Sunday, 3 May 2015

Farewell to Turkey: 'Does the road wind uphill all the way?'

What we might have seen on Mt Nemrut on a sunny day without snow.

"For an uncatlike
Creature who has gone wrong,
Five minutes on even the nicest mountain
Are awfully long"

- W H Auden, 'Mountains' from Bucolics

Is one entirely an "uncatlike creature', a sort of pusscat under tons of elephant hide, as Auden was?

Never having lived among mountains, to me a mountain range has been what we call 'scenery', a visually realised romantic notion of something breathtaking yet essentially dreadful, like being among red-faced people who shout or yodel all the time. It is not so much the height. I have been to the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago and on the roof terrace of the tallest building in Singapore and have long conquered my childhood vertigo, the sense that if there was a ledge the only thing to do was to step off it, and the succeeding youthful dreams of precipices with a noisy chaos at the bottom, experiencing the dizzy temptation of taking flight but running instead into a dark fast-moving forests. I have toured in mountainous regions and slept in dry thunder. Still, I am not familiar with them.

The last day in Malatya involved a romantic excursion by minibus, in fact a litter of four minimbuses, to Mount Nemrut by way of Gölbasi, the ancient necropolis city of Perre, thence across the Cendere Bridge - the second largest Roman bridge still in existence - then ascending ever higher, glimpsing Kahta Castle perched on its unlikely promontory, until we reached the top of Mount  Nemrut, or as far as vehicle could reach, then to climb the rest on foot and watch the sun set from the peak which was a Commagene burial site complete with statues of the kings,  and of course the most spectacular views while drinking a glass of wine and eating a sandwich.

It was a beautiful idea which was no less beautiful despite the fact that not everything went to plan. Two of the drivers refused to take their vehicles up the steep narrow loose tracks that constituted a road in progress and the other two hesitated, or rather their occupants, including me, hesitated before resolving to go on. There were the precipices and ledges right next to us with no barricade and the track strewn with fallen rocks. But this is nothing out of the ordinary for visitors to the mountain and we reached the top as the sun began to set. Unfortunately the wine and sandwiches had remained in one of the buses that refused the ascent but there was coffee to be had where the driving ended before the climb on foot.

I confess I didn't quite make it to the top. My diabetes (type 2) makes breathing at 7,000 feet a little difficult and the best I could do was to tackle it in short runs with long hesitations. Iain Galbraith, who is a hardier man than I am, and Robyn Rowland, who is a hardier woman, did get there. I was fairly close before my chest got the better of me and I started down.  I wasn't dressed for the cold anyway because I am a careless reader of long emails.

At the coffee camp I was asked to tell a lovely woman's fortune from coffee dregs which I duly did despite having not the least notion of what I was doing. I hope my 100% intuitive predictions prove true (she was to remarry in three years time and have a second child). You know who you are. Do let me know.

On the trickier way down - in the dark this time - one of our party began to feel alarmingly ill so an ambulance had to be called and the shortest way to meet it was along another mountain path. It did meet us there and our dear leader and friend had to go with her so we never had a chance to say goodbye. (The ill person recovered after a while we are glad to say.) Our driver was marvellous. He was used to driving trucks on roads more precipitous and looser gravelled than this.

Thus the farewell next morning without proper goodbyes, departing the hotel early with John and Iain, flying first to Istabul then in our various directions. I liked them very much. I hope to see them again, as I do Berkan and many of our hosts and fellow contributors.

A post follows this, just personal photos and captions of the last day. Thank you Inonu, Malatya, Turkey. Thank you all our kind friends.


John A Stotesbury said...

Thanks for all of these memories, George. With hindsight, and in the light of our survival, I can truthfully agree that it was a memorable trip ;-) Like you, I didn't make it to the ultimate target of the trip, which was to see those splendid ancient statues on the mountaintop -- I can claim seniority and unfitness: but the tea break near the top was a great opportunity to discuss life and work (separate categories? surely not!) with one of the other conference participants. Another source of memory of the day's outing happens still to be sitting on a shelf in my Helsinki home -- there was a bottle of good Turkish red still unopened at the end of the expedition, and somehow it remained with me, and travelled northwards to this ever-thirsty country. I'm saving it for a rainy day, of which we will no doubt have a reasonable number as the Finnish "summer" progresses! Finally, again, my thanks for these blogs, and my even greater thanks to everyone at the conference, especially our Malatya hosts. I seem to have gained some 40 Facebook Friends since returning, which will certainly be a much appreciated and lasting souvenir, too.

George S said...

Ah, I could see there were spare bottles of wine at the end but I came with only cabin luggage and that was near the limit so I had to ignore bottles.

It was a particularly full conference but very enjoyable. I am always a little hesitant about doing them but always finish up having enjoyed them a great deal.This was a very fine thing.

Good to meet you and Iain. Perhaps there'll be another chance some time.

I hope so.

Inez Baranay said...

What a great find, this blog! I did leave a comment a couple of days back, I thought, but it hasn't shown up. I found the blog after looking at my notes from your wonderful keynote and am looking forward to reading it. Would have liked to continue conversing but that's a good aftermath of a conference. Have begun to read your poetry.