There were four of us, and we travelled on the passports of four different countries. Three of us lived in countries other than those we were born in. Indeed, one of these three had lived in three countries between birth and adulthood.
Xavier had come to Ankara from Chile to do mathematics with me. (He would then spend a couple of months in Germany, doing more mathematics.) My own doctoral research had been inspired by two papers written in French by Xavier's doctoral supervisor. In the METU guesthouse, Xavier met Rachel, a psychologist and statistician, who had come to Turkey from Canada for a sabbatical. Ayşe and I went with the two of them to Cappadocia for the last of Xavier's two weekends in Turkey.
It was an introductory visit to Cappadocia. I had had such a visit with my mother when she came to see Ayşe and me in Turkey ten years earlier. This time, four of us took the 13.00 bus to Göreme on Friday, January 9, 2009. On Saturday, we joined an organized tour with ten other tourists. On Sunday, we walked to the Göreme Open Air Museum, came back to town for lunch, and caught a 14.00 bus back to Ankara.
Having no other inspiration for our accommodation, we tried to stay at Ottoman House. This was where I had stayed with my mother ten years before, because a few weeks before that, friends of mine from the US had stayed there. Now Ottoman House was closed for renovation; but the person who answered the phone there suggested Walnut House, with the same ownership. So we made a reservation there: Two singles at 30 Turkish liras a night, and one double, at 45 liras.
Then we discovered a page of the Walnut House website, said to have been updated on 26-06-2007. That page offered double rooms at 40 liras. Over the phone, Walnut House said that page was obsolete.
With one euro currently buying more than 2 lira, a double room at 45 liras may still be cheap. But a seller should stand by the prices he advertises. I learned this during my one spell of non-academic work, growing vegetables and selling them on a streetcorner in Washington. I was serving as cashier at our stand one Saturday morning, and the price of a head of lettuce on the boss's list was one dollar, so that's what I charged a customer. Then she showed me the price quoted at the box of lettuces: one dollar a pound. A lettuce weighed 3/4 pound. I asked the customer if she wanted to return the lettuce. She said she wanted it for a dollar a pound.
Another customer suggested to me,
Why don't you just give her back
a quarter? I did this, and it should have been obvious to me that I
should do this. Unfortunately Norman the boss had taught us workers
that the customer was the enemy. We needed to get as many quarters out
of the enemy as we could.
It is terrible to think of now, Norman's bitter and thoughtless attitude towards the people he depended on for his living. It is sad to detect this attitude in a Göreme hotel keeper. Since Walnut House would not stand by its advertised prices, we found accommodation elsewhere. The man at Walnut House hung up the phone (on Ayşe) when informed of this.
In a high-school discussion, a teacher asked a small group of us
students a question that I remember vaguely:
What activity always
gives you pleasure? I remember more clearly a classmate's response:
Walking into an art museum. I could perhaps give that answer
myself, though now I could give an additional answer:
Walking into a
Turkish bus station.
Over the audio-visual system of our Nevtur bus, we travellers were treated to music videos from a channel aimed at Turkish youth. I tend to forget such unpleasant aspects of bus travel. Still I was able to look out the window or think about mathematics and make some notes. Just an hour and a half from Ankara, the bus stopped for a twenty-minute break.
When we got underway again, I sat with Xavier and talked about our mathematical problem. But when we reached Nevşehir and transferred to a minibus for Göreme, I forget my note pad. Fortunately all pages had been blank but one, and I knew what was on that one.
In Göreme, we checked into Rock Valley Pension. It was slightly more expensive than Walnut House would have been. But it was at the end of a road, so we would have a good view out the back in the morning.
Dinner in Göreme
Meanwhile, we followed the Rock Valley host İlhami's suggestion and went to Dibek for dinner. The stone building was supposed to be centuries old. Inside one sat on cushions around a table raised slightly above the floor. The food was simple, but good to eat, and the homemade wine was good to drink. For me at least, it was also good to sit on the floor.
I stayed in bed until the prayer call came from the mosque a bit before six. A sign on the back of our door promised 24-hour hot water, though it also suggested ominously that one should tell the manager if hot water didn't come. Hot water did come for me. Then I went for a stroll up the valley behind the pension, until a dog in the distance started barking.
It was a few minutes before seven when I went into the pension's common room. İlhami sat up when I entered: he had been sleeping there. At seven his alarm rang. After lounging a few minutes, he got up, and I apologized again for having disturbed him.
It was only five minutes early he said.
İlhami went about collecting the sheets that had been draped over furniture to dry overnight. The room had radiators, along with a coal-fired stove in the middle. Göreme generally smelled of coal smoke. Presently İlhami offered me coffee, saying he would have some himself; I just took hot water for the rosehip tea bag I had brought along. Eight o'clock came, which was the advertised start of breakfast. I didn't want to ask for breakfast, and İlhami didn't offer it. Rachel came in a bit later and felt no compunction about ordering.
A Van cat
At the Nevşehir otogar, a man with the Muşkara Travel Agency had given us information about his company's tours. It turned out that Rock Valley Pension worked with this company; we arranged with İlhami to take a tour with them. The plan was that we would be picked up at the pension at 9.30. But at that hour, the guide (and manager) Cemal came and said there was a big problem: some of his other customers were still up in a hot air balloon. So the four of us from Ankara went for a stroll while we waited. In town we met a Van cat: a white cat with one blue and one yellow eye. Ayşe and I had not even seen one in Van, but here was one in Cappadocia.
