we set off on our great adventure to discover the truth of Alexander

Late last summer, the haze still hung heavy over the alleyways of Istanbul. It was shortly after the most recent coup against the Sultan. The oppressive humidity matched the overbearing nature with which the Sultan’s men patrolled the streets. Fear hung heavy as teachers, professors, writers, and many others were wrapped up in the Sultan’s timed overreactions.

I found myself weary after arriving on the Express and eagerly sought refuge in a small but busy pub recommended by a friend. The journey on the Express was rather tiresome. I was constantly hassled by a Serb (or possibly a closet Moldovan) named Nikolai who was a far less interesting man than he thought.

Most seats in Zeki’s were taken, but I found enough open space at the bar. Smoke, conversation, Istanbul surrounded the place. It was good to be back on the road. It warmed me even before my first sip. But my first drink of scotch proved to be a poor choice. Even the most delicious of beverages can be drilled through by the worst of heat. At the barkeep’s recommendation, I switched to the raki, an inferior liquid but much preferable given the weather. Even the hint of ice, normally hated, was more than welcome to me.

“Good enough?” said the barkeep.

“Quite,” I replied, hoisting the glass toward him, “And your place I take it?”

He nodded, “Indeed, for many years now. May I ask how you found it back here, foreigner that you are.” “A friend,” I replied scantly.

“Ah,” Zeki scanned his establishment, “But what brings you to this city of life in these dark times?”

“Are these really dark times?” I asked.

“What? Oh,” he chuckled deeply, “No, no not really. What’s another coup?”

I smiled, looking down at my drink, “Just another day.”

He swiped his finger through the air, “Precisely!” He shrugged, “And after all, life doesn’t change, not even here.”

“No?”

“No, no, the Sultan shall be the Sultan, whoever that is, and life goes on. After all, the Sultan’s men do not change.”

“No?”

“They are the same, whoever they are,” he shrugged, “ I pay my bribes, the protection if offered, life goes on,” he said as if discussing why summers were considered hot. “But you Sir, you are here…”

I sipped deeply, “I seek Alexander.”

“Oh,” Zeki laughed heartedly, as if I’d just stated I intended to find The Prophet himself, “Well then, here he is, here he is, Sir.” Zeki mockingly pointed to a crusted framed picture, one of many, that adorned the wall atop the bar. And indeed, there among the many of history’s great faces was the greatest general himself. And off Zeki was, to another customer down the bar.

“Alexander’s dead,” from nowhere offered the man next to me. A man I’d not noticed thus far, so unassuming he was. He was far older than I, and also not a local. He slumped deeply at the bar, tired, his eyes closed, but not drunk, not wholly yet anyways.

“Yes,” I cautiously offered, “very much dead. But I seek the truth of him.” “Yeah, why, where?”

Not knowing this man, or his motives, I sought to learn more about him before ever speaking further. “And you Sir, I cannot place your accent for certain, though I can guess.” Without a shadow of guile the man gave himself forth, to a total stranger as I, “I’m Cornish.”

“Oh,” I said, shaking my head in pity and disgust, “I am sorry.”

He shrugged, resigned. And without any hesitation, he opened his life to me. “If you’re going after Alexander I’ll go too.”

So taken aback I was by his statement that I was dumbfounded. Seeking refuge in my glass, I found it empty. And so to pass the thought, I simply asked, “And your name?” “George,” he flatly stated.

“And where from George?”

“Cornwall…”

“No, no,…”

“Ah, Afghanistan,” he said, “a terrible place, and one that was equally as kind to Alexander as it was to me.”

And thus it all began to add up for me fairly quickly. The broken demeanor, the drinks, the resignation, and then, the pistol, carefully and professionally concealed within his clothing. The long look in his eyes, the old, but still strong frame of this man of the people of the English sea. I could use him, why not. Clearly here was a man in need of purpose. And men in need of purpose are the most useful of men.

“Not to Afghanistan, not yet, but certainly, if you need something to do, I’d welcome such a man as you.”

He nodded, slowly, pleased, grunted, and briefly hoisted his glass to me, emptied it, and motioned to Zeki for another. And another found him, and I as well.

“I hear all in my bar,” said Zeki to me as he poured.

“As any good bar should,” I responded.

“Our part of the world is generally unkind, especially to two foreign, eh, men, such as yourself,” Zeki capped the bottle with force.

I nodded, not knowing why.

Zeki leaned against the rail, his ear halfheartedly to mine. He drew incompressible designs on the bar’s surface, “Help, help is always helpful to those who need help.” I said nothing.

“A man on his travels in this part of the world needs friends, friends not in the fray,” Zeki spoke relatively softly, “I could perhaps…”

“I know you not.”

“Oh,” he smiled in a way that cleared my throat, “but even your presence here came at the recommendation of a, friend, yes?” Zeki scanned his pub briefly, “And in the end, I know who you are. And you shall thus see that I know your Guests, and have done business with them in the past. And yet,” he leaned back, proudly, “I have not presented you to the Sultan’s men. Though this would benefit me greatly.”

