Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Göreme ... Days of Wonder

I arrived in Göreme this morning after a long bus ride. The bus had a digital temperature gauge above the driver's head, and as we up onto the high Anatolian Plain I watched it slowly drop, from a tolerable 20 degrees C to a painful 3. I entertained and tortured myself by converting the temp to Fahrenheit in my mind. As if I needed to do that; 3 is cold in any system.

We entered Cappadocia at dawn, and what a surreal country this this. It reminds me of the American West - not note for note so much as for the way that wind, rain, and time have created a fantastic geography out of the land. But the we think of the West as untouched, and Cappadocia has been inhabited since the dawn of memory. This land has been touched. Their are monasteries carved into the cliff walls, valleys full of ancient cave churches, labyrinthian underground cities, and rock outcroppings that have been hollowed out into multi-storied dwellings. It's all quite stunning. I'll post pictures as soon as I can, maybe tonight; but know that none of my shots can do this place justice. Ansel Adams might have been able to handle this landscape; I'm not sure who else could.

I had intended to had to a backpackers' hostel and rejoin the western world for a spell. But at the last minute I was feeling contrary (I'm still not sure if that's an asset or a character flaw) and picked a pension that wasn't in any of the guidebooks. Their flyer had a picture of an amazing breakfast spread, and I'll always be a slave to my stomach. And at first I thought I had made a horrible mistake. It was pretty, sure - a mix of ancient cave dwellings, Ottoman houses, and small turn of the century buildings, all connected by ladders and tunnels and surrounding a small garden courtyard. And all lacking central heating. I sat alone in the common room ( a 6th Century cave that was once a shrine) for an hour, and was ready to bolt when the other guests woke up and breakfast was served.

The other guests were a German diplomat, his wife, and their two friends from Hanover. They were great. These were the happy, joking, fun loving kind of Germans - not a hint of post-modern angst in the bunch (yeah, I'm full of stereotypes these days). And it turns out that this pension is famous among the diplomatic community in Ankara for having the best breakfasts in Cappadocia.

And oh baby what a spread it was. There was the standard Turkish morning fare: olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, and eggs. There were local cheeses, fresh butter (when I open my restaurant I want my own cow so I can serve guests fresh butter), thick yogurt, chunks of honeycomb, a grape syrup, and tahini that the owner's mother had pounded herself. An Anatolian tradition is to mix the grape syrup and tahini together; the result was close to good old PB&J. And all of this came from their garden. Their family has lived in this home for 400 years - I guess they've got it down.

I spent the afternoon walking through Göreme Valley. This was a center of Christian activity from the second century on. The other early communities in Syria and Egypt separated the devout from the citizen. Cappadocia developed a more communal form of worship, guided by Saints Basil of Kayseri, his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, and George (of dragon-slaying fame) of Nazianus. Basil's teching (and I'm stealing this from the brochure) was: if a man has one piece of bread in a famine, he should give half to his fellow man, and trust that God will take care of him.

The community at Göreme carved dozens, maybe hundreds, of churches and houses into the rock wall. Some are decorated with primitive, almost pagan, designs in red ochre. Some have been painted floor to ceiling with brilliant frescoes by unknown Michelangelo's. I was in complete and unrepentant awe. This is one of the wonders of the world. Add it to your list of things to see before you die.

The only conflict I'm facing now is: Is having the best breakfast in the region a fair tradeoff for having glacially cold showers in the mornings? I'll give it one more night.

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