Thursday, December 10, 2009

Change of Direction...

Travelling for work rescued me by changing my perspective, revealing how many ways life could be lived. 

I'm pleased to announce the first of my new series for expat +HAREM, the global niche... a neocultural hub for global citizens, identity adventurers, Turkophiles, intentional travelers + culturati of all stripes:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The 'Tropical' Greek Isle of Samos

Vathy Main Square. The statue of the ‘Samian Lion’ on the pedestal, which reminds me of the Venetian Lion, though in a different pose.

Having 5 hours to spend in one place can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on the place, of course. It’s more than enough time to leisurely enjoy Samos Island’s main town of Vathy, but it’s frustratingly little to explore any other parts of the island without the expense of renting a car or scooter.

The island has taxis and a public bus system. But unlike our constantly-in-motion Turkish minibus (dolmuş, literally meaning ‘stuffed’) system to get residents around, Samos only has large buses. I’m reticent to rely on schedules because I’ve seen buses wait to fill up before they leave the station. The last time I visited the other easily accessible town in Northern Samos, the lovely birthplace of Pythagoras and thus named Pythagorio, the usually 45-minute bus ride from the eastern coast over the mountains back to Vathy became an hour and a half. I nearly missed the afternoon ferry to Kuşadası.

So Vathy is again where I spend my time this mid-August visit. Its central square sits next to the harbor, with only a two-lane street dividing it from the water. But that street is a busy one, in this typical Mediterranean tourist town. The harbor street is lined with overpriced cafes selling stereotypical Greek ‘cuisine’ along with full English breakfasts, hamburgers, pizzas and Belgian waffles. The restaurants with real Greek food are in the walking streets behind Vathy’s narrow shopping streets that parallel the water.

Like most coastal towns in this part of the world, Vathy appears a mix of old and new. Perhaps the island economy is not strong enough yet within the EU system to restore all the derelict buildings surrounding the mostly well maintained structures along the harbor. But that may be a blessing, as long as they do not collapse or fall victim to the wrecking ball meanwhile.

Classical Greek touches on a restored harbor building remind me that the statues of antiquity may have been white marble, but were painted in vibrant colors like these.

The one time I spent the night on Samos several years ago, I stayed just off this square in a small pension called Artemis, serendipitously enough. I spoke with the older owner to ask him if he’d ever gone to see our one remaining column of the Temple of Artemis in Selçuk. Though he was perfectly polite to me, he was perplexed that an American woman would actually choose to live with the Turks, but it seemed to prove his opinion that Americans were rather clueless. What do we know of history in a nation so young? Even though his family origins were in the Ephesus Valley -- they had been ‘exchanged’ in the 1920’s -- he’d never been across the water; indeed, he’d almost never left Samos. He told me his grandmother warned him NEVER to go to Ephesus; she swore the Turks would kill him as he got off the boat. I told him that was not the case, and gave him our card if he ever got decided to come. I’ve yet to see him again.

One of several small markets along the shopping streets near the harbor. Shops are open from 8 am to 2:30 pm, most not reopening later in the day, to the chagrin of many tourists, me included. Unlike Kuşadası and even Selçuk, where shops are open on average more than 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, especially in summer.

A Samian midday traffic jam. The population of the entire island of Samos is about 33,000, and I’ll bet two-thirds live here in Vathy. Scooters are everywhere. Cars are quite new, with a preference for the color red, smart for visibility on an island with twisting mountain roads.

Samos has a small archeological museum, to the right in the photo above, just out of view. To the left is a farmer’s market that this day was nearly devoid of produce. The old building in the center seems sadly stranded in the midst of a busy car park.

Once I wind my way through the mix of locals and tourists in the small walking streets and past the museum square, I head directly for the stone building with the red sign, above, which houses Vathy’s largest grocery store. I must get there before lunchtime when it closes. The exteriors of all grocery stores should be camouflaged this way! I stock up on food items that are more elusive in Selçuk, like blue cheese, mangoes, Belgian chocolate, marzipan and massive chunks of fresh ginger. Prices are not cheap because it’s an island; most everything has to be shipped in from Athens across the Aegean. Getting fruit and veggies from Turkey would be a good solution. I once asked if anything in the produce department came from there and was answered with an outburst in rapid Greek. I guess not?

