To Write Our Own History

Nov 17, 2014

Rhodes, Greece – Pamukkale, Turkey

Credit Skippy Mesirow

The last day in Greece I rented a bike, a blue Yamaha 660XT, and set about getting lost. I covered about 100 miles as I circumnavigated the little island, occasionally jutting inward for a look at a mountain or a castle. Rhodes's coasts are lined with happy little beach towns, its secluded mountainous center home to a smattering of ancient villages resting below the mild green peaks. The air is cool and crisp, the waters blue, the people friendly. I blast down back roads, carve mountain passes, fishtail on the sandy beach shores. Back to town; one last gyro, yum. I’ve seen so little of Greece, yet enough to know I want more. Another day, another trip.

Crossing the Aegean I return to Bodrum. One last night and one very surprising and exceptionally good Cantonese meal. The next morning at 4am it’s off to Pamukkale. I’m leaving early for two stops along the way, Didyam and Ephesus – both are archeological sites.

Credit Skippy Mesirow

To be honest, I’m not so pumped. I’m a bit “historied” out after Greece. It’s not that I don’t find tremendous value in knowing how people of the past lived – I do – it’s just that all the sites look the same. A stone here, a column there, a pile of something here. I get it. People lived here, like, all over the place. A long time ago, I know, I know, like, a really long time ago. I know, I got it.

Yet every guidebook, internet post, and fellow traveler assures me these are obligatory, and so, I soldier on. Arriving at Didyam at 8am the whole place looks remarkably closed. The gate is locked, padlocked actually. The storefronts are shuttered, and the ticket window has blankets taped to it.  

Luckily, Didyam is basically a one building site, the Temple of Apollo, and it’s fully visible from outside the gates. Large and imposing, though most columns are broken, they all remain in their initial place giving the viewer a true sense of scale. A few columns remain intact and tower 60 of so feet towards the heavens. I lean over the fence, snap a few pictures and hazzah! I’m off to the next stop. Perfect.

Credit Skippy Mesirow

Several hours later I approach Ephesus. As I near the site, guard towers begin to dot hilltops in the distance, spreading out over the expansive countryside. It’s reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, which is to say, very impressive. Upon entrance I see why. The site is huge, really huge. This was once a major city and has the footprint to prove it.  The entire polity was once encased in massive walls, the guard towers all that remain.

Huge and ponderous, Ephesus is comprised of a seemingly never ending string of churches, homes, businesses, plazas, bazaars, squares, cemeteries, and public spaces. In the distance a theater the size of a modern football stadium is carved out a mountainside. A ceremonial marble street almost a mile long leads up to it. One of the largest libraries of the ancient world lived here, a 60-foot tall, two story columned entrance comprised entirely of marble is all that remains. It’s magnificent. Main Street, built of monumental marble blocks, flows down a hillside, impressive structures built up all along its flanks.

Entering the covered area of the site is the real treat. Here lie remains not just of the stones that form a buildings frame, but the buildings themselves. Fully decorated houses compete with wall paintings, floor ties, bathrooms and art. Here one can see not just where these people lived, but how they lived. 

Credit Skippy Mesirow

These were well to do people, rich people. That much is clear. Homes are two, three even four stories tall. They have running water, heated baths, indoor plumbing, and toilets. Floors and walls are decorated in marble and ornate paintings. There are rooms, even wings, for live in-help. They had large kitchens and family rooms. Perhaps even most telling are the shopping lists left behind and buried. ½ lbs. lamb, 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, and paprika. They were planning to cook a family dinner.

These people lived just like us. Well, some of us. They ate as we did, they shopped as we did, and they spoke as we do. The structure of their day was little different than ours. They lacked electricity sure, but where our lamps and light bulbs sit they had lamps and chandeliers of oil. They had light at night. To think that thousands of years ago humans had already figured out how to live in a modern, safe, comfortable manner is staggering.

Credit Skippy Mesirow

Almost as staggering as it is that in all this time we have failed to provide the most basic of needs to over a billion people on this planet. For millennia we have known how to build and light shelters, to grace them with indoor plumbing for convenience, and bathing for sanitation to make their walls sturdy and their interiors safe and welcoming. Yet thousands of millions still live without roofs or running water. It is perhaps our biggest human failure.

We have made progress yes, and we are succeeding at an exponentially greater rate it is true. But there is so much work left to do. 

So let us not be as complacent as those who came before us. Let us be reminded by what was and use it as an inspiration to do better in our time. Let us understand that things change not inevitably, but because we will them to change through thought and effort and hard work. We are the masters of our own domain and we write our own history. The change lives within us. It will not create itself. Let us twirl the quill of our own pen and let us stand together in not allowing others write our history for us. We have the power, the resources, the intellect, and the means. We have the ability to end this plight in our lifetimes. 

Those who have most have the greatest responsibility.

Ancient cities can be more than a window to the past. They can be a reminder of the present, a motivation for the now. I’m glad I listened to the guidebooks. 

But now, seriously, I’m “historied” out.

OK, geez, that’s an amazing castle on the hilltop. One quick stop in Secuk because who knows. You must always keep climbing. Then it’s time to go make some of my own history.