The Introvert’s Innkeeper Script

In the course of a normal day at my historic bed and breakfast, I converse with somewhere between two and five couples who are visiting me from the far reaches of the globe. I’ve hosted people from every continent except Antarctica (I’m still hoping), with hugely varied backgrounds, vocations, and personalities. I’ve learned more than I ever needed to know about these people’s hobbies, grandchildren, pets, cars, diseases, and heartbreaks.

Yes, running a bed and breakfast is a wonderful way to meet and converse with people, to learn about different lives and cultures and see a bit of the world through other people’s eyes. It’s an ideal profession for an extrovert.

So where does that leave the Introvert Innkeeper?

I have a little secret for you, something they never tell you about a job like this: real conversation is as rare as icebergs at the equator. Rather than being a polished conversationalist, I am a talking robot, a computer program who responds to fixed cues with identical streams of words every single time. Instead of conversing, I am performing a part in an improvisational play where I’ve learned 100 lines, and the only question is, which order will I deliver them in today?

Fifty of those lines are delivered as a matter of course to nearly every guest. There’s the regular check-in and room-tour speeches, of course, but there are also certain questions that every guest asks, almost without fail:

“How long have you lived here?”
(“We’ve been in the house for seven years. This is our fifth summer as a bed and breakfast.”)

“This house is so beautiful!”
(“Thank you, we think so too. We feel very fortunate to be able to take care of it for awhile.”)

“When was the house built?”
(“We didn’t name it the 1899 Inn because that was our favorite number.”{charming smile} “1899 – just like the name!”)

“Do you know anything about the history of the house?”
(“No, it’s never occurred to me to ask any questions about a significant historic house in a significant historic town.”
“It was built by a gentleman named H.B. Wardman, who was a local hardware merchant… etc etc.” )

As you may have noticed, after answering the same questions several times every single day, the temptation to go snarkily off-script starts presenting itself, but I’m too well-behaved to do that while on stage.

The second set of 50 answers is for the chattier guests, the ones who have more in-depth questions about the history of the house, and for the ones who are, themselves, genuine extroverts who want to get to know me and do some bonding. I can gracefully handle almost all of these questions:

“That strange knob is where a gas fixture use to sit on the wall.”
“Yes, we live on the second floor at the top of the stairs.”
“It had been vacant for three years when we bought it.”
“I grew up down in Rapid City, so yes, I’m sort of local.”
“Deadwood has a rather complicated relationship with the casinos.”
“I had it dyed professionally, but I do the upkeep myself.”

But there’s a subset in that second set of 50 questions that I have come to fear and loathe, a set of questions that feels too intrusive, too impolite, but which 8 guests out of 10 feel compelled to ask anyway. The questions come in several forms, but they’re all seeking the same answer:

“So do you love doing this?”
“Do you ever get to take any time off?”
“How do you stand having people in your house all the time?”
“Has it always been your dream to run a bed and breakfast?”

And the fact is, they don’t think these questions are inappropriate because secretly (or not), everyone who visits me has daydreamed about running their own bed and breakfast some day, and they want confirmation that their fantasy is a good one, or sometimes, they genuinely want to know if they could handle the reality of it.

My responses to these questions are, like all the others, scripted and well-worn. Though I will give a different reply to the folks living in a fantasy world and the folks who seem to genuinely want to know, all of my replies to these questions are carefully-worded half-truths.

“You get to meet so many fascinating people from so many different places!”
“We slow down a bit in the winter, so we get to take some time off then.”
“You can learn to sleep through anything!”

The fact is, people don’t want to know my real answers to these questions, and I certainly don’t want to share them. I’m convinced that one of the ingredients for being successful in a job like this is to make sure people believe you love what you do and that talking about it is always a pleasure in itself.

But maybe some people really, truly want to know about the hard stuff. So here, for the first and only time, are some honest-to-gods answers to those questions:

Running a bed and breakfast as a primary source of income is hard. It’s not like putting your spare bedroom up on AirBnB. It’s not like hosting your out-of-town family for two weeks in the summer. It’s not like a sleep-over with your girlfriends.

You probably expect the work that will go into keeping your house immaculate all the time, the work that goes into making nice breakfasts, that goes into recommending local attractions. On the surface, you understand that you will be sharing your house with strangers every night, but until you do it, it’s really hard to understand what that means.

You don’t think about how you’re on the clock 24 hours a day, how you can’t leave the house without putting a sign on the door that says, “be right back, call if you need me right away!” You don’t think about all those special diets you have to cook around, the people who will be grumpy about things you thought went without saying, like the existence of your well-photographed cats, or the lack of closets in the historic bedrooms. You don’t think about how important it is to set limits for yourself (earliest breakfast is at 7:30am and latest in-person check-in is at 10pm because I have GOT to protect my sleeping hours) and about how unhappy some guests will be when you try to enforce those limits (“but we have to LEAVE at 7am!”). You don’t think about what it means to know there are strangers in your house with you every night of your life, how they might not come in until 3am, how they might wander into your kitchen and eat all your Oreos, how they might accidentally (or otherwise) bang doors at 5:30am, how they get confused and try to come into your bedroom instead of theirs, how they get first dibs on your big TV and on the bathroom where the laundry machines are. How they ask you the same questions every single day of your life, the single most infuriating of which is, “so do you have a real job too, or is this what you do?”

