. The higher arm points to the sky and therefore God, the lower to the earth and therefore man. The dervish himself in his loving dance acts as a bridge between the two. The youngest of the dervishes, who was also the slimmest, the fastest and most gracious, can't have been more than twenty, while another man was much bigger and in his late thirties I should think.

Luckily, I was able to get some fairly good video footage of the event on my Canon camera. Unsurprisingly, and luckily, flashes were not allowed, though one did go off. Everyone remembered, however, not to clap when the Sema ended. As we were told, it was a religious ceremony so this was not expected.

Earlier in the day, I went into the town's main Mosque next to Rumi's tomb. The same suspended concentric circles of hanging lights I'd seen years ago in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and as usual it was nice to walk on the gorgeous carpets and sit serenely against the wall. Maybe if it wasn't wrong of me it was at least odd of me to be reading from Ian McEwan's 'Saturday' as others knelt and bowed and recited their daily prayers. But I didn't think it disrespectful and it felt like such a relaxing place to read. No one said a thing. From the visitor's notice outisde they are mainly worried about shoe wearing (of course) and people lying down and staring up at the dome.

Though my day ended sublimely, it started off on a strangely stressful note. I had to pay for the evening's ceremony in a foreign currency, the euro, which I thought was totally bizarre. So I had to go to a bank and wait 30 minutes to change 26 lira back into 15 euro. In conservative, religious Konya there are few tourists and no exchange offices. Despite that they know all tourists want to watch the dervishes. But so odd to think they'd be carrying euros with them, and not the local currency, as if they had flown in from abroad to this isolated town just for the ceremony. Oh well, funny really.

I managed to buy another MP3 player too; but with no mp3's to listen to the energetic tones of Turkish radio will have to suffice for now. Luckily this is fine, because in fact I quite like it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

More on Ephesus and beyond

Ephesus, like Varna and Plovdid before it, was a place in which more than elsewhere I've drunk beer, smoked cigarettes - normally now I smoke none- and socialised with other predominantly young travellers in a 'party atmosphere'. In Ephesus this was because I stayed at the apparently near legendary Attila's Getaway Guest House, 2km from Selcuk next to a quiet village. Equipped with pool, swimming pool, a volley ball court, a late night bar (with chatty English barmaid, Emily), a plethora of organised trips and a regular shuttle service into town, it was nice, as it was in Varna - at Gregory's Getaway hostel - to stay in a place far from the throng of town and yield to the flow of organised hedonistic tourism. In the absence of my wandering MP3 player, it was engaging to listen to western music for a change, too.

But I made a decision not to continue further on the well- oiled backpacker conveyor belt. That circuit of Western Turkey which whisks travellers from Istanbul to Gallipoli to Ephesus to Fethiye, and from there puts them on one of the many boat cruises sailing round the south coast to Olimpos. I can take and enjoy 'hedotourism' (if that can be a word) to some extent but I cannot let it drown me. I'd already flown a flag of defiance at Pergamon by slipping off the system. Here is where it must end, for now.

Apart from the ruins, Ephesus is famous for St. John's tomb and the house where the Virgin Mary lived her declining years, and was buried. Or at least, supposing she was assumed into heaven, it's the place John took her to escape Jerusalem's tensions. Apparently - how do people know this?- it was here John wrote the Fourth Gospel, and to here he returned after writing his epically flambouyant, disconcerting Book of Revelations on the island of Patmos. I'd always thought scholars believed at least two, maybe three, different Johns were involved in the Beloved Disciple- Fourth Gospel- Book of Revelations 'John nexus'. Can we really believe a man who wrote in his Gospel that 'God is light and in him there is no darkness' could have whipped off the lake of fire and brimstone wonderwhirl that the last text of the good book enshrines? Oh well, I don't suppose the modern Ephesians care much about John one way or the other. Unlike his hero, Jesus, he wasn't one of the greatest prophets of the as yet unknown Allah. Whilst immediate followers of the greatest prophet, Muhammad, might qualify for reverence, from the exclusively Christian audience John's tomb gets it seems disciples of silver medal prophets don't qualify. The same can not be said for Mary, however, whom Turkish Muslims, as Meryama, do revere as the mother of the great forebearer of the last of the prophets.

