Friday, September 30, 2011

On the way to the Istanbul airport from our hotel our bus had a little accident that worries me. The driver took the bus under an overpass that was too low or the bus was too high. We scraped... had to back up... and then went on our way to God Bless America. What worries me about the accident? I’m thinking the driver may lose his job. The bus was full of people like me... most of them laughing and joking about the accident. I wasn’t laughing. I saw the worry on the driver’s face, and even if he didn’t understand the jokes, he understood the laughter.

There must be a reason
for selling salvation
in wafer thin slices
to African children
who go to bed hungry...

What’s the point
walking on water
and turning water to wine
or wine to the blood of Christ?

What’s the connection...
all the mosques in Istanbul
and bell towers in Rome
calling the faithful to prayer...
for the children in Africa?

Tell me again
what the governor
had in mind
when he called for prayer meeting
in a sports stadium...
Was it to ask God
about the children in Africa?

I’ve got no answers here
that make any sense
especially to a child
in Africa
or to me.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

HEADING FOR HOME... Tomorrow, Friday, we will leave Istanbul at noon and arrive in San Diego around 9:30 p.m. the same day... but going with the sun, we will travel for around 20 hours.

From where I sit on the eleventh floor of the Istanbul Intercontinental Hotel I see at least a dozen large bright red Turkish flags flying proudly over this city of thirteen million people. The Turkish people have good reason to be proud of their country... and hopeful. Margaret and I walked at least three, perhaps as many as five miles today; and we found the people and their city to be invariably friendly and clean. We followed a bunch of students getting off a ferry arriving from the Asian side of the city. Carrying backpacks and notebooks, they hurried the way students do. They walked up winding streets to the University at a top of a hill not far from our hotel. The scene on campus was exactly what happens in the middle of the day at American universities. The young people we saw there and their counterparts all over the world are our hope for the future of this planet. Even with the mess my generation and the one following mine are leaving for them to clean up, I must continue to believe people may someday get it right.

The photographs today show Istanbul as it is today, not the famous monuments from centuries past. The most curious shop in Istanbul surely is an Islamic Country’s version of Victoria’s Secret. It’s called Laura Baresse. I can’t help but believe the guy who came up with that name couldn’t bring himself to call it Laura Bare Ass.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

(I don't know why I am unable to post photographs today... I'll paste them in later. In the meantime...)

TURKEY surprises me... again. The majority of people from the “WEST” tend to consider it a backwater outpost, an occasional point of interest in seventh grade history lessons, a place to end or begin a cruise with highlights in Greece and Italy. Turkey looks very much like the United States. I talked politics yesterday with a fellow at the table next to mine at Starbuck. He is university educated and well-traveled. He knows the details of the Israel-Palestine discussion going on in the United Nations this week. He knows how and why China, Russia and the United States will vote in the matter. He knows the details of his country’s religious wars in it’s long history. He is an atheist, but he doesn’t despise or scoff at believers. He respects the good in all religions (My friend Ben Christensen knows what he means)... and tries to make his life consistent with the good in Islam. He explains that relatively few Turks are devout Muslims observing carefully all the requirements of Islam and that the vast majority are as appalled as Americans are by Nine-Eleven and as puzzled as the rest of the world is by American’s national response to it. There was at least a little irony in the fact that our conversation took place where we could see at least five big mosques and could hear the call to late-afternoon prayer.

My hour-long Starbucks friendship informed me that here in Istanbul, except for the occasional beggar squatting near an entrance to the Grand Bazaar with cloth cap on the stone street in front of him, the poor aren’t conspicuous, so it’s easy to forget they are here. Of course, just as in America, abject poverty hunkers down unnoticed at the periphery of national life. The super-rich and the very poor have at least one thing in common. Most go about their lives largely unnoticed until one does something especially outstanding or outrageous. Comfortable affluence in every country is more conspicuous. Istanbul streets are clogged with late-model taxicabs and expensive mostly Northern European private cars. Tourists haggle over prices of cheap knock-off versions of coveted status handbags, scarves, and watches in the Grand Bazaar; and in hundreds of legitimate shops outside the Grand Bazaar the “real” items carry the same price tags as those in up-scale stores in The West. Well-dressed customers clearly not dressed in REI wash-and-wear tourist duds come and go in the shops on main Istanbul boulevards.

My friend thinks his country will probably not join the European Union, partly because most Europeans don’t want them and partly because he doesn’t want Turkey’s economic development to be complicated by membership in the E.U. After all, most of Turkey isn’t geographically in the West. Ninety-something percent of the land mass is in Asia.

