Goodbye to Erzincan

I left Erzincan a month ago during the opening ceremonies of the European Paragliding Championship. Pilots from all over the world flooded into the small city and the rare event of hearing foreign languages became common. My celebrity status as the only blond in town became severely jeopardized. I feared the loss of the giggles and whispers of high-school girls as I walked by. Then again, I was leaving, so let the foreigners have the city.Before leaving, however, I sat down with some of the pilots. The competition is based on who can fly a course the fastest, much like a cross-country race, and not on aerobatics and tricks. The pilot who I was talking to, a middle-aged Czech man, told me that the pilots ride updrafts, the same as birds, to maintain height. One of his friends, he told me, flew the Alps. 500 km of the Alps. Without landing. That’s a little bit further than Boston to Philadelphia. The pilot said that the harder job was to be the friend in the car, trying to follow his buddy in the sky and find roads around and through the mountains. I believe it.

The championship opened with music and dancing, fly-bys by single prop planes, opening speeches, a jump by all the pilots and a remote-control plane demonstration. The plane operator, however, got a little over-zealous and couldn’t pull his plane out of a dive he sent it into and it ended up crashing full-tilt next to an old woman who had to be sent to the hospital (she was fine).

Anyways, I have left Erzincan. Hoşçakal.


Turkish Dancing

This is not the dance that I mentioned before. This is something totally different, foreign and rad!




Driving around blasting music from speakers strapped to the top of a van and honking your horn at people is not a legitimate campaign strategy, Turkey.

Brain Salad

Add a little salt and lemon. . . and it still tastes like brains.

Concerning Dogs

Dogs in Turkey, or at least Eastern Turkey, are not pets. Maybe when they were puppies they were pets. Somebody might have cooed over it, and brought it home. But then the puppy grew up. And the person didn’t want it anymore. So they put it out on the street.

In the city, this isn’t a problem. The street dogs pretty much stay out of your way. They are usually single dogs just hoping to grab a scrap of food. But you hiss at them, they put their head down, cower, and run away.

Outside the city, however, on the outskirts where I live, it’s a different story. The one streetlamp flickers, and dies and you are left with nothing but the darkness. The winds howls louder and screams through the cracks in your walls. Out here in the wilds, the badlands, the dogs are smarter. They understand the sway that comes with rolling deep. Here they band together into packs, ferocious packs that defend their territory fiercely with teeth and claws.

The problem is, they are dogs, and semi-nomadic. And every day you come home whistling jauntily to yourself and enjoying the sweet smell of the lilacs. Then one day your whistle is cut short by a bay and that means there are about ten feral dogs sitting on your stoop and you’d better high-tail it outta there.

It had been a while since I had run into a pack of dogs, and I had all but forgotten about them when I invited a friend to come for a walk around my neighborhood. My neighborhood consists of about ten houses scattered between recently plowed fields, a mosque, a derelict swimming pool and a copse of pines.  It was overcast, and the rain hadn’t yet decided if it was worth its time to fall when she stepped off the bus in her pink high-heels. Under her eyes, she had stenciled pink to match. Her face was thin, and her mouth lean. A greedy regard contradicted her listless eyes.

We wandered to the swimming pool, and she joked about pushing me in the rusty water. We picked dandelion puffs and made wishes on the seeds. Then the rain started.

It started softly, a whisper, a warning, and we ignored it, ambling farther and into the pastureland. Then, as if demanding to be heeded, it shouted out in a great torrent. With our jackets over our heads, we sought shelter in a nearby shed, a plank outhouse with two walls, but most importantly, a roof. The floor was covered with rose bush seedlings, ready to be planted in the fields on either side of us. Behind the shed ran an irrigation channel abutted by a meadow of high grass.

It was warm in the shed, and the rain spoke more tenderly on the tin roof above us.

Slowly the day was dying, however, and darkness grew from the fields. We decided it was time to brave the rain, and prepared to step out. The darkness had other plans. Down the path, the only path between the raw, muddy fields, came a dog trotting. On his heels came the pack, motley and grinning. And there, in the road, they rested. They did not mind the rain, they fought each other and tussled or lay panting. Always there was one, sitting on his haunches, staring at us, daring us.

And we dared. I picked up a pipe and we started edging our way down the path. Slowly, quietly, we picked our way. Her ankles buckled when her heels slipped on the loose stones. Quietly! Still the dog stared. Now another was watching us. We stepped forward. Too close. A volley of growls and brays echoed off the shed. The pack took a step forward. We stepped backward. And again. Hastily, but trying not to step nervously. The pack sat, waiting, and we retreated into the shed.

Night had enclosed the shed, and us in it. Where once it was warm, the chilly effect of damp clothes had taken hold. It was time to leave. With the path closed to us, we turned to the fields. With a wary eye on the dogs, we stepped into the soft earth and it immediately swallowed our feet up to the ankles. We stopped and she pulled out a shoe-less foot. This was not going to work. The dogs were circling. I handed her the pipe and she jumped up on my back and we shot out into the field. With each step my feet sank and I had to strain to slurp them out. Luckily, the dogs were content to watch us go, most likely laughing to themselves. And we plodded on through the field, and the night welcomed us into its dark embrace.


Location: Termessos, Turkey

The past weekend most of the Fulbright ETAs in Turkey gathered in Antalya for an end-of-the-year meeting. As would be expected we had many deep conversations, spanning in scope from politics to education to philosophy. Probably the most important question that we pondered, however, was posed as we wandered lost in the winding alleys of the old town. It was this: which Harrison Ford character would you most want to be? Although there was a vote for Rick Deckard, Indiana Jones finally trumped Han Solo in a heated debate, though most of the participants agreed that they excluded the newest Jones movie from their decision. So, in the spirit of things, we decided to make like Indy and go look for treasure in some nearby ruins.

We found no treasure, per se, but many ruins. Perched high above the outskirts of Antalya was the ancient Pisidian city of Termessos. You may know it from, well, nothing. I had never heard of it before. But it is one of the most well-preserved sites in Turkey, and one of the more amazing sites that I have been to. Legend has that it was founded by the Greek hero Bellerophon.

For better or worse, Turkey does not have the same attitude towards historical sites as many western countries do. Across the entire city, there was not one rope, chain or sign saying, “stay off our priceless history.” There was one lethargic guard at the bottom of the trail who neglected to even look at our tickets. And the site being relatively remote, we had it pretty much to ourselves. So we lost no time jumping up on the ruins and scrambling over them (in a culturally sensitive way, of course). We were kings and emperors -proclaiming our might from high on top the walls of the library- and slaves and prisoners -locked in the cisterns in the belly of the city and sacrificed on stone tablets.

I have no idea if the Pisidians kept slaves or made sacrifices.

What I do know, however, is that the city was such a stronghold high in the mountains -much like Machu Picchu- that it was nearly impossible to conquer. Even Alexander the Great, passing through in 333 BC realized the location was insurmountable and did not even attempt to attack Termessos.

After hours traipsing around, we called it a day and headed back into town. And, like the good adventurers we are, we slept the whole ride back.

One of these doors leads to Narnia, the other to the underworld. Choose wisely.