Our group's excursion in Turkey is well on its way, and I think everyone can agree that the last few days have felt more like a utopian vacation than a week of college life. After three weeks of concentrated study at the Bogazici University in Istanbul, I for one was certainly ready to get on the road and explore the Asian side of the country (after all it makes up approximately 97% of the nation).
So far, excursion has been a whirlwind of tours, bus rides and hotel buffets. Yet, interspersed along the way are moments that make you pause. Think. Ruminate. Wonder. We go from napping on the bus to stepping out among the ruins of ancient civilizations -- suddenly, we are treading on history (remember that dichotomy I talked about last time? Here it is again!).
Interactions with history have always been difficult for me; how do I appropriately react to finding myself smack dab in the middle of ancient history - Troy for instance? Troy! This site has been glorified in legends, films, epic poems, basically any form of story telling media you can think of.
We had been warned by several guides and fellow travelers that, while Troy is important, there is not much to see there. Maybe they had overemphasized this for when I dismounted off of the 'Sultan Maxi' coach bus, I was surprised by the degree to which the historic city was still intact. I could see the skeletons of walls, floors, pillars, houses, sacrificial grounds, even a theater. The stones I walked upon were worn from the steps of thousands of feet --both citizens of Troy and its many tourists. It's believed that there were 9 different eras to the city. I found it hard to believe that these eras could be identified by the striated layers of rocks shoved deep into the dirt.
As our tour guide began to enumerate the legends of Troy, recounting battles and daily life, I found myself shocked by the fact that these stories, while entertaining, did not cause a feeling of awe to swell up within me as I viewed the ruins. I was simply impressed that experts were even able to differentiate the piles of rubble from one another. I had wanted the visit to Troy to impress upon me some feeling of connection with the past, a sense of reverence for the lives of those who had lived before me. Now, I methodically went through my senses, trying to categorize the essence of Troy in case this was the best way to identify with it.
I took a deep breath through my nose. It kind of just smelled like the country. I scanned the landscape. Impressive, yes, earth shattering, no. I bent down and traced a design in the dust on one of the slabs sitting solidly beneath my feet. No luck, except that my finger was now a little grittier than before. I decided to forego tasting Troy - understandably.
As our group journeys to different ancient cities and sites of civilizations, I realize that it is silly to expect a grand reaction from myself. The places themselves are certainly grand, but it is hard to force a connection with the past. Instead, I have decided to adopt a process of interacting with the present state of the places I visit. So, after a long walk through Troy, I need not apologize for the fact that my favorite part of the experience was looking past the ruins, aged and beautiful, towards the soft farmland nestled just beyond them. As a native Minnesotan, it was nice to see a whisper of my home across the sea, and in the ruins of Troy no less.