I write this from an eleventh floor suite of the Istanbul Intercontinental Hotel that looks out to the north. I can see the bridge that links European and Asian Istanbul. In my mind’s eye I can see Ukraine and Russia to the north and the scattering of once-Soviet republics all the way past the Armenian dilemma and Kurdish problem on the Eastern border to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China... with the Arab Spring coming on in Arab countries next door to the south and east. Some of my best friends were born in Iraq, so I know something about the intelligence and innate goodness of people from this part of the world. I have lived long enough and have been fortunate enough to travel in most of the world; so I can’t ignore the fact that ignorance and, sadly, that religion are the major stumbling blocks to peace in the world. Perhaps the greatest irony in human history is that Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed, whose lives and teachings were the initial inspiration for major religions, seemed to know that ignorance and religion are the problem. They said so. They told us what we must do to bring peace on earth.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Click on these images to see them larger.
ISTANBUL... We came through the Dardanelles yesterday and last night and approached Istanbul just as the sun was rising. Wow! The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia on the European side of the Bosporus Strait are as magnificent in reality as they seemed to me in all the photographs I’ve seen. They glow as the first morning light strikes them. From the middle of the waterway separating Europe from Asia here, they seem large, but it isn’t until I saw automobiles on the streets below them that they seemed outsized, bigger than life. Hagia Sophia was first a great church...for many years the very largest Christian church in the world. The name isn't a reference to a person. "Hagia" is "holy," and "Sophia" is "wisdom." It was the church of holy wisdom. When Islam overran the country, the Turks couldn’t bring themselves to destroy such a building, so they turned it into a mosque... no small feat. All of the mosaics had to be covered over so no trace of icons could be seen. Since sometime in the 1930s the mosque was turned into a museum and what was left of the mosaics were uncovered. The dome of what was built as a sixty century church was the largest in world at the time it was built. From inside and outside it is awesome.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what religions have provided for people since history was first recorded. We have amazing buildings and monuments scattered all around the world; but sadly, there are reminders too that in every century of the damage tone by religion. I’m beginning to doubt that people will ever get it right.

We leave the ship tomorrow and go to a hotel here for a couple of nights before starting the long set of flights to get home. Tomorrow we go to Blue Mosque for a look inside. In the photograph above Hagia Sophia is the one on the right.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We're in Dikili, Turkey, today... I'd like to get a message to the folks in Washington and Sacramento. Let's tell them that nothing lasts. Everything ends up in ruins. History contains strong evidence that they's better get their act together as quickly as possible.

Earlier this morning I got on a tender out in the Mediterranean and circled the ship while it was under full sail. I got some interesting photographs. Later I climbed up to the crow's nest and took photographs looking down. Those days of climbing tall ladders to pick cherries when I was young paid off today. I had no trouble scampering up the mast. Wonderful experience.

The photographs from Ephesus and from the Basilica of St. John were from yesterday... the sunrise from this morning.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We are in Kusadasi, Turkey, this morning... going out to Ephesus after lunch. This place has changed since we were here six years ago. As you probably know, Turkey is making a great effort to become part of the European Union (even though most of Turkey is locate in Asia). The shops have more European merchandise than I remember. The stores are more upscale in their presentation of their wares. I got a kick out of the watch store that says up front that their Rolexes are fake.

We may not get to an Internet connection for a couple of days. I'm sending this one from a Starbucks in Kusadasi... a Starbucks with the familiar mermaid cups, the familiar deli products... with a few Turkish delights thrown in for good measure.

Friday, September 23, 2011

There is no particular order to the photographs in today's Blog. I got the one last night at dinner. Today we are on Patmos.

The Island of Patmos is best known as the place where the exiled Theologian John wrote the last book of the New Testament, The Book of Revelation. The island is only about fourteen square miles, so it doesn’t take much time to get around it. I had the good fortune to get lost from a group from the ship... on the way to the Monastery of Saint John. I wandered around for awhile and came to a locked door with a sign in Greek in English which invited me to ring a bell (a bronze bell about three times the size of an old fashioned school bell. I rang the bell once and waited. An elderly nun in long black habit came with key and let me into a centuries old chapel. I was grateful to be somewhere with no other tourists. The lady in black habit smiled all the while, and I smiled back said my thanks and went off up the hill to find the big monastery and perhaps connect again with Margaret and the group. What a place this is. We went to the chapel in the cave where St. John is said to have had the vision and where he wrote his famous Book of Revelation... then into the Monastery of St. John. The museum there has an El Greco... amazing.

I guess it's obvious that I am fascinated by doors. There is always the mystery associated with them. Who knows what's going on behind any door you see...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We have come to Bodrum, the first stop in Turkey. This morning Margaret and I went out into the country to Sazkoy, a small village half an hour's drive from the harbor in Bodrum. This is beautiful country in the same way that the coastal towns of California are beautiful. The big difference is that the farming here done very much the way it was done fifty years ago at my grandparent's place.