A great story in time by Allen Milewski …
Turkey is so rich in so many layers of history that it naturally evokes a sense of familiarity and sometimes even previous lives. Whether real or imagined, it is not uncommon for visitors to “realize” that they have been there before, usually during some undefined but distant past. Nuray has written earlier about our friend, Lynn, who decided, on her first visit to Turkey, that she had lived there in some past life. And, there is Abby, my own daughter who stopped short on her first visit to Pamukkale and cried, “that’s it: that is the scene I’ve kept dreaming about every night for the past five years! Except, in my dream there was a bloody battle going on in this valley.” (btw: there was such a battle)
My story starts with a deep feeling. We all have them: images or sounds that mean something profoundly special to us – that evoke a surprisingly deep emotion and total fascination. They could be deja-vu memories or just thoughts. It’s hard to say which. The most exciting are the mysterious symbols that seem to have no particular origins, that cannot be explained, that leave us wondering, “now, why did that make me feel so sad, or so happy, or so thoroughly occupied with some emotion that I cannot even describe.” In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the two main characters are uncontrollably drawn to a Shape. It turned out to be the shape of the mountain- Devil’s Tower – where they were to meet the Aliens, somehow injected directly into their consciousness. But, they didn’t understand that until after they spent many days dreaming of the Shape, drawing the Shape, molding the Shape in clay and trying to describe the Shape.
I have such a feeling. It is an image of deep, swirling water. Not waves crashing against the shore, but swirls out there in the deep middle with no specific cause, no discernable force. It’s dark, bubbling swirls that give me a feeling that something huge is about to happen.
I’ve had this feeling- this fascination and sense of intense anticipation – for as long as I can remember. There was a childhood event and there was a time when I thought it explained the fascination. The very first movie I was ever allowed to go to without adults was a few blocks from home at the Airways Theater, a building styled in a fifties version of Art Deco with multicolored lights reflecting off its facade. I went with my best friend, Mike, and it was an exciting night all around: getting dropped off at the front entrance, being given an extra quarter to call home from the payphone when the movie was over, buying popcorn solo. And, the movie itself was captivating: Jason and the Argonauts. What I remember most about it was the scene where Jason must navigate impossibly through the Clashing Rocks, and ends up making it safely but only because a huge Triton (Poseidon’s son) rises up to stand in the sea and holds the rocks apart just long enough for Jason’s ships to pass. Before Triton appears, the sea is a caldron of churning activity for what seems like an endless period of emotional buildup… until…. finally, he stands, huge and menacing, chest-high in water and towering above the rocks and ships around him. Whew, that is excitement! In your chest, you could feel the power that caused all that churning as he emerged from the depths.
Still, Jason was just a movie and it might be absurd to think it could give me such a life-lasting memory. Besides, I now have a better explanation.
The cove near our apartment in Gokcebel has a geological structure called the Magic Rock. It is out about 300 meters from our beach, slightly to the right and about the same distance off the nameless point of land where the new housing development by the same name and a lot of other building have been sprouting. So, it’s near the middle of the cove.
On some days, the Magic Rock is a calm layer of harmless rocks just below the surface with water from the Blue Aegean lazily circulating around them. On other days though, it becomes a dangerously potent swirl. The rocks themselves are not visible then, but their influence is. In truth though, is it the rocks, or, instead, some powerful force from much deeper below? Something dark and large? That is certainly the feeling you get. On those days, we call it “The Caldron” because it is hard to imagine that the water is not bubbling and hot. On those days, my old indescribable feelings about the swirl return and I can watch the Magic Rock endlessly, all the time feeling that spine-chilling thrill of a horror movie scene that you know is about to happen but hasn’t yet. I don’t know what I am waiting for, but it definitely seems to me, watching it, that something must come of it. Something will happen….
Nuray is away for a couple of days visiting a friend in Selimiye. I am left to navigate life alone- again using what I like to think of as “my Turkish” . I managed to pick up the fixings for dinner: a large square of su borek, some coban salad and a bottle of wine. It has been a hot day, so after eating, I take a stroll to find a cool place with a view to continue a bit more of the wine, and I end up at our closest beach. The beach itself is a small climb down from the roadway, but I sit myself above on a brick structure that seems to have been intended as a bath- and clubhouse for the beach. I think these walls were part of a larger development plan that, maybe, never got completed. I have certainly never seen anyone using the bathhouse, even though there are often people swimming at the beach- as there are now.
I pull the cork out of the wine bottle with my teeth and sit, watching the swimmers as I bask in the last pink rays of the sun setting over Tilkicik peninsula as it carves out most of one side of Agacbasi Bay. I watch, drink and listen since now some of the bathers are sitting on the sand circling an Ud player and singing sad Turkish songs. Further up the beach, I hear the soft clatter of dishes and I see the guests of Tersane Restaurant sitting at six or seven tables lined up in the sand. I can just make out Badem, the restaurant’s dear dog and de facto host, sitting softly below the head of one table, smiling in anticipation that he might later receive some fish heads from these guests. One table is sitting directly in the water – the guests had no doubt requested to sit with their ankles in the water to rid themselves of the day’s heat. As that heat evaporates into the evening, and as the wine bottle gradually empties, I get sleepy and lie down on the brick wall to watch the stars, just now starting to appear.