The museum’s garden is my favorite place, with a variety of ancient trees and plants, quite lush, shady and green for mid-August. This time it is full of the sound of cicadas, which are called “August bugs” in Turkey; wonder what the Greeks call them? It’s the first time I’ve seen the garden also full of Roma children, playing toy accordions for whoever will spare a few coins. I overhear one girl say something to her toddler brother in Turkish, so I ask her where she is from. She’d been born in Samos, though her older family came from Turkey years before. I don’t ask how they came across. When I see her with family later, the older members are speaking Greek to each other.

My favorite café is within the garden. It’s a gathering spot for local islanders, with many spending hours chatting with friends they have probably known their entire lives. I think I’ve seen this particular group of men here each year during my visits. Even though we are seated next to a large fountain, it’s so hot that everyone has their requisite bottle of water along with whatever else they are enjoying. For me, it’s a cappuccino and toast with cheese and ham, another rarity in Selçuk.

The exterior of a smaller church, is simple compared to the interior…

…with 4 chandeliers from different time and style periods competing for attention down the central aisle. The church’s interior is overwhelmed with ornate details, including faux marble columns and walls. I wonder why they did not use the real stone. Surely Samos is made from as much marble as we have across the sea?

I particularly love seeking out the gardens in Vathy; this one is the back garden of the Catholic church near the harbor. The church has been under restoration for the 10 years I’ve been coming here; I was only able to get inside once and it was much more Spartan in its décor than the Orthodox churches. Obviously, the Roman Catholic population on the island would be far smaller than the Greek Orthodox one. Other islands to the south, such as Rhodes and Kos, not only have churches of both denominations, but mosques and synagogues to serve their small Muslim and Jewish communities. But those islands were part of Italy until the 1950’s.

The garden of an official building. Since I can’t read Greek, I have no idea what the sign said, but it has a ‘60’s style bell tower and a huge Greek flag that refuses to photograph well in the sparse breeze. So I’m posting the hibiscus instead.

In a poorer harbor neighborhood, there may not be the luxury of a garden for hanging the laundry.
I end each visit walking though the coastal neighborhoods, which have steep hills accessed by stone staircases and some lucky homes hidden by overgrown gardens. This old wall is a composite of homes and gardens past, covered in the vibrant trumpet vines that adorn our Turkish beaches as well.

While Vathy has many alleys leading to the sea, here a ginger cat very politely poses while I take several shots. The well-laden peach tree is an uncommon sight.

The lush green and a glimpse of sea here and there help me ignore that it’s unbearably hot in these lanes. The cicadas here have competition for disturbing the quiet that comes with such unrelenting heat, paralyzing larger creatures into inactivity. Most houses have at least one pastel-colored bird cage hanging near the front door, canaries and parakeets inside, chirping away for all they are worth.

This trip I notice that within some old houses -- or within their former seaside gardens -- several trendy bars have popped up along the water. Modern décor overhangs the rocky coves, the latest in European café furniture contrasts with the peeling paint of buildings beyond. This corner of Vathy must be quite a different place at night. But for now, I am content to return to Selçuk and our garden on Ayasuluk Hill, with its own particular blend of old and new.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On Homer's 'Wine Dark Sea'

Bird Island, or Kuşadası in Turkish, with its Byzantine castle

Every few months, I am obliged to take a day trip to the neighboring country of Greece. The most efficient way to accomplish this from Selcuk is to take the ferry from our nearby port city of Kuşadası (pronounced koo-sha-da-suh) to Vathy, the largest town on the island of Samos. In terms of culture and history, I’ve visited more compelling Greek islands such as Rhodes, south of Samos in the Dodecanese, the more famous group of 12 islands off Turkey's southwestern coast. Greece has a mind-boggling 6000 or so islands, only 227 of them inhabited (and only 17 of these larger than 100 square miles. Samos is #9 in size). But a day spent crossing a portion of the Aegean is a pleasant necessity I don’t mind at all.

A statue of Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, tops the hill above Kuşadası's harbor. The poor neighborhood of old houses just to the left of the statue has the most amazing view in town – it’s a wonder those houses are still there, considering the encroaching high-rises.

The most challenging part of the day is getting the 18 kilometers from Selcuk to Kuşadası’s harbor by 8 am. Fortunately, the local tour company from which I purchase my ticket collects me from our cousin Abdullah’s Boomerang Pansiyon, a quick walk across Ayasuluk Hill from our house.