As an aside, the Muslim attitude towards Jesus, and Israel before him, is interesting. It's something I must look into further. Joshua, a cool dude American I met in Pammakale, told me Muslims are supposedly still required to consider the Jews God's chosen people, and for that reason not to hurt them. That was definitely news to me. True or not, it definitely jars with what I understand of the impression some modern Muslims have of the tribe of Judah... ie that they sacrifice children and drink blood and are descended from the devil etc, and should be killed whenever possible.

Another good thing about Ephesus was having time to read Attila's Middle East Lonely Planet guide book which I was fleetingly tempted to steal, and which I would have loved to exchange for either of my Greece or 2003 Eastern Europe Lonely Planets. Reading about Lebanon's absurdly complex politics of the past thirty years was freaky. Even LP, usually adept at simplifying and distilling, was struggling. The book confirmed what I knew, that getting to Lebanon is visa-easy, even though I'd have to fly, and that from there it's much easier to get a Syrian visa. But Greg, a Canadian guy I had a Turkish coffee with and who's just spent a couple of weeks in Eastern Turkey, told me he heard it's straightforward to get Syrian visas after all, for example at the consulate at Urfa. So, as usual on this trip: We Shall See. Bloody visas. Do these visa-chippy countries want us to visit, and spend our ill-gotten gains on them, or not? Well, perhaps not as it happens; and who would blame them: culture sucking vampires as we so often are, turning everything we touch into plastic crap. Cynical, moi? Anyway, what I don't understand is why a country that will certainly grant you a visa anyway - like Armenia, or Syria for example, - can't just sell you one at the border. This way they'll still get their wonga and not discourage travellers who, like me, don't want to go to Ankara, for example, and hang around embassies for a few days.

In Pammakale I stayed in my own Tree house. Tree houses are one of the major draws of Olimpos, so I thought this would make me feel better about skipping the boat cruise from Fethiye. It was fine, apart from one of the steps leading up almost cracking under me, and the fact I had to position my mattress diagonally because my legs were too long.

Pammakale is famous for its white calcium rocks and warm springs that, combined, create luxuriosu pools for paddling and wallowing in. The sheer whiteness of the rock reminded me of the whiteness of the Bolivian salt flats I saw when I was 18. The rocks, called a cotton castle by some, are best visited at dawn or dusk when there are fewer people and the slanting, refracting sun dances off the surfaces charmingly. And so it was. Though it was also by then a bit too cold for me to wallow and gaze at the dying sun, as I'd planned, alas. Above these pools is Hierapolis, on which I touched in my last entry. Lots of Korean tourists in Pammakale, curiously, and more and more French and fewer Kiwis and Ozzies, as I go east.

Lake Eigirdir, where I went next, is a 1000m fresh water lake that is a premium holiday destination for Turks as well as tourists. It was also the weekend, so the place was 'heaving', as it is said. But it retained its astonishing beauty. It was only annoying sometimes to have to move from my seat in the roof top terrace, with its spectacular views, to make way for the many groups my otherwise excellent pension caters to. I met a Australian guy here, called Chris, a hard core traveller whose long hair and breezy, upbeat manner suited him, given he's spent 6 months travelling around India and is later going to Africa and who said anything's better than work, which is only to be done in financial extremis. It seems he does work as he travels though, preferably in Europe where the money's better. His assiduous attention to budgeting seemed appropriate and not at all petty, given his love of the road. After all, as he said 'when the money runs out, you've got to go home' which sounds like it should be some backpacker mantra, if it isnt already. It was interesting to hear of his run in with dengue fever in central India, which very nearly killed him. Like many, even in southern India it seems, he didnt take malaria pills.

According to Chris, the 'only' thing to do in Eigirdir (pronounced 'eh-yeer-deer) is swim in the lake. Well, maybe not the only, but it's what many people do. Curiously though, I didn't, and I'm not quite sure why. It certainly looked enticing enough. The closest I got was when I was out alone in a rowing boat I'd hired off Yesilada. In the tremendous heat of noon, a swim was just what I needed. But not-so-little-old-me wasn't sure he'd be able to get back in again without a capsize. So instead I just dipped the fake Lacoste top I bought in Istanbul into the water and put it on, which worked incredibly well. Returning to harbour, I reversed the boat and rowed awkwardly forward; silly looking but at least it was effective and ensured no collisions.

Afterwards I spent 5 km climbing up a hill to Akpinar, overlooking the town. A third of my brain wondered about hitching a lift but the other two thirds succumbed to my body's desire for some proper exercise at last. It was very rewarding to reach the top and the views of the lake - more beautiful than Lake Ohrid- were better than ever.