(I won’t counsel you on any other kind of conversation to have or not have next time you stay at a bed and breakfast, except for that: for the love of all that is sacred to you, never ask “do you have a real job too?” I will testify at the assault trial of the guy who punches you for asking, and tell the judge it was completely justified.)

This post isn’t here to solicit pity of any sort. In many, many ways I am incredibly fortunate to be doing what I do, and there are many parts of the work I enjoy. I will always answer the questions guests have about my house happily (if formulaicly), knowing that if I were visiting someone else’s beautiful historic house, I’d be helpless to resist asking the same questions myself.

If there are things I don’t love about this job, I also know that I am not stuck here, and when I’m ready I’ll be able to move on to the next thing, knowing a whole lot more about humanity than I did before.

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Notes From a Background Feminist

Happy International Women’s Day.

Happy National Day Without Women.

I am a proud, feminist woman, but I will not be going on strike today. I own my own businesses, and the only person hurt if I don’t go to work today is me. That does not seem to be in the spirit of the undertaking. Further, as the chair of an otherwise all-male city commission, if I skip my meeting tonight to make a point, the only result is that a group of men will make important decisions with no input from any women. This also seems to miss the point.

So today, I will work on a list of tasks that is long and contains some rather unpleasant items. I do not want to face down a room full of people and lead the discussion that will ultimately result in some parties feeling angry and disappointed. I do not want to look through the list of applicants who want employment with me and decide which ones to call back and tell “better luck next time.”

But I will do these things anyway, because I have taken on these responsibilities, and seeing them through – even to their unpleasant conclusions – is one of the ways I can act out my feminism today.

The other thing I’m doing today is spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of feminism. What is it and how should it apply to me, to the women in my life, to the men in my life, and all other people around the world? We all know the stereotypes about feminists – everything from the rabid man-haters who blame men for all the world’s wrongs to the non-leg-shaving feminazis who just want to see the patriarchy burn. These wild stereotypes often utterly miss the point, but there are other stereotypes that I find more troubling, and more troubling yet because I myself am often guilty of indulging in them.

By nature, I am not an aggressive person. Given my druthers, I would happily stay at home, do the cooking and cleaning, mind the cats, wear pretty dresses, read fluffy novels, and never EVER get into a situation where I’d have to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. I am an introverted, conflict-averse homebody who enjoys indulging in past times associated with traditional femininity. For these reasons, I often catch myself feeling like a bad feminist.

I am writing this today to convince both myself and you that such a thought is unfair and straight-up wrong.

In my life, I am fortunate to be surrounded by an astonishing group of women. They are scientists, mothers, teachers, artists, activists, wives, businesswomen, professors, politicians, engineers, lovers, and dreamers. They believe in causes and they fight for those causes. They state their opinions boldly and look for ways to rally others to the call. They expose injustice and uphold truth and righteousness. If it isn’t already apparent, I’ll say it clearly: these women are superheros.

And me? I am one of the tiny faces in the background, cheering them on. I am not leading any charges; by nature I am inclined toward following. I’m not recruiting others to the cause; given recent life experiences, I feel a strong aversion toward suggesting that other people should believe as I do. Worse yet, I find myself reluctant to join their marches, call their senators, or copy their protests onto my Facebook wall. My reasons for this range from the sensible (a small business owner living in a red, red state must take very calculated social risks) to the cowardly (what if I offend great uncle Ted and he won’t talk to me at the next family reunion?).

If I feel cowardly and don’t like that about myself, perhaps I should do some things to address that aspect of my personality. But here, I think, is the more important thing I need to change about this pattern of thinking:

There is no wrong way to be a feminist. Despite what some men might believe, there is no Feminist Card that will get revoked if I stay home from the marches, keep my political opinions to myself, or cook my husband dinner. Feminism is not about adhering to a prescribed set of social behaviors and actions, it is about women everywhere being able to live their lives on their own terms, without anyone – not men, and not other women – telling them they can’t or shouldn’t. Feminism is the very reason I should feel great about each decision I make for myself in a given day. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who support and celebrate my decisions, from my frivolous choice of reading material all the way up to decisions as serious as whether or not I will have children.