Kuşadası is a port town at least three times the population of Selcuk. For me, it’s best seen from a distance. What was once a small coastal village has changed in the last 20 years to a bustling small city of high-rises and in-season throngs of cruise ship tourists and part-time foreign residents. It does not feel particularly Turkish to me, but rather anywhere Mediterranean that has been overbuilt and made anonymous in pursuit of daytime sun and nighttime partying.

Our small ferry in the foreground, with a midsize cruiser and an enormous Princess cruise dominating the harbor behind it.

My sense of scale is always challenged here in Kuşadası’s harbor. The cruise ships can be up to 14 stories tall, essentially 3-4 times higher than the castle on Bird Island and nearly as tall as that hill from which Ataturk’s image guards the scene. There can be many ships in harbor at any given time, though this morning there are only two.
Out on the Aegean, the scenery becomes a million shades of the color blue. On the left in the distance is the mountain range home of one of Turkey’s national parks. On the right is Samos Island. Just beyond this finger of land is Posidonio Point, one of the nearest points between Turkey and Greece at a distance of about a mile (1.6km). Because the two countries are so close here, this Mycale Strait has become a crossing for the many illegal immigrants who traverse Turkey’s porous borders from countries to the east and south, hoping to reach the European Union. Samos is home to the largest detention center in the Mediterranean region -- perhaps Europe -- for this reason. Unfortunately there have been many cases of shipwreck and drowning over the years as people try their luck in crossing the turbulent Aegean.

Halfway across the water once in Greek territory, our ferry boat hoists the Greek flag.

The crossing to Samos Island takes just under two hours because Vathy is on the island’s western side. Above, the mountains that dominate Vathy’s harbor come into view.

On this journey, I am joined by perhaps 50 other travelers, speaking numerous languages. Today I am surprised at the large number of Turkish holidaymakers on the ferry. This would not have been the case a few years ago. But as Turkey prospers and relations between the two countries relax, it seems easier for Turks to get an EU tourist visa, though it’s not always a simple process. A number of the European travelers are wearing the bright yellow wristbands that tour companies require as a means of group identification. Not my idea of the best way to see a country, especially Turkey, but it’s good to see any tourists in the area this summer of economic crises.

The town of Vathy from just outside the harbor.

On this day, there are no other ferries in Vathy’s harbor, not even the enormous inter-island Greek ferries that usually depart in the late afternoons. Only two Coast Guard ships are present, in the slowest season for Eastern Aegean tourism in my ten years here.

Our ferry, the Kuşadası Express

The buildings surrounding the town’s main square at the center of the photo above form the core of Vathy’s harbor. I meander 5 hours around town before taking the return ferry back home to Turkey. To me, the best part of the day is spent on the water, especially in the 38C/100F degree heat of August, although Vathy does have its charms. I’ll be posting separately about the town later this week, since as usual I took too many photos!

A view back along Vathy’s coastline

Above, one of Vathy’s older seaside neighborhoods, which retains more old houses than we have in Selcuk, though they are of a very similar architectural style.

As we make our way through immigration formalities in the afternoon, I am witness to a situation that makes me curious about a trip in my past. A 14 year old boy directly in line in front of me, holder of a Turkish passport, is dropped off by his parents, a Turkish father and a probably European mother, who only speak fluent Turkish to each other (unlike Abit and I, who speak a mix of Turkish and English, often in the same sentence).

Why this couple is sending their son to Turkey alone, I don’t know. Perhaps he has to get back to prepare for school or the parents are having some time to themselves on a Greek holiday. But the immigration official throws a small temper tantrum. “You are a minor – you cannot travel by yourself !” he claims in English. The boy, speaking perfect English as well, says he’s done it before; he says his father’s friend will meet him at the harbor in Kuşadası. The official is not persuaded. “Your parents must come back to the harbor immediately to explain themselves to me, or you are not getting on that boat”.

I watch long enough to see the mother return, only to have the official create a scene, harshly and loudly chastising her for being irresponsible. The boy does make the ferry, but has to remain in the captain’s quarters. It makes me wonder: I too traveled internationally at the age of 14 with a friend my age, as “unaccompanied minors”, from the US to Britain. That was obviously a much further distance. I don’t recall my parents having to get permission from the airlines or US/UK immigration. Perhaps they did?