It was pleasant and fun to meet English Jenny on my first night, who had to listen to a long speel about my early loves and who joined me in a bout gender philosophising. Earlier we discussed religion, which seemed to interest her (oddly enough?), as I explained how it intrigues me, the larger picture of the differences between the faiths, despite their underlying unities in the face of materialism. She kindly tried to counsel me through the minefield mindfuck of an issue entitled 'What should I do for work' but I selflessly tried to limit the urge to drag her into my complexities.

And now I'm in Konya and soon I watch the dervishes, about whom I've been reading. Here's me in a good mood, wishing you a very fine evening.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Konya, Rumi and the departure from Troy

I've now been travelling for 45 days. So not very long then. One and a half months definitely sounds longer. I've been in my currrent country of passage, Turkey, nine days. So far I've been to Istanbul, Gallipoli, Troy, Pergmon, Ephesus (Selcuk), Pammakale (and Hierapolis), Eigirdir and now Konya. I'll probably stay in Turkey another week or two - though nothing's certain. Here, in Konya, the deathplace of the famous Rumi, I pause to meditate on the life, poetry and dancing of a man whose productions seem as popular in California as in Iran. This afternoon I suspend sightseeing and my tendency to wander from cafe to cafe, taking far too many photos, and rest in this very pleasant Hotel Ulusan before, tomorrow, visiting the museum devoted to this Islamic transnational hero. The Turks call him Mevlana- meaning 'our guide', whilst many in the west might like to think of him as our kind of Muslim, i.e not much of a Muslim at all.

As it happens, the Orthodox Muslim community accepts, if it doesn't embrace, the man. Though to some his inclusive, potentially heretical ideas must seem a bit lax. For example:

'Come, whoever you may be ,
Even if you may be
An infidel, a pagan, or a fireworshipper, come.
Ours is not a brotherhood of despair.'

I have read next to nothing of his work but I especially like these lines (courtesy of Wikipedia):

'Listen to the reed and the tale it tells,
How it sings of separation.'


'How doest thou know what sort of king I have within me as companion?
Do not cast thy glance upon my golden face, for I have iron legs.'

Tomorrow in the evening after the museum I'm to see the 'Whirling Dervishes', whom I was reassured to learn from a Gentleman in Ephesus, are actually the real deal here, not the fake troupe you find in Istanbul. That's nice to know. I'm looking forward to the aesthetic spectacle of course- one that apparently decodes as the attempt to transfer God's loving energies from the divine to the human level- but I also go out of curiosity about a group that had such a big impact on one of my most influential teenage idols - George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, the Greek Armenian philosopher who taught that we're all asleep and enslaved by our mechanical associations and reactions.

Looking back now on my pre-Konya days, I left off at Troy. From here I took the tour bus to Selcuk but got off at the ancient city of Pergamon. Here I said goodbye to the delightful Emily, an American student bound for Damascus who, besides being funny and vivid and interesting to talk to, was a shining refutation of the stereotypical dumb-assed, culturally myopic, bumble-gum-brained American one is supposed to encounter, but which in fact I never have. I may catch up with her in Syria, that is if I go there. This will depend on whether I get whisked away by the God of Work (what name shall we give him?) to work in some desert or other, such as Kuwait (for example- Saudi having died a death by terror in my mind, so it seems, thanks largely to the stark warnings of a librarian I virtually met and who works at the place that wants to employ me), or else somewhere more attractive and less lucrative. It may also depend on the question of visas and how difficult it is to get them (nobody seems to know), and on whether and for how long I get sidetracked in Eastern Turkey and Georgia.

In Pergamon (now called Bergama) I stayed with the silently bookish Ersin at the Odyssey Guest House. In each of the quaint rooms a copy of Homer's 'The Odyssey' is left out in thematic echo of the establishment's name. I picked up Ian McEwan's 'Saturday' as a part of his well stocked book exchange program, and gave up my 'Cafe Europe' about life in post-soviet Eastern Europe, which I'd finished. Inside the cover of each of his books he has stamped a message saying that this book started its voyage in his guesthouse and inviting the reader to stay. A wonderful touch I thought. I'd have liked to have had more of an however pigeony-english chat with him, but alas he was very distant. In the morning I got the first of my two unsolicited motorbike lifts, up the very long road to the Acropolis.