I am supported, and I am loved for exactly who I am and what I do. Extending that same support and love to the other women in my life is something I can do without reserve. Perhaps I could work a little on boldness, on finding ways to use my strong position and my privilege to help other women gain political ground. But until I figure that out, I can celebrate the ways in which I can and do support the feminist ideals. I own two businesses and employ three other women. I attend my Historic Preservation Commission meetings every week, where my voice is heard and my opinions are carefully weighed in halls that have traditionally echoed only with male input. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a friend, and I strive to be the best of each of those things that I can be. I am also a complex mix of archaeologist, writer, actor, singer, cook, teacher, runner, gardener, and dreamer. If I worry that no one of those identities takes a dominant enough place in my life, that’s fine – entertaining that worry is my right – but it doesn’t make me a lesser or greater person, nor a lesser or greater feminist.

I will support and embrace myself today. I will support and embrace all of you, my magnificent feminist friends. This is not too much to ask, and it is not too little.

My Bazaar Treasure

When last we saw our heroes, they were lost in the middle of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, having sworn to Buy Nothing! and yet surrounded on every side by rabid carpet salesmen.

But before we can reveal the exciting conclusion to this mad adventure, we must first take a trip back in time to something that happened before our brave adventurers even left the United States.

Because I am easily amused, Dustin often sends me photos or articles that he thinks will make me smile, laugh, or say “hmm.” I get lots of great cat videos, comic strips, bouncing goats, and that one picture of the dog stuck in the hedge.

Dog in Hedge
Seriously. This is funny Every. Single. Time.

But one day, he sent me this series of pictures, with the following captions also attached.

I, also, had not realized how badly I needed a tiny city on my figure until I saw these rings. Stunning.

So I admired the photo, passed it on to a few friends, and then let it slip out of my mind for awhile.

Back to Turkey. With a name like Sevan Bıçakçı, is anyone surprised to find out he’s based in Istanbul? And with a husband as clever and awesome as mine, is anyone surprised to find out that he found out where the gallery is and planned a visit?

The moment we walked through the very nondescript door located on a tiny street in the old heart of Istanbul, I realized I was out of my league. Two formally dressed gallery assistants waited to greet us. Less than a dozen glass-fronted niches each displayed carefully curated, mind-boggling treasures. Dustin hadn’t told me what we’d find through the door, but the moment I looked into the first display window, I recognized the style.

“It’s like those rings you showed me! With the tiny cities inside!”

“It is those rings I showed you,” he replied.

The gallery assistant wanted to know what we were interested in. “Just looking! Haha, we can’t afford this stuff. Oh, er, is it okay to just look?” The woman’s scarf was probably worth more than my plane tickets.

Of course it was, she assured us. But she didn’t leave us alone with the treasures. She escorted us from display window to display window, explaining how the artist spent four months crafting each ring, carving out the tiny buildings, birds, and flowers from the back side of the large topaz (or other stone), then painting each by hand, in relief, from the inside out.

I do not know how the woman lured us into the back room, where I found myself seated with a cup of tea and a plate full of cookies, but there we were, being shown tray after tray of exquisite works of art which were all too fancy, too big, and too, too expensive for a peasant like me.

We spent an hour or so admiring their treasures and then ever-so-politely bowing out upon learning the price of the ring I’d finally pronounced as the most beautiful (the annual wage at my first full-time job was on par). We laughed our way back down the street, feeling pleased with ourselves for having come so close to such magnificent works of art, and promising ourselves we would some day be rich enough to buy one.

Fast forward back to this.

What could possibly have broken my resolve to slide through the bazaar without getting tangled up in the terrifying process of trying to actually buy something?

As previous paragraphs might have led you to believe, it was a ring. Perched in the middle of a large display of unremarkable rings in the narrow window of a small shop was a big, blingy ring with a tiny building carved into it.

“Do you suppose it’s one of his?” we whispered to each other. “Sure looks like it. I wonder how much one of his rings would cost around here?” “Haha! If you have to offer half of what they ask, just to get close to the real value…”

We moved on in search of the antique book stalls (which we never found), but the image of the ring followed us around. Later that night, as we packed our bags in preparation to fly out the next day, Dustin said, “We should have asked. We should have just asked how much that ring cost. Even if the price was outrageous. I wish we had asked.”

We packed a bit longer, pondering this missed opportunity.

“Our plane doesn’t leave until 1:30,” I finally volunteered.

Now the silence extended as we did the math. The bazaar would open at 9:00. We would need half an hour to walk there, and half an hour to walk back. At least half an hour to find the stall again and ask about the price. An hour’s ride to the airport, to be there at least two hours early.

We could do it.

And so the next morning, we found ourselves back at the stall of Dogan, my friend up there sporting the beard. I started by trying to stroll by casually, just another disinterested tourist. Not a tourist who had come back early specifically to look at a ring. Blasé. Bored. Unimpressed.

Istanbul Bazaar 5
Doo de doo. Don’t mind me. I’m not slobbering on your jewels. Doo de doo.

I was so successful that Dogan didn’t even come out of the stall to heckle us. We had to stick our heads inside and heckle him.

“This one is very beautiful,” he said, unlocking the back of the cabinet to pull out the ring. “Very unusual, very special.” (I see what you’re doing there, Dogan.)

