Leaving home: two weeks in Turkey

In shallow Tuz Golu (Salt Lake)

In shallow Tuz Golu (Salt Lake)

We’re back from two wonderful weeks in Turkey, a trip we’d thought about taking for some time. Funny thing about me, though, as much as I’d looked forward to the trip, the week before leaving, I could hardly bear the thought of it. Whatever possessed us? and similar thoughts bothered me while I made lists and packed and counted down to departure. H. laughed at me, because it happens every time. I’m such a homebody, that’s the fact of it, and in a strange and completely unnecessary way I feel as  long as one of us is here–in this particular house we call home–our lives and our children’s will keep orbiting as they should. (The children will laugh at this too, for they’ve all circled their own places for years by now!) The minute we’re off the driveway, I’m fine. Nothing I can do about it now, I think, and since there really isn’t, I leave physically and mentally and I don’t worry about the house either.

Now we’re back, and this happens too: we’re in a daze and still overwhelmed by this thing that was two weeks in Turkey, both of us dreaming strange dreams about it nights–for which we can probably blame jet lag–and finding ourselves stuttering to answer friendly questions about how it was and highlights and so on. How was it? Great. A fascinating country. So many layers of history. So much beauty. Diversity. An excellent guide. Highlights? Istanbul, the Ataturk mausoleum, Cappadocia, Antalya, the Mediterranean Sea, Aspendos, Gallipoli, minarets (the basic shape, the variety). And more.

But the what. I’ve been thinking about the what of travel: what it is, what it does. We had some time to kill in Toronto on the way over, so I sat there googling combinations of home and travel and leaving one’s center–the stuff that always exercises me before I leave, per above–because I thought perhaps it was high time to figure out (again) why this venture had, in fact, possessed us. (Like that woman walking the Camino de Santiago who said, “They told me I’d find the answer here. Then I realized I didn’t have the question!)

I landed at quotes by travel writer Pico Iyer, and he was going on about travelling to lose ourselves and travelling to find ourselves and he said “home lies in the things you carry with you everywhere and not the ones that tie you down,” and he also said, “the state of foreignness is the closest thing I know to home.” Well, maybe for him, but for me, nope, nope, nope, and nope. But then he said (in the row of quotes, that is) that we travel to open our hearts and we come with our ignorance and we “become young fools again” and we “get taken in” and “fall in love,” all of which sounded plausible enough.

I think it’s a lot like reading a really gripping book and when you lift your head from the last page you realize it’s dusk and the house is cold, that’s how thoroughly elsewhere you’ve been.  Or watching a powerful movie and you step out of the theatre stunned and disoriented, and then you think about the story for days. Book or movie, it touches you and takes you in new directions, in terms of your inner life or knowledge or actions. You’ve been immersed in another story, not your own. But then when you’re done with it and home again in your life, you discover that other story has come along and is part of you.

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Oh to be as wise and witty and holy a fool as Nasreddin Hodya, Turkey’s legendary trickster figure!

Travel (for me) leaves home. Lines of coaches disgorging tourists with their cameras and varying degrees of ignorance and misperception can be caricatured easily enough, but nevertheless, a tour is a narrative, a choreography of getting on and off and looking and listening and eating and sleeping, of landscape and ruins and wonders and other people, a story of short intense chapters, and it’s not the home-ness of it that renders it so compelling, but the un-homeness of it all, the wrenching away into another account of life altogether. Love, like Iyer said, and its “heightened state of awareness.” Then it’s over, and you’re home, and you realize you’re still in thrall to it, you’ve been taken in, you were younger for a while. Young happy fools, you are, beguiled by the complex story of another place, which you’ll be thinking about for quite some time.

———-

Below, if you’re interested, 16 photos as a tiny peek into our trip, along with the reason I selected each.

This is a view of Istanbul from Topakapi Palace, and I think the reason I especially like it is because it's not a very good photo, technically, but for that reason it looks kind of painterly and (to me) magical and mysterious.

Because this view of Istanbul from the Topakapi Palace isn’t quite focused properly or it was hazy or something, but to me it looks kind of painterly and mysterious, even otherworldly.

The woman on the right, in this mosaic in Hagia Sophia? Empress Zoe. Because I want to learn more the her and sister Theodora. Two powerful women, but friends, it seems, they were not. not.

Because I’m curious about the woman on the right of this mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Empress Zoe, and her sister Theodora: powerful women, I gather, and also powerful rivals.

I don't care for Turkish Delight, actually, but it certainly looks appealing. I wonder if C.S. Lewis was being subconsciously or consciously racist by having Edmund switch loyalties to Aslan all for the taste of Turkish Delight?

