Anatolian Express VI: Encomia for Kapadokya

Thursday, May 22, 2014 

I woke up early on Tuesday morning in Ankara, freezing cold in my room. Ankara was nice, but damp and chilly. May 19th—a national holiday—had been a fun time to be in the capital, but I was ready to leave. Kapadokya was calling.

Kapadokya (spelled Cappadocia in English, but I prefer the Turkish orthography) is an amazing place. When I was living in Turkey in the 1990s, people told me repeatedly that I needed to come hear, but I never did. I’m not really sure why—I traveled all over Turkey back then, but once I returned to the US and began graduate school I started traveling less in Turkey for fun. Instead, I was doing research, and spending my time mainly in Istanbul.
So here I am. When I was thinking about where I wanted to go to in Turkey this summer, Kapadokya was pretty much a no-brainer. The trip from Ankara to Kapadokya took about five hours by bus. Heading east out of the Turkish capital, most of the terrain was flat and grassy, and reminded me a lot of eastern South Dakota or western Iowa. A couple of hours into the journey we came upon Tuz Gölü, the ‘Salt Lake,’ which was  lavender colored amid the sun and salt. After following the lake across almost its entire northern littoral, the bus swung a left towards the city of Nevşehir, where I boarded a smaller service bus that took me the rest of the way to a little town called Göreme.

Kapadokya is a region, not a city or town, and within this area there are a number of different places to base oneself. I chose Goreme because friends who’d been to Kapadokya had recommended it to me, but there are other places around here as well. A couple of days ago, for example, I hitched a ride with the guy who owns the hotel where I’m staying to head to a town called Uchisar, which apparently caters to French tourists. I walked for a little over an hour back to Göreme through an almost completely isolated valley of rock sculptures. 
I’ve been in Göreme for the past three days, hiking through the valleys of ‘fairy chimneys,’ the otherworldly rock formations that cover the landscape here. Inside many of the chimneys and caves of Kapadokya are the ruins of ancient settlements, some dating back to the Hittites.  
This region of Turkey is amazing, and it’s a hugely popular tourist destination for foreigners and Turkish nationals alike. Nevertheless, it’s relatively uncrowded right now, despite the fact that the weather in late May is absolutely perfect for hiking. The weather is warm, sunny and dry in the daytime, but cool enough in the evening that I need to wear long pants and a jacket. Accommodation was easy to find on the fly when I showed up in town on Tuesday morning.  
As nice as it was to be in Istanbul last week, I frankly couldn’t feel better about having kept my time in Sultan City to a minimum. While I love Istanbul—and people who live there—I really felt a need to spend some time by myself on the road. The last eighteenth months have been pretty intense for me, not only because of the incredible amount of work that I had to put into my book, but also for personal reasons--relationship heartache. I’d been dating a woman for a year and a half, someone I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, but then woke up two Christmases ago to learn that she’d broken up with me via Facebook status update. It had been a long-distance relationship and she’d met someone local, but that didn’t stop her from from firing off dozens of vicious messages for weeks afterward, blaming me for the decisions she'd made. It was all pretty disturbing, to tell you the truth. My life had started to feel like a bad TV movie.  
In the face of this emotional garbage, and feeling at times like the loneliest person in the world on my mountaintop in Montana, I turned to my book. I poured all of my energy into it, and sought on a daily basis to transfer myself out of my immediate surroundings and into the land of Yusuf Akçura, Ahmet Ağaoğlu, İsmail Gasprinskii and the rest of my book’s heroes. The toughest time of all was last summer in Bozeman.
Having been in a long-distance relationship in recent years, I had allowed my local friendships in Bozeman to suffer. In the stillness and silence of a Montana college town in summer, I worked on my book for about a dozen hours a day. I don’t know what I would have done had it not been for the book. At times it seemed to me like the only people in the world that I could identify with were the people about whom I was writing. 
Things got easier when the school year started up again in the fall, but getting things taken care of with the book was hard. Fortunately, however, I realized that the local relationships I’d neglected over the previous years had not been irretrievably damaged. I was able to make new friends, as well as reconnect with old ones. Working double-digit hours per day, I was able to finish the book and get a contract with the publisher I wanted in time to have it published this fall. There’s still work to be done—I’ll need to go through the copyeditor’s notes when I get back from Turkey—but thanks to the professionalism and hard work of the staff at OUP it looks like things will indeed be wrapping up in the months ahead. I feel very lucky.  
So frankly, this summer I felt like it might be a good time to clear my head. It’s fun hanging out with friends in Bozeman, and it was great to see folks in Istanbul, but something about the idea of traveling from town to town in Turkey proved irresistible. I wanted to speak Turkish, to read and write on my own, and think about what I’d like to do next in life. For fifteen years I’ve been jumping through academic hoops—getting into an MA program, finishing my thesis, getting into a PhD program, defending my dissertation, finding a job, and now writing a book included among the most notable of these. For sure, there are more hoops lying ahead—I’m going up for tenure this upcoming year—but I felt that, this summer especially, some sort of break was needed.  
Walking among the fairy chimneys of Kapadokya, I felt like I’d found what I was looking for. In places where nobody knows me, I’ve been able to walk and think and write and start detaching myself emotionally from the book project into which I’d poured so much of my own life. I’ve realized that what I really needed to move on from right now was not so much a relationship that was never right for me, but rather the book that served as a surrogate for me over the past eighteen months. 
I think this is one reason why I find the story of the Turkish Republic so inspiring. The people who created this country—and I’m not only talking about the leaders—had lost everything. Roughly one-fifth of the population of Anatolia had died between the years 1912 and 1923. Much of the early population of the Turkish Republic, moreover, was made up of bewildered refugees who had arrived from the Balkans and Russia. 
This country experienced a collective trauma the likes of which I could never imagine, but people focused upon looking ahead and making something new. Leave aside, for a moment, the politics and ugliness and authoritarianism that often accompanied this process, the consequences of which are still visible on a daily basis in this country. The story of moving forward, of trying to make something new out of the ruins of disaster, is a very compelling one, and is one of many reasons why—twenty-two years after I first came to Turkey—I still find spending time in this country to be so inspiring.
Heading east out of Ankara, the terrain was flat and bleak

Okay—enough with the drippiness for now, let me show you some pictures from Kapadokya, which I think are awe-inspiring in their own right:
The lavender waters of Tuz Gölü, the Salt Lake.

Good times!

Wind + soft stone= natural sculptures 

 May is a relatively peaceful time to visit


Okay, this is all I have time to put up for now. The full gallery, however, is on display in the Borderlands Lounge.  
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