With his permission to touch the ring (one asks permission to touch something that might cost as much as the down payment on a house), I put it on my finger and had to laugh. It was much bigger and heavier than even the big, heavy rings I had tried on at the gallery. Clearly made for a person with a bigger hand, bigger presence, and bigger pocket book than I.

But it was SO pretty.

Even if it was ridiculous, we had to ask. We had come all the way back just to ask.

“Soooo…” Casual. Nonchalant. Not really interested in buying, just curious. “How much does a ring like this cost?”

“Well…” Dogan starts. “You have to understand that this ring is very special, very unusual. And this is gold,” he said, showing me the inner lining of the ring. “And these are diamonds, real diamonds. See how many there are?”

Yeah yeah, I’m thinking. Get on with it. How many thousands of dollars do you want for this ring??

“This ring,” Dogan finally announces, “costs <censored>.”

My jaw dropped. I immediately closed it, and then hoped he’d interpreted my surprise as sticker shock. It was sticker shock, but the opposite-of-usual sort. The price he’d just named was not chump change, but it was a mere fraction of what I’d been expecting.

“It’s real gold!” Dogan reminded us, in the face of my surprise. “Real diamonds!” To him, these seemed to be bigger selling points than the astonishing building carved into the ring.

We thanked Dogan and told him we’d need to think about it. We hadn’t actually planned to think about it, so now we had a real conundrum. We put our heads together like a couple of cartoon bandits planning a heist.

“For that price, it can’t be real, can it?”

“Does it matter? It’s beautiful.”

“Can we afford <the price Dogan named>?”

“Wrong question. The question is, can we afford the final price?”

“What do you think we could talk him down to? The number already seems so low.”

“Well, what are we willing to spend on it?”

“If it’s real, we can afford his asking price! But what if it isn’t real?”

“If it isn’t real, it’s a pretty freaking amazing fake. I think it would still be worth it.”

“Particularly if those really are real diamonds.” We grin at the imitation of Dogan’s enthusiasm for the diamonds.

“It doesn’t have a maker’s mark. All the ones at the gallery had maker’s marks.”

“Maybe it was a really early piece?”

“Maybe it’s a fake.”

“But still an amazing piece of art.”

“It’s way too big to actually wear.”

“But it’s art!”

We went around like this for maybe ten minutes. The bargain of a lifetime, maybe, but think of how many dinners out I could have for that money!

And so I found myself having tea with Dogan as we rolled up our sleeves and got on with the business of haggling. Dustin said no to tea, but I read somewhere that it is the correct thing to do while negotiating over quality goods in Istanbul.

I sipped my tea (it was dreadfully strong), and we discussed the price of the ring. Such a high price! we said. Gold! he said. It’s the wrong size! we said. We can resize it! he said. I didn’t mean to spend this much money! I said. I’m just not sure! I said. It’s really nice, but…! I said.

He lowered the price for us three times before we settled. It was more than we’d hoped to spend, but at least he hadn’t managed to talk us into paying more than his original asking price, which is about what I expect of my haggling skills.

(Actually, at one point Dogan’s associate arrived, just in time to weigh in on the bargaining process. I fully expected him to say, “Dogan, you dolt! You forgot a zero when you told them the price! Deal canceled!”)

We waited for a very anxious half hour while they inserted a sizing ring that would make it possible for me to wear it. “Fifteen minutes!” they had said, when we told them of our impending flight. “Ten!”

(Pro Tip: Don’t try to bargain over how long something will take at the Grand Bazaar. You will not win.)

And thusly did the treasure become mine. Have I made you wait long enough for pictures?

I spent the rest of our trip with The Treasure (as it came to be referred to) tucked into a zippered inside pocket of the backpack I always wore, and found myself slipping my hand into the pocket often to make sure it was still there.

When we returned to the United States, I took the ring to several different jewelers to try and assess the authenticity, at least, of the claims that the ring was gold and diamonds. It turns out you can’t identify gold by sight, without chemical analysis, but all the jewelers I talked to agreed that the coppery color of the parts which were supposedly gold (the ring itself is silver – a point that seems obvious in retrospect, but which Dogan certainly failed to mention at the time) was very strange, and they would be surprised if it was gold. But they all agreed the diamonds are, in fact, diamonds. Rose cut, kind of a smoky color, and well set.

All of which is nice, but doesn’t actually tell me if the ring might be a real Sevan Bıçakçı ring. We tried to contact the gallery. Apparently they don’t use email addresses, but we did find a rarely-used Twitter feed that we sent a note to. Nothing yet.

So what do you think, internet? Have I found a legitimate treasure, or a really impressive (and still treasure-to-me) fake?

How a Non-Shopper Survives the Istanbul Grand Bazarre

I do not love to shop. My shopping philosophy bears much more in common with the men I know than with the women I know: identify what you want, go in and get it, exit as soon as possible. I don’t like to shop for the sake of shopping. I don’t like to shop around to compare prices. I just want to buy something I need or want with confidence that I’ve paid a fair price, then move on with my life.

