But when we could get away from the masses, into the stillness of the absolute dark, what a facinating place, a glimpse into a completely different way of life.
Driven underground by wars and religious prosecution, from about the 6th century on people carved out a seven layer fortress, and one to be reckoned with. There are many, deeper layers, but some of those have yet to even be explored, and are closed to the public.
Everything was underground, from the wine-making area to where they stabled their animals, rooms and churches and even a baptismal font. What was amazing was how fresh the air was, thanks to ventilation shafts throughout. And it was surprisingly comfortable, despite the laundry list of "do not enter if you have" cautions at the entrance, which named everything from heart conditions to fear of the dark and claustrophobia. The logistics of living in the dark, in such a place, still baffle me, but apparently it was done, and done well for centuries.
There were large circular stones at each level to roll into place to block advancement of enemies, should the underground dwellers need to retreat, with holes in the center to stab spears through at attackers, and the labarynthine layout with secret exits and dead ends to confuse enemies would have been daunting to penetrate. Assuming it could be found in the first place, of course. This city, as large as it is, was forgotten and lost to the world until about 50 years ago when a shepherd lost one of his flock into it and thoughtfully notified the authorities when he found more than just a sheep. True story.
We got almost all the way through the levels, including to a deep, silent one that we climbed down to on a particularly steep and narrow slope. There, our guide Eda turned out the flashlight and the darkness rushed in to fill the space the light had occupied only a moment before. There was the sense that you could almost see, in that place between peaceful and eerie.
Eda said she'd come down once with a Yogi and his family, and that they had insisted on sitting there in the utter dark for many minutes while he meditated. Eda averred that it freaked her out completely.
For me, the drama was getting the kids up and out the maze of many levels before we had little wet pants. Aaaaand...we just made it.
In a tiny village we took a Turkish cooking class, one just for us. Inside an immaculate home we were welcomed by three generations of a local family. (The little grandsons were busy playing and didn't feel like posing with us. Fair enough.)
Here is our teacher:
So lovely and serene. We womenfolk got ready to learn, the men obviously supposed to sit on the sofa and drink tea. Ah, womanhood. The kids alternated between learning to cook and running off to playing like hooligans outside with the two little boys who live there, manhandling the chickens and donkey, climbing around on a tractor, swinging sticks and being kids to the nth degree.
Squatting on the carpet, we first stuffed grape leaves with a rice mixture. 'Stuffing' is a misnomer: really it's folding and rolling. I always overstuffed mine, no matter how much I tried to hold back.Then, Eda translating throughout, we learned how to make tiny ravioli from pasta which she mixed in a plastic bowl with her hands, then rolled out with a long, thin rolling pin, sliced into little uniform squares,
and finally we all (well, all of us with the double X chromosome pattern) worked to pinch the squares into the requisite toothy shape with the tiniest bit of meat mixture within. At this point it had become painfully apparent that we really weren't to do much of the work, but we did our best.
This pasta pinching bit took a really long time and obviously one would get faster with practice, because you needed hundreds of them for a single family meal. Not to mention that she was going to go make a tomato and yogurt sauce for them as well.
At this point the lesson was called to a halt, and we, as guests, were sat down in the nicest room in the house to eat, with satiny chairs, and were served a plethora of food until we were stuffed. The family lingered nearby, bringing more food, washing up the mess we'd made. There was little I could do to cover up the pasta-y oily mess Thomas made on the cushions, and I felt horribly guilty.
Then, having heard we were quite fond of the breads at our cave home, our hostess showed us how to make those as well, rolling and winding each length of dough with all the self assurance of a professional baker, which, we found out later she was, having made the breads for local hotels for many a year.
Thomas loved painting the egg yolk glaze on the rolls before they were baked, and was a little too exuberant in shaking the seeds on top.
While the breads were baking, the family photos were brought out. Snapshots, some of them beginning to falling apart, many yellowing or sepia and nearly a hundred years old, all stuffed into a plastic bag which filled my scrapbooker's heart with horror. Oh, for a can of archival mist and a proper scrapbook to preserve them...but it couldn't be helped. Instead, I concentrated on who was related to whom, enjoying and exclaiming over the family history of which they were obviously proud.
Then more bags were brought out. Eda said, in a curious tone, "These are handmade by their neighbors -they've agreed to try to sell them to people who come for a cooking class. You need to know that you are not required to buy anything."
Inside the bags were wool socks and slippers in beautiful designs, and scarves for women with hand crocheted trimming. I thought, what a lovely way to thank this family. Initially Colleen and I had planned to give them some sort of gratuity, but that felt strange, so this seemed like a perfect way to go, and to bring back gifts.
I chose scarves for the ladies of my family, slippers for Bethy and my Dad, and then rainbow socks for Thomas and me. How much? I asked innocently, thinking that it would be comparable or perhaps even less than I'd seen for similar craftwork at the local tourist markets.
The price was named, and well, I was taken aback. I've never paid THAT much for socks before, (and I'm a sock enthusiast!) I suppose I could have dickered, but it felt wrong. After a minute's hesitation I went for it -the money went straight to villagers that could probably really use it, after all.
Plus, Colleen looked fantastic in her headscarf.
We'd obviously spent far too long at our cooking class, but Eda and our driver were patient with us, even as they moved us along.
Next up, the pottery making of the Turks. We were walked though the stages of shaping, firing, and hand painting by a nice fellow, and then shown by this handsome and justifiably cocky potter just how thowing a pot should be done. Manually rotating the potter's wheel by booting it rapidly with both feet in the correct position, he formed damp clay into a perfect sugar bowl with a lid that fit, as he assured us it would...perfectly.
Then he asked for volunteers. Once again, we womenfolk took a try while the menfolk looked on, drinking their Turkish coffee and looking amused. We donned clown pants and took our best whack at it. I refused to admit that spinning the wheel was the least bit tiring, kicking it stubbornly as long as he allowed