Because, while I’m not fond of Turkish Delight,it certainly looks appealing.At Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.  (Sudden thought: Was C.S. Lewis being subconsciously or consciously racist by having Edmund switch loyalties from Aslan to the White Witch over his desire for Turkish Delight in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”?)

Because I love this scene of three older women reading in a window nook in Bursa's Grand Mosque. I see private devotion but a sense of community, peace, ease, beauty. H.  grabbed this for me on his cellphone at a bit of a remove after I spotted and had watched them awhile.

Because I love this scene of three older women reading in a window nook in Bursa’s Grand Mosque. I see individual devotion but community too, concentration, intention, purpose, beauty. H. grabbed this for me on his cell at a bit of a remove after I had spotted and was intrigued by them.

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Because the mausoleum of Turkey’s “father founder” Ataturk is impressive, and because I love the color of the stone. Like earth and grain and sun all mixed together.

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Because you see pictures of him –Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey–everywhere.

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Because it’s Goreme, site of the fascinating rock chapels, in Cappadocia, and because the guy lower right was part of our group. (Tourists like to buy hats),

Because this Turkey trip was our 40th wedding anniversary to each other, and here we are, so far so good, at the family grouping in the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia.

Because this Turkey trip was our 40th anniversary gift to each other, and here we are, so far so good, at the family grouping in the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia.

Because this old Roman theatre at Aspendos was amazing. (We saw a lot of ruins, most of them more ruined than this, however.)

Because this old Roman theatre at Aspendos was amazing. (We saw a lot of ruins, most of them more ruined than this, however.)

Perge. Because we really did see a lot of evacations and ruins of earlier civilizations.

Because we really did see a lot of evacations and ruins of earlier civilizations. These are Roman and at Perge, I believe.

Because this street scene in Antalya is so pretty, and the weather was so nice, and it was a leisurely, happy day.

Because this scene in Antalya was so pretty, and the weather was warm and sunny and it was a day at leisure in which we wandered around the narrow streets of Old Town and made some interesting discoveries and later that day, swam in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Because it’s the Mediterranean Sea and I grew up on its blue on Sunday school maps, and now I was in it, here, at Antalya.

Because I like biblical Philip, and this, apparently, is his tomb; in Hierapolis.

Because I like biblical Philip, and this, apparently, is his tomb; in Hierapolis.

Because the war memorials at Gallipoli -- both Turkish and Anzac -- were emotional (feelings of both sadness and anger) and I'm always interested in what families chose as epitaphs.

Because the war memorials at Gallipoli — both Turkish and Anzac — were emotional (feelings of both sadness and anger) and I’m interested in what families chose as epitaphs for their dead sons.

Because I'm still smiling over this one: she was an old woman, clearly, an old, hardworking, peasant woman, when she suddenly whipped out a cell phone to answer it and sat down to chat. But why not? Why shouldn't she have a cell phone before I do?

Because I’m still smiling over this one: she was an old woman, clearly, an old, hardworking, peasant woman, when she suddenly whipped out a cell phone to answer it and sat down to chat. But why not? Why shouldn’t she have a cell phone before I do?

Because minarets feature  so frequently, these two, for example, from a mosque on the Bosporous.

Because minarets feature so frequently. These two, for example, from a mosque on the Bosporous.

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Eleanor Catton on character

Eleanor Catton, the youngest person ever to win the Man Booker prize (at 28)–this for the longest book ever to win it, the 800+ page The Luminaries–was in Winnipeg recently to kick off the Winnipeg International Writers Festival (aka Thin Air). I enjoyed hearing her read and be interviewed.

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Eleanor Catton at Thin Air 2014

An hour allows only impressions, of course, but in reading about her elsewhere I find my impressions corroborated: Catton is a hugely intelligent and articulate young woman with a friendly, open demeanor. Her life has been irretrievably altered by the fame and money the Booker confers (one feels almost anxious for her sake), but she seems quite solidly grounded. Perhaps her years of immersion in a novel about the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand, with a host of characters who  feel they’ll be changed if only they strike gold, will stand her in good stead. “Money,” she told us, “is incapable of transforming us; only love can.”

Catton spoke at some length about how she constructed her story around the Zodiac, working “from the archetypes outward,” and the interaction of the twelve signs and seven planets. What I took away from this, and appreciated, was her emphasis on knowing thoroughly one’s characters, as well as noticing the beauty of structure and patterns and various schemes by which we organize meaning and relationships. (For what it’s worth, I’ve found the Enneagram useful for going deeper into my fictional characters once they present themselves to me—to consider their underlying motivations, their ways of being healthy, their ways of being unhealthy, and so on.) An archetype is a mold or form within which to work, said Catton, in contrast to a stereotype which reduces people to one trait.

“It’s important to love your characters,” she said further; writers shouldn’t condescend to them. “If you can get the reader to fall in love with a character, you’re giving the greatest pleasure a reader can have.”

