Aegean Odyssey, July, 2007
[Click on a photo to enlarge it. We took about a thousand photos, but are still learning to use the camera. Many photos were not interesting; others were, but were blurry.]
July 3 (Tuesday)
At the Ankara otogar, Ayşe and I board a bus to İstanbul.
We arrive at Harem station on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus and take the ferry to Eminönü.
We walk to Sirkeci Station, where we find that the new luggage lockers are not yet operational; so we can't lighten our load and do a lot of strolling before our train. We already have our tickets for Salonica, purchased at the Ankara tren garı. So we just carry our backpacks to an adjacent pedestrian street lined with eating establishments. We sit at a table outside, where a man is able to satisfy all of our requests: those that he cannot meet from his own restaurant (as for fresh orange juice, pide, coffee), he satisfies by visiting his neighbors.
The Friendship Express (Dostluk, Φιλια) departs. The three cars are Greek (built in France); the locomotive is Turkish (built in Croatia). The cars have two-bed compartments, of alternating type. Our type has beds that fold down from the rear wall. Above our ceiling are two (fixed) beds, one for each of the adjacent compartments. (We learn this next morning, when we investigate the unused compartment next to ours.)
The train tracks run along the inside of the old sea wall of Constantinople. We enjoy the beer and börek that we have brought along, and the unusual view of the İstanbul suburbs. Eventually we are out in the countryside among fields of sunflowers, and night falls.
July 4 (Wednesday)
soon after midnight
We spend two hours crossing the border into Greece. On the Turkish side, an officer collects our passports for inspection, and then a customs officer checks our bags cursorily, perhaps for stolen antiquities. After our passports are returned and we cross over into Greece, similar activities are performed by Greek officials. At least we never have to leave our compartment, or even our beds. (However, we don't know this ahead of time). After formalities are completed on the Greek side, the train backs up, as if returning to Turkey. But it switches to another track. In Salonica, we shall see that the locomotive has been changed, and another car added.
We arrive in steaming hot Salonica, hours after the 7.32 arrival time listed on the webpage of the Turkish State Railways. I don't believe there was a delay; the webpage appears to be simply wrong. At least we have food and water, and the Thracian countryside is pleasant to watch.
The luggage lockers at Salonica station are operational, and one of them will hold my big old aluminum-frame backpack if it is turned just so. (Ayşe demonstrates this when I am prepared to give up.) We head out on foot towards the waterfront, where we see a bit of the old walls, and, to the east, the White Tower. On a side street north of the tower, we find somewhere to eat on the sidewalk (under a canopy); then we continue on to the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda of St George. (According to the brochure, the latter was also built under Galerius, in 306 c.e., as a temple of Zeus or else the emperor's mausoleum; it became a church in the fifth century, and a mosque in the late sixteenth century.) Finally, a bit further north, Ayşe has a frappé while, across the street, I check out the house where Atatürk grew up.
We board an Athens train, pleasantly air-conditioned and with
reserved seats, due to reach Larissa at 16.14. (A
helpful person at the Salonica station has given us the schedule, while
It's in Greek.)
The train from Larissa to Volos (with unreserved seats) is scheduled to leave now. Our train from Salonica is a bit late, but the train to Volos is held correspondingly late, so we catch it. Its air conditioning seems not to be working properly. But the trip is only an hour.
In Volos, a taxi takes us to the Park Hotel near the waterfront. Ayşe will be speaking next morning at the sixth Panhellenic Logic Symposium. The revolving front door of the hotel starts automatically and tries to separate Ayşe from the pack on her back. The hotel staff do not seem very concerned. Ayşe suggests that they may look down on backpacking guests: it is supposed to be a high-class hotel.
But Volos is pleasant for being a seaside town without many tourists. Actually it's not on the open sea, but the Pagasetic Gulf. Part of the waterfront is lined with cafes and restaurants that fill up at night. Another part has bookstalls.
In Athens two years ago, on tables of books for sale on the street, I noticed some ancient Greek texts printed together with modern Greek translations. I later regretted not buying one, if only as a souvenir. (I don't actually know anything about modern Greek that can't be inferred from what I retain of ancient Greek.) So in Volos I buy Aristophanes's Clouds.
As on the previous trip to Greece, so now, I have brought along Plato to read. Recently a colleague and friend in Ankara died at 77, and I went to the funeral and burial at the municipal cemetery. This means I saw a reusable coffin opened, and a shrouded body lifted out and laid carefully in the ground. I recalled the exchange between Crito and Socrates in the Phaedo (115 c–e; translation by Harold North Fowler in the Loeb edition, taken here from the Perseus Digital Library):
We will certainly try hard to do as you say,[Crito] replied.But how shall we bury you?