By late afternoon, the water of the Aegean has changed from various hues of aqua and turquoise to a deep luminescent blue, becoming nearly purple as the sun further sets. It’s apparent why Homer described this sea as 'wine dark', even in the bright light of summer. A few houses are scattered along the rocky northern cliffs of the island, against the various greens of oregano, olive and cedar. This end of the island does not have sandy beaches; travelers looking for those must rent scooters or cars to head south.

At the northernmost point of Samos is a small island, above, about the same size as Kuşadası’s Bird Island, below. This Greek bit of land appears to have a small whitewashed church on top. Otherwise, the landscapes of the two countries look alike here.

This voyage has not been very rough. Trips at other times of the year have been so turbulent that I’ve felt the motion of the waves for more than a day once back on land. The Aegean is not pleasant water for those who are easily seasick. The twice daily ferry runs are reduced to one or two a week from October 1st through the end of March because the crossing can be unpredictable.

Back in Kuşadası, the new port center is a modern structure of glass and local limestone. It has a remarkably small immigration room for the lines of passengers waiting to get their visas stamped, and a very large Duty Free shop. Priorities are obvious. Once through customs, the only way out of the complex is through a two-story shopping mall, named Scala Nuova in a nod to the ancient Roman name for this harbor, complete with a Starbucks on the wharf. Its unobstructed view of Bird Island is perhaps the most valuable real estate in town. American coffee chains in the land that invented the coffeehouse…I resist the call of a venti latte and make my way slowly through the crowded streets, toward the more home-grown and less expensive pleasures of Selçuk.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eight Thousand Years

Remnants of the outer walls of the Basilica of St John, with the Selcuk Fortress at the top

“My father found our new house”, my husband Abit told me as he came into our vintage textile shop one afternoon in late August 2005. Oh God, this was bound to be tough – what chance was there that Baba had selected a house that I would like? So far in the 6 years I’d known him, other than the gentlemanly way he dressed or the care he took to arrange carpets outside our shop, I’d not seen obvious signs of an esthetic eye. And since I knew we had to find a place in which my in-laws and some of my husband’s 9 siblings would also live, I was less than sure we’d find anything we’d all agree on quickly, if ever.

Abit and I were tired of living in the ‘suburbs’ of Selcuk, in indistinctive beige concrete housing blocks so alike they were easy to become lost among. We wanted to find an old house somewhere closer to our business in the center of town. The problem was that we had to sell our entire 3-flat building to have the money to buy another home, with enough left over to free ourselves of debt from our business. So Abit and Baba walked the older neighborhoods of Selcuk, looking at houses and talking to everyone they knew about who was likely to sell. To me, the American foreigner, the idea that older single family homes, usually with charming original details and a private courtyard garden, were selling for less than a two-bedroom apartment stacked in anonymous rows of new buildings, was ridiculous. But fortunately that was true.

Ayasuluk Hill, with Selcuk’s Byzantine Fortress and the Tomb of St John in the foreground. Our house is to the right with the red tile roof.

The central district of Selcuk is surrounded by the Isabey Mahallesi to the west, where the Byzantine fortress and the ruins of the 6thC Basilica of St John crown Ayasoluk Hill, with the 11thC Seljuk Isabey Mosque just below. To the east of town is Zafer Mahallesi, which has lovely western views of the valley and the Aegean Sea beyond. But we’d spent part of a year in that neighborhood already, attempting to run a small pansiyon whose owner didn’t really want to give up control of her business. So that district, though lovely, was somewhat tainted in our minds.

“C’mon, let me show you this place. I want to buy it today”, said Abit, half out the door.

Huh? “Today?!? Why so fast?”

“My father has already been talking to the owner. As soon as other people find out we’re interested, we’ll have competitors and the price will go up”.

“But doesn’t everyone know the house is for sale anyway?”

As it turned out - yes. It would be hard for anyone to miss the fact the place was on the market, since the first thing I saw when we got within a block was a towering unpainted plaster building with “Satiliktir” - for sale - spray painted in huge black letters on two sides.

“Hmmmm. Looks like a wreck…” I began.

“No one has lived here for 6 years” Abit said. So, there would be a sudden rush to buy a place that’s been abandoned, and looked it??

