Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some Sounds of Sirince

 Sirince Village as seen from our breakfast nook and...
the nook itself

We were in Turkey for less than three weeks, and I shall not be so preposterous as to suggest that such a brief experience left me with any reliable understanding of the place.  It left, instead, very vivid impressions; and vivid impressions may be the better stuff of blog entries.  I, at least, tire of reading essays by people who “understand” things.  Our time was divided, more or less equally, among four of the more prominent tourist areas: the archaeological sites around Kusadasi on the Aegean, Cappadocia, Antalya (roughly the Turkish Riviera), and Istanbul.  With the help of some of Joan’s splendid photographs I’ll try to touch on each of them over the next few weeks.

            The classical remains in Turkey are opulent, but the jewel in the crown must surely be Ephesus, an archaeological site nearly overwhelming in its size, variety, and impressiveness.  But there are many more in Ionia alone, including Priene, Miletus, and Didyma.  We wanted to see them all, but so did several thousand other people; under these circumstances we wanted a relatively quiet and unfrequented “home base” from which we could strike out each day, and to which we could retreat in the evenings.  We found it in Sirince village, up a winding mountain road for Sel├žuk (the modern version of Ephesus).

             Library of Ephesus

Visiting Scholar at Library

The term “ethnic cleansing” became malodorous in the 1990s, but in earlier times it was regarded as an admirable ideal by such high-minded outfits as the Presidium of the USSR, the British Empire, and the League of Nations.  Following the horrors of the Great War, the League promulgated a famous “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations”.  There were large numbers of Orthodox Christians living in Turkey, and large numbers of Muslims living in Greece.  “Oil and water,” said the League of Nations.  “A powderkeg waiting for a lighted match.”  So they took some preventive care.

            The first article of the Convention reads as follows: “As from the 1st May, 1923, there shall take place a compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Moslem religion established in Greek territory.  These persons shall not return to live in Turkey or Greece respectively without the authorization of the Turkish Government or of the Greek Government respectively.”
Some Franciscans and Others at the Virgin Mary's House (suburban Ephesus)

            In 1923 the entire population of Sirince, an agricultural village with a substantial number of houses and a big Orthodox church, was forced to remove to European Greece.  There were many such, including, of course, Turkish villages in Greece.  That was Sirince’s past.  Its present can probably be summed up in the single word “tourism.”  And a lovely tourist spot it is.

            Wherever we traveled in Turkey, the place exercised the senses.  The exercise was usually pleasant, though if you are still using a drainage system put in place in the Hellenistic Age you may have to tolerate a whiff or two of Antiquity from time to time.   The countryside—whether in the green luxuriance of the western coastal hills or the strange, arid concavities of Cappadocia—is visually vivid and arresting.  You have probably already heard a good deal about the subtle succulence of the Turkish cuisine, which achieves the improbable trifecta of being exotic, scrumptious, and healthy.  But my most lasting sensory impression of beautiful Sirince concerned the place’s sounds.

            The overnight flight from New York to Istanbul requires the better part of ten sleepless hours.  At Istanbul airport we had to hustle to buy our visas (an efficient and fairly inoffensive shakedown) before catching a connecting flight to Izmir (ancient Smyrna).  By the end of the day I was ready for the sack, and might have stayed in it longer than usual had I not been summoned to sentience about four in the morning, by the very loud, but also very beautiful Arabic chanting emanating from the nearby mosque.  This was a recording.  There have to be some real-life muezzins somewhere, but we never encountered one.  They cannot all be in a recording studio in Mecca, can they?  The theory seems to be that if you can have some Enrico Caruso tapes and a powerful amplifier, why bother with local talent.  There are five daily calls to prayer, and they are so engrained in the social fabric as literally to have become background noise.  The only people who seem actually to hear them are tourists—sort of like the police and ambulance sirens in New York, which only non-New Yorkers hear.

            Later in the morning—if five a.m. can be called “late”—began a pleasing symphony of animal noises.  They bray of a donkey is not a sound soon forgotten.  The last time I had heard one was probably forty years ago.  Well, it turns out that donkeys still exist, and they still bray.  We have a pretty fair “dawn chorus” even here in suburban New Jersey, but Sirince had a huge avian choral society in which the domestic rooster vied to a standoff with the twotteromg rooftop sparrows and quacking ducks.  Dogs barked.  Goat-bells tinkled.  Soon it would be time for breakfast—and what a breakfast!