As usual, as in Greece and the Balkans, the ruins date back to pre-Alexandrian times and as usual the better preserved ones, and therefore the more interesting to look at and the better to clamber over, were the younger Roman ones. After a point there's not much you can say about Classical ruins if one isn't to become too stilted. What I can say is that the sheer height of the mountain on which ancient Pergamon sits sit sold it very well, and that whilst Pergamon was perhaps fractionally less impressive than Hierapolis, which I was to see later at Pammakale, both just couldn't compete with Ephesus, which is by far the best set of ruins I've seen anywhere, barring perhaps the Palatine Hill area in Rome and the Parthenon itself.

The best that is, if you can persuade your mind to factor out the torrents of tourists and the avalanche of tour buses that surround and infiltrate Ephesus. If you can't, you'll probably prefer Pergamon or Hierapolis, even though they have no Library of Celsus, just because the modern masses are thin on the ground. Like I, you might find yourself at St.Philips Tomb at Hierapolis, with not a soul in sight, expept for those of a mountain goat and friendly archeologists working away, offering water to an Englishman who had climbed to a site most tourists don't bother to (sorry Philip, you needed to write a non-heretical Gospel to get the attention John does).

In Pergamon I met Kiya, a Kiwi English teacher teaching in Dubai. She gave me useful teaching work finding tips and listened to my uncertainties. She said people in the Gulf are 'not nice' but that you can have a good life out there with the ex pats and etc...and of course the money. As usual she had little to say to recommend the region other than the money - and this was Dubai she was speaking about, not Saudi. She said I looked a bit uptight, or somethinbg like that, that perhaps I needed to just travel awhile and take it easy. Maybe she's right. Though I think if I was a bit rigid it was probably because we were talking about work, which always gets my back up. Or maybe I always look tense. If so it is pure illusion. Nowadays, for most of the time, I feel oceans of calm inhabiting me, since I left my settled life behind.

The bus from Pergamon to Selcuk (Ephesus) was excellent as usual. Turkish buses always have ample leg room, by which I mean ample enough even when the person in front of you reclines and when you're 6 foot 4, like me. Water and coffee is served and the airconditioning is both always there and powerful. Sometimes you can even turn off the sound that plays on the buses that show videos.

It seems this entry must draw to a close, so I'll write more on Ephesus, Pammukale, Eigirdir and Konya tomorrow. Such are the trials of time I can't stop the present moving on, even though I haven't swept up all of my past. This offends my linear instincts of chronological logic but perhaps doesn't trouble my reader.

Now I must wander. Well, not must, but you know what I mean.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Istanbul to Troy

Apologies that the formatting below is inconsistent. Blame blogger not me, or if me then only my failure to grasp blogger's occult secrets.

I didn't stay more than a day in Istanbul (which means 'The City') because I spent a week there in April 2004. Not much had changed, except for the bar area of the hostel I used to stay in. It was nice to remember the same young assitant from that time, who's now opened his own hostel across the street. The hostel's belly dancer had certainly improved. Over my expensive Effes beer (so long, Bulgaria) I incredibly met my sixth French person in two days, after having met none for over a month. He told me he hadn't heard of the 'Bay of Biscay' (they don't call it that apparently) and that although the French do call this country 'Turkei' (spelling?), that word to them has no alternative meaning, indicative for example of the Christmas feasting of Crusaders. He also told me, in a broad chuckle, that I am in no way unique for asking him what he thinks of Sarkozy, his new President- a chuckle that reassured me I wasn't being too dull in asking.

I only went to that hostel for a nostalgic drink. I actually stayed in the highly, justifiably recommended 'Bauhaus', just round the corner, a curious feature of which was a never before seen toilet seat covered with revolving protective paper. Hmmmm, I'd known that crouching asiatics argue with some justification that their way is healthier and more hygienic. Yet in toilet seats, as in much else it seems, Turks want to look west (in western Turkey anyway). Presumably this curious device is invented to ease the transition for horrified crouchers.

NB: Below, for conceptual ease, I shall refer to Turkey as NOT being in Europe. Clearly the Thracian section is, it seeks EU membership, and since Ataturk it has looked west longingly in many respects. Nevertheless, historically, culturally and religiously it is not European and it ain't for nothing either that one speaks of Asia Minor.