Sometimes knowing a man takes a lifetime. Sometimes you never actually know a man. Sometimes you have to take risks on men. Sometimes they take risks on you. And yet besides all this, I found not the need, but the desire to take a risk upon this Zeki. Here was a man, indeed recommended by my friend, but for what, a drink, or a chance? And here was this Zeki, self-assured, honest, even reckless to having met me a few minutes ago had yet already chanced to inform me that he had the Sultan’s men in his pay. That he thought nothing of the Sultan’s rule itself. Yes, yes why not risk this man, why not risk it when I had nothing else on offer. After all, even Alexander himself knew the importance of never venturing into the darkness without securing one’s rear area and homefront.

“And for you, so what?” I asked cautiously.

“Nothing,” he leaned back, “Not yet. But write to me,” he said, “when it is my time, you will know, and you will answer.”

Always the risk, but I nodded, once, hoping one day, I did not regret it. I could sense George’s uneasiness. He was back against his stool, one hand now always free. But it was my decision. Not George’s. And if George was to journey with me, he should understand this.

“But in the meantime,” Zeki held out his palm to behind me, “help, help for the two foreign dogs.” Behind us stepped forth two men. My attention first turned to the larger man, cloaked, and certainly a predator. “Mut,” (he pronounced it ‘moot’) Zeki named him, “And at your service. The finest of Oran’s backstreets.”

Mut fit his name’s spelling if not pronunciation well. His face and body, Berber, Arab, even if (dare I never have mentioned to him) perhaps a touch of Algérie in his complexion.

When confronted with an attack dog, directness is either the worst or best of options. I chanced best, simply stating, “And what is your talent, Sir.”

Mut opened his cloak, and contained therein was as throng of blades, edged weapons, decorated, sharp, beautiful. He closed his cloak. Joined his hands before him, and said nothing.

I chuckled, “Okay, you’ll do.” Surprisingly, George nodded, though I was unsure what George saw in this man that did not take his thoughts back to similar men he had undoubtedly met, and met sportingly or not, in Afghanistan.

The second man quickly stepped forward without giving Zeki an chance to introduce him. He thrust his small delicate hand forward to I, then to George, shaking with a brisk but firm strength, “Stelios, at your service,” he offered with a smile. “My talent? Quite simply,” he grunted softly, “is to relieve others of their possessions by my actions.” He clicked his heals. George shook his head in repulsion.

There could not have been a more Greek looking man on all the Earth. Short, solidly built, but with a deep refinement. His lengthy curled air, oiled, hung over a suit, tie, and shoes that if I had been told cost more than everything in this bar combined, would not have surprised me. But what use to us was he? Was there any meaningful nature behind the immaculate man? With such men, there is always an easy way to find out.

Off in one of the darker corners of the bar, sat a janissary and a few companions. Out of uniform, poorly armed, and looking deject, I could only assume they were now unemployed, perhaps even unemployed recently having found themselves on the wrong side of the coup. Now here, to drink their way to a future that was never coming. To the one closest to me I motioned with the greatest of care to Stelios, “I don’t like your kind, but see that man, go bring me one of his pistols.” Without waiting for a response, I returned to my drink.

Without offering a response, Stelios was off. It took him some time, but eventually I noticed he had found his way to the janissary’s table. And they talked, and talked, Stelios pulled up a chair, and he talked more. Mut became bored, sat down next to George, and drank, and drank again. After a good long while, I sighed, remarking wryly to George, “Theft is always far more boring in reality than in fiction.”

“Quite,” said George, deadpan.

So it went for a long, long time. Zeki was engrossed in conversation with men at the other end of the bar. The light outside began to fade. And perhaps, just perhaps the heat began to fade too. And I chanced a glance over my shoulder, and the janissary and his friends were gone and so was Stelios. Either Stelios had followed them out, or had given up and fled in shame. Either way, I cared not. I hated thieves anyways.

I grunted, sipped again, and then my eyes darted left, and next to me was Stelios. Shocked, I nearly reached within my coat, but before I could he planted before me with a delighted flourish a silver pistol of the janissary. He laughed out loud, took my glass, and finished my drink, his pristine teeth gleamed with the liquor’s remains and pride. “Oh,” he quipped, “and this too.” And he did plop atop the pistol my pocketwatch. George cackled with a partially inebriated humor. I looked down mournfully at my chest, and smiled without teeth.

“Okay,” I nodded slowly, “you’ll do.” And I clapped Stelios on the shoulder and guided him to the stool next to mine. And thus the four of us we drank for a while, as we resolved to depart on our adventure in the morning. For the night was ending, and when one starts to drink raki in Istanbul, one does not stop while the night is young.

And as often happens, but so rarely turns out to be the case, I felt myself being watched. And I wondered if this adventure was doomed to fail before its start. But I appraised Zeki, who was still involved in boisterous conversation down the bar. Mut and George were trying out their French, George by far the poorer of the exchange. Stelios was buried in a newspaper. I glanced about, subtly as possible, to see if only I could perceive the danger.

It took time, far too much time, blame the raki, to notice her. Off to the other corner, by the open bay window which led toward the busy alley. She was there alone, at the smallest of the window’s tables. I didn’t know her, I hadn’t seen her, but I instantly knew that she knew whatever I knew. It was written through the glean in her deep dark eyes. Without thinking, without fear, I rose from my stool and began to walk toward her. Was she a threat? Figure it out, immediately.

Yet as a approached her more and more I began to appreciate the inherent raw beauty that she was. And I began to unconsciously feel myself standing straighter, less drunk than I might have been, and intended to approach her with the greatest class possible. A threat she might have been, I was still a man, much to my detriment if she meant to end our adventure before it’s birth.

