The sign above the sink in the public washroom said it plainly:
Do we piss in your ashtray ?
Please do not throw cigarette bullets in the sink !
I guess by ‘bullets’ they meant ‘butts’; at least I hope they did. One of the charms of Turkey, as I saw it, was that war had not yet been declared on smokers. They were everywhere, and I suppose the only negative coming out of that situation was that they occasionally left their cigarette butts in bathroom sinks. I didn’t mind breathing in the carcinogenic fog at all; it reminded me of my childhood in Quebec growing up with my parents. To tell you the truth however, my parents’ smoking habits probably wreaked more havoc on me than it did on any of my siblings. I was the runt of the litter and the only one to lose his hair. My older brother, who usually never addressed me unless he was insulting me, once pointed out that quite possibly I could have been six feet tall with a full head of hair if I hadn’t inhaled so much of the vile weed.
The unique landscape of Cappadocia was exactly as the tourist brochures pictured it, except that there were Korean tourists everywhere. A volcanic area sometime in the distant past that if I had ever paid attention in geography class I could probably put a number on, Cappadocia was dominated by a landscape now known as ‘fairy chimneys’. But the intrigue of the area far surpassed some unique geographical formations. Occupied by some group known as the Hittites between 1800 and 1200 B.C. it had then become the preserve of the Persians and then the Greeks under Alexander the Great. With much of these time periods dominated by precarious political positions the locals had learned how to carve underground cities in the, well, the underground. These tunnels had become particularly developed during the early years of Christianity when the early believers had to live with more than just the threatening jeers, jokes and condescension of the more numerous non-believers, especially when the heathens had powerful armies at their disposal. Religion must have been taken very seriously in those days. I marvelled at how any one would ride way out into the desert, searching through mountainous caverns, just because you happened to disagree with their idea of the hereafter.
Tunnels were carved out in the rock and included not only living quarters but stables, water cisterns and wine cellars as well. As well as passing the time by drinking wine they had also managed to paint the walls with magnificent frescoes. It was like an underground network of Sistine Chapels. There had probably been many a conversation over the breakfast wine where someone would be asked, “And what are you planning to do today, Matthias?”
“Same thing I do every day,” would come the reply, “paint frescoes.”
During the course of my wandering and musing over the majesties of the past I had become separated from both wife and daughter. The early Christians might have been content to paint masterpieces for nothing but their descendants were more practical-minded. The charge for entering an ancient church carved into the upper levels was an extra 10 Turkish lira. Brenda, without my knowledge had purchased three of these tickets and then had sold one to an Asian guy from New York when I was slow to appear.
“Where’s your husband?” he had asked, when told that she had the extra ticket because of my disappearance. Brenda was not overly-concerned.
“He probably lay down in one of those tombs,” she replied. “By now he’s probably one of those skeletons you can see laid out all over the place.”
I was waiting for said wife and daughter at the exit when they ambled out, probably taking their time just to piss me off.
“Tomorrow I’m getting up at 4:30 a.m in order to take one of those hot air balloon rides the different hotels are offering,’ Brenda informed me upon exiting. “Do you want to come?”
It was tempting, but the hotel breakfasts didn’t serve that early, and they might be over by the time the balloon jaunt had finished. So far I hadn’t missed one of those excellent buffet feasts, no matter what hotel we were in. I paused and carefully considered the matter.
“Take lots of pictures,” I instructed.