I must have dozed because now there are millions of stars. And somehow, everything appears more vibrant and the music has stopped. So have the distant restaurant noises, but they have been replaced by some other sort of commotion: shouting; even screaming. I leap up in a start and witness a totally new scene. I see two ships charging in toward the right side of Tilkicik. But, these are strange ships. They each have a tall piece arching forward and upward on their afts, much like a scorpion’s tail as it attacks. There is a sail, but most of the drive comes from oars, it seems like hundreds of oars, sticking out of the ships’ sides in one, two, three tiers. I can hear a deep, gargly voice shouting a cadence as the oars flash in unison speeding the ship up. There are now other boats- smaller fishing boats. But, the two war ships are cracking right through them. The moonlight casts a sharp reflection on the water and shows me something unbelievable in the front of these ships: eyes glowing at the water’s surface as if from a sea serpent. Glowing or just reflecting the moonlight because it is clear from their appearance that the ships’ bows are metal as they rip through the wooden fishing boats. As the ships reach land, I see that there are fires on-deck and archers are now launching lit arrows into the village- now huts instead of modern developments. Everything seems bright with this blaze and I can see villagers running frantically towards the mainland as soldiers are now streaming off one of the ships.
I have been staring, unbelieving, at these actions as if they were a movie. But, now I come to my senses and realize that there is danger. I turn around and see that things have changed on my side of the Bay as well. The restaurant is gone as are its guests. In its place are some wooden racks with fishing nets drying. The bathhouse I was sleeping on is now just a rocky embankment and the white plaster developments that had been scaffolding up the steep hills toward Gundogan are now missing. There is a small village just about where our apartment was, but the houses are small, stone huts with thatched roofs. Behind me is still a road, though it is just dirt now, and I see a short bearded fellow running along it toward the village.
“We are next!”, he shouts to me. “Better run into the hills!”
Then he cups his hands to his mouth to get more volume as he screams to the village, “Persians! Persians!”
I manage to grab his tunic and stop him for an instant- just long enough to ask why we were being attacked.
“Of course,” he says hurriedly, “how could we expect anything different. I mean, did we really think that beating them at Pedasus would mean we could live in peace? Darius has vowed to pay us back, and he will: village by village”.
He points at what I used to know as Tilkicik and I swing around to see it completely engulfed in flames with what laggards the soldiers could catch screaming in terror.
“We are next!”, he says. “And, you know it will be even worse for us Lelegians, worse than for the others here. We were foolish to think that our old ties to Sparta would keep us safe. It only makes things worse for us now. Ooohh!, We are next.” He starts running again.
I am not at all sure what he means by any of this, but I can’t hold him any longer. As he tears away, we struggle and he spins me around as he runs up the hillside shouting. I trip and hit my head on the stone wall that I had been laying on. I am not sure where to run myself. My head aches and I am not sure I can run. I am not even sure that I am really here and need to run. But, I don’t have much time to contemplate that because I can now see a new and terrifying development. The two war ships are shoving-off from their landing on the peninsula and are turning sharply toward us. We are going to be next, it is true. In the village behind me, everyone is now awake and running somewhere. Some run down to the water to try to salvage their boats, others up the hillside, trying to carry as many of their belongings as speed permits. But, the ships are coming fast, so the fishing boats will soon be a loss. And, the hillside is so steep that the soldiers will arrive well before anyone can reach the peak. I can hear the cadence of the oars again, going faster and faster toward us.
Then it happens. It begins with a deep moaning sound and a splash or two. Then, the splashing turns into a larger swirl and finally into a roar of water, churning from some deep spot below. The caldron! It is boiling like I have never seen it – boiling hot and growing larger and sucking down everything in its range. The two war ships are nearly over it by the time they feel it. The captain tries to use all the maneuvering skills he had learned for warfare, but he had never come across anything so forceful or so inevitable. There is fearsome yelling on deck and some sailors are jumping into the water as the ships are caught in the swirl. On one of the ships, the archers’ firepots overturn in the commotion, spraying burning oil over its deck. Now, the jumping sailors are ablaze as they leap overboard, screaming, into the turmoil. At some point, the two ships just give in to their fate and are passive as they are dragged down like refuse sucked into a roaring drain.
Then, there is nothing but silence. The caldron stops it’s swirling and the people stare in disbelief from the hills. It is over as quickly as it started and it is now as if nothing ever happened. I lay back down on the wall, exhausted and dazed. I know I need to walk down to the village where everyone is now returning. I need to know more about what just happened. But, would I even understand any of it? Besides, my head aches. I’ll rest for just a few more minutes.
The sun is already shining brightly on the blue water when I wake up. I sit up on the wall and scratch my fingers into it: it is brick again. The beachhouse is above me on the hill and the resorts of Tilkicik are bustling with activity. A cool morning breeze blows across the Bay and I can hear the workers there beginning their day. I turn and see Tersane Restaurant as I had known it, calm and welcoming. The developments behind me are back showing their bright white plaster walls in the morning sunlight. A little girl in a yellow sundress is playing in the sand below me with her bearded grandfather.
And the Magic Rock is there still. It is now as tame and innocent as Tersane’s Badem. I smile at it and wonder – what other mischief has it done throughout history? How many ancient stories could it tell?
I have tried to be as historically accurate as possible in this story. The Persians did indeed spend the year 493 routing coastal villages that opposed them in the earlier Ionian uprising. Please watch the video. Both Greeks and Persians used 3-tiered warships called Triremes and while the Lelegians’ origin is still a mystery to everyone, it appears that they had early ties to Spartans . Beyond these, how can one ever fact-check a dream?