And in this state did I thus collide with a small dog that was darting across the floor. And thus did I partially tumble to the floor, only bracing myself on an occupied chair. Pulling myself up, I endeavored to appear the classy subject of a cruel joke played by the sharpest & wittiest of men, and not the victim of a scampering four pound nonsentient canine.

If I failed she did not show it. I sat down slowly, her eyes never moving from me at any point. Not alcohol for her, but coffee, Turkish black, black as her hair. The steam from the mug rose above to her face which gave her an ethereal quality which matched her beauty. Surely here was a face that matched the goddesses that Alexander would have sacrificed to. She drank her steaming coffee, not with delicacy, but with long deep sips like a barbarian Northman.

And thus with this thought on my mind, did she simply state, with the most delicate of slurs, “Alexander.” No lies, no lack of understanding, but I could say nothing. I knew not which way to respond, damned the raki and the heat which had taken all cunning from my brain. Or was it the way she looked, that I didn’t care to joust. Not at all. “I’ll go,” she stated flatly.

“Why?” I stated without resistance and even a slight desperation, “what are your talents?”

She smiled deeply, and I partially melted even more in the heat, “Many.”

I shrugged, she could have stolen one of my eyes if she’d wanted, I would not have cared, “Certainly.”

She smiled, even deeper, but perhaps, less genuinely as she hummed, “I might betray you.”

Ever the fool that I was, and beyond care, I blurted out, “Not if I betray you first.”

She cackled, rose swiftly, drained her coffee, slapped her palm on the table, “I am Alianna of Provence. And we, we shall find Alexander.” And before I was ably out of my chair she was already passed me, and at the bar. And Zeki was pouring more drinks. And I slugged over, smiling, suppressing all fear, and replacing it with optimism. Too much risk? For certain. But for the moment, I truly didn’t care.

And thus it began, this great adventure, as we set off to discover the truth of Alexander. I, the degenerate, George the Soldier, Mut of Oran, Stelios the Thief, and Alianna of Provence. And there Zeki, Zeki of Zeki’s.

And with the great Alexándrou Anábasis, the finest of all the works ever written about Alexander as our guide, did we thus begin. But not yet, for there was more raki, and Zeki was not charging, not yet anyways. And we drank until the day was gone, and even the streets of Istanbul began to cool down, a very long time.

Join us!

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when heroes turn to evil

In these very strange times it’s helpful to listen to some words from history:

The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If ever we look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that just because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power, the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white.

And who was the wise and just man that said this? Robert Mugabe, as in the guy who utterly destroyed and ruined an entire country to feed his desires for expensive wines, prostitutes, and fine cheese.

Believe it or not once upon a time Planetary-Stormtrooper-Goons such as the Castros or Mugabe were considered, and in some cases actually were, real heroes. They said and did many of the right things. They battled evil dictatorships, helped the poor, at least gave lip service to democratic principles, and so on.

Well that sure didn’t last. If you built a top ten list of history’s great monsters of the last century you could make a fair argument that Mugabe and Castro need their faces in the queue. These men who freed millions, provided hope to an entire country, and were recognized worldwide as potential icons of freedom ultimately turned to darkness, straight evil, perhaps even far more evil than the one they replaced.

 

This is sadly a theme you see all throughout history with revolutions and rebellions. But, still: What the hell happened?

Was it because folks like Castro and Mugabe were always evil from the start, or that they only became evil after they gained absolute power? I’m inclined to think it’s a little bit of both.

And so now enters upon this very troubled stage Aung San Suu Kyi who for all the political confusion, essentially holds political power in Myanmar. Once the darling of freedom and democracy throughout the globe Aung San Suu Kyi has seen her reputation and reality destroyed almost overnight as she’s presided over one of the more stark and brutal genocide campaigns in modern history.

For the uninitiated (or those focused on Dancing With The Stars or what Taylor Swift had for lunch yesterday) here’s what’s been going on:

– In Burma, about 1% of the population is Rohingya Muslim who live mostly on the northwest coast next to Bangladesh. This is in contrast to the nearly 2/3 who are Bamar Buddhist, the majority of the population. There are dozens of other minority ethnic groups in Burma beyond the Rohingya. Some parts of the country have essentially been in a state of civil war for five decades.

– After decades of house arrest for pro-democracy efforts, Aung San Suu Kyi is now State Counselor of Burma. She can’t be President because the Army rigged the qualification rules. So her party has a figurehead president, but Aung San Suu Kyi calls the shots. She holds executive power in Myanmar.

– There’s been ethnic turmoil in the west between Rohingya Muslim and Buddhists for decades with the last large scale violence in 2012.

– A few weeks ago Rohingya rebels and/or terrorists (depends on your point of view) struck various police and Army barracks killing about a dozen uniformed personnel. In response the Army did what it does best, it went wild. If you thought the scenes with the Myanmar Army in Rambo IV were part of the movie’s action packed nonsense, I assure you, the Myanmar Army got this reputation for a reason.

– Hundreds-of-thousands have fled to the border of Bangladesh. Untold thousands have been murdered, raped, whole villages razed. It’s humanity at its worst.