But one does not come to Istanbul and skip the Grand Bazaar.

Our hotel host assured us that one also should not buy any of the following in the Grand Bazaar: carpets, scarves, clothing, jewelry, or anything. “Tourist prices!” If we couldn’t resist trying to buy something in the Bazaar, he instructed, we must not offer more than half of what the seller states as his opening price. “Maybe one third.”

Have I mentioned that I also don’t like bargaining? I feel like I’m accusing the seller of offering me an unfair price if I try to pay less (because that’s exactly what I’m doing, because that’s exactly what he’s doing). I want to believe that other people are fair!

That’s not how you play the game here.

Which explains why I was making this face right before we entered the Grand Bazaar:

Istanbul Bazaar 1.jpg

Excitement and fear. Because, despite what is apparently an actual shopping phobia, the Grand Bazaar is a remarkable historical building AND activity. The Bazaar was constructed in 1460 and underwent several changes until it reached its final form in the early 1600s. (They were founding Jamestown right about then, if you’d like an American history comparison.)

When I hear the name “bazaar” I imagine narrow streets that are crowded with vendor booths. Nuh-uh. Nope.

grand-Bazaar-Shoppers-1024x682
Swiped this photo from someone else’s blog post about the Grand Bazaar (it’s a good post to read if you DO like shopping – click on the photo to check it out) because we didn’t manage to take any of our own wide-scope photos of this nutty place.

It’s a building. The whole bazaar is inside a building. It’s a freaking mall. Built in 1460. And, in Istanbullian architectural style, of course, it’s beautiful. Look at those painted, arched ceilings. Wikipedia helpfully informs me that it has “61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops [2][3] which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.[4] In 2014, it was listed No.1 among world’s most-visited tourist attractions with 91,250,000 annual visitors.”

That’s a lot of people. But we’re here in April, and it hasn’t been a good tourist season for Turkey so far, thanks to political strife on the country’s eastern borders (which our hotel host was quick to point out is “the entire distance of Europe away!”).

The downside of a place called a “bazaar” not being very crowded is that there is a much higher heckler/tourist ratio, so that you really have to firm up your resolution to ignore the people hollering for your attention on every side.

(Incidentally, Turkish men LOVE my hair. If I thought I stood out in Paris, hoo-boy, let me tell you about Turkey. I got more compliments about my hair walking through the bazaar than I’ve gotten on all other things in my life combined. “Excuse me, please? I want to show you my carpets! Hey? No? But you have such pretty hair!”)

We had a map, upon entering the Bazaar, and every intention of using it to follow a pre-planned course through the streets so that we could see all the highlights. That plan went directly to hell about 30 seconds after going through the gate.

GrandBazaarMapSmall
This map shows the inside of a building, guys.

We promptly got lost, and never ever got unlost. We wound up seeing most of what we wanted to see, but the booksellers section never did materialize.

I spent the first ten minutes inside having small, quiet panic attacks (I can’t begin to tell you how sweaty one’s palms get when the urge the flee is hemmed in by an endless labyrinth full of teacups, swords, scarves, spices, and five thousand Turkish men who just want you to take a quick look!). In the back of my mind, I thought it would be awfully nice to pick up a nice set of teacups, and maybe a scarf. Probably not a sword. But maybe some spices. I wanted to have all these things, but every time I considered looking closely at any item, my anxiety about the sales process scared me off.

To quell the growing sense of capitalistic dread, I had to decide to give up on pursuing an actual purchase, and decide to simple enjoy the bazaar as a spectacle. Having taken the pressure to buy away, the bazaar became an absolute marvel and an adventure.

A particular highlight was the antiques section in the very heart of the complex. We oogled astrolabes, the aforementioned swords, jewelry, armor, illuminated manuscripts, and every other manner of treasure you can imagine. Istanbul Bazaar 4Next up, find out how I wound up drinking tea with this guy in the middle of the bazaar.

My First World Wonder

 

Here we are, standing in front of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!

Ephesus Artemis 2
World Wonder Selfie!

Did you know the Great Pyramids are the only Ancient Wonder still standing? If you want to visit the other six wonders, you come to places like this and try to imagine what they might have looked like, or you go to a museum and admire the few bits that were “saved” by enterprising archaeologists of the past couple centuries.

The column you see in my pictures is everything that remains of the wonder know as The Temple of Artemis. Originally built around 550 BCE, the temple was burned down three times and rebuilt twice. By the time the Goths sacked it and burned it down in 268 CE, the area’s population had become predominantly Christian, so that the pagan shrine was left in ruins. Most of its stones and columns were taken away to become parts of other local construction projects, including St. John’s Basilica, local farm houses, and even the Hagia Sophia, all the way up in Istanbul.

