Between the Battlefields

I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die. In the time, it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place to defend this country.
—Atatürk at Gallipoli


In Moldova, while looking at my SD card in another person's camera, I noticed that all my pictures from Varna north were in black and white with but a single color extant, usually some shade of green. It looks very artsy, but I'd prefer pictures in full color.

Like these one-color photos and their Schindler's List style, I tend to pick out at a glance the most important aspect of a place and paint a broad picture using only that. Both of us -- Camera and I -- must broaden our palette if the truth is to be told. For me, it is a simple matter of effort. Camera, however, may require for his improvement some technical expertise greater than either of us possess, or someone who can navigate blindly his settings and change back whatever photo filter I managed to activate.

Ah, well! I will endeavor to compensate for his retarded functions. May we together paint the whole picture.

To speak Turkish to a Turk, even place names at a bus station, you must speak perfectly. "Çanakkale," I would say, then, "ÇanAkkale, ÇanakkAle, ÇanakkalE, ÇenEkkale," until one of those clicked, and the Turk said, "Oh, Çanakkale!" and I said Yes.

Leaving Üsküdar I watched the checkered masses of heaped buildings in indistinct tiers; multi-colored, spotted with laundry and rooftop gardens, with rust and grime, with graffiti and billboards. This was Asia, I reminded myself. We crossed north to Europe on the Bosphorus Bridge, and exited Istanbul through its suburbs. After a long drive we crossed the Hellespont on a ferry. The waters which Darius had whipped for destroying his pontoon bridge were today quiet.

Now this was long drive, delayed by traffic, and in the meantime I enjoyed the luxury of Turkish buses, which provide coffee and snacks, and read a book. This is a good time to talk about books. Reading is a major pastime of travel, and on long trips that hunger must be satisfied largely by either purchasing Penguin classics or used books, or by exchange in a hostel library, which is usually full of novels about cops and various crimes and romances. You read what you can get. My own experience is a good example:

To start out my post-theft collection, I bought Cold Mountain from a gypsy in Varna, and traded that in Ukraine, where I also picked up a copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula, for Murakami's Kafka On the Shore. I traded Dracula with my friends in Istanbul for Lolita. Kafka On the Shore swapped places with a satisfactorily violent Viking novel called Sword Song in a small Trojan hostel library, and Sword Song ended up exchanged for Black Hawk Down on a shelf in a Pergamese pension. Now in Rhodes Black Hawk Down went for The Alchemist, which after its quick read went for Iain M. Banks' Inversions, which went for The Fall of the Roman Republic, a Plutarch collection. I only finished the first of its lives, that of Gaius Marius, before trading it in Fethiye for Rob Roy, quoted in the last chapter.

Çanakkale is one of those places like Sparta where unrelated locals tenderly embrace an adopted ghost — in this case that of a Trojan. Each store sells horse figurines and swords and helmets, and the Trojan Horse prop from the movie Troy looms over the harbor.

Troy was, as you know, in ruins — seven layers of them, including the Roman and Hellenistic cities that Heinrich Schleimann tore through to get at the pre-Homeric strata he favored. I looked at the mounds that were once temples, and sat on sponsored benches in the shade near the southern gate that the Horse went through. The wind that brought wealth to Troy also brought Achaean ships and Roman ones, raiders from Arabia and Turks from Central Asia and tourists from everywhere; it brought silt to fill in the beaches, so you can scarcely see the wine dark sea from the hill of Ilium; but I was not really in the mood to contemplate dead things. This and a general lack of interest shed the Anzac Mecca of Gallipoli from my itinerary.

There were two Brits on the dolmuş who said things like, "I'm intrigued," and talked about someone named Harrington, in patrician dialects I would have thought satirical if I heard on television. I finally did talk to them in the parking lot after seeing Troy, and asked when the bus was coming. One was from London, and the other from Oxford. "Oxford!" I said,—"a very posh place, the Brits would say."

"Yes," said Oxford, "they would say that," and he looked away. I eavesdropped on the way back to Çanakkale: "The image I had in my mind," said London, "was a kind of rough sandy strand, covered with weeds, and Troy on a little hillock over that strand."

Suddenly I found myself anxious to leave the White Tourist Circuit. This circuit encompasses the UK and Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, and West Germany, with pockets in Greece and the Cyclades and along the western coast of Turkey. The principal fauna are sunburned Brits, pissed Aussies, carefree Kiwis, lecherous Germans and Swedes, and faux-adventurous American backpackers. Its main exports are smugness, stale conversation, artificially inflated facebook friends lists, and digital photographs. If you seek truth, go somewhere else.

I returned to the hostel, and went with a German girl named Caroline to get kebab and ayran. Her dad had lived in Greece and said that, "Greeks are Turks who think they're Italians." I found this very amusing and true. The Greeks are certainly more Levantine than European, in their mannerisms, ethics, and hospitality.

The Ramazan drummer that night went right under the open windows of the dorm room, a glassed in studio at the hostel's top level. A loud call to prayer followed, and then it was Saturday. I wandered around the city, not wanting to go to Gallipoli or spend any money. There was a drone of powerwashing and boat engines and Saturday morning palaver, and I read a book in the park of the naval museum, among the salvaged cannons and the husk of a German U-boat.

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