Bizarre and/or funny things that have happened to me so far, in the land of the Crescent hugged star:

  1. Having my hair shaved in Istanbul. The barber coiled a thin scarf round my neck, to which was attached the cape one gets (even in Europe). An ingenious trick which, as well as dashing in appearance, prevented all stubborn hair fragments from rustling my neck. His later taking out a cigarrete burner and flashing flame at my ear drums was a bit more alarming, for a split second anyway, until I realised the bold genius of the ear fluff removing gesture. Has anyone received this treatment in Europe. Is it only me who thinks it unusual, and inspired?
  2. Laughing at the sign in the Bauhaus hostel toilet: "For God's sake switch off the light."
  3. Seeing again (after 3 years) the sign on the carpet shop beside Hagia Sophia declaring "Sorry, we're open". And yet I was sure it used to be yellow, not white. Sure enough, as I suspected, and the laughing owner confirmed, they decided to keep it after realising their mistake, presumably because so many tourist found it funny.
  4. Using coins smaller than their smallest coin to gain access to the efficient tram system, which wasn't here in 2004.
  5. Confusing a second hand bookseller when I noted that the Lonely Planet Turkey guide I wanted to buy didn't have a code, signalling how much it would cost according to their syetm. "No code" I said, pointing at the absence of a code sticker. He didn't understand. After I repeated my words 'No code' he pretended to be in a boxing match with me saying, confusedly, 'Knock out?', 'Knock out?' while shadow boxing and throwing his head back and down.

The Turks certainly have a lively sense of humour. That said, they are quick to anger and easily offended. Or maybe eveyone is quick to take offence but not everyone will show it as readily. The Slavs for example. Maybe they find my tendency to quick- tempered exasperation, when it surfaces, just as rude as the Turks do, but only react to it internally such as to not make me aware of their feelings. Having lived in Slovakia for 6 years, I can believe this; and the greater volatility of humanitas on this side of the Bulgar border makes me believe it equally of Bulgarians too. I have often thought that Slavs are very unpretentious people, in that they don't tend to spin tales about themselves, don't wear elaborate persona masks, and will not hide that they are bored or unhappy, even when greater profits would flow from such a hiding (for example in the Bar or Catering industries). But maybe their general aura of reserve and passivity-in public (compared to Asians and Meditterranean peoples anyway) conceals them in another sense not covered by pretentiousness. So maybe that's why I have sometimes had the lingering suspicion that I don't know where I stand with them- i.e if they like me or think me a prat. That sense of not knowing, born of a reserve which one might readily commend as politeness, can sometimes feel unnerving.

The Turks in any case seem far less hidden. This in-my-face ebullience I have found pleasantly refreshing. Certainly, they seem far more confident and assertive. That whole burly-whirly, who-needs-private-space, freneticism perfected to an art in Egypt and India, generally associated in my eyes with Middle and Central Asia, makes a defiant stand here, and is as visible as it is absent across the border. It makes me aware that I've crossed a cultural fault line far more significant than the one between Northern and Southern Europe, for example.

Twice I have been offered lifts on guy's motorbikes without asking for a lift when trudging along a road. Twice I have been offered directions to where I wanted to go, again without asking. While it's true, especially in the tourist hyper-zones, that a great deal of this friendliness is mere preable to carpet and trinket hawking, I still get the impression that a lot is mixed with geniune warmth. And of course I can symapthise with their having to endure wave after wave of processed tourist, whom quite possibly they have grown to disrespect for their ability to be ripped off?

After Istanbul I went corporate and took a package tour to Gallipoli, shock horror. I'm glad I did as the various ANZAC monuments are stuck out miles apart on different ridges and hills. My British patriotism was bruised far more, actually, by the fact that so little mention is made by the tourist industry of the British and French operations to the the south of the ANZAC ones, than it was by the occasional dig one gets from the literature about British incompetence and perfidy sacrificing the lives of noble Kiwis and Ozzies, much of which I can believe. I was struck by the sense of Turkish-ANZAC friendship in the shared memory of the atrocities, and reminded of what hadn't been as apparent before - that it was a major conflict for the Turks too, a defining moment in the emergence of their post Ottoman history, and the first time they'd had to defend their homeland.

Combined with the Gallipoli tour was a stroll around Troy, or what's left of it anyway, which isn't much. To be frank, not that impressive, though Mustafa the chirpy tour guide and author of the guide book he waved at us, was great. Alas, I did climb inside the gimmicky wooden horse and have my photo taken peering out of the windows in its side, just like all the Korean tourists.

I would write more but, as it happens, I've had enough for now and must stroll some more around Selcuk, near Ephesus, to where I've come after Pergamon.

