The Ionian Coast

And hurry, hurry, off they rode
__As fast as fast can be;
Hurra, Hurra, the dead can ride,
__Dost fear to ride with me?
—Burgher


I had to be in Marmaris on Thursday to catch a ferry to Rhodes, and in Istanbul whenever my last packages arrived; and looking for something to do in the interim settled on Bergama and Selçuk. I bought a bus ticket and relaxed on the four hour trip south, so much so that when the bus pulled over to let me out, I did not register that it was on the side of the highway, near a sign that said, "Bergama," with an arrow. I crossed the road and started walking.

A taxi driver waited for me under a billboard, either called out by one of the bus drivers or aware of their tactics, and said, "Where you go?" I told him, without stopping my gait. "It's seven kilometers." I expressed my happiness with considerable irony. "You must take taxi." I told him I was penniless and kept walking.

I saw a bus station without busses and eventually caught a ride in a painter's pickup truck to downtown Bergama, and wandered around there asking people about the hostel I'd picked out, until I found an entirely different lodging called the Athena Pension and got a bed for a reasonable price. The city had the look of an old Ottoman town, with downtrodden white buildings cropping from the ruins of Roman glory like a returning jungle.

That night I made pasta, substituting some red pepper and paprika paste for tomato sauce, which the Turks have yet to discover. It was good and spicy. I chatted with the Welsch couple who had arrived the same day, and made a bet that three girls who wandered in were from California. I knocked a few lira off the price by foregoing breakfast, and while I self-consciously nibbled my own bread and cheese the next morning at the well-laden breakfast table, I learned that the three girls were from Michigan, halfway through a week in Turkey. One of them had picked up in Istanbul a Turkish boyfriend—or rather he had picked her up—whom she was nearly sobbing over, preempting their separation.

In Turkey and Greece, holiday affairee is considered a worthwhile and productive profession for young men, who glide in on freshly debarked white girls like a hawk on a dove. Their pick-up lines are infamous—"Hey you look like an angel;" "Do I hear angels? Is this Heaven? Is this Paradise?" Most just spend a week with their vacationer and see her off at the airport only to meet another arrival, but some of these gigolos, less ethical than their cohorts, get girls to pay for them to travel around, or to give them money for a sick relative. I did not observe the Ottoman and his Michigani harem long enough to determine which degree of pimp he was.

You can see the ruins of Bergama, which the Greeks called Pergamon when they ruled the world, from anywhere in the valley where the modern city is sited. The tiers of stonework cling to a high, step hill, and sprawl across its top in squares and temples. You can take a bus, but I was too thrifty for that. Instead I walked uphill util I found a road, and followed that to a goat path, which I climbed slowly and with an eye for ticks until emerging at the Temple of Hera.

I walked across the remnant rubble, and did not worry about the grains of antiquity my sandals scraped away. If everyone did it, there would be nothing left for children's children; but the wind, too, scrapes up chalky atoms, and the rain washes those into the dust, and one day the continents will collide and sweep the whole thing under, though we'll be long gone by then.

The road up the hill led past exposed clay pipes, Roman brick and mortar, and the monumental stone of Hellenistic construction. There was a house still mostly intact, with paint on the walls and mosaics on the floors. The dirt road became a stone one near the theater, which sat 10,000 in a great nook of the mountain, and a tower behind the nosebleed seats had a stairway to the Trajanaeum at the peak of the Acropolis. Seven Corinthian columns still stood of the shrine's dozens, and 22 of those that support the encircling stoa. Without was the wide court of the Forum or Agora, and across that a view over lakes and plains, and the ticketing office where less able tourists pay to enter the city.

At the bottom of the hill I broke into the Red Hall, the temple built of brick by Trajan for Sarapis and other Egyptian gods. The Christians used its many windowed hall, six stories high to worship Christ. Under the Turks it fell to ruin, and the Muslims maintain only a tiny outbuilding for their Red Mosque. From within the ruins you can see clearly the nave and narthex, the templon recess in the far end, and the height and structure of a once grand cathedral. I felt like Indiana Jones exploring the uneven ground inside. Under the altar was a deep cistern, closed off by metal grates, and to either side were towers with stairs that curved up to the top, though only the first two sets remain of eight suggested. Angry crows nest at the top, and around the remnants of statues of saints and emperors that decorate the arches.

That night I sat around with a cocky Texan and a sleepy Chicagan, and the next morning partook in the great breakfast. There were sliced melon and peaches and olives, bread and rolls, yogurt and honey and kaymak, preserves and chocolate spread, greasy borek rolls, sweet cakes, and fried eggs with tomato and feta, and when I was stuffed I transferred myself via bus to Izmir and Selçuk.

I had to be in Marmaris the next day, yet still wanted to see the touristy sites around ancient Ephesus. I thus rushed to the Homeros Pension, recommended by the Welsh couple, and had the owner drive me out to the entrance of Ephesus, the overpriced and overcrowded city. The Texan I met in Bergama suggested that the crowds mirrored those that filled the city in ancient times, when it was the seat of a Roman governor, but I retort that this is only true if that city was peopled by sunburned old Brits and shuffling Japanese tourists.

The ruins were magnificent beneath them. Below the theater's 25,000 seats, on either side of the road, were two great junk yards. Bits of rubble were organized into neat rows by type—grave stones here, there the shafts of columns, there the pediments and capitals, there the eves of rooftops—broken by a gridwork of pathways.

I took a dolmuş back into the city and with the last few hours of daylight visited the Museum of Efes, to see the many-breasted statue of Artemis that once graced the altar of a Wonder of the World, and the statues of Romans and Greeks that followed the Lady of Ephesus into the stone dump of history. The pension offered a glass of wine on the rooftop terrace to see the sunset over the distant Aegean. I sat there reading Black Hawk Down, even though John Keats' Endymion would have been more appropriate, and met an elderly couple of sailboaters from Ohio, who sold their house and gave away their dog and moved to Cairo.

Sandy had been recently hired to teach English to Egyptians at the American University, and her husband Larry would find a private job doing the same. Their stories were very interesting, and I got their contact information for when I came to that city. The dinner served on the terrace beneath the roof was soup and bread, stuffed green peppers with cream, aubergine, grilled chicken with rice, with vegetables and salad, and with watermelon for desert.

Before leaving for Marmaris the next day, I walked up to the ancient site of the Temple of Artemis, knowing full well what I would see. There was the outline of a great building in the excavated earth, and a single 60-foot column standing of the 127 that once did. It seemed a composite thing, made of bits of a dozen other pillars. Earthquakes destroyed it the year Alexander was born, and Christians took out the slowly recombinant replacement eight centuries later. Pieces of it went into houses and walls and the Hagia Sofia, and to the British Museum, so that the Ephesians retain only a token of their efforts.

I also saw the temple of Saint John, where the Baptist is buried, and arrived in Marmaris three hours later. The port occupies a bay rimmed by islands blue in the distance, and by high sloping hills covered in trees that seem tropical. I walked in from the bus station and around the marina to the old town, dead in the afternoon, and geared towards the yacht crowd. My ferry left at 5, but I knew only that it was called the F/D Yviskos and had to argue for a long time with the officials to get them to recognize my reservation and let me on the boat—a spaceship hydrofoil that rode on two skis. My relief at getting aboard made the unexpected €15 port tax, the choppy seas, and the Madonna concert video which played for the duration of the trip much more palateable.

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