However you please,[Socrates] replied,if you can catch me and I do not get away from you.And he laughed gently, and looking towards us, said:I cannot persuade Crito, my friends, that the Socrates who is now conversing and arranging the details of his argument is really I; he thinks I am the one whom he will presently see as a corpse, and he asks how to bury me. And though I have been saying at great length that after I drink the poison I shall no longer be with you, but shall go away to the joys of the blessed you know of, he seems to think that was idle talk uttered to encourage you and myself. So,he said,give security for me to Crito, the opposite of that which he gave the judges at my trial; for he gave security that I would remain, but you must give security that I shall not remain when I die, but shall go away, so that Crito may bear it more easily, and may not be troubled when he sees my body being burnt or buried, or think I am undergoing terrible treatment, and may not say at the funeral that he is laying out Socrates, or following him to the grave, or burying him. For, dear Crito, you may be sure that such wrong words are not only undesirable in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. No, you must be of good courage, and say that you bury my body,—and bury it as you think best and as seems to you most fitting.
My late colleague would have preferred cremation, but it was not available in Turkey. I have at various times expressed my wish that my own lifeless body might be made available to medical students for dissection.
More than one speaker at our conference mentions Plato. One of
them, in an Invited Tutorial, introduces something called
justification logic. As his abstract says,
We apply Justification Logic for analyzing Plato's celebrated
definition of Knowledge as Justified True Belief.
As I shall remember the talk, the speaker traces this definition to the
Theaetatus and offers a refutation (attributed to somebody else)
along the following lines: Suppose I have a justified belief that I have
a euro in my pocket. Therefore I have a justified belief that one of
us—you or I—has a euro in his pocket. If in fact you have a
euro in your pocket, although I don't, then my latter belief is justified
and true, but is not knowledge.
I don't know why the particular definition of knowledge is attributed to Plato. A dialogue such as Plato wrote is not a lecture or essay. In his Theaetetus, the title character does offer something like the suggested definition (I use the Jowett translation from Project Gutenberg):
That is a distinction, Socrates, which I have heard made by some one else, but I had forgotten it. He said that true opinion, combined with reason, was knowledge, but that the opinion which had no reason was out of the sphere of knowledge; and that things of which there is no rational account are not knowable—such was the singular expression which he used—and that things which have a reason or explanation are knowable.
Then, after some discussion which does not involve disjunctive sentences as in the modern example above, Theaetetus appears to admit that he has been refuted:
SOCRATES: But how utterly foolish, when we are asking what is knowledge, that the reply should only be, right opinion with knowledge of difference or of anything! And so, Theaetetus, knowledge is neither sensation nor true opinion, nor yet definition and explanation accompanying and added to true opinion?
THEAETETUS: I suppose not.
SOCRATES: And are you still in labour and travail, my dear friend, or have you brought all that you have to say about knowledge to the birth?
THEAETETUS: I am sure, Socrates, that you have elicited from me a good deal more than ever was in me.
SOCRATES: And does not my art show that you have brought forth wind, and that the offspring of your brain are not worth bringing up?
THEAETETUS: Very true.
Another speaker at the conference mentions Plato and talks about causation, but I am not sure of the connexion. The speaker's abstract begins:
Computability theory concerns information with a causal structure. As such, it provides a schematic analysis of many naturally occurring situations.
Emil Post was the first to focus on the close relationship between information, coded as real numbers, and its algorithmic infrastructure. Having characterized the close connection between the quantifier type of a real and the Turing jump operation, he looked for more subtle ways in which information entails a particular causal context.
