Izmir and Beyond - Driving in Turkey / June 7 - 2003
Must have gotten used to the 5 AM call to prayer - If I was called, I didn't answer. Up at 7 - showered and packed - wonderful breakfast with Jasper the hotel cat @ 8 and off to the Internet café to e-mail travelogue. The Internet is faster in the morning as it only took thirty minutes to upload a letter with three attachments.
Back to the Hotel Empress Zoe in Istanbul to take a picture of Suleyman Buwt, the young man on duty and the maker of very good gin and tonics. He already had my bags brought to the lobby (good thing - coming down all those stairs would have been difficult). Suleyman called a taxi to the airport for me, and once again it arrived 15 seconds later (I do not know where they live or circle but it must be close).
Trip to the airport takes 30 minutes and costs about $15. Taxi drivers are possessed and fear nothing - good idea not to rent a car in Istanbul. Walk or take taxis - both could get you killed but not as fast as driving.
The domestic airline terminal is Spartan, clean, easy to figure out, and mostly empty. Check in is 1 hour prior to departure for domestic flights (I am traveling Turkish Airlines) - no lines today so check-in took all of 2 minutes. Gate 105 for Izmir was about 100 feet from the check-in desk. Got some Turkish lire from the ATM machine at the airport, boarded my flight (Boeing 737 about half full) and as I write, I am about half way to Izmir (a 50 minute flight from Istanbul). I love having a laptop - I process my photos daily, update my records, write my notes, and send messages - I do not know how I would have managed without it. In 30 minutes I will be in Izmir and rent a car for the drive to Bergama - I am certain there will be a story.
Ten hours have passed since my last sentence. I landed safely - I picked up my rental car - I drove to Bergama (150 kilometers) - I found my hotel - I went to the theatre at Pergamum - took 256 photographs (I am not kidding) - had dinner - found a Roman theatre I was unaware of in Bergama, the Asklepieion (I thought it was originally a Roman health spa, but the folks in Bergama turned it into a theatre) and watched part of a musical performance being performed at the recently renovated outdoor theatre (also took pictures). I also met a nice young man who wanted to tell me the history of the Asklepieion. He had a multi-lingual Bergama City Brochure that had information on not only Asklepieion but on Pergamon, and he wanted me to take it to be photocopied so I could take it with me. I did and now I am back at my $15 a night pension in the heart of Old Bergama.
Driving in Turkey (this is for Betty): The highways in Turkey are remarkably safe. The drivers are kind, respectful, extremely courteous, and always mindful of the rules and regulation governing road etiquette. The highways are very well marked and my hotel in Bergama was extremely easy to find.
Now the truth (Betty, do not read this section): Picture me in a bright red, five-speed Fiat - air-conditioner blazing, zipping through down-town Izmir at 85 kilometers per hour, trying to make sense out of a system of driving that involves no known appreciation for life or the pursuit of aging. Picture a road system that basically leans towards people driving on the right side of the road but allows drivers to use their better judgment when it comes to right-of-way. Remember, this is a land where men shoot guns in the air when they are happy, when they are sad, and when they are bored. The Turks have adapted the automobile to serve much the same purpose: Car horns, turn signals, headlights, and bullets all serve the same function - you use them to express yourself, and the Turkish people are a very expressive people. Picture a land where cars, trucks, tractors, horses, and cows all use the same roads.
Now mind you I am very new at this, but it seems that you find destinations in Turkey by dead reckoning. When I picked up my car, the Avis dealer asked where I was going. I told him Bergama. He said, "Go toward Canakkale." When I told him I was not going to Canakkale, he replied that both cities were in the same direction but about 300 kilometers apart - well, I did drive towards Canakkale, and I found Bergama, so who am I to question a working system. Actually, (Betty, you can read this part) if you can drive in Seattle, Chicago, or any major city, you will have no problem driving in Turkey (Well, there is this tractor and horse thing) but aside from unusual vehicles on the roads and random expressions of joy, sadness, and boredom from fellow drivers, driving in Turkey is much like driving in Walla Walla.
I love Turkey: Everyone who I have met has been kind, friendly and helpful (this is not sarcasm). Aydin Sengul, the owner of the small pension in Bergama where I am staying (The Pension Athena), not only gave me his very best room but drove me to the ruins at Pergamum, introduced me to his friends who work for the museum at the site, and had them call him when I had finished my photography so he could return to pick me up. Adin's friends at the museum wanted me to see a new book by a German scholar on Pergamum and took my e-mail address so they could notify me when the English version comes out. Children approach me every day to practice their English; strangers will offer assistance (some are actually carpet salesmen in disguise, but most are not), and the people at hotels, shops, and restaurants where you are doing business adopt you as their guest and offer you the assistance you would expect from a family member. I am certain I will meet less perfect strangers as my trip progresses, but for the moment I really like the people here.
Today, the real work began - Pergamum has been photographed. Although I have nine theatres to go, if it started raining tomorrow I would still consider my trip a success. Pergamum was incredible. I do not know if my photographs can possibly do it justice. It is like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon - Being there is so awe inspiring that you want to capture the experience on film but know you will never capture the majesty of the moment. How do you capture 2000 years of history? How do you record the heat and the smells and the sounds at a monumental achievement that has been slowly crumbling for thousands of years? How do you make sense of a vista that extends for a hundred miles? I really don't think I can, but don't tell the folks at Whitman who granted me a sabbatical so I could try.
Tomorrow I drive to Selcuk - pray for me.
Your driving certified, recorder of Turkish artifacts of the theatre kind,

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