Innocents Abroad: Mark Twain (and me) in Turkey

Travel is supposed to delight and to broaden your mind. It delights and it broadens but it also embarasses, outrages, confuses and occasionally bores, especially when you are the boorish, uncultured American type. Excerpts from Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, interspersed with comments by me.

“We saw where Troy had stood and where it does not stand now —- a city that perished when the world was young. The poor Trojans are all dead now. They were born too late to see Noah’s ark and died too soon to see our menagerie.”

The day we visited Troy, my roommates and I overslept our alarm and were abruptly awakened when it was past time to leave. I myself resembled a menagerie animal that day, and was so consumed with rage at having to sit in the back of the bus that I had little sympathy for the poor dead Trojans or their perished city.

“A street in Constantinople is a picture which one ought to see once — not oftener.”

One of the baffling Constantinoplian customs is that of dumping all trash in the street every night, which is then half-removed by some inexplicable waste management system. We considered this almost (but not quite) as odd as the custom of neglecting to supply the facilities with toilet paper.

“I do not think much of the mosque of St. Sophia. The people who go into ecstasies over St. Sophia must surely get them out of the guidebook. Or else they are those old connosieurs from the wilds of New Jersey who laboriously learn the difference between a fresco and a fireplug and from that day feel privileged to void their critical bathos on painting, sculpture, and architecture forevermore.”

An Honors couple became engaged at St. Sophia two years ago and I hoped that the event might be repeated, but my hopes dissipated as I sat on the marble floor waiting (and waiting … and waiting) for the rest of the connosieurs to mop up their ecstasy.

“They made me take off my boots and walk into the place in my stocking feet. I caught cold and got myself stuck up with a complication of gums, slime, and general corruption.”

Being a woman, they made me not only take off my boots and cover my knees but also cover my head every time I entered a mosque. Like Twain, I have hygienic objections to removing my boots. I have moral objections to covering my hair, and I will never understand what makes knees so offensive. These practices rank with waste management and toilet-paper dispensing on the list of baffling Turkish customs.

“We all stood in the vast theater of ancient Ephesus … and had our picture taken. We looked as proper there as we would look anywhere, I suppose. We do not embellish the general desolation of a desert much. We add what dignity we can to a stately ruin with our green umbrellas and jackasses, but it is little. However, we mean well.”

Topping Twain, we had our picture taken not just in the vast theater of ancient Ephesus, but also the vast theaters of ancient Antioch, Laodicaea, Hierapolis, Aphrodisias, Priene, Miletus, Sardis, and Pergamum. All of the theaters, as well as the general desolation and indignity, looked much the same in every picture.

“I shall never want another Turkish lunch.”

There are a variety of choices for a Turkish lunch. If you don’t want pide, you may have kebabs. If you don’t want kebabs, there is always pide. Some of us grew gaunt declining the kebabs, refusing the pide and dreaming instead of steaks, apple pie and Chicken McNuggets. In Bodrum we wandered around in a ravenous mob, collaring a Turk every block and begging, “McDonalds?” McDonalds in Turkey is every bit as revolting as McDonalds in America, but we cloaked the truth in a cloud of patriotic sentimentality long enough to wolf down our authentically American French fries.

“Mosques are plenty, churches are plenty, graveyards are plenty, but morals and whiskey are scarce.”

We did not find spirits scarce. Paul Ray bought Audree “Sex on the Beach” for her birthday, and the Raki was popular. As for morals, the store of virtue found in our number amply made up for any Turkish deficiencies.

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~ by stultiloquence on June 18, 2007.

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