This has rather a different flavor from what I have just read in the Phaedo (96 a–99 b) about causation:
When I [Socrates] was young, Cebes, I was tremendously eager for the kind of wisdom which they call investigation of nature. I thought it was a glorious thing to know the causes of everything, why each thing comes into being and why it perishes and why it exists…
Then one day I heard a man reading from a book, as he said, by Anaxagoras, that it is the mind that arranges and causes all things. I was pleased with this theory of cause, and it seemed to me to be somehow right that the mind should be the cause of all things, and I thought,If this is so, the mind in arranging things arranges everything and establishes each thing as it is best for it to be. So if anyone wishes to find the cause of the generation or destruction or existence of a particular thing, he must find out what sort of existence, or passive state of any kind, or activity is best for it. And therefore in respect to that particular thing, and other things too, a man need examine nothing but what is best and most excellent; for then he will necessarily know also what is inferior, since the science of both is the same.…
My glorious hope, my friend, was quickly snatched away from me. As I went on with my reading I saw that the man made no use of intelligence, and did not assign any real causes for the ordering of things, but mentioned as causes air and ether and water and many other absurdities. And it seemed to me it was very much as if one should say that Socrates does with intelligence whatever he does, and then, in trying to give the causes of the particular thing I do, should say first that I am now sitting here because my body is composed of bones and sinews, and the bones are hard and have joints which divide them and the sinews can be contracted and relaxed and, with the flesh and the skin which contains them all, are laid about the bones; and so, as the bones are hung loose in their ligaments, the sinews, by relaxing and contracting, make me able to bend my limbs now, and that is the cause of my sitting here with my legs bent. Or as if in the same way he should give voice and air and hearing and countless other things of the sort as causes for our talking with each other, and should fail to mention the real causes, which are, that the Athenians decided that it was best to condemn me, and therefore I have decided that it was best for me to sit here and that it is right for me to stay and undergo whatever penalty they order. For, by the Dog, I fancy these bones and sinews of mine would have been in Megara or Boeotia long ago, carried thither by an opinion of what was best, if I did not think it was better and nobler to endure any penalty the city may inflict rather than to escape and run away. But it is most absurd to call things of that sort causes. If anyone were to say that I could not have done what I thought proper if I had not bones and sinews and other things that I have, he would be right. But to say that those things are the cause of my doing what I do, and that I act with intelligence but not from the choice of what is best, would be an extremely careless way of talking. Whoever talks in that way is unable to make a distinction and to see that in reality a cause is one thing, and the thing without which the cause could never be a cause is quite another thing…
It all sounds good, as a warning against irrelevant
pursuits—against looking for answers in the wrong places. It
does however make Socrates appear as an advocate of
We are at a logic conference; but the field of logic is large, and its members can be found in mathematics, philosophy, and computer-science departments. Some talks at the conference are largely incomprehensible, and not recognizable as mathematics—because they are not mathematics.
For lunch and dinner, everybody goes out to eat somewhere in the (shaded) open air on the waterfront. Even if we don't set out from the university building in a large group, we end up sitting with one. We often sit with two mathematicians from Bulgaria whom I met two years ago in Athens. We note similarities, in cuisine and elsewhere, between the countries where we live and where we are.
The waterfront establishments in Volos seem indistinguishable, except that some are oriented mainly towards drinking—during the day, this means frappé. Myself, I can't see drinking all that coffee—rather than, say, taking a nap—; but I seem to be unusual. In the evening we have tsipouro, brought to the table in open unlabelled single-serving bottles, always with plates of mezedes. One never drinks without eating. I wonder why Turkish producers of rakı and Turkish restaurateurs have not picked up on the idea of offering bottles smaller than 35 cl. (When we are back in Ankara, in a supermarket with a large selection of liquor, we shall see 20 cl bottles of rakı for sale; but we shall not yet have seen these in restaurants.)
Volos is hot, but we don't feel the need to use the air conditioner in our hotel room. However, a mosquito visits us through our open window; so does the toll of the bell in the church on the waterfront.
Though the conference has two half-days to go, we have other places to visit. We catch the bus for Athens. We could take the train, but the ticket-seller at the Volos station does not seem interested in working around our lack of much spoken Greek. As far as we can tell from the posted signs, some of the trains on our printed schedule have been cancelled. We need to catch the evening ferry to Lesbos (via Chios), for which we have bought tickets in Volos.
The trip to Athens is uneventful, with one break of 20 minutes at a place whose facilities look more like America than Turkey. Turkish busses take half-hour breaks, enough for a decent meal, and have attendents who serve tea. (They are also run by a number of competing companies, not one as in Greece. I don't know whether this is good or bad over all. By contrast, until recently, there was a government monopoly on rakı production in Turkey, while Greece has many private distillers of ouzo and tsipouro.)
We reach the bus station in Athens. One of our hosts and friends in Volos has told us roughly how to find the nearest train station, from which we can travel to Piraeus. It is a few blocks away, but not sign-posted. People in the neighborhood also help point the way. The train is standing room only. I hope I don't place my boots on anybody's naked toes: in hot humid Athens, people don't wear a lot of clothing. In Piraeus we kill time with Mythos Beer at a cafe near the train station. At the tables near us are other sailors of one kind or other.