Abit did not have a key to the garden iron double gate, so went around to the other side of the garden to hop the neighbor’s fence. Oh, great, a secure location, I thought. I had noticed as we had nearly run though the neighborhood below, up the hill to where the house stood, that the area was densely populated with large families in mostly old single family houses, interspersed with the newer concrete bunker-type apartments of our suburban mahalle, or neighborhood. But I was too intrigued with the Byzantine castle that loomed over the house to think about how close all the neighbors were, how there were so many people out on the street compared to our current 5022 Sokak (street) home. And how even more neighbors were coming out to see who was looking at the empty konak, the proper Turkish name for this type of traditional large house.

Abit opened the gate from the inside, and I stepped into an overgrown garden, with the large house perched on the hill seemingly even bigger because we were 4 levels below the red tiled roof. Abit showed me across the weeds to a stone staircase on the opposite side, up to a small terrace level and finally up terrazzo stairs. I stopped dead in my tracks at the top of those stairs, and stared at my feet.

The terrace, where I now spend much of my time

Tile. If there is something decorative I love as much as textiles, it’s tile. And here were vintage, diagonally set encaustic tiles in quilt-like patterns of three quirky shades of tan, brown and cream, covering the expanse of the small terrace that led to double Ottoman style painted wood doors at the home’s entrance. I turned to look back over the garden, and beyond to the eastern hills behind Selcuk. The sun was just going down, and the houses and hills were bathed in red- orange light. The garden’s several fruit trees and the neighbor’s large date palm, the tile roofs of the houses below – the scene was a Mediterranean dream, like being home in Santa Barbara’s Riviera hills. Even my “Goat Castle” – the next fortress in the chain that lined the Aegean coast and so named for an attack Ataturk’s troops had made there on the Greeks camouflaged in goatskins – was visible to the north on its’ high mountain pinnacle.

Our view of Zafer Mahallesi to the east

Inside was much less of a dream. The massive meter thick walls meant the four rooms were tiny, at least by my Western standards. The central salon had a blocked-in window to the west so only the entrance doors let in any light. But the terrace tile covered this floor too! The two bedrooms off the salon had wood floors, and bizarre shades of pink, yellow and green paint, but the wood casement windows facing the Fortress were wide, and folded completely open, effectively removing half the walls. The owner had set metal window frames in the salon, ready to rip out the wooden casements and ‘modernize’ the place since it had not sold for 6 years. And I could see he was planning to rip out the floor tiles too, in favor of faux marble ceramic stacked in the corner.

The bathroom had a tiny door off the kitchen hallway, but held the best tile of all. Four tiles together formed a repeat of brown and tan, a tropical forest of artichoke/thistle motifs that reminded me of Samarkand suzanis, or Matisse cutouts.

And the kitchen had yet another pattern, this time Escher-like triangles of grey, black and cream. The kitchen looked straight out of the early last century, with stove hood in plaster in the corner, dish shelves running high around the walls, and no sign of modern day appliances.

Two views of the sunny kitchen, cluttered but well used. We’ve added a modern stove where I’m sure a wood-burning one previously stood.

Maybe I should have been horrified, but I was entranced. The castle hovered over us outside the bedroom windows, glowing now like a welcoming medieval lantern, as it would every night from dusk until dawn. What American romantic who had studied art history and had worked as an interior designer would not want to live in the shadow of a Byzantine fortress? And in a house that was built from the rubble of the ruins of a basilica’s outer walls, on the same hill not 50 meters from where Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora had built that massive cathedral over the tomb of St John the Evangelist? And with the added treasure of tile floors that would cost thousands of dollars to replicate, already worn to a glowing, slightly chipped patina by 70 plus years of pattering feet?

Or course, we bought the house that week. I was not about to let anyone destroy that tile. Perhaps not the most rational way to make such a big decision, but I knew the bathroom floor tile alone would make me happy just to see it each morning.

The entire house was painted while I was in the US that winter, in versions of the colors I wanted, though Abit overruled me and made the doors and window frames the traditional Aegean turquoise, to ‘protect’ the house. Though the workers got paint all over those tile floors, Abit was able to convince the family not to replace them as a “surprise” for me.

