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"Above the Ruins of Ephesus" by MARY LEE SETTLE

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Posted 16 December 2003 - 17:22

"Above the Ruins of Ephesus" by MARY LEE SETTLE

Above the Ruins of Ephesus

"On the trail ofjohn Turtle Wood, amateur archaeologist who unearthed Ephesus and the temple of Artemis, the author walks a sacred road toward her own encounter with Turkey's hidden past."

SO I, A FOREIGN LADY DRESSED IN A LARGE SUN HAT AND sensible Reeboks, started one morning in the early sun, at the single standing column that is all that is left above ground of the hundreds of columns that were once the great temple of Artemis. I set out on the main road until I saw that there was a dirt road, more direct, that ran at an angle through farm fields and up the mountainside.
I dodged invaders in tour buses and private cars on their busy ways, and in a few minutes I had found a path through country silence, headed toward the mountain that is on the north side of the ruins.
I walked past orchards and farmhouses. The little path grew faint beyond the last farmhouse. I began to climb the hill, watching the shadow of my hat on the ground. Nobody had climbed there for so long that weeds had grown high in the middle of it, but it was still marked, if only by the slight dip in the otherwise weedy cover and tangled vines. I began to thrust my way through them.
In the middle of what had become a ghost path, I saw the bones and a little of the torn pelt of a large animal-a cow, a deer--eaten there by wild things, and I knew that I had found something of what that world was like when there was no civilized modern overlay. I told myself that whatever beast it was, wolf or wild dog, it was asleep. At least I hoped it was well-fed and asleep.
I went on climbing in the sun that was getting heavier, search- ing the ground and the undergrowth. At the crest of one of the lower foothills, I looked, and looked again, afraid of being fooled. There it was, a fragment of marble that had been exposed by years of weather, and beyond it, a long straight edge of white marble that glistened in the light.
I had played at being Wood and I had found it, the sacred road. I went all blithe and brave in the morning, a nice lady in a big hat. I parted weeds, and struggled through vines, and when I parted two small saplings I found that I had walked to what I first thought was a cliff. It was not.
Down below me, still far away from the ruins of the ancient city within its fence and with its guides and crowds, was the small mar- ble atrium of a lost suburban house. Weeds grew in an empty shal- low pool. On either side of marble steps, there were still two dol- phins that had once been fountains that poured water from their mouths into the pool. I slid down the hill to the level of the floor, and I walked a short path of marble to its door, where the two truncated columns on either side still showed the grooves where, at night, they would have closed the house to marauders.
But one night the marauders had come to this house, and it had been so long abandoned that nothing of any world was left there but a Roman atrium, a little pool, two dolphins, a threshold, and silence in the sun.
I went on past it, up along the crest of the hill again. I slipped and slid and felt a fool, and at one point thought, if I break an ankle or my leg on this hill, I won't be found until I am a lady skeleton in a big hat, picked clean. I parted the underbrush and looked down upon another atrium, this one large and complete, with a fountain base in the center, and roofless rooms beyond it. The wall looked about ten feet high, and I skirted the top of it, holding onto small trees for balance, to look for a way down.
I hadn't heard anything move, yet he stood there in front of me, smiling, quite silent, a large strong Turkish man, holding in his hand a small bunch of sweet wild thyme. He held it toward me, say- ing nothing, still smiling. There was something so gentle about him that I could not be afraid. I took the wild thyme, and I thanked him, in Turkish. He smiled again and touched his mouth and his ear. He was deaf and dumb. I still have the wild thyme, pressed and dried, kept like a Victorian lady's souvenir of the Holy Land.
Dumb was the wrong word for him. There was no need for speech. He was an actor, an eloquent mime. I pointed to the atrium below and held my hands apart to show I didn't know how to get down into it. He took my arm, and carefully, slowly, led me down a steep pile of rubble.
He mimed the opening of a nonexistent door and ushered me through it. He showed me roofless room after roofless room as if he had discovered them. He dug and threw imaginary earth over his shoulder to show that it had been dug up.
I think that he had scared people before, and he was happy that here was someone who would let him show his house, for it was his house. Maybe he did sleep there. I don't know. I only know that he treated me as a guest in a ruin ten feet below the level of the ground, and that he took me from room to room where once there had been marble walls and now there was only stone, where he was host and owner for a little while.
He showed me a small pool, held out his hand the height of a small child, and then swam across the air. All the time he smiled. He took me to a larger pool and swam again. Then he grabbed my arm and led me through a dark corridor toward what I thought at first was a cave. It was not. He sat down in a niche in the corridor, and strained until his face was pink, to show me it was the toilet. Then he took me into the kitchen where there were two ovens. They were almost complete, except that the iron doors were gone. The arches of narrow Ryzantme bricks were gracefiil over them, and the ovens were large as if there had been a large family there.
For the first one he rolled dough for bread, kneaded it in air, slapped it, and put it in the oven. Then he took it out, broke it, and shared it with me. I ate the air with him. The other was the main oven, and he picked vegetables from the floor of the cave kitchen, hit air to kill an animal, made 'a stew, and placed it in the stone and brick niche. We ate it and then we walked out into the sun of the larger atrium. Behind it, in the hill, he gestured that it had not yet been dug up, and then he pointed to a marble votive herma, whose head was missing, and knelt behind it, grinning, and set his own head there, to show me what it was. The grin was ancient, a satyr's grin.
We stood beyond his house on the edge of the hill, looking down on the buses and the crowd in the distance. Across and be- hind the noise and crowds, in a field looking abandoned too, was the church of the Virgin Mary. The house where we stood had looked out over that and the harbor, and although it has not been found, I knew that it was near where the Corresian Gate had been.
When I gave my friend, my arkadash, some money, he kissed my hand and held it to his forehead, and then, pleased with the sun and me, and the fact that someone had not run away from him who lived like Caliban in a ruin, he put his arms around me and kissed me on both cheeks. Then I went down the hill to Ephesus. When I looked back to wave he had disappeared.

Mary Lee Settle lived in Turkeyfor a number of years, and returned there to write, Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place,from which this piece was excerpted. She is also the author of The Beulah Quintet,

Addie: A Memoir, 1, Roger Williams, and Blood Tie,for which she won the National Book Award.

"Above the Ruins of Ephesus" by MARY LEE SETTLE

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