The scheduled departure time for our ferry. We board about an hour early, and could have boarded earlier. It may be the very same ship I took from Chios to Athens two years ago. At least I know where to find the ferry in the enormous Piraeus Harbor; two years ago, on the return to Chios, I foolishly took us to the wrong side of the harbor, trusting the word of a travel agent over my own reason. (It should have been obvious that the ferry to Chios would use the same berth as the ferry from Chios.)
For our ferry rides two years ago, I slept on deck with my companion. I prefer not to repeat that experience. Though Ayşe and I are carrying our sleeping backs just in case, we have gone soft and booked a cabin. It happens to be a handicapped cabin, so it is spacious. We can go up on deck under the open sky and watch the sun set while the land slips past; in the morning, we wake up at our destination. The vibrations of the ship actually make for a pleasant night.
In the evening twilight, from the ship we see what might be a hotel
perched above a cliff. Coming closer, we see that the
the columns of the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. Our camera is
inadequate for the spectacle. From this glorious architectural past,
the Christian churches of today's Greece seem to represent a
July 8 (Sunday)
We arrive in Mytilene around 7.00. The map in the Lonely Planet guide shows clearly where we should be, but we can hardly match the map with what we see around us. We are somewhere on the South Harbor. A man asks if we want a room and gives us his card, saying his place is on the North Harbor. He points to the road we can take there, saying it's Ermou Street. This would put us elsewhere than we think we are. Maybe we have misunderstood the man. We are where we think from the Lonely Planet map. We walk up the hill to one of the pensions mentioned in the guide. Though it is early in the morning, the hosteller is up, cleaning one of her rooms. Perhaps the last occupant has left to catch the ship we just left. We take the room. It has a refrigerator, an electric stove, a cezve (or briki) and a jar of Turkish (or Greek) coffee.
We later find that many people get up early, to shop or just enjoy the morning coolness; then they retire through the blazing afternoon. I don't know why many Turkish people do not have this custom. One morning in Ankara at the beginning of summer, I visited our neighborhoood Sunday bazaar, only to find that most dealers were just starting to set out their vegetables. One of them explained to me that most shoppers did not want to come until it was cooler. Cooler? It was cool now, it was hours past dawn, but it was getting hotter, and wouldn't be cooler for hours. In Greece, it appears, you do your shopping early, or else, on most days of the week, you will not be able to do it at all, because the shops will be closed.
They say that Mytilene's Ermou Street, which links the two harbors, used to be a channel. The small island thus created was defended by a Byzantine castle. We spend the morning exploring this. Perhaps it is a childish pleasure, tramping around a ruined castle, but it is a pleasure all the same. Still, the embrasures in which one can sit and take in the view were made for ease of killing people who were intent on killing you.
In one of the buildings in the castle yard, we find sacks of what,
from the Greek labels, appears to be
asbestos hydroxide. Would
there really be bags of a carcinogen lying around? If I had paid more
attention to the chemical formula, I might have understood that the
substance was calcium hydroxide, or
We eat in an alley shaded by vines. We visit the new archeological museum, then the old one nearby. The new has some spectacular Roman floor mosaics. The old is in a fine house, and one could learn a lot from reading all of the texts accompanying the displays. But it is the hottest part of the day, there is no air conditioning, and we are more in the mood for a siesta. Later we explore the town some more. We buy bus tickets, for our trip tomorrow, from the station near the South Harbor. We investigate the ruins below the castle adjacent to the North Harbor. Then we dine at the harbor.
We shall end up eating every night at the North Harbor in the open air. As a harbor, the place is useful only for small fishing boats. Tourists don't seem to go there much: they prefer the more crowded South Harbor. We don't know why. We get mezedes such as can be found in good Turkish restaurants. Sometimes they have the same names, like imam bayıldı. But restaurants with many mezeler are not so common in Turkey.
It seems that each Lesbian town makes ouzo and sells it in 20 cl bottles. (We shall take to Turkey four empties, of four different brands.)
Especially from Behzad Yaghmaian's Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West, we are aware that Turkey and Greece are on the migration route, though the migrants do not want to stop in Greece, and certainly not in Turkey. At the seaside restaurants in Volos, African men would go table to table offering various things for sale, such as African handicrafts or pirate DVDs. In Mytilene, we do not see such men. But when waiters here ask where we are from, and we point across the sea, and we ask the same question back, we find that one of the waiters is Palestinian, and another, Albanian.