Four summers later, we’ve not done much else to restore the actual house yet with so many people still living in it – there are 4 to 7 residents upstairs at the moment, counting one sister and her two children who stay here part-time. But the garden has thrived under Baba’s green thumb, with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash under an orchard of fruit trees. Though we enter our floor from the garden and the family enters their second floor from the street level on the west side, privacy is still somewhat of a challenge. With thin wood floors that are strangely covered in wood grain printed wallpaper upstairs, it’s a bit like living with elephants overhead.

The mid-level patio, covered by grapevines on an arbor Baba built

We have a handmade ‘tandir’ in the lower garden, where Abit’s mother and his sisters convene every few days to bake bread. We’ve also had a goat in the lower garden, replaced by rabbits in a mud-walled, tile-roofed house that Baba took more care with than with any house for his 10 children. But now, only cats prowl the rows of veggies and flocks of sparrows inhabit the pomegranate, lemon, olive and mandarin trees.

Pomegranate trees in bloom

Above us under the Fortress, archeologists are currently digging to uncover a Bronze Age settlement recently discovered here on Ayasuluk Hill. Our Kurdish family is not impressed. They’ve lived among such antiquities all their lives and prefer the modern; they tell us they are not as happy here as they were in our previous modern apartment building. But this Californian loves living among the remains of the 8000 years of human civilization, even if the neighbors living here now are a little too close. Abit hopes to retire here someday and tend to the garden himself. And maybe buy a few surrounding houses to create a haven for writers and artists to stay, learn and be inspired by our Selcuk/Ephesus Valley. I hope to see that happen.

A portrait of Ataturk; view from our window on a national holiday

Friday, July 17, 2009

Selçuk: An Aegean Home to Art

The historic valley on Turkey's West Coast where we live has more than its share of diverse cultural attractions – from centuries of wonders at Ephesus, a city founded by a mythical tribe of women warriors known as Amazons, embellished by King Croesus, liberated by Alexander the Great and nearly as important as Rome, to the tomb of Jesus' favorite disciple and last home of the Virgin Mary, both sites of Christian pilgrimage, as well as a charming Ottoman village best known for its traditional pleasures of homemade wines and handmade lace.

Nestled amid olive and pine tree-covered mountains, mandarin orange and peach groves, the roughly 12 square-mile Selçuk area's vast offerings are completed by a wide sandy beach alongthe blue Aegean Sea. Named for the pre-Ottoman Turks and pronounced "Sel-chuk", through millennia this region has been home to the Hittites, Carians, Lydians, Persians, as well as the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Turks. Each culture has left its mark on the people who live here now, though the handcrafts of the past are quickly becoming only marketing tools to attract tourists, as modern generations have few opportunities to make a living though the arts.

Today, travelers visit the ruins of Ephesus, the best preserved Greco-Roman city in the Eastern Mediterranean:

Or, they visit the last standing column and a half of the ancient Seven Wonder Temple of Artemis, built to honor the Artemis of Ephesus, the goddess combination of the Greek Artemis, goddess of the moon, the hunt and fertility, and the Anatolian mother goddess Kybele.

This ancient temple, four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, stood on the southwestern slope of Ayasuluk Hill. The Temple served as both religious institution and marketplace, visited by pilgrims, tourists and merchants from the far reaches of the known world, as long ago as 550BC. Ayasuluk Hill is also home to a Byzantine fortress, the 14th C Isa Bey Mosque, and the 6th C Basilica of St John, all above.

Travelers can also brandish replicas of gladiator's weapons at the Selçuk Ephesus Museum, sip cold mountain spring water from the well at the Virgin Mary's chapel, and wander the stony lanes in the hillside village of Sirince or our larger town of Selçuk, to mix with the locals and experience how people live here now.

Selçuk is inhabited year-round by a pleasant mix of farmers and business people, tourists and travelers, and a growing expatriate community. The town is easily accessible by bus, train or car from big city Izmir's airport 37 miles north, or from the Aegean port town Kusadasi 12 miles south. All sites of interest are within walking distance from the town center or a short minibus ride away. Visitors stay in hospitable family-run hotels of antique-filled, traditional-style stone, or modern accommodations with sweeping roof terrace views.

Restaurants serve savory home-cooked Turkish food and a farmer's market every Saturday abounds in fresh, locally grown produce.