I think what essentially happened is at Myanmar Army Headquarters they had this plan on the shelf. It was printed on nice clean official paper and on the front it said “Rohingya Liquidation Campaign”. When the Rohingya rebels conducted their attacks a few weeks ago, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (a historically known miller of innocent human flesh) opened his desk drawer, took a swig of whiskey from a solid gold flask, said “Thank you very much, assholes,” and took the plan off the shelf and gave it to his goons to execute.

Everything after that has been on autopilot. The Army, assisted by local Buddhist militias, has done what one would expect them to do when ordered to exterminate a whole people. And where is Aung San Suu Kyi? Nowhere.

Apologists will make the argument that it’s not Aung San Suu Kyi’s fault. That the Army is actually calling the shots in Myanmar and she’s unable to stop the violence as she’s a figurehead. This ignores the apparent political power she wielded since the last election and which she’s been widely praised for using. It also doesn’t explain her essential silence and denials that anything remotely approaching genocide is occurring.

Nothing is stopping Aung San Suu Kyi from simply saying the violence has to stop. Instead, she’s made various inexplicable claims such as the Rohingya burned their own villages or are fleeing to Bangladesh at their own initiative.

Any reasonable person can only come to one conclusion. Aung San Suu Kyi supports the Army’s mission, thus genocide. Why? What the hell happened to this women? To me, when you really think about it, it’s actually rather simple:

1) Aung San Suu Kyi spent decades as a dissident and democracy campaigner. But, until recently she never actually held political power. She never ruled or ran anything. Nobody actually had a resume of hers to look at and say, this is who she really is.

2) Since the end of her exile, the restart of politics, and the last election a reputation has emerged that Aung San Suu Kyi runs her political party, the National League for Democracy, in an autocratic and closed manner. She doesn’t tolerate dissent or rivals, party policy is done at her whim behind closed doors, those who speak out are silenced or removed from the party.

3) Aung San Suu Kyi was born into, is, part of the central Bamar Buddhist establishment. Daddy helped found the country before he was assassinated. Daddy also founded the Myanmar Army. This was after Daddy had served in that oh so merciful organization known as the Imperial Japanese Army.

4) It was widely reported in the years leading up to the election that Aung San Suu Kyi could do business with the Army because (among other reasons) she still had an enormous amount of respect for the Army seeing as how Daddy founded the organization. In other words, despite decades of repression against her own person, Aung San Suu Kyi never checked out of the ruling Buddhist establishment.

5) Oh by the way, the majority of her voters are Bamar Buddhist and some of her most blowhard fervent supporters are Buddhist religious militants.

So what we have is a political newcomer, who already has autocratic tendencies, who was raised by a military man with a questionable background and record, who has always been a card carrying member of the establishment. And thus we get the picture of a woman who can very much share the vision of the Army that Myanmar is in fact a Buddhist nation, run by and for the Buddhist majority, with the Army as the cricket bat that enforces and maintains it.

It’s a very, very sad picture. And one that isn’t going to change any time soon. Aung San Suu Kyi is ruined in the international world. She didn’t even attend the United Nations meetings last week, so fearful was she of the criticism she would face. But does she really care? I doubt it.

Myanmar’s generals have been international pariahs for decades. They’re still rich, they’re still in power. And just like Castro or Mugabe, I suspect that a decade or two from now Aung San Suu Kyi will still be around. Disrespected, disgraced, and yet still calling the shots.

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the true valentine loves not the vampire

This whole Valentine’s Day story is quite baffling because there’s a whole bunch of weird history behind it. It turns out the Giant Octopus of the Vatican doesn’t even really know who Saint Valentine was. This is an organization that professes it has a hotline to God via the Pope guy who happens to be in the chair at the time. Or something like that. So if they say they don’t have any solid info on Valentine’s connection to Valentine’s Day or love? Then you’d better believe they don’t have anything at all in the archives where they also keep the plans for the fusion device. But it’s okay, because we at TAP already know the true answer.

We heard tell at the Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant located in San Diego International Airport Terminal 1 from a man wearing a Tony Romo jersey and drinking red zinfandel. He swears on his soul that he was vacationing in Bucharest in 1985 at the height of Ceaușescu’s brutal power. He spied a dark cloaked man giving chocolates and flowers to random women at the hotel bar. Thinking this man a dangerous threat and rather drunk, he armed himself with a rolled up Leninist newspaper and followed the cloaked man into the grim night. He made it twelve feet from the hotel door before being accidently knocked unconscious by a nine year old girl on a bicycle. He awoke weeks later deep in the Transylvanian Hills.

There, he proceeded to conduct a hasty forced interview with a vampire. The vampire stated that in fact Valentine’s Day originated as an excuse for vampires to drink more blood then during the other 364 days of the year. The seduction, the lust, the red color, the focus upon bleeding somebody dry, was all an excuse for vampires to consume their extra fill. The man, petrified, demanded meekly to know if he too would die that day. The vampire chuckled, and said no. For the original Valentine’s Day traditions were long gone. Instead, vampires had transformed into vicious corporate shills. They made such a killing on cocoa and flower farms that they were able to bankroll the invention of synthetic blood to sate their appetite. In particular, this one vampire confessed to working for Goldman Sachs Business Development Branch and had a supposed “killer” idea on this thing he kept calling “see, dee, oohs.”

