On the night of Friday, August 13, Ayşe and I travelled by bus to her parents' cottage in Altınova, a town on the Turkish Aegean coast opposite the island of Lesbos. The name of the town means “Golden Plain”. For us, it is just a place to read and swim and eat and relax. There are mature pines and palm trees around the cottage itself, and sand on the shore a short walk away (past other cottages).
One book I read during our visit was The Lycian Shore, by Freya Stark (London: John Murray Travel Classics, 2002; first published in 1956). With David Balfour, the British consul in İzmir, Ms Stark had voyaged along the Turkish coast by motor-sail-boat. She was about 60 at the time. She described the trip in her book while recalling the history of the area in the time of Alexander.
The book needed to be read slowly. The passage below may show why. Here, Stark is describing the Aegean, not where we were, but further south and east. I might have called it the Mediterranean, though perhaps one wants to call “Aegean” all of the waters bounded by mainland Greece, Crete, Cyprus and Turkey.
In any case, in 2000, Ayşe and I did swim and visit ruins where Freya Stark is in this passage (from ch. 13, “Aperlae,” p. 135). The place is enchanted:
A cloud—a wisp the size of one's finger—developed between D. B. and me, for I could not bear, and refused, to pass the island by. We were late, and were going to pick up the French archaeologists—mere reason as usual was on the consular side. But I was granted ten minutes on shore to see the lowest of the churches, and Hüseyin rowed me across, smiling—for what is time to him, who has the Aegean in his veins? And D. B., impressed, I hope, by my honest rapidity but not saying so, allowed me twenty minutes more for a bathe when I got back.
The water was very deep. It held its light far down inside it like the star in a sapphire: its daily enchantment is never to be forgotten. For what words can give even the ghost of the Aegean bathing? When the body is lost because the radiance and coolness of the world have become a part of it, and nothing seems oneself any longer; and the warmth and light between two darknesses of atmosphere and sea, caress all that emerges—the imperceptible moving tide, and our shoulders, and the embracing mountains that burn above us on the noonday edge of their horizon, and in their slower cycle also carry as we do some fire at their heart. There in perfect solitude the pine trees hang over the white rocks and the water lifts us, alive and unresisting, through its own regions, from which a vast loom seems to be weaving sea and earth and sky, out of their basic unity into the varied loveliness of Time. And who can wonder that such hours gave light to the lives that contained them; or who would be mad enough to change them for any money that the world can give? No life is wasted that can remember them, as I hope to do till I have to leave it all. In the midday silence, in the immense semi-circle of woods and mountains, with the deep fjord in their lap and nothing made by man in their sight except the island ruins, the little noise of Elfin stirring up her engines for departure, the sight of D. B. astride the deck, obviously thinking I would be late but not saying so out of kindness, gave a comfortable human warmth.
I refer to this passage in