Turkish days run to the rhythm of tea;
pouring into slender glass cups with that bubbling, sloping pitch sound. Small spoons keep time, moving one (clink), two (clink), three (clink) cubes of sugar into the heat. I have one (cup), two (cups), three (cups) per meal, depending on how long we linger. I’m offered one at a music shop, because I’ve stayed for longer than 10 minutes toying with a saz and I don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Faruk, of course, has brought one out not five minutes after I sit down at the breakfast table overlooking the Cappadocian town of Goreme. The salted and peppered hotelier built this seven-room place himself: two thirds of stone blocks scavenged from nearby, abandoned buildings and one third carved into the side of this “fairy chimney” (a common local rock form).
This architectural style (or rather, construction technique) is typical here, but the use of stone blocks is actually a relatively modern development, compared to the honeycombs of cave homes in so many of the fairy chimneys. The fairy chimneys dot the entire region — huge stone pillars carved out of the local tuff rock by centuries of rushing water. Most are roughly cone-shaped, with mushroom caps of basalt, though in one valley the towering formations are almost phallic. The Turks swear (with a wink) that it’s only called Love Valley because the valley is shaped like a heart.
The terrace we’re on crowns Faruk’s small hotel. Its name means “chance” or “fortune” in Arabic and certainly there is some Kismet in being here. I lean back in my chair, bleary eyed from an early morning, and take a sip of my tea. It’s not made well (Lipton Yellow Label is ubiquitous) but the joy is in the rite, not the taste. I balance the flared lip of the hourglass cup between an index finger and a thumb between sips and the bulb warms my palm.
I’ve come across several moments in life, like this one when every sea and heart is calm and every handstitched detail is exactly where it is supposed to be. Today it’s the tea cup in my palm, the Turkish rug dressing the wall behind me, and the grapevine crawling across the beam above with its new growth errantly dripping into the frame of this view: a light stone village sprawling into the valley, punctuated by dut (mulberry) trees and fairy chimneys pocked with doorways and windows.
My friend Mike told me that the Hebrew YHWH is purposely vowel-less and unspeakable in practice. Not because it was forbidden. Rather, if one were to pronounce it correctly, it would sound like a breath, so that all men are incessantly speaking the name of God in worship, and must do so to survive.
I certainly hope that YHWH will take these deep breaths of mine as worship, because I am trying as hard as I may to savor the taste of this air and let it linger on my heart. I reach for another handful of white dut from Faruk’s family garden, and follow it with a piece of crusty bread covered in Acili Esme, an incredible homemade spicy tomato jam. Later that I week, I buy a huge jar of the stuff and send it home to the States with my friends. I hope as I write this that they haven’t finished it all.
We are in 4 of the 7 hotel rooms — the other 3 vacant because of Turkey’s tourism drought over the last half decade. So Faruk and his shy, bed-headed 21-year old son spend the entire morning with us on the terrace. Everything the old man does is tender. He grips my arm and I’m certain we’ve been friends for far longer than a morning.
While we sit talking after breakfast Faruk stands up and walks to a rose bush potted next to the terrace railing, and begins to pull dead flowers from their stems.
He looks back and says, simply, “Nothing is fully realized without love.”
“YHWH,” I breathe, and for a moment see a few of the colors particular to heaven dance across his eyes and disappear into his crinkled crow’s feet. In a sentence, this Muslim man has written Christ’s Gospel into the air, spelled out in a lowercase humility that makes the mountains tremble with joy.
Aslan’s deeper magic. The world corrupted. Eden caught in glimpses and never fully realized without Love. Love the name of God, love the river rushing from the heart of YHWH, love the hammer splitting wrists in two with iron spikes.
Faruk gathers the dead buds and crushes them in one hand.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
We pass Faruk’s garden as the 2 o’ clock sun drips like errant grape stems through the apricot branches. There are wild flowers of all colors and shapes everywhere, in tabernacle colors: purple, yellow, white, red. We pass into a narrow gully. Every corner we turn we look up to see pigeon cotes, chiseled by ancient hands into the rock, small entries belying larger caverns. The early church is long gone from Turkey, but the Cappadocian landscape remembers it well. Christians dug their homes and stables and churches into this soft rock, partly to hide from persecuting armies, partly because it’s an easy way to build here. Around many of the entryways are simple frescoes: crosses, waves and a simple 6-lobed symbol that Faruk interprets as windmill representing the perpetual motion of time and life, but that we think may be a simplified Chi Ro. We’re okay with either.
We reach a small footbridge spanning a gully. On the other side is an easily accessible cave. Rock doves were raised here, for meat and for their droppings (a good fertilizer), and there are small holes in the rock for the pigeons to match the human accessible doorway on the other side of the footbridge. The air inside is cool. Small half-moon recesses cover the interior of the cave, but there are no noticeable pigeon nests anymore. A steep and hardly climbable staircase rises up into an opening in the ceiling and Charlie, resident six-year-old, must climb. I follow him up the sandy stairs (the rest of the group takes the much easier staircase just behind the main wall of half-moons.
Charlie’s sneakers follow his knees up into the hole and I am close behind, one hand below him in case a piece of this sandy stone gives way.
It’s like one of those big reveals in a movie, when the mystery monster raises its head for the first time. Maybe it’s like that scene in The Goonies, when they first crawl into the cavern that holds the pirate treasure ship.
This is real, though. Columns decorated with chiseled symbols and minimalist painted lines, the red faded by the centuries. Domes carved 30, 40 feet over our heads.
An entire church, a masterpiece of negative space.
It’s called the White Church, because its walls are bare stone. Maybe once they were smooth or held chisel marks, but the rock is as weathered and rough as the outside cliff face. It doesn’t need stained glass because the 4 o’clock sun is at the perfect angle through the small windows high on the outer wall and the entire church is bathed in gold.
The church is made from the mountain, and has no stones to crumble and fall, one from another.
“YHWH,” we breath. He is here, is he not?
Faruk’s Acili Esme (Spicy Tomato Jam)
DISCLAIMER: I’ve only tried the final product, not the process, and this recipe was transcribed with some difficulty, due to language barriers. I will try to make this promptly upon arriving at home and let you know the results.
10–15 kg tomatoes (preference)
2 kg spicy peppers (chopped, seeds removed)
3 kg normal peppers (chopped, seeds removed)
1.) Wait for tomatoes and peppers to be in season. Make sure they are fresh. This is the most important step.
2.) Hand mash tomatoes in a colander. Drain excess juice.
3.) Sautee peppers in olive oil. Add tomato.
4.) Cook for roughly one hour (over wood fire) until the resulting sauce thickens and “bubbles like an umbrella opening” (insert descriptive hand gesture). Stir constantly “so that your arm gets tired”
5.) Can and seal hot. Store upside down in a cool dry place. Good for at least a year but will probably be eaten before then.