I spent the afternoon exploring Derinkuyu, a 4000 year old underground city. Hittite villages started building down as a defense against invaders. Later kingdoms kept up the practice, and soon the dwellings became massive underground cities, complete with granaries, wineries, corals for animals, and schools. Giant stone wheels could be rolled to block the entry to each deeper level. There are 36 underground cities known, and rumors of countless others. From the top they look like nothing more than a hole in the ground. Below, they could shelter thousands for up to six months. Seven stories have been excavated at Derinkuyu so far, to a depth of 60 meters.
It took awhile to get there. I got brave and left with no guidebook or phrasebook - I wanted to blend, and I wanted to test myself. I did alright. Outside the tourist areas people are very patient with my stumbling Turkish. Word order is my current problem - you throw all your nouns up front, tag on the proper ending, and save the verb for last. Any sentence longer than four or five words throws me completely.
The bus passed through some areas I want to explore later. I transferred in Nevşehir, which looked as non-descript as provincial capitals everywhere. Then we headed across the countryside to Derinkuyu. There were farms stretching to the horizon, which surprised me. The soil does not look capable of supporting life. It is all sand and dust, and I can't imagine it holding any water. There is not a trace of the rich humus we had in the Midwest. And yet the soil is rich - these farms produce eggplant, chiles, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, olives, beans, lentils, cucumbers, and citrus in abundance. Turkey is one of the few countries self-supporting in agriculture. And somewhere there must be miles of wheat. I've been eating about a loaf of bread a day.
Derinkuyu itself was a small desert town, hot, dry, and poor. The plazas were full of unemployed men in dusty sport coats fingering their prayer beads and watching the world pass by. I walked around for five minutes, then headed underground.
I spent about two hours exploring the city. There were plenty of unmarked and unlit passages heading off into the darkness. For once I followed the correct path.
Other, random notes:
- I have been emailing you all! I swear!
- What we call Korean Bars the Turks call Bars American. No one can explain to me why this is. The hostesses are all Russian; I say we petition for a name change.
- Turkey is far more secular than the US. People I've met are quite adamant that religion and politics don't mix, and that horrors always result when they are mixed. The threat here is not from Political Islam. It is from the Deep State - reactionary forces in the government that threaten openness and modernization.
- By the same reasoning, the conflict between Israel and Palestine is inevitable, as both are states based upon religion and ethnicity. There are a lot of Israeli tourists here, and everyone seems to welcome them quite openly.
- There are 37 Muslim sects in Turkey, all co-existing. In Ottoman times there were also many Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Italians, Russians, and English here. When our history books mention the Ottoman Empire - if they mention it at all - they always refer to it as the 'sick man of Europe.' People here remember it differently - for them the Ottoman times were a 700 year era of peace. This ended, as so much else in the world did, with the First World War. Nationalism reared it's ugly head, and Turkey was the scene of the century's first genocide.
- It was the Deep State that tried to prosecute a gay and lesbian group earlier this year for 'promoting immorality' (there are no anti-gay laws on the books). I'm not sure how the political system here works: the elected government in Ankara opposed the prosecutor. The judge just threw out the case, declaring that homosexuality was neither a disorder nor immoral.
- A more serious threat to modernization is a prosecutor's case against the novelist Orhan Pamuk for 'insulting the state' for discussing crimes against Armenians and Kurds. Again, the government opposes the prosecution. Jailing the country's premier novelist would, I am sure, completely KO Turkey's chances of joining the EU this round.
- I have never eaten so many tomatoes in my life - they are part of every meal. I might go into withdrawal back in Hawaii.
- The kids here all have cell phones, and send each other dirty pictures. The young guys fill the internet cafes every night, playing multi-player video games and talking in the chat rooms. The online generation is truly international.
- In Marmaris, on the coast, it is common for English widows marry young Turkish men. The men get a visa for the UK. You know what the widows get.