Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Posting From Overseas

I'm writing this update from the ship as we depart from Kusadasi, Turkey. I won't be able to post it until the morning (which will mean it is late the previous night in the US... for I am a time traveller). I don't particularly like writing much about my own life or experiences, but I suppose I might be indulged to share the interesting things I have seen, heard, tasted, and even smelled over the past two weeks or so.

Rather than sum up everything we have done in Rome, Greece, and Croatia (which can be read on my wife's blog, at any rate), I would like to focus on our trip today to Turkey.

For one thing, the bus that took us to Ephesus had a Turkish rug down the aisle (or as they call it here, “a rug”). Before seeing Ephesus, we made a scheduled stop at a spot that the locals would love for us to believe was the Virgin Mary's house.

Now, I believe Yeshua (Jesus) was a real person, even though there is evidence suggesting the contrary (though they are mostly just inconsistencies which suggest embellishment, not a completely creative and conspiratorial lie). However, in this part of the world, there is not only a vested religious interest in attributing many things to him and and his followers, there is also quite a lucrative economic interest.

Perhaps a little background on Mary's house would be beneficial, so that the reader may make a judgment for themselves. If the details are slightly off, I apologize, as I must go completely by memory as I write this offline without the benefit of research and verification (internet access is a couple dollars a minute, so I will only be online long enough to paste this post from a word document). However, I have more than captured the gist of it all.

In the 19th century, a German nun had a dream in which she saw a woman who instructed her that she was Mary. This vision also instructed her that her final home was located in Turkey, atop a mountain in Ephesus.

Here is where my skepticism begins, as it clearly states this fact in the Bible, and while Christians are no good at acting as the Bible instructs, they are quite good at latching onto minor details and obsessing on them as absolute truth. She no doubt read that Mary was taken by the apostle John to Ephesus.

If she had pinpointed some spot, or even chosen a single mountain or hill, I might be more impressed. However, German archeologists dug atop several mountains (as there are quite a few nearby) before stumbling upon the foundations of a modest home overlooking ancient Ephesus. The site was quickly proclaimed to be “Mary's Home,” despite nothing being found there beyond some pottery and less than a foot of stone foundation.

A stone house was quickly erected, and a visit by a pope found no evidence that could disprove its legitimacy. As in all things religious, it was determined real because it was not proven fake. Pope John Paul II declared the location a place of pilgrimage, and Christians of every persuasion have been duped into trudging through the inauspicious fabrication ever since.

Perhaps the most interesting point is that Eriksson, the cellphone company, recently paid for many of the modern renovations, and perhaps even the building of the restaurant and gift shops nearby. In exchange, they were permitted to erect a cell phone tower atop the mountain. Tasteful...

The house was quite small. It had two doors and the building itself was arranged in the shape of an “L.” There was a large picture of Mary behind an altar, and gold or bronze incense burners hung about the room. A nun sat inside next to the altar, saying the rosary. Soft choral music was playing. I have no pictures of the inside, as video and photography was not permitted (however, I'm sure a quick Google search will yield plenty of photos). In fact, I cannot post any pictures until I return, as I left my camera's transfer cord at home. On a side note, my camera also ran out of batteries at the Vatican just as we entered the Sistine Chapel, so I lack any photos of that or St. Peter's Basilica.

There is also a wall at the Virgin Mary's house where the faithful—and I suppose even the unfaithful—may write something on a piece of rice paper or cloth (I was unsure) and tie it to a wall. My wife remarked that the practice is much akin to that which is performed at the Wailing Wall. At regular intervals, the caretakers of the house light the wall ablaze, “sending the prayers up to heaven.” This is a far more elegant solution to the accumulation than the rabbis who sweep up and throw away the pieces of paper that fall out of the wall in Jerusalem. I will post a picture of this wall with all my other photos when I get home.

After travelling down the mountain by bus, we got out again at the entrance to Ephesus. The city is quite old, having been established 3000 years ago and occupied until the 8th century CE. In its nearly two millennia of activity, it was first a Greek colony, then a Roman city, and finally it passed into the hands of the Byzantines. It fell into disuse when the sea receded, turning the once powerful port city into a malaria infested marshland.

As it fell into disuse, and the surrounding mountains being stripped of their trees (likely for use in fueling the public baths), it was only a matter of time before mudslides from the mountains flanking the city on either side buried the ruins, which had been toppled by earthquakes.

My wife and I took many pictures, and she bought a beautiful shawl in the bazaar outside Ephesus. The cruise ship's literature extolled the Turkish merchants for their “warm hospitality” and “friendly banter,” which turned out to be euphemisms for pushiness. My grandmother explained it best when she said it reminded her of shopping in Mexico, for they both have a sort of desperate sales pitch. It was the first country that took American dollars in addition to Euros.

After walking through Ephesus, we hopped back on the bus which took us to a rug shop where they did weaving on-site. We were shown tens of thousands of dollars worth of rugs. My wife was given a glass of apple tea, and I had a glass of Coca-Cola—I don't drink wine, tea, coffee, or “Lion's Milk,” a local hard liquor (the other choices). By the end of the demonstration, it quickly turned into the all-too-familiar sales pitch we have become accustomed to. We politely made our escape, even though the “exit” was on the other side of the shop from the entrance, forcing us to walk through a jewelry section.

We walked around another bazaar, and my wife bought a small, turquoise colored ceramic jar. We made our way back to the ship, and along the way saw cigarettes being sold. I wanted to take a picture, but someone in the store came up and stopped me. There was a warning in big, bold letters at the bottom which read “Smoking Kills.” We're talking a HUGE warning label, which took up a third of the carton's display side.

Earlier in the day, we shared an elevator with former UN ambassador John Bolton. There is a large Republican conference (the Nation Review) being held on the ship this week, and we've seen “the Walrus,” as I like to call him, several time. Supposedly, Karl Rove is on board, but that triple-chinned bastard must order a lot of room service because we never see him. We also saw John Bolton at the Virgin Mary's house, and several times previously while eating. He's kind of like a real-life version of Waldo now.

Leave it to Republicans to hold their group meetings in foreign countries, spending their money outside the US while their home wallows in the worst economic situation in generations.

I was told by our amicable and Muslim tour guide to pass along the knowledge that Turkey is not like most nations that are predominantly Islamic. Though the population is 90% Muslim, they are quite progressive. They sell alcohol openly, have bikini clad women on beautiful beaches, and the tour guide's brother married a Jew while in America and plan to raise their child in typical Jewish fashion in Instanbul.

This is nice and all, but I will point out that the travel information provided by the US informed us that criticizing the Turkish government is a crime. So I will not laud them as being truly free until I have time to adequately research the matter, and I am certainly not qualified to speak on their attempts to join the EU. However, they were as hospitable as any other port we have visited.

I believe this will be my only post until my stay abroad comes to an end in 4-5 days. I'm a little confused on the time loss/gain, and I am also unsure of when I will be prepared to post again even after we return, as I have quite a few things to take care of upon arriving home. However, the time away has provided me with quite a few insights, and I have filled half my moleskine notebook with thoughts I am looking forward to sharing here.


  1. Interesting post. I'm eager to hear more or your insights when you return and are settled in from your trip.

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