July 9 (Monday)
We take a
long-distance bus to Petra on the north
side of the island. The ride is perhaps an hour and a half. There is
a church high above the town on a rock. Signs warn against shorts or
provocative clothing. All tourists are wearing shorts. I
decide simply not to enter the church itself, contenting myself with
the walled walkway around it; Ayşe (whose knees are just covered) says
I don't miss much.
The Lonely Planet says Petra has a good beach. It's good if you want to pay money to sit in the sun with a bunch of other tourists. If you actually want to swim, I hope you can find cleaner water elsewhere. Having wandered among some of the orchards of the town, we head away west along the coast. When we find a somewhat isolated spot, we try swimming there. First we make sure that the goats browsing nearby are not interested in eating our towels. But entering the water is still a mistake. One's feet sink deep into muck. Twice my bare feet strike something sharp. I get a splinter. The Lonely Planet warns that sea urchin spines cause infection if not removed. I can't remove my splinter, but I shall not get an infection, so it must not have been a sea urchin that I stepped on. (They are supposed to be found in rocky areas, unlike where we were.)
Back in town, we swim from the free section of the beach: this is the section too narrow to fit a chaise longue and umbrella. We swim through some scum before reaching cleaner water. We decide not to try swimming more in Lesbos, since soon we shall be at a nice beach in Turkey. We just find a place to eat (and drink a kilogram of wine) among all the other tourists. Our cheerful pony-tailed waiter reminds us each of a different German mathematician whom we know. The English-speaking group behind me get louder and louder before they leave.
July 10 (Tuesday)
We walk south from Mytilene along the shore road, expecting to reach the Theophilos Museum and the adjacent Museum–Library Tériade after a few kilometers. Along the way, we see mansions, some in need of repair. Here and there, where the shore is open, local people swim. In a couple of days, we shall be swimming from the opposite shore.
We do find the museums, inland, after asking directions; there do not seem to be signs from the road. In the Theophilos Museum, since not all the paintings are labelled properly, we enjoy matching them with the titles in the catalogue. There are titles like A street of Mytilene during the Turkish occupation of 1888 and Saint Sophia when a Turkish mosque.
The first room of the Tériade that we enter has some paintings of bookshelves. The rest of the rooms hold mainly images from Tériade's magazine Verve made by notable artists. One could wish just to sit down with the magazine, or a reproduction of it. Through an open window, I enjoy a scene of olive trees, with tall yellow grass below, and the sea behind.
The Theophilos Museum is a one-storey building. You enter at one end, then retrace your steps to exit. After we exit, we walk along the porch to the other end of the building. I sit on the edge of the porch, while Ayşe visits the WC in a nearby outbuilding. Nobody else is around until a man comes and stands near me. Facing me, his mouth aimed directly at me, he takes out his cellphone and begins a conversation with an unseen person. Ayşe can't believe it either when she comes back from the loo. We begin a conversation with each other, and the man moves away. Then we continue on to the Tériade.
We decide to return to Mytilene by local bus. A shopkeeper tells us when the next bus is coming, but doesn't volunteer the information that (i) we need to buy a ticket ahead of time, and (ii) she sells the tickets. However, the bus hasn't come by the time we decide to seek such information from her; so we don't have a problem there. We are the only passengers.
Back in town, we walk around the eastern side of the former island, below the walls of the castle, in view of Turkey. Local people swim there. There is a municipal beach with paid entrance, but there are also free areas with showers.
Ayşe is quite content with our Lesbian lifestyle. I propose that she likes Greece because it is Turkey without the Islam. I like Turkey because it is Greece without the Christianity.
The ferry to Ayvalık sails at 8.30. We are required to buy return tickets. Two men from our pension also take the ferry. Stratos was born in Greece, but grew up in Australia, where he learned a number of languages, including Turkish. His companion Jaime migrated from Chile to Australia as an adult. Neither has been to Turkey yet, though Stratos has some contacts there. Three priests in robes also take our ferry. One sits inside reading an edifying work about Jesus—at least it has an icon of Jesus on the cover. Then he sends text messages with his cell phone. I don't have the nerve to take his picture.
As we slip away from Lesbos, we see how the coal-fired power-plant on the North Harbor of Mytilene sends a blanket of smoke out over the island. As we draw closer to the Turkish coast, I regret not having a detailed map showing which towns are where. The maps in the Lonely Planet guide to Greece show the outline of the coast, but not the towns. I remember sailing on the broad Rappahannock River in Virginia with a friend and his cousin: the cousin suggested that old charts might be more helpful than modern ones, for being drawn according to what the land actually looks like when one is at sea.
