From a work in progress:
The spring water tastes soapy, these old stones soaking in its broth, and as I glide underwater, eyes open, I scoop up mouthfuls of what I’d like to think is from the Fountain of Youth, and I wonder what it’d be like to live forever. These sunken pillars I encircle are broken, ancient and pitted, marble ruins designed to brace a mighty roof, not meant to stew in bubbles singing up from the earth. Some stones are completely immersed, while others peek their caps and spines above the water to dry in the sun in such a way that reminds me of beached seals. I choose one on which to rest my head and, draping myself across its girth, I watch droplets, like pearls from a broken strand, scatter across my arms, gravity tugging each one back home into the pool. Sifting sand between my toes, I can hardly believe I’m swimming with this history, touching toppled citadels with bare feet, running fingers across a rugged facade that holds so many memories of ancient Romans, Turks and Greeks. I wonder if lovers carved their bliss or misery into these stones centuries ago. For a moment, I wish my parents could see where I am, go where I have gone, retrace my steps wearing holes into thin soles treading countless miles with nothing but a forty-pound tote.
After a while my skin begins to prune, but I remain in my quiet chamber which feels so much like a womb. The others here are all strangers to me. Some are mothers, their children perched on sunny rocks hugging their knees, little gargoyles on a wall. A few of the women have Roman noses and look, perhaps, like Fellini stars, though have names like Fatma and Hilal. Their dark manes spill in ringlets over gleaming shoulders, mermaids emerging from this inland mineral sea. I want to know them and hold them, go with them and eat their homemade yogurt and cheese, frolic with their flock of happy kids, play charades, speaking with hands instead of mouths, which is all we can do to be understood. At this I know I am good.
I dry myself and dress, grab my backpack and set out to the limestone falls. Alone, I stand upon the vast cascade of Pammukale, white as clouds, icicles or frozen waterfalls, where each scalloped terrace cups a brimming pool like I’ve seen in some sick Hollywood mansions in the hills. Standing there I feel lost, looking out to the unreachable horizon, its glare concealing what might be between me and the pristine.
I go south by coach to the coast at Kaş then Fethiye, Marmaris, Bodrum. Each bus is full mostly of men, their faces beaten into leather by the Mediterranean sun. They’re smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, rolling prayer beads between callused fingers and gawking at me mere inches from my nose. I flash photos of them, their eyes wide like little kids; the likes of me—a young woman traveling alone—a rarity in these parts. Through the stale haze in the back of the bus I see hens flapping their wings in the arms of peasant women, their clean but crusty-nosed children peeking from behind their mothers’ skirts.
In each seaside town I spend a day or two for a buck a night to sleep in neat pensions with new Australian friends, waking to a fresh loaf of bread every morning and a jar of chocolate-hazelnut spread for three. From Kuşadasıe we take a day trip by taxi through hilly country to visit the house of the Virgin Mary. The driver lets one of us take the wheel. At the base of the mountain we get out and hike a few miles up its face, traversing through tufts of shrubs, thorny briers and knee-high rocks. What brought her here? I wonder, so far away from her son, Jesus. Then I wonder if it is all a myth or hoax, because why would she travel so far away and set herself atop a mount with nothing to comfort but a babbling brook, alone with just her thoughts. And, once inside the small, dark room fashioned with handmade brick, small candles flickering in the draft, I think, perhaps because her boy was dead.