The column seen standing in the photo is the stacked up bits that archaeologists found during excavations in the late 1800s. The bits don’t properly match, but they are all that remains of the temple in its original location.

Ephesus Artemis 1
My professional opinion is that the temple probably sunk.

Is your imagination failing you? Here we go.

Temple
Looks much tidier with more than one column still standing.

To see the other bits recovered during the excavation, one can visit the Ephesus Museum located in the nearby town of Selçuk. Namely, this beauty:

Ephesus Artemis
This is the picture you see next to the entry for “Pagan Idol” in most Christian reference books. It’s all those breasts. They make people nervous.

The statue of “the Great Artemis” is beautifully preserved from sometime in the 3rd century BCE. She’s also fascinating because she is a really unusual mixture of traditional Greek theology (the goddess Artemis, who was a virgin huntress) and local fertility cults (notably that of Cybele). In no other parts of the world did Artemis (Diana, in the Roman pantheon) take on this role.

And now it seems only fair that, having done a tour of the pagan temple, we do a tour of the Christian one that followed on its heels (and was built using an awful lot of its stones).

Legend has it that the Apostle John spent the last years of his life in Ephesus, as did Jesus’ mother Mary, whom he had given into John’s care before he died. Local Christians had constructed a small church in his honor very early, but when Christina emperor Justinian I learned that it was John’s burial place, he had a much bigger, more magnificent church built there.

Ephesus St John Model
We’ll start with the modeled reconstruction, this time.
Ephesus St John Plan
Here’s a little map, too, because I love maps. The dotted circles represent the ceiling domes.
Ephesus St John Overview
And here’s what’s left. This image looks into the center of the church, with the apse (area where the alter was, where the sermons were preached from) on the left, with St. John’s tomb straight ahead (in the space where you see the two low, white columns below the four big columns).
Ephesus St John Baptisery
Contemplating the baptisery.
Ephesus St John Baptisery 2
Deciding to get up to no good.
Ephesus St John Baptisery 3
Officially up to no good.

And then Dustin’s camera ran out of batteries, so we’re a little short on other detailed shots. Anyway, a sixth-century basilica is all well and good, but I wanted to see the really old stuff. Tune in next time for a tour of the actual city of Ephesus.

Awe of What’s New (and also very, very old)

Warning: this post is going to be a bit mooshy and philosophical. Rather than recounting the events of our first three days in Turkey (which Dustin has already done a nice job of on Facebook, if your’e interested), I am going to ramble about my impressions of what it’s like to be here. I promise to add some photos too, if you hang in there (or just scroll to the bottom), but I’m feeling so many things right now, I can’t help but toss this out there.

The feeling I have right now, being in Turkey for the very first time, is the same feeling I remember having as a 17-year-old, setting foot in France for the very first time. Everything is new. Everything is familiar, but just a little bit different than the way it is at home. Street signs are different shapes. Houses are built in different styles. Roads are different widths. The sounds, the smells, the hum of life around you – it all feels different and therefore somehow magical.

In the almost 20 years since my first visit to France, I gained a lot of experience with Europe. That magical shine wore away, changing instead to a kind of familiar otherness, comfort that can be quickly relearned with each new visit, like riding a bicycle. I can travel to France or Belgium or almost any other European country with the confidence that I will be able to handle myself well.

But Turkey… I might technically still be in Europe (for now!) but it’s all so new. I’m back to being the giddy teenager who shot 13 rolls of film in 20 days. The shapes of buildings and fountains and people are bright and foreign and fascinating and I can’t even soak them all in because there’s so much, another amazing sight around every corner.

And it’s old. I mean old. We’re practically in the Fertile Crescent here, guys. Civilization as we know it bloomed here. If the signs in the archaeological museum are to be believed, humans (or some of our nearest ancestors) have been living on the land now known as Turkey for 65,000 years. Sixty-five thousand. I mean, at that point they were still banging rocks together to make fire, but you can throw a stone from here and almost hit the place where written language was invented. Neolithic (late stone age) settlements existed in Istanbul as long ago as 9,000 years.

Istanbul’s existence as a city was established around 66o BCE when settlers from a Greek city-state arrived and founded Byzantium. A couple hundred years later, some Persians came along and took control. Then it was the Greeks again. Then the Romans. Then the Christian Romans (Constantine, to be specific, and now Byzantium becomes Constantinople). Then the Ottomans (and now the city becomes Islamic and started to be known by the name Istanbul).

Architectural and artistic remains from all these civilizations litter the streets, or in some cases are the streets. Ruins of city walls, palaces, churches, mosques,  monuments, markets. Houses and shops are built around or on top of foundations that are 2500 years old. The Hagia Sophia was built as a church in 573 and is still a functioning museum today. The only other buildings I’ve visited that can compare in age (the acropolis in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, etc.) are all in ruins. The ancientness of this place, the impressiveness of it, absolutely blows my mind.