We step onto the Turkish shore, but a computer malfunction keeps us waiting many minutes at passport control. Day-trippers don't wait; they just leave their passports in return for a laminated card. But Ayşe and I, Stratos and Jaime (the priests too, apparently) are in another class. Eventually we are allowed to enter the country, and Ayşe and I take Stratos and Jaime to the Ayvalık bus station and put them on a bus to Çanakkale. Unfortunately, the walk takes longer than we predict, and the wheeled suitcases of our companions are not well accommodated by the sidewalk. Ayşe and I catch a bus to Altınova. At the first little roundabout in the town, we catch another bus—rather, a
gondola pulled by a tractor—to reach the shore and the family cottage in one of the siteler (that is, cités) there. Ayşe's parents arrive by car later in the afternoon.
In Altınova, as an early riser, I eat some breakfast and go swimming around seven; then I sit on the beach and read or just gaze out over the water towards Lesbos. One book I have with me is Roberto Calasso's Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (translated from the Italian by Tim Parks; London: Vintage, 1994). I had it with me last year on this beach, but didn't have time to finish it. After that, back in Ankara, away in the Anatolian steppe, reading this peculiar account of mythical denizens of the Aegean region was not so attractive. Now I have brought the book back, to pick up where I have left off.
Ayşe comes to the beach with me some mornings, but does not stay long. We all visit the beach later in the afternoon, after the intense heat of noontime has passed. Other beachgoers tend to be drifting away by then.
The four of us visit Cunda Island (by car, over a causeway and a short bridge) for lunch on the seaside. Many old Greek houses remain there.
There is also a church in ruins. However, bits of cloth or paper tied to some latticework at the church suggest that people still visit it as a holy site; they might even by Muslims. Other people (or could some of them be the same?) enjoy spray-painting names on the church.
The spray-painters desecrate the church, at least in the neutral
treat as not sacred or hallowed (one definition in
the Oxford English
Dictionary). Whether the church should be treated as
sacred, I don't know. Perhaps it should no longer be called a
church. When the Christians were made to leave in the 1920s, under
between the Turkish and Greek governments, I assume there was time
for a priest to desanctify the building. I recall a passage from
Robert Pirsig's Zen
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
That night, for the next day's lecture, [Phaedrus] wrote out his defense of what he was doing. This was the Church of Reason lecture, which, in contrast to his usual sketchy lecture notes, was very long and very carefully elaborated.
It began with reference to a newspaper article about a country church building with an electric beer sign hanging right over the front entrance. The building had been sold and was being used as a bar. One can guess that some classroom laughter started at this point. The college was well known for drunken partying and the image vaguely fit. The article said a number of people had complained to the church officials about it. It had been a Catholic church, and the priest who had been delegated to respond to the criticism had sounded quite irritated about the whole thing. To him it had revealed an incredible ignorance of what a church really was. Did they think that bricks and boards and glass constituted a church? Or the shape of the roof? Here, posing as piety was an example of the very materialism the church opposed. The building in question was not holy ground. It had been desanctified. That was the end of it. The beer sign resided over a bar, not a church, and those who couldn't tell the difference were simply revealing something about themselves.
Phaedrus said the same confusion existed about the University and that was why loss of accreditation was hard to understand…
(I don't think Pirsig is right to say that the church opposes materialism. Be it also noted that the church in Cunda was abandoned under duress.)
The owner of the restaurant where we eat has known Ayşe's family for a long time. Inside the restaurant, I note some photos with Greek text and ask about them. It turns out that our host speaks Greek and his parents are from Crete. One of the photos is of Ayvalık in Ottoman-Imperial or early Republican times. Another photo is of musicians in Crete, with a caption to the effect that we come into this world but once, so we might as well enjoy it.
Last year I noted that the ashtrays at the restaurant have on them the logo of Veto, A Mytilenean brand of ouzo. We learn that the owner of that company is a friend of our host.
Ayşe and I visited Şirince with my mother a few years ago. We were staying in Selçuk then, and took the dolmuş up to Şirince one afternoon. Like Ayvalık, it was a Greek village before the Population Exchange—the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The old white houses still line the hillsides, though some of them are falling apart. Two that appear to be in the best shape turn out to be recent constructions. Hillsides not built on are used for agriculture: olives, other tree fruits, grapes. The local produce, especially fruit wines, is touted to the tourists who visit the village.
One of the two old churches is in shape for tourism.
The other church is trussed up with wooden scaffolding, to keep it from collapsing more than it already has.