Anyways, who or what, precisely, is the dreaded Giant Octopus establishment? To those who voted for Hilary it’s Trump’s business buddies in NYC, the 1887 KKK, etc, etc. To those who voted for Trump it’s the people in the media, DC, etc, etc. If you voted for neither of them the establishment is one of sixteen different Giant Octopi that occupy your darkest dreams. Like vampires. Or employees of Citibank. Or celebrity award shows.

Did you know the Grammy’s and the BAFTA’s were both on last Sunday? They’ve got so many award shows they have to cram two major ones into one night on different continents. How many awards can celebrities give to themselves? Don’t they know that celebrity awards are the pinnacle of the Giant Octopus’ many magical apples!? Don’t eat it, dear God, don’t eat it! The apple causes the downfall of us all! It laced with haughtiness.

Hey speaking of apples, and love, and whatever else, what does it say about humanity that the original Valentine’s Day love story ends with the downfall of all humanity for an eternity?

Anyways, but if you’re me, the Giant Octopus establishment is everything that tries to remove coherent thought from your brain for any particular purpose that benefits anybody not you. Whether it be an attempt to get your vote, your support, your time, your eyes, or more often than not, your straight cash.

America will spend $20B on Valentine’s Day this year. Or twice what the NFL makes in an entire league year. Or three times the national cancer budget. Why? There are 365 days in a year. Yet this is apparently the day that if you don’t get your mate candy, flowers, or whatever, it means you’re apparently cheating on them, or are possessed by the devil. Which is a mean thing to say, because even the devil is all about this day. It’s why he always dresses in red velvet. Go watch the Japanese anime cartoon.

Anyways, there’s certainly no connection between the Valentine’s guy and love. And yet there are references as far back as Chaucer and Shakespeare associating Valentine’s Day and love. So somehow this thing happened. Somehow humanity has a centuries long tradition of picking this one day over the other 364 for the purposes of affection.

I don’t get it, but I’ll accept it as reality. And that, as always, there just might be something wrong with me in that I wish this day didn’t exist. But even if you accept this as cultural reality, what I cannot wrap my mind around is the Giant Octopus having it’s claws in the 2/3 of Americans that probably shell out substantial gold for this event.

Folks who won’t eat genetically modified crops and recycle their used pencils are all of a sudden all too comfortable paying a 600% markup to Mars Brand Incorporated, or some faceless hedge fund LLC that owns a series of flower mills in Columbia and Kenya paying 3 cents an hour minimum wage. Nobody has a gun to anybody’s head making them buy candy this one single day. Why not buy candy on April 17th? Or cut some fresh wild flowers from a field on June 3rd?

Don’t give in into the Giant Octopi! Don’t give into the vampire! Do something different for your special person. Don’t let the vampire be your valentine instead. I don’t know what that different thing would be, you know your mate, you just find a way to make it happen. But I’m guessing, a good starting point is to try and do something that doesn’t involve spending any cash. That’d be a good start.

Turkey – Ephesus

In 262 AD, having already raided large portions of Asia Minor, a Goth force descended upon Ephesus. Outnumbered (and by this point probably also outclassed) the Roman military was unable to offer any substantial opposition. The Goths sacked Ephesus and burned the Temple of Artemis to the ground. One of the Seven Wonders of the World ceased to exist alongside many other major structures within the city. It’s likely that a substantial portion of the population was killed, scattered, or enslaved. Ephesus never recovered.

It is as if aliens descended upon Europe tomorrow and sailed up the Thames or Seine to gut Paris or London alongside millions of people and all their major landmarks. Only in Aleppo could you find a rough template today to compare this to. Except that with Ephesus it was a factor of time. It has taken five years to lay waste to Aleppo, it’s people, and its historical landmarks. It probably only took a few days to burn Ephesus. All that’s left now is broken stone, rubble, and a ghost of what was once one of the major cities on Earth.

Trees grow on bare grass that was the ground floor of some rich trader’s mansion. The fallen columns of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces ever made were ground down for plaster to make lesser buildings. The written knowledge and cultural history of one of the great cities of history is so completely destroyed, so burned, so reduced to waste that it’s actually disputed which year (not which day or month) Ephesus was attacked by the Goths.

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When you go back and look at places such as Ephesus I’m inclined to divide the history of the human race into two geographic categories. You either live in a town, city, or country that has been a doormat of history or you do not. Those that caught the doormat category, even to this day, have to overcome the problems that trace their roots back thousands of years.

Despite turmoil, wars, and bombing raids, London was completely destroyed only once in 60 AD by Boudica during her revolt. Paris has never been razed to the ground. Depending on how you count, Ephesus was demolished at least seven times over thousands of years. It’s hard to build a long standing, secure culture, language, commerce, and politics when somebody shows up once every few hundred years and devastates it all. I think this goes a long way to explain why Britain and France are relatively stable democracies while Turkey’s still attempting to discover its identity.

London had the Celts, Romans, Saxons, a few Vikings, even fewer Normans, all eventually melded into English. Ephesus by contrast had to deal with this journey through history:

Arzawans

Hittites

Mycenaean / Ionians

Cimmerians

Greeks

Persians

Macedonians / Seleucids

Romans

Byzantines

Arabs

Seljuk

Ottomans

Turkish

Good luck trying to wrap your brains around how all that is supposed to create a stable safe place to live for multiple generations. Sometimes a sustained melding of cultures can create a truly special blend of humanity that enriches a people. Think of the unique joining of Moorish and Christian that Spain traces its roots. But other times there is no blending, there’s just history’s great eraser that does away with the old, and sometimes never replaces it with the new.