My masters degree studies focused on the Eastern Mediterranean, which means I have significant background in the pre- and proto-history of this area (the parts when they were just developing writing techniques). To finally be able to set my eyes (and in some cases, my hands) on this history is so damned thrilling that sometimes I catch myself just standing there, gaping.

What’s become of this place, in the modern day, is no less fascinating. The piles of people (and cats!), the transformation of what is old and defunct into what is new and useful. Architectural styles from all over Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, swirled and blended together. Muslim women wearing their hijabs (head scarves) along with shoes that might have come out of a boutique in Paris, looking as stylish and self-possessed as any New Yorker – other women wearing niqab (scarves that cover everything except the eyes) and keeping their eyes firmly pressed to the ground – other women with bare heads, looking like they’d be at home in Los Angeles or Deadwood. (Haha.)

It’s beautiful. It’s eclectic, eccentric, electric. I’m bobbing about in the middle of it, trying to soak it all in.

And now, before I move on to the pictures you really came for, a word of reassurance: we know there have been political tensions in the area and we have done/are doing everything we should to stay safe. In fact, the parts of Turkey we are in and will later visit are statistically safer than many large US cities. That being said, it doesn’t matter where you are, you can never know what might happen. We are being and will continue to be smart and cautious about our travels.

Now, pictures!

Tiled lions from Babylon! Yes, that Babylon. So beautiful. So old. So happy they found my phone after it tried to run away.

Turkey Ayasofia Selfie
The Hagia Sophia – 1400 years old and still functioning – sits in the background. It was built as a church, turned into a mosque, and is now a museum.
Turkey Ayasofia
It is a chunk of a building. When you put up a structure this magnificent with a dome this big in the year 537, it doesn’t get to be elegant on the outside if it’s going to stay standing for more than a millennium.
Turkey Ayasofia Selfie 3
There’s no way to convey in a photo the immensity of the inside of this building, or the awesomeness of its antiquity and beauty. You’ll just have to come visit for yourselves.
Turkey Ayasofia Selfie 2
That’s the central dome, about 55 meters above us. That’s 15 stories, give or take. Built in the year 537, let me remind you. (Okay, the dome was reconstructed in 562, but still. 562!)
Turkey Dustin Assyrian
Walk like an Assyrian.

Turkish food. You guys, it’s so good.

Turkey Kitty - Copy
Kitty. With some Byzantine sarcophagi someone just left laying by the side of the street.
Turkey Kitty 2 - Copy
Kitties in a tree.

Now things get random and uncaptioned, because I’m late for a date with a Turkish breakfast. Enjoy!

Turkey StatuesTurkey Lion GateTurkey SumerianTurkey Mosaic AyasofiaTurkey Mosaic Dervishes

All of Paris, in One Update

I have visited Paris five times (if you don’t count that one time I got stranded there on my way home from my study abroad program), and every single time I am happy to arrive again. This is the second time Dustin has arranged a surprise trip to Paris. On the first occasion he proposed to me (spoiler, I said “yes”), and this second occasion marks ten years of happy marriage (officially, as of the 21st).

Paris is a comfortable kind of foreign. We know (generally) its streets and its customs. We know a lot about its history and how to find a good meal. We know how not to be Those Horrible Americans making asses of themselves on the subways and in the cafes.

On the other hand, these days I remember only enough French to embarrass myself. Fifteen years ago (FIFTEEN!), at the end of my study abroad program, a French man in the Paris airport told me I spoke French beautifully. It’s been a downhill slide since then, the bottom of which was illustrated on this trip by the fact that I could not prevent Parisians from switching to English while talking to me.

No matter! We passed a beautiful five days in the French capital, visiting a few of the nooks and crannies I’ve missed on previous trips, munching on fresh pastries in the spring gardens, and toasting to ten years over meals fit for kings.

A few highlights:

We rented a tiny apartment on Rue St. Michel, just across from the Jardins Luxembourg, with a straight-on view of the Eiffel Tower. A perfect location and a perfect view.

Paris View 1
This is the picture I took off our balcony, trying to impress you all with how close the Eiffel Tower was. In this picture, it looks 600 miles farther away than it actually was.
Paris View 2
This is the picture Dustin took. And now you know why he takes all the pictures.

All of Paris came out to sit in the parks on Monday, which was a beautiful, sunny day after a long cold spell. The fountains were full of water and toy boats, the gardens were full of flowers and pigeons.

Paris Gardens 1

Tuesday morning was our first chance to sleep in, and we took advantage of it. Then it was off to find the day’s fresh pastries and hot beverages, followed by a guided tour of the Opera Garnier, the opera house made famous by Gaston Leroux’s (and maybe, more, by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s) Phantom of the Opera. Most of the tour was dedicated to the astonishingly beautiful architecture and design of the building (called a “palace” for its grandeur) as well as its history, but our friend le fantôme certainly got a mention. We learned that the lake he supposedly inhabited below the Opera does not exist, but there is a pool of water down there, intentionally built by the architect to counterbalance the negligible weight of the interior stage area against the immensely heavy marble outer portions of the building. Also, it’s full of goldfish rather than murderous musical savants.