We have come now to Şirince to see Ali Nesin's mathematical village, and to see Sasha Borovik, who is teaching a course there. The village, still under construction, is a good twenty-minute walk from Şirince along a dusty road. There are some prefabricated dormitories, and also some tents. The lecture room is made from recycled bricks, with mud as mortar, and recycled wooden planks and railroad ties; the roofbeams are just trees stripped of bark. Being near the top of a hill, the site has a spectacular view. (Later in the month, the school will be closed by the authorities; see Sasha Borovik's blog.)
The Nişanyan Inn also has a spectacular view. We dine there on Wednesday night as guests of Ali's friend Sevan Nişanyan. We sit at a table under a tree overlooking the village. Sevan Bey tells us how he built the inn to replace an earlier illegal and unfinished structure. The kaymakam approved; but then a new kaymakam was appointed, who tried unsucessfully to stop the Nişanyan construction.
From the village center, the inn appears to be the highest house on the hill. However, the previous evening, Ali showed us some more Nişanyan rooms over the crest of the hill, with beautiful plantings and a small pool for bathing. It was another world up there, luxurious and isolated from the village life below.
But water still has to come from the village, and Şirince has run out. The pumps are sucking air. The municipality is drilling a new well, but this can be but a temporary solution. The Nişanyans have decided that they must abandon some lavender plantings to the drought; they aim, however, to keep the pool full.
On Thursday evening, Ayşe, Sasha, Şükrü, and I dine in the village at a simple place with a nice view. Since Ayşe does most of the talking, our host asks whether she is a tour guide.
No she answers,
we are all mathematicians; these are my
teacher, my student, and my husband!
People seem pleased to find out about Ali's mathematical village. We like to think it is because they respect education, as well as the Nesin name. They don't always know Ali (who does sometimes appear on television), but they know his late father, Aziz.
More than once on this Aegean trip, I have had to explain the odd
singing or chirping that emanates from trees in the middle of the day.
It is the cicada, or
as some call it, the locust: τεττιξ in
Greek, and in Turkish, cırcır böceği: the bug that goes
jrr. (This is what I am told; but the dictionary says the
cırcır böceği is a cricket, and the cicada is an ağustos
böceği, August bug.)
I grew up with cicadas in Washington; their song is a sign of life on the hottest of days. Since the Loeb volume that contains the Phaedo also has the Phaedrus, I am able to quote Socrates's words (258 e–259 d) for the edification of my companions:
SOCRATES: We have plenty of time, apparently; and besides, the locusts seem to be looking down upon us as they sing and talk with each other in the heat. Now if they should see us not conversing at mid-day, but, like most people, dozing, lulled to sleep by their song because of our mental indolence, they would justly laugh at us, thinking that some slaves had come to their resort and were slumbering about the fountain at noon like sheep. But if they see us conversing and sailing past them unmoved by the charm of their Siren voices, perhaps they will be pleased and give us the gift which the gods bestowed on them to give to men.
PHAEDRUS: What is this gift? I don't seem to have heard of it.
SOCRATES: It is quite improper for a lover of the Muses never to have heard of such things. The story goes that these locusts were once men, before the birth of the Muses, and when the Muses were born and song appeared, some of the men were so overcome with delight that they sang and sang, forgetting food and drink, until at last unconsciously they died. From them the locust tribe afterwards arose, and they have this gift from the Muses, that from the time of their birth they need no sustenance, but sing continually, without food or drink, until they die, when they go to the Muses and report who honours each of them on earth. They tell Terpsichore of those who have honoured her in dances, and make them dearer to her; they gain the favour of Erato for the poets of love, and that of the other Muses for their votaries, according to their various ways of honouring them; and to Calliope, the eldest of the Muses, and to Urania who is next to her, they make report of those who pass their lives in philosphy and who worship these Muses who are most concerned with heaven and with thought divine and human and whose music is the sweetest. So for many reasons we ought no talk and not sleep in the noontime.
PHAEDRUS: Yes, we ought to talk.
On Friday afternoon, Ayşe, Şükrü, and I take Sasha to see Selçuk. (Say that three times fast!)
Ayşe and I shall be leaving there for Ankara on a 23.00 bus, so we are carrying all of our things. In the dolmuş, I can finally show Sasha the passage above. (I try to take every chance to show that the word
Platonic refers to some books that we can actually read for pleasure.)