Kemal Atatürk’s vision was that history would be undone, his country remade. He wanted to wipe away the chaos described above. Turkey would be reborn into something new. Whereas religion was the one great binding principle, Turkey would become an ultra-secular state. The Turks would even get a brand new alphabet. What people could and would wear would be dictated. Those who lived in Turkey would become singularly Turkish, one way or the other. The Kurds were oppressed and the Armenians simply liquidated.

In retrospect, it seems clear that this was never going to work. It relied entirely on the personality of one man, and the ability of those with guns to enforce it. Whenever things got out of hand the army would simply step in to preserve Ataturk’s legacy. Turkey suffered more coups than most African states. If the planet’s last hundred years or so have shown anything, it’s that you cannot build long term prosperity in a country where the chief method of civil institution is violence. Eventually things come off the rails. But in the interim, folks can generally muddle through.

So in this sense, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule is actually the direct successor to Atatürk’s legacy. In that he’s running the show simply because he controls the most guns. The recent coup, while dramatic and bloody, never had widespread military support. Erdoğan controls the army, so he controls Turkey.

Modern democracy and prosperity require many civil institutions that were built up over centuries such as freedom of speech, rule of law, freedom of the press, and so on. How exactly would these have emerged in Ephesus when every once and a while every civil institution was doused in flames?

I’ll roughly wrap up this line of thinking, because I want to talk about Ephesus’s golden age, by saying I’m not optimistic about Turkey’s immediate future.

In the short term it’s the Erdoğan Show. This week he submitted to parliament constitutional amendments to give him unchecked executive level powers. He will get them. He will get them because he wants to be Sultan and Atatürk II. He will get them because he controls the guns. And the guns control the voting, education, media, and just about every other aspect of Turkish civil society. The Erdoğan Show will continue until he dies. After that, what?

It just depends. Sometimes a country can right itself after incompetent one man rule departs. But even if everybody realizes the nightmare was indeed a nightmare, it’s hard to fix things. Just look at what Venezuela, another broken democracy, is going through even though Hugo Chávez is long since dead. Even if Turkey’s ultimate future is bright, I think Erdoğan will ultimately set back progress by fifty years. What comes after that, is up to Turkey’s people.

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The ruins of Ephesus are at the foot of Selçuk, the modern Turkish town. In ancient times Ephesus was on the Aegean Sea. But over the centuries the Cayster River silted up and now the entire area is several miles inland. If one takes a more nuanced view of history than I describe above, you can simply make the argument that Ephesus died out once it lost access to the Aegean and was no longer able to serve as a major port.

A good first stop is the ruins of the Temple of Artemis which are a few hundred meters from Selcuk. What little is left is among the oldest of the places available for visitation. The temple underwent three phases. The Bronze Age shrine might be among the oldest on the planet. This original temple was lost to floods in the 7th Century BC and was replaced by the more recognizable Greek columned temple around 550 BC. In 356 BC a true fringe lunatic of a man burned it down. Starting in 323 BC it was slowly rebuilt to the final recognizable structure.

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Ruins of the Temple of Artemis looking northeast with Selçuk in the background. The single freestanding column is rebuilt from various wreckage they found. Imagine the size of the temple by contemplating a structure that fully filled the entirety of the basin in this photo with 127 total columns. Note the Ionic fluting on the fallen column blocks. Also see in the front of the shot the square holes cut into the eroded column blocks. Each column had a wooden centerpiece which they stacked column blocks through as they built up the height, in the case of Artemis, 60 feet high. The blocks were then fitted, sanded down, fluted, and decorated to give the column a single cohesive look meant to last for thousands of years. The problem with ancient Greek temples was they required wooden roof beams to support the marble tiles that typically sat atop. The intricate concrete roof construction one sees in say the Pantheon didn’t exist yet. This left most ancient Greek temples very vulnerable to fire, despite their stone base and columns. This was the cause of many Greek temples losses, as of course with Artemis as well.

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One of the many maps of Ancient Ephesus. To the left you can see the bulge emerging from the west of what was once the harbor inlet from the Cayster River that lead to the Aegean. The Temple of Artemis and Selçuk are off to the northeast. Note the extent of the city walls. Depending on how you count, Ephesus surely had over one-hundred-thousand citizens. Always a major city state during the Hellenic eras, it reached its cultural, economic, and political heights during Roman rule. For reference in subsequent photos, the Library of Celsus is #20. The Great Theater is #25. Harbor Street is #26.

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The Library of Celsus. A couple of things to keep in mind as you look at this. First, the façade is a complete reconstruction. Second, look back at the map. As impressive as the library is, it’s one of the smallest buildings that once called Ephesus home. Despite the building’s small size, the library was among the largest of the ancient world housing over ten-thousand scrolls. The interior was burned out by the Goth attack, the façade collapsed centuries later. How much more would we know of the ancient world if at least some portion of the library’s content had survived? Completed in 120 AD by a son to honor his father, both of whom where Roman counsels, it’s a structure that mirrored both its Greek and Roman roots.

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Grand Theater of Ephesus. Likely the largest theater in the ancient world, it could hold a crowd of 25,000 people. Greek theater was probably performed through its history and in the later Roman years people died there for the amusement of their fellow humans. I can’t begin to describe to you, but hope to loosely capture in pictures, just how big this place is. It rivals modern stadiums in its size and scale.

