After four intensely enjoyable days we departed Istanbul, taking the ferry to Bandirma, the train to Izmir ( Alsancak station ), a taxi to Izmir’s Basmane station, and from there another train to Selcuk. It was somewhat convoluted and a full day of travel, but it was good to be sitting and watching sunshine and scenery and the occasional shepherd drift past. Red poppies accompanied us all the way south, fringing the green fields and olive groves in vivid contrast.
Selcuk is a relatively small village within walking distance of Ephesus and a short distance from the port of Kusadasi where the ferry leaves for the Greek island of Samos. That was our destination, a Greek island with spectacular clear blue water – but we were extremely lucky to choose Selcuk as a place to pause along the way. Where Kusadasi has gradually grown from a small fishing village to a huge metropolis catering to cruise ships, Selcuk is still a small agricultural center, a place of milk and honey. Honeysuckle and jasmine grew in profusion through the center of town, and orange trees laden with ripe fruit lined the streets. Tractors were in use all over the town, driving children to school, vying for space in the town square, and amassing the vast array of superbly fresh produce for the Saturday markets. Being there for market day was intuitively timed – what luck! Fresh strawberries ( 3TL or about $1.50 per kilo ), honey, sweet red tomatoes, eggs, potatoes, cheese, were all displayed like works of art. I was given fresh herbs to make tea, treated to the biggest strawberries and tasted loquats and thick lemony yogurt. Oh for a kitchen and an unending appetite. We could have stayed all day, except that Alison, our English / Turkish host at Kiwi Pension, had told us about the artisans in the nearby village of Tire, and we would miss them if we didn’t go that day. So we took a local bus, small clean vans that circulate to towns in the area in 20 minute cycles, weaving along country lanes picking up and dropping people off. In Tire we found our wool maker with the help of a mother & daughter who gleefully escorted us through the small streets and then went on with their day. The particular artisan we met specializes in wool and silk shawls and carpets, and like many in the village, is the third generation to do so. His father and grandfather used to work with their knees and feet, rhythmically moving up and down the carpet to ‘set’ the wool. Arif now uses presses, but the creation of the pieces is still very hands on. Most interesting is that the wool he uses when he needs a soft finish like a shawl, is from New Zealand. He goes to Istanbul to purchase it and it has a reputation as being the cleanest and softest in the world. All the other wool he uses is from the local Anatolia region.
When we arrived Arif used a radio to request tea for us, something he did for each incoming guest. There was no pressure to purchase anything – and we were more in the market for photos than for carpets, but we couldn’t resist a magnificent wool and silk shawl, and a hat for Sean. The prices were very modest considering the quality of the pieces, but at least all the money went to the artisan. With the annual market of 2 million people that stream via bus from the cruise ships in Kusadasi to the ruins of Ephesus, the story is quite different. Merchants selling from the prime commercial spots have to pay 40% of the selling price to the tour operators, plus they pay for the tourist’s lunch and for their entrance to Ephesus ( 25TL = $15 ). So the price of merchandise at this Wonder of the Ancient World is wildly inflated, and contrasts the generosity of spirit so typical in Turkey.
Ephesus was really very interesting. I was surprised that after 2 thousand years and millions of tourists stomping through the site every day that there was still such a life force, you could feel a connection to the time. Maybe it was because the Goddess of Abundance is still very much alive. We marveled at the sheer size of the amphitheater, the details in the architecture of the library and the almost modern tiles floors of the well preserved apartment buildings. Even though the Temple of Artemis was no longer there, the spirit of bounty and of nurturing was somehow present in the smell of the fig trees and the lush earth. Walking down the hill after our time in Ephesus, we had a forest of figs on one side and an orchard of blossoming citrus on the other. The smell was out of this world, it was a pleasure just to breathe – although with much more I was sure to put down roots and start looking for water…
Halfway back to Selcuk there is a small shady place called the Seven Sleepers, where a meandering outside restaurant called Askerin Yeri serves gozleme – thin, thin pancakes with spinach and cheese or other tasty combinations inside. They were delicious, and even moreso after we saw how they were made. Women sitting on cushions with wooden trays over their legs, knead and roll dough to super thin perfection, then fill them, and grill the folded parcels over a very hot fire. The woman in charge of the fire moderates the heat adding wood and then calming the temperature with water squirt bottles. It’s non stop and hot, as orders from the restaurant claim the pancakes as soon as they are flipped from the fire.
In the middle of the restaurant a group of women sat around one of the tables smoking and playing a game with numbered tokens. It was a curious sight – we had only seen men playing previously. In fact we had seen many men playing this game continuously, clacking the tokens against the wooden boards from early morning to dark in the many tea houses around town. Later in town I talked my way onto a table, where smoking and shuffling went hand in hand, and the men were completely unfazed by cameras and conversation. Not that we had much in common, but apparently I brought luck to the winning team. The Goddess was on my side again.