Turkey means 'strong thing' in Turkish. The English Ornothological echo is pure co-incidence

Have moved on from Istanbul, through Gallipoli and Troy to end up in Bergama, the site of ancient Pergamum. That's allI have to say for now, but more shall follow when I can find a better moment (and key board).

Certainly things are very different from Bulgaria, though not as different from Slovakia.

It may, yes, be yet another kebab tonight, stomach be warned.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Varna - The Place of Decision

When I set out travelling in Greece and the Balkans I'd expected to keep going for three weeks, no longer. I'd thought I might wind my way to Varna (to meet a student of mine who's been holidaying here) but I wasn't sure. I'd entertained notions of perhaps jetting off to America or Canada mid July to see friends and have a look around, but nothing was fixed. I also thought I might be driving around the Baltic states with a Slovak friend in the second half of July. My mind was in such a desperate fury to rid itself of the vice of my life as a Bratislavan teacher of her Majesty's babbledegook, that to be honest to be free in any way at all was all that mattered; to have something as vulgar and pressuring as a fixed plan seemed, well, rude .

This is actually the first time I've travelled quite like this, with no certain idea of which country I might go to next, or for how long I'll keep going. I'm even toying with the idea -as lightly as a one can toy mind you, as If I toy with a baby chuck's feather- that I'll forget about work and money altogether and keep going for a year or more, as the Ozzies and Kiwis do. For them, setting off on long-haul, rambling, jaunts around the Old World have become something of a rite of passage, so it seems. Who knows how they afford it. One isn't supposed to ask and one doesn't, which is probably just as well. Anyway, I'm sure it does them a world of good. It's always been something I've thought vaguely of doing, but so far the longest I've been on the road is 53 days, in Australia in 1991- which is a paltry acheievement in comparison.

No prizes for guessing the ONLY thing that prevents me from keeping going for at least three years is that most wonderful of human inventions, that veritable benison and blessing, that sacrament of human progress, enlightenment and advancement -Money, or as it's otherwise known, the effluent of Lord Mammon's ass.

Presumably there are endless reams of super advanced civilisations spread across the milkiness of space who join us in regulating their affairs through the circulation of lumps of tasteless, odourless, fake metal, of slices of paper too small to do anything practical with, and through the movement backwards and forward between computers of abstract, digital sums of what amounts to absolutely nothing. I mean it's inconceivable, isnt it, that anyone might actually not be as insanely brilliant as that?

Alas, if I were to travel as I'd like - something which is possible- I'd lose alot of the meagre effluent I've managed to accumulate as a security against some unforeseen eventuality I might face in the future in which this shit will become really vital. So, even though I've got it, I shouldn't be spending it. Well, not that is, if I'm to avoid repeating the folly of my youth, in which I thoughtlessly lost an awful lot of inherited shit through a failure of retention.

By the way, so much as I hate money, I can't help noticing that there are some of my fellow homo sapiens who are veritably drowning in the stuff. So, if anyone out there has got too much and wants to do something original with it, you are warmly welcome to help me travel the world awhile. Naturally, I would be incredibly grateful and will look upon you as my saviour and liberator from the shackles of the beast system that is Babylon (or what you will). It really would make my day, and year, or rather years. Why, I could even wear your name on my T-shirt or something. Hmmmm...notice that I am not asking, far less begging for money. That would be absurdly embarrassing. And please, no talk of loans. I just thought it might make a change from buying yet another yacht, or another car, or another whatever it is rich people spend the money they don't need on. After all, Im alive, those things are dead.

Oh well. As it is I did end up in Varna, where I am now. I never could meet up with my friend, which was a shame but I'm glad I came, even though it really is a 'tourist trap' as the cliche goes. Today was a moment of decision. I had to decide whether to go north or south - to Moldova and Ukraine or to Turkey and from there, perhaps, to Georgia and Armenia. Alas, the boat once a week from Varna to Georgia can't be found (and its a 4 day journey anyway!) and I'll have to wait until Saturday to get to Moldova, which I can't quite face. So, tomorrow to Asia Minor, or should I say the border city of the continents -Istanbul, or Constantinople as the Patriachate still likes, defiantly and somewhat charmingly, to refer to it.

Meanwhile, I shall explore Varna's nightlife and watch the Slavs at what I suspect will be some fairly predictable, loud, thumping manner of mindless play, interspersed with visions of enrapturing, disappearing female beauty..the kind of beauty that used to make me sad - before I grew up, or is it just before I was worn out.