Segue to the 21st Century
30.03.2010 - 01.04.2010
It took me a bit to figure out what was dfferent about Antakya; it was so obvious that I couldn't even see it. There were women here. Real women, not covered or hidden or hiding behind columns and not making eye contact upon fear of death. Women interacting with the world. Students were flirting with each other in the park. Boyfriends were holding hands with their girlfriends in the street. One long bus ride, and I'm back in a world I sort of recognize.
Şanlıurfa has some modern women, but most of the tourists there were Iranian. The women travelled in groups, always with a stern looking male escort walking in the front, and I thought of nothing less than federal marshals escorting the prisoners out on a day trip. One day a group of us took a desert tour to see some of the more remote pagan and Silk Road era sites. The small poor villages we passed through were more Arab, but the women were dressed in flowing silk robes that seemed out of India. Not that we always the women directly - we'd only catch glimpses of them as they spied on us from behind windows and half falllen antique walls.
Şanlıurfa, the birthplace of Abraham and City of Prophets, was the easiest of the cities to visit to date. It was clean, I met some cool other travellers at an old Armenian house-turned hostel, and the people had an easy way of interacting that drew you in. I stayed two and a half days, and left on a midnight bus to Antakya.
Which only left me one day in Antakya, and I was wracked from the ride. I heard the food here was amazing, but my experience has been that the home cooked meals I've had in the southeast have been amazing; the restuarant foods can't match it. And I don't have a guidebook, because most of the guidebooks don't even cover Antakya, and haven't seen many good candidates for dinner.
I actually thought this city would be more conservative. It was a center of decadence in the Greek world, and Antony and Cleopatra married on the shore near here - but all that was a long time ago, and nothing remains of those days but some mosaics - which were fantastic - and pieces of statue. Peter built the first Church here, and the pagans who converted were the first to be called Christian. Later is was part of Syria, and most of the tourists are from there.
I also blend more. Not much, as soon as I open my mouth the illusion is over. But in the Southeast it was very clear that I was a foreigner. Sometimes people stared, sometimes they all wanted to know my name, but I almost always felt like I was a center of curiousity. Here no one seems to notice, or care, even though I am sure there can't be more than a small handful of westerners here. The stares are gone.
Maybe it's the Mediterranean air that relaxes people. There's something about the sea that does that. The medieval world I was in now seems far away.
- But even here there is the other side of the river, where the country immigrants live, and the women are covered and the streets are dirty and the centuries-old houses are falling down and the children all stare and follow you asking your name.