Tall stone Byzantine aqueducts bisect the town, supporting massive stork nests for the revered migratory birds, and propping up my favorite old Ottoman house, which in my ten years here has perpetually been on the verge of falling down. All centered on cobbled walking streets,making Selçuk the perfect travel base and a peaceful respite from the congested Aegean coastal towns.

If this all sounds like a tourism pitch, I suppose it is. For you see, I have a dream for the future of sustainable tourism here, a dream that is shared by a few other small business owners - all women - who also work with local artisans.

A Turkish wish tree – tie a piece of fabric, make a wish, and your dream will come true…

Our dream is reclaim our valley in the name of handcrafts. Yes, we have 'carpet villages', places where women demonstrate the art of weaving to busloads of captive tourists. But how about staying in a small hillside neighborhood of winding lanes and old houses, with workshops where visitors spend a week learning how to shear a sheep, card wool, spin yarn, pick berries, roots and other materials to dye it, and develop the skill of tying a Turkish double knot?

The Isa Bey Mosque, built in 1375 by the Anatolian Selçuk Turks from remnants of Ephesus and Basilica stone, is an asymmetrical mix of Selçuk and Ottoman architecture, with excellent carved decorations, a peaceful courtyard and lovely old prayer carpets for inspiration.

Or, how about lace making classes? Plenty of Turkish women still make oya, the crocheted lace that traditionally edges headscarves and speaks a floral language that only other women of the same village can understand.

Other regions of the world offer knitting tours – why not learn to make these colorful multi-patterned socks? Or the art of feltmaking, more of a southeastern Turkish art, but a practical one that uses every last fiber of wool after spinning and carpet weaving is done.

Other arts abound as well. Our local spoon carver loves to show visitors how he whittles wood into a kitchen utensil that could last a lifetime:

There is always the ancient art of mosaics:

The sidewalks in Ephesus, where terraced courtyard houses were once occupied by the wealthy, are still complete with intricate mosaic floors and frescoed walls. Nowhere other than Pompeii do today's visitors have such an excellent chance to experience life in the ancient world.

Selçuk surrounds Ayasuluk Hill, site of the first city of Ephesus, where artifacts dating to the Bronze Age of 6,000 BC have been uncovered. This is also the hill where we live, in a 70 year old stone house, just visible to the right with the red tile roof. With the wealth of antiquities here, few people live in houses as old of ours, a fact which I find ironic and also sad. The past is preserved only for tourists to visit, but why can't we live there as well? Why not recreate this ancient hill, now home to immigrants from the east and gentrifying big city Turks and foreigners? Let us reclaim these old houses and fill the lanes with artisans' workshops, creating jobs, training future generations and giving visitors hands-on experience in the ways things used to be made!

Saint John the Evangelist, favorite of Jesus and only disciple to attend his crucifixion, with his important role in disseminating Christianity and writing the Book of Revelation, is buried on Ayasuluk Hill, according to several early Christian writers. In the 6th century AD, Emperor Justinian built an enormous Basilica over an earlier 4th C church. Many of the stone walls, strikingly contrasted by horizontal rows of red brick, still stand. From the terrace, there is a wonderful view of Selçuk, the Ephesian Plain and the Aegean, especially at sunset.

Throughout the year, Selçuk holds festivals celebrating local culture. In January, camel wrestling is held near the beach. The traditional and colorful competition sports large beasts decorated in their finest kilims and tassels. While thousands of people come from all over to watch these beasts wrangle necks and kick up dust, it's far more fascinating for me to see what the camels will be wearing.

May and September host art, music, dance and handicraft festivals which are gaining more interest each year. But someday soon perhaps we shop owners of Selcuk will come together and request that Ayasuluk Hill be made an artists' district. Visitors could then come out from behind the glass windows of their big tourist buses and interact directly with the artisans – the carpet weavers, lace makers, copper workers, wood carvers, mosaic setters – and feel truly a part of the past here for a time, not just looking in as observers.

Catherine Salter Bayar lives with her husband Abit in Selcuk, near Ephesus, Turkey, where they own a vintage textile shop and a water pipe & wine bar. Catherine is currently working on a book on Turkish textiles, the carpet trade and life in a small Aegean town.

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Visit us: Ataturk Mahallesi, 1005 Sokak, 6/B Selcuk 35920 Izmir Turkey
Phone: 90.538.783.5709