Going to a foreign country should stir up the creative juices. At first, my trip Turkey this month only stirred up the understanding that I’m still getting older. I understood this the moment I tried to fling my right leg over the side of the air balloon and felt a kind hand on my butt and another on my ankle. As I perched on top the leather padding and teetered for a moment wondering what I’d do with the leg still inside the basket, another set of hands encircled my waist and lifted me up and onto the platform.
Ten years ago I would have said I can do this myself. That time I said Thank you three times.
The hour just previous to this display of dotage, we had floated over the pale dystopic terrain of Cappadocia, with its pale fairy chimneys, blankets of stone, green patches of vineyards, a world thousands of years old, pockmarked with the doors and windows of the homes of people who had dug into the soft stone to find peace: the early Christians monks, the Islamic families, and the Whirling Dervishes who trudged up the narrow white paths to safety and contemplation.
That afternoon we were led through a few of these cave-homes and cave cities hidden within the rock formations. ”Here is the winery,…the kitchen with its black ceilings…the bedrooms,…the airshafts,” our guide Mustafa told us. “Here is their church.” We followed his feet up and down the uneven stairways. “Careful here,” he said, looking my way.
I not only had my doubts about my ability to manage the dark tunnels but also about the whole story he was spinning. How could he or anyone tell about what happened in these rooms fifteen hundred years after the fact? I wondered, as I groped my way, sometimes on all fours.
On our last day, our van wound its way over graveled roads and stopped in front of a fairy chimney, one that was bound by a garden of zinnias and tomatoes, an open wooden door greeting us. “A surprise,” Mustafa grinned.
Inside, a man and his wife offered us tea in the traditional glasses. “Apple or Turkish?” they asked. We settled on carpet-draped benches and on the soft rugs covering the uneven rocky floors. Blue shutters at the one window let in the sun.
The husband was a stone mason he told us, the wife, her hair covered with a lace-edged kerchief, kept the house and the children. In her spare time, she knotted carpets, the thick red one I sat on, the one hanging on the wall. “My wedding dowry,” she said. “That one,” she pointed to the loom behind me, “is being made by my daughter who is fifteen. It will be her wedding rug when the time comes.” Then she added, “First, college.”
After tea, we were invited into the kitchen, where one of the cupboards displayed an iron like a trophy behind its glass door. Propane fueled the stove and refrigerator, the toilet was in a small building in the back yard, the bedrooms up the stone steps. The wife smiled at our questions as we took it all in, the rooms, ancient tool marks roughening their surfaces, the wool rugs, the life.
“Come back again,” her husband called when we made our ways down the rocky trail taking us away. I will, I promised myself. On a page as white as this ancient landscape, as the walls of a house perhaps a thousand years old.