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From the Grand Theater seats looking west down Harbor Street. This must have been quite the view with all the buildings and the ships back in the day. The inlet to the Aegean and the Harbor Gate would have been at the end of this road.

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Backstage of the Grand Theater.

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Harbor Street. Not much is left, and so your brain is left to imagine what it would have looked like. All the way down to the harbor and the ships. The tens-of-thousands of people who walked this street and lived out their lives.

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Turkey – Mount Koressos, House of Mary

When you travel in groups compromises are always necessary. When the group disagrees you can sometimes divide up or sneak off on your own for a while. Other times you just have to deal with it. When you share hotels, cars, buses, trains, and meals with your companions, it’s generally not a good idea to fight all the time. I’ve been on trips where this happens and it truly kills everything.

Being in Turkey I had about five-hundred things I wanted to do, history being at the top of my list. So when we were headed to Ephesus I was fired up. We only had one day there. I could spend six days in Ephesus and not get bored. But then, other members of the group wanted to take most of that one morning and visit the supposed House of Mary which is near Ephesus. I hear this and I’m like, “Oh, uh, …” [checks watch] (I did indeed wear a watch then, which seems strange now.)

I was raised Irish / English / Sicilian Catholic, so you know it’s seriously in my blood. But I was also raised with a light touch of it. My own Grandmother would frequently talk with us about this or that doctrine, Pope, etc, that she disagreed with, alongside her own take on life. It’s a very liberating American take on religion. Nowadays, depending on the barometric pressure outside, I can either truly believe or am an atheist or whatever. A lot of it depends on my mood. So basically I would not consider myself very religious, but I really do try. In this Turkey travel group though were several ultra-hyper religious types. So they wanted to go see the House of Mary and were very set upon it.

Given how much of Ephesus was on my brain I could have protested. I let it go in the name of cohesion. This was the right choice. I figured it would be nice to see the mountains, maybe say a prayer, and generally just enjoy the ride. This was exactly what happened. I don’t regret it.

The full titled House of the Virgin Mary sits atop Mount Koressos which is a few miles from Ephesus. It’s a small house and religious shrine. By which I mean it’s a religious shrine that reminded me a lot of the shrines in Asia, specially Japan. As in, it’s a commercial tourist destination. There’s very little religion about it. In say Japan, sometimes you’ll be walking around temple grounds and there’ll be these people hocking Hello Kitty fascism toys from stalls. I always found this odd, to me a dead quiet church is my pinnacle of prayer. But in many cultures it’s not a big deal to meld commercial and religious ideas on the same site. This is the case with Mount Koressos.

It’s like going to the Mary exhibit at Disneyland. There are several cafes, a wishing wall, tourist buses everywhere, magic water, it’s quite the atmosphere. And this place has quite the crazy tale as well. My first thought was, “There’s no way Mary was there.” I mean, what do I know? But still, it didn’t seem quite likely to me. I get it, Popes have visited this place, but still. Feast your brains upon this tale of discovery:

– Anne Catherine Emmerich, German nun, mystic, and later saint, has a bunch of visions which she imparts to the brains of others.

– Clemens Brentano, author, writes books based upon her visions about Jesus, etc, etc.

– In 1852, Brentano provides a rough description from a vision of a house near Ephesus that John supposedly built for Mary where she lived out her days.

– In 1881, French priest, Indiana Jones copycat, and lunatic Julien Gouyet uses this book’s description to find and identify the house on top of Mount Koressos. Nobody believes him.

– But by 1891 at the urgings of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, folks get onboard with this idea and the house is made a shrine and taken under management. The first Pope shows up within a decade. Half-a-dozen other Popes have also visited.

So is one to believe this tale of visions, translated through a kook author, and a bunch of people wandering around the 19th century Ottoman countryside with a book in their hand? I’d have to say I don’t. I’m pretty sure that whatever Mary was that she died close to her birthplace and is buried out there. But whatever, it’s all good, people can pray anywhere. That’s the cool part about prayer.

And whatever the house is, it is indeed neat to visit. It’s very old and probably a good example of the style and architecture of ancient dwellings in this part of the planet.

 

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Side of the House of the Virgin Mary

 

When there, I kind of separated myself from the group and puttered around. When you go inside the house it’s a converted chapel, very small. I didn’t take a picture inside as it didn’t seem right. I prayed for a short bit and then was on my way. It was a nice moment, but not what I would call any kind of religious experience.

 

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Not my shot, taken from Wikipedia. Note the very ancient hallowed c-grade velvet rope, two Apostle endorsed codex plastic information placards, and Papal holy water blessed exit sign

 

Outside there is a wishing / prayer wall that folks can leave notes on. There are thousands of notes. There is also a water source that is said to heal or grant wishes or whatever. I did not drink the water

For me, the ground was the better experience. This was my chapel visit.  This was my Mount Koressos:

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I’ve got dozens of various shots of nothing but the woods from all across the world. Two of my favorites are on my desk, one from American and one from Japan. I’m always struck by the differences and similarities between them. Wherever you are, the woods are always similar enough that you can recognize ideas, feelings, trends that join you to that remote location. In the sense that the woods near your own home and country do much the same. It’s that spark of fellowship and belonging that most closely identifies us as part of one human race and planet. It’s only there for a moment, but it’s a good feeling. Nature, God, whatever, does that to you. Amen.