Although I haven’t read The Luminaries yet, I’ll watch for “twinship” when I do, which Catton said is at the heart of the novel. She’s interested in mirror opposites, the interplay of fate and will, sale versus gifts, and value versus worth.

 

 

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Seven in one blow: Mierau, Toews, and other recommends

We’ve  just spent several days at Hecla Island, probably our last camping trip of the year. The routines and menus of these outings are virtually identical–one leaves the routines of home only to fall with pleasure into the routines of away–but there’s always something interesting that differentiates each from the other. This time it was the garter snake, and next the skunk ambling toward me on the path (diverging to another path before it reached me, which as Robert Frost would say, made all the difference), and then the full body plant in the lake when I stumbled on a slippery rock at the shoreline. And a particular book.

image.phpI’d attended, on Friday evening, the launch of Maurice Mierau’s Detachment, subtitled An Adoption Memoir (Freehand Books), which tells the story of Mierau and his wife Betsy adopting two young brothers from Ukraine. It seemed a good book to read aloud, as we sometimes do when on the road or away, and so we did, beginning on the drive to Hecla and continuing at various interludes–by the fire, over our morning maté or in the evening after H. had dealt with the flies drawn out of the cool autumn evening into the warmth of the trailer (though he never managed seven in one blow like the valiant little tailor of Grimm’s fairy tales fame). We finished the book on the return drive. Continue reading

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My Life in Middlemarch: a review

DownloadedFileI’ve not read much in the genre of writers writing about their reading, so I may have had some misconceptions about what Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch was going to offer me. At any rate, the expectations I had were almost entirely disappointed.

My reading of Middlemarch, I hasten to say, was no disappointment; I was quite taken with that sprawl of a novel, its plot(s), its portrait of 1830s English life, its pathos and humor, the authorial voice. I supposed, that in then turning to Mead, my reading would be enhanced–deepened–the way a very incisive review or the ideal book club can enhance the experience of reading by way of insight into themes and situations, and solid arguments on this matter or that. And all this with a memoirist twist, as promised in the cover copy–the voice of someone who’s breathed in the air of the text for a long time and is in plump literary health on account of it. Continue reading

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The experience of being honored

Besides celebrating our 40th anniversary last Sunday (Aug. 10) with food and conversation and stories and a slide show that still chokes me up a little, some awfully nice things were said to and about us in that public setting. Our children spoke generously and touchingly, and H. and I had the opportunity to give tribute to one another.

Later, we talked privately about the powerful effect this experience of being honored has had on our spirits. I find myself still moving within the effect of it, in fact, as if in awe, and have been wondering how to describe it. Continue reading

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Anticipation

I’m re-reading Middlemarch by George Eliot in anticipation of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, waiting for me on the reserve shelf at the library. I plan to get into that book post my finish of the base book, and post the celebration of our 40th anniversary with family and friends this coming Sunday. All our children and grandchildren will soon be spilling into this house from parts east and west for about a week, and yes, we’ve got enough beds and mattresses for the 15 of us. More on that event, perhaps, in a future post. Though maybe not. I’ve already gushed some nostalgic tears, picking photos for the slide show and listening to the songs they’ll be set to. Generally I find it hard to put into words the deepest and most familial of joys. Or maybe I just like to hold them private. But about the books, for sure, later in August.

But this note to say I’m having a lovely summer, my novel manuscript revisions done and me in full break from writing and the weather quite glorious, the birds frequent to the feeder and bath for their pleasure and ours as we watch, and the tomatoes ripening, and the pink-purple petunias sprawling fuller over the balcony railing of the front porch than any year yet. I’m full of anticipation and I feel blessed.

sc0014f93dP.S. A quote from Middlemarch‘Fred’s studies are not very deep,’ said Rosamund, rising with her mamma, ‘he is only reading a novel.’

I guess Fred wasn’t reading Middlemarch; it’s a fine, deep book.

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The M Word

I’ve just spent a couple of days with a collection of essays about motherhood. About life with a uterus, as Kerry Clare puts it. It was like slipping into this wonderful story circle, 25 articulate women speaking honestly of being–or not being–a mother. Choices or surprises. Twins. Abortion. Miscarriage. Child death. Step-parenting. Single mothering. Infertility. Delightful children. Difficult children. Now and then, when the children were especially demanding and the writer felt herself turning into someone, as Deanna McFadden puts it, “crammed into the corners of her own life,” I longed to put my hand through the page with a pat and say, It gets better. Usually it does, I think. But such a typically maternal gesture, isn’t it? Coming from the stage I’m in now, which is post-Mother in a way, easier on every level but with some terrific adults in my life who happen to be my children. Me still, and again, in Heidi Reimer’s words, “gobsmacked and humbled”by their existence. Continue reading

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