Cappodocia: Dragons Slain Here

First all, I apologize for my absence! My keyboard broke about a month ago, the replacement didn’t work, and when I finally had a good keyboard, I was just starting my trip to Italy! So, let’s make up for lost time.

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I stayed the longest in Cappodocia, in the town of Goreme. I arrived on May 29th, prepared to stay for five days. Then I stayed for three more. And three more. And three more. I didn’t leave until June 13, and only then because I had to meet someone in Istanbul.

Cappodocia is a region in Central Anatolia. It is a high plateau where the soft sandstone has been weathered into fantastic shapes: fairy chimneys, undulating waves, seried fortresses, extraordinary figures of men and beasts. Humans, too, have shaped the landscape. For thousands of years, people have dug into the rock, creating caves for worshipping, for stabling animals, for storing food, for living and surviving.  Hermits built churches and sought the holy life. During times of warfare and invations, entire cities bloomed underground. The land is as rich in myth as in sandstone. Here St. George killed the dragon and Alexander cut the Gordian knot. Waves of immigrants have swept through and armies from Rome, Constantinople, Baghdad, Damascus and Macedonia have marched here.

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For me, it felt like home.

So much of the landscape was familiar: poplar trees; Cottonwoods, los alamos, raining cotton like grace; locust trees; wild irises, snapdragons; thistles and a bright yellow flower with bulbous transparent pink pods filled with minuscule seeds, as small and perfect as beads. The mountains catch the light in the same way as in El Paso, and the summer thunderstorms advance across the plain in the same way.

Of course Cappodocia is not like El Paso: different language, different people. Rugs were hung out for sale in the streets and people welcomed me in for Turkish tea. The minaret issued the call to prayer five times a day. Many women walked around with head covered. But the differences highlighted the similarities. It was like moving through a dream-like image of home which:

“… doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange,”

I think we all carry an image of our childhood home in our hearts. This place brought out that image, and played with it.

Often, a memory of home would arrive out of nowhere, carried by something in the landscape. The sound of a creek would bring with it memories of trips to Ruidoso when I was little; white cotton would drift down from the trees exactly as it did in my front yard; the scent of honeysuckle reminded me of being four years old and learning how to suck the sweetness out of the flower.

Here, memories became sensations. I have always been the sort who never looked back, who never dwelled in the past. But here the past came to me in pieces, not in the form of a long dark narrative, and I could decide what I wanted to keep. The past was broken into small pieces, some of which lodged in my heart and grow into something beautiful. Others shriveled up and blew away, forever lost, good riddance, amen.

Cappodocia toyed with my sense of time: I felt as though I could actually go home again, as though home had been in me all along and was briefly mirrored here in the world.

I have felt this sense of home in one other place: Arequipa, Peru. Neither Cappodocia nor Arequipa are grand places, but they are like El Paso, like the brute physical sensations that invoke my childhood: desert light, dust, sunsets, the richness of green leaves in an otherwise dry land, the brutal elegance of exposed geology, white stucco houses, the timelessness, the thunderstorms seen from a long way of and anticipated with delight. In both cases, the joy was similiar. It was the joy of knowing that there are certain landsccapes that have meaning for you, that the world is rich and strange, but full of signs that you can read. It is the joy of knowing that you are large enough to contain worlds. You belong somewhere, although you carry that somewhere with you.

“It is not down on any map – true places never are.” – Herman Melville

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