Turkey – Marmaris harbor

The next three posts are going to be about my trip to Turkey and it’s history.  These will be a little personal for a variety of reasons.  This below shot is of my first day there, specifically Marmaris, which is where we landed.

Marmaris used to be a small fishing village but has essentially turned into the most tourist of tourist destinations.  It’s not a bad place, we had a good time, but it’s among the most aggressive I’ve seen in terms of fleecing the visitors.

For example, one of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Marmaris.  Turkish meats, prawns, the thing where they cook the fish inside a salt shell, Turkish beer, it was awesome.  Unfortunately the owner lied to our faces about his prices and tried to fleece us at the register.  We had to negotiate him down which was tiresome.  Overall, well worth the meal, just silly.

Marmaris has a pretty decent harbor and throughout history it’s been used by Greeks, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Turks, and so on for both trade and military purposes.  Today’s it’s all tourism though, specifically Russians.

I would imagine that after Turkish pilots shot down the Russian jet and Putin cancelled tourist visas that Marmaris’ economy suffered immensely.  With Putin and Erdogan’s dictator’s détente, I figure they’re looking forward to a profitable upcoming tourist season.

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Sunset over Marmaris harbor

 

ordinary average German citizen attains bestseller status

Can book royalties cross over to the next realm and enrich a person within Valhalla? If so, I’m not sure how this would play out. First off, I assume (I hope) that Hitler’s purpose in Valhalla is for archery practice. When he showed up on 01 May 1945 I figure the Jarls took one look at him and were like, “Ah, welcome friend, we’ve been expecting you for some time.” And Hitler smiles all sheepishly, hoping these weird next life dudes don’t really know who he is. But then four drunk thugs step up and grab him and he realizes he’s done. At this point he starts to whine like a little chipmunk, “Nein. Nein!”. They take him to the range and strap him to a post. Every day drunk thugs practice their bow skills on Hitler. He’s doomed for an eternity to die, be reborn, and die again each day. So if book royalty checks do show up, they’d probably just take the money and buy more mead with it. Hitler never sees a mark.

For those who were unaware, the copyright held by Bavaria on Mein Kampf expired last year. So folks could publish the book again. There was serious discussion about passing a law or twisting it to prohibit further publication of the book. Thankfully this didn’t happen and the book’s on the street again. To me, history should be in people’s faces. So I’m glad they let it publish again. Let Hitler’s book sit in open view. Folks should read it (somewhat) and learn. History can’t benefit humanity when we sweep it under the rug. There are important lessons to be learned. In the case of Mein Kampf, one of the most clear is that men generally tend to mean what they say repeatedly.

Regular readers of this degenerate blog know I sure do hate the mass destruction wielded upon people by the haters for even the most minor of perceived slights. But trends become trends over time. When Sultan Erdogan said over a decade ago, “Democracy is like a train, you get off once you have reached your destination,” it would appear he meant every bit of it. There is nothing Hitler put out post 1933 that he didn’t originally write down in Mein Kampf. His distain of and future overthrow of parliamentary democracy, his intent to lay waste to Russia and the Slavs, his hatred of the Jews, it’s all in there.

For example, take these very specific passages:

“…the nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated…”

“If at the beginning of the war and during the war twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the nation had been subjected to poison gas…”

Not much subtlety there. Hmm, I wonder what he hand in mind? It’s important to remember that at the time Germany was (and still is) a pinnacle of modern culture and technology. Germans were not dumb people. So in my mind a few things happened here:

1) They didn’t read his book

2) They read his book and didn’t think he was serious

3) They figured he wrote the book in 1926, and it’s 1933, so he’s hopefully a changed man

4) They didn’t care one way or the other, they wanted a winner to restore Germany from the gutter

All of these views were mistakes. And thus, we eventually get Hitler’s, “You, gentlemen, are no longer needed…”. And the journey was on from that point. It took twelve years to resolve the forces of that conflict. The roots of it began well before Hitler published his book, and in many ways he was just a catalyst. But also in many ways he was an extremely unique and powerful man. One wonders what would have happened to Germany and Europe had history’s fate not cursed the landscape with somebody so evil, so perverted, and yet so talented in the ways of organization and persuasive leadership.

* Because tis the inauguration season, and I hate all humanity, I’ll just throw out the caveat that nothing I’ve written above is meant to apply to Trump. That’s an entirely different situation. History has many of the same notes, but it’s a different sheet of music. Maybe I’ll write more about this later, but suffice to say, America has a far more mature and robust constitutional system than post World War One Germany, a country that had only experimented with democracy for about a decade before Hitler tore it down.

There’s a lot of the purging of history lately. A lot of smart people didn’t want Mein Kampf republished. Folks want to take former slave owners statues off the American street. I’m sure eventually somebody’s going to get around to fully censoring entire books from the school system because they offend four or five folks down by the Sizzler.

But to me, I applaud that Mein Kampf is out there. I’m glad it’s a bestseller. I want all humanity to read, learn, and remember history’s lessons. I want a former slave owner governor’s statue to sit right there. So that when a young kid asks his Dad who that statue guy is, the Dad can be like, “Well, he used to be the governor, he did some neat things, but he also owned slaves and didn’t free them so he was an asshole.” And then the son and Dad have a further good discussion about history.