Of the other ten people on our tour, one was a New-Zealander living in London named David like me, two were a Japanese couple, and the rest were women, all from Korea I think. Unfortunately East and West did not communicate much, except that Cemal apparently knew Japanese; he said it was very easy, certainly easier than Korean.
Watching a hot air balloon float through Göreme Valley, I did not understand why the gondola didn't hit one of the fairy chimneys. But it must be a spectacular trip. The price on a list at the pension had been 140 euros.
Derinkuyu underground city
Before entering the underground city at Derinkuyu, we waited for another tour group to pass. Meanwhile, Cemal showed us one of the city's air shafts; later I photographed this up and down from inside. Cemal didn't make the false claim that Xenophon had described the Cappadocian underground cities. Xenophon does describe such cities in the Anabasis, but they are further east. Cemal didn't even know Xenophon. Perhaps this was better than having a guide whose pretentions to scholarship were suspect. Cemal claimed that guides told a lot of false stories—as that the underground city could hold tens of thousands of people.
Cemal's story was that the underground cities were dug for protection against Arab invaders. I suggested that there had also been Turkish invaders, but I didn't get a response. When Cemal said he didn't like Arabs, Xavier said that he was part Arab. We didn't hear about Arabs any more.
I am a bit surprised that I do not feel claustrophobic in these underground cities, but I don't. Going through some of the narrow tunnels is just a bit hard on the back. Some day I hope to enter without a guide, though I shall want to have a torch.
Ayşe and I had seen Mount Hasan from the other, eastern, side when travelling to Antioch a year before.
I think it was in the Hyacinthine Church in Ihlara Valley that Cemal
asked me if I was a Christian. I said I had been raised as one, but was
not a believer. I'm sorry I didn't ask him if he was a Muslim.
According to Ayşe, he would probably have said
Yes, by the grace of
God or something like that.
It did not bother me much this time that people like Muhittin, Necati, Ahmet, and Kemal had scratched their names in the thousand-year-old frescos of the Hyacinthine Church. There were more spectacular frescos preserved in the Göreme Open Air Museum; and probably throughout Cappadocia there were paintings preserved simply because nobody bothered to develop them as tourist attractions.
I have now been to Cappadocia three times, always in late fall or winter. Each time I have walked through Ihlara Valley. When most of the land is brown, gray, and perhaps white with snow, it is wonderful to see green grass growing by a flowing stream.
At a place where the valley widens so that agriculture is possible, a tea garden has now been established. I am sorry about this, though it may make good money in the summer. There I got Xavier to have a look at some of the mathematical notes I had made in the morning, in the smaller notebook that I still had.
As our group had done three years before, so this time Ayşe and I arranged to eat outdoors at Belisırma. But I'm afraid our guests got cold! Everybody else ate indoors.
The Ağzıkarahan caravanserai was supposedly closed for restoration, so we could not visit. Cemal suggested that the closure was really due to a dispute among certain officials. Too bad.
Saturday evening, Xavier had a shower that was warm for a while, but then became cold. He told İlhami, who showed nothing more than mild surprise.
I tried to take a shower myself again in the morning. Though I waited a long time, only ice-cold water came from the tap that had been hot a day before.
I still decided not to disturb İlhami before breakfast time. I just got dressed and went for a longer walk than on Saturday. The walk showed me that, on a later visit, we should spend a day or more exploring on foot.
After breakfast, informed about the lack of hot water, İlhami looked apologetic and said he had got up late. It sounded as if he needed to turn on the heater in the morning. But then why could I have a hot shower the previous morning, while İlhami was sleeping? I said that I could adjust to any arrangement, but if the pension advertised 24-hour hot water, then there should be 24-hour hot water. İlhami said maybe he should change the sign.
Hike to the Open Air Museum
İlhami told us we could take a shortcut to the museum by turning right at the mosque. We would then cross a ridge and pass over to the next valley. A couple of dogs followed us up to the ridge, but then they were attacked by a larger dog that came up from the other side.
By the museum parking lot is a row of tourist shops. While Rachel visited the loo, one of the dealers talked to Xavier and me. He figured that I was American. When I asked about him, he said he was from Iran.
Our friend is from Iran I said, but he didn't believe me until Rachel came back and spoke in Farsi.
Flash photography is forbidden in the museum. Following Xavier, I learned to rest my camera on its back on the wooden railings in the more spectacular cave churches. So I could get some shots of the painted ceilings, though they can be disorienting. But really, how does one understand any visual art that does not sit inside a rectangular frame?
Chapel of St Barbara
Church of St Onuphrius
Chapel of St Catherine
When we checked out of Rock Valley, İlhami apologized about the hot water. On our way to the bus station, we stopped by Dibek to buy the wine that we had asked to be bottled the night before. At the station, while we waited, I noted the logical structure of a saying on the wall:
Her deli âşık değildir, ama her âşık biraz delidir.
One might render this literally as
Every madman is not a lover, but
every lover is a bit mad. However, the symbolic logician may argue
not here is misplaced, and should apply to the
every, as in
Not every madman is a lover. But the Turkish
word order is fixed. A man who overheard me said the Turkish
corresponded to what his children would say:
Every madman is a lover,
NOT! He was an engineer, probably American. He thought he might
have met me at the Protestant church in Ankara, but I explained that
this was impossible, as I didn't go to church.