Paris Opera 1
When one came to the Opera in the 19th century, it was to be seen. See me?
Paris Opera 2
The opulence of this place was out of control. Can you imagine it lit by candles?
Paris Opera 3
Inside the theater, with a background view of boxes and the controversial new (1960s) dome mural. No phantom present, but they were setting up for a ballet.
Paris Opera 4
The Phantom’s box. You can’t read it in the photo, but the plaque under the “5” clearly labels the box as belonging to the Phantom. It’s the most rented box in the building.

Dinner on Tuesday night was an accidental adventure, when I misunderstood the waitress’s explanation of what “rongles” were, confused “ris” with “riz” and managed to order myself a bowl of kidney and pancreas stew. House special!

Paris Food 2
So the meat parts were creepy, but the flavor of this dish was outstanding. I ate nearly all the vegetables and managed to eat enough of the meat bits not to completely embarrass myself.
Paris Food 1
And then we rewarded my daring culinary accomplishment with a Grand Marnier Soufflee, my first ever soufflee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday we headed down to the Catacombs, an ossuary established in an old system of mines after the cemeteries started becoming public health hazards in the 18th century. The remains of some six million Parisians are at rest down here, dating back to medieval times and beyond. It’s difficult to comprehend the enormity of it all, but it was very impressive nonetheless.

Thursday, official date of our anniversary, we took a train down to Giverny, home of impressionist painter Monet. We got off the train in Vernon and rented bikes to cover the last six kilometers to the gardens. What a fantastic way to see that bit of countryside and town.

Paris Giverny Biking
First item on the agenda: find a good spot for a picnic lunch, featuring pastries from the Best Pastry Shop in Normandy.
Paris Giverny Biking 2
A very nice old man walked by, declared our picnic on the lawn “the most French thing to do” and offered to take our picture.
Paris Giverny Biking 3
This is me looking at my sandwich with adoration. It’s hard to explain how great a sandwich on really French French bread is.

We and six zillion other people then enjoyed a tour of Monet’s painting gardens and home-turned-museum. I’d visited once before, on a high school trip, but I don’t remember the gardens being anywhere near this magnificent. (Stand by for a LOT of photos.)

Paris Giverny 1

Paris Giverny 3
I hereby resolve to plant all the tulips.

Paris Giverny 2

 

(Look! I’m a flower!)

Paris Giverny 5
Mandatory photo in front of the bridge over the lily pond. It’s back there. Trust me.
Paris Giverny 6
This is a photograph, not a painting. Just in case you were wondering.

Incidentally, while we were in Monet’s house, I found a new stove for my kitchen.

Paris Giverny Stover
Dustin’s just measuring it to make sure it will fit.

Friday we headed to the Grand Palais, one of the magnificent buildings constructed for the same World’s Fair that produced the Eiffel Tower. They were hosting an exposition on rare books and art prints. Dustin teased me, going in, that we might have to buy another suitcase before leaving, but all we could afford to do was gawk. The manuscripts on display were incredible. Everything from illuminated medieval Bibles to letters written my Napoleon. I paid less for my house than I would have paid for some of those books.

Next stop was a tour of the towers of Notre Dame, a wildly popular tourist activity in Paris that I’ve managed to miss every single time I’ve visited. Dustin wisely scheduled it for after public hours, which meant we (our group) got exclusive time on the towers.

Paris Notre Dame 1Paris Notre Dame 2

The views were incredible, the gargoyles were delightful, but the very best was the bells. We only got to see the two in the south tower – Emmanuelle and Marie (catholic bells are named and baptized) – but boy, were they doozies. It used to take eight men to ring Emmanuelle. She is the oldest of the bells, cast in 1686. The other bells had dated to 1856, when they had been cast and hung during restorations after the French revolution, but they were recast in 2013, following 160 years of complaints from the choirs that the bells were ringing off-key.

Paris Notre Dame 4
There’s no scale, in this picture. That bell is about 4 meters tall and weighs 8 tons.
Paris Notre Dame 5
People who mess with Notre Dame’s bells are fed to this gargoyle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last stop of the day was for dinner in a restaurant called Dans le Noir, a dining experience that happens completely in the dark. It is staffed by blind guides who lead you through total darkness to your table, serve you a mystery meal that you cannot see, which you eat in the dark however you decide is best (I may have used my fingers a lot), and at the end, led back into daylight, you are shown the menu of what you ate. We don’t have any pictures (obviously), but the meal was delicious and the experience was absolutely fascinating.

And now, having gobbled down one last delicious pain au chocolate, we are en route to…. Istanbul! I am wiggling with excitement. Opportunity and exhaustion permitting, I’ll post slightly more frequent updates as this next adventure unfolds.