On my first visit to Turkey, in 1998, Selçuk was appealing as a relaxed and lush green city. (We went there after Bodrum, with its low dry hills.) Storks live on the old Roman aqueduct. There is some public art: a walk-through sculpture by Mehmet Aksoy, commemorating the Turkish war of independence, engraved with text by Nazım Hikmet; a monument to Uğur Mumcu, assassinated journalist; a statue of Atatürk with a top hat, surrounded by bas-reliefs, including one with the Hittite sun-disk.
After seeing all of these today, we visit the İsa Bey mosque, built under one of the beyliks that arose after the decline of the Seljuks. The walled courtyard is a relaxing green walled space: perhaps it is an image of heaven. Just inside the entrance to the mosque proper, there is no carpet, so one can enter without removing shoes. I find several groups of tourists. One guide, apparently Turkish, explains the errors of doctrinaire Muslims, such as Turks living in Germany. The Qu'ran, he says, requires nobody to leave work in order to pray: one should do one's work, and pray when one has time. He also says that nobody should set himself up as an a religious authority, like the Iranian ayatollahs or the Saudi royal family: nobody must come between the worshipper and God.
We next go back up the hill, and backwards in time, to the ruins of the Basilica of St John. The John is supposed to be John the Apostle, identified with John of Patmos; his tomb is supposed to be on site.
The Basilica grounds provide a fine place to sit in the shade of pines and look out on the İsa Bey Mosque and the fields that continue to Efes (Ephesus) and the Aegean Sea. One can also just make out the lone column erected from some of the few remaining stones of the Temple of Artemis. Sasha is pleased to remember that this was the temple burnt down by Herostratus.
Do we profane holy ground by drinking beer? A shop across the street from the grand entryway sells it; Şükrü and then Ayşe go to fetch it. The Church does make a sacrament out of wine; and the brand of beer that we drink is Efes. For me it is just another amazing experience in Turkey: to sit among the remains of three great monuments of three world religions, enjoying an ephemeral pleasure.
Sasha seems to be in a funk about religion. Though I enquire into his thoughts, I'm not sure I understand them. As he will be staying on in Şirince to teach his course, Ayşe and I have told him of the additional attractions of the area. Ephesus is the main thing to see; but one might also want to visit the Meryem Ana Evi, the House of the Virgin Mary. Ayşe and I visited this place with my own mother.
The idea that the mother of Jesus actually lived there is probably pure fantasy, and a fairly recent fantasy at that; for this reason, Sasha does not want to visit. But I found the place interesting as a focus of religious devotion, however misguided. During our visit, a resident French nun was on hand to talk to us. When she learned that I was from the United States, I was amused by her immediate conclusion that I was a Protestant. I don't know whether this was simple presumption on her part. It could possibly have been a more subtle suggestion that, when the dominant religion in a country is Protestant, it gives everybody there a Protestant outlook, regardless of one's actual practice or stated beliefs.
Now, sitting near the Basilica with a beer, thinking of religion and wondering what it matters whether its myths really happened, I recall words of Socrates from the Phaedrus that had been cited in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. Calasso writes (ch. VIII, p. 278):
Plato's attitude toward the myths is one that the more lucid of the moderns sometimes achieve. The more obtuse, on the other hand, still argue around the notion of belief, a fatal word when it comes to mythology, as if the credence the ancients lent to the myths had anything to do with the superstitious conviction with which philologists of the age of Wilamowitz believed in the lighting of an electric bulb on their desks. No, Socrates himself cleared up this point shortly before his death: we enter the mythical when we enter the realm of risk, and myth is the enchantment we generate in ourselves at such moments. More than a belief, it is a magical bond that tightens around us. It is a spell the soul casts on itself.This risk is fine indeed, and what we must somehow do with these things is enchant [epádein] ourselves.Epádein is the verb that designates the enchanting song.These things,as Socrates casually puts it, are the fables, the myths.
Thus Calasso, in translation. I suppose the reference to Wilamowitz and electric bulbs is an allusion to a nineteenth-century academic debate. Not knowing the debate, I can only suppose Calasso means to situate myths in a world of more real passion than is found in a university. Myths, then, are not something one chooses to accept for convenience. But a longer selection from Socrates's speech (114 d) seems worth making (here in Fowler's translation):
Don't worry about details, Socrates seems to say; and a certain kind of literal interpretation of myth is a detail.
Now it would not be fitting for a man of sense to maintain that this is all just as I have described it, but that this or something like it is true concerning our souls and their abodes, since the soul is shown to be immortal, I think he may properly and worthily venture to believe; for the venture is well worth while; and he ought to repeat such things to himself as if they were magic charms, which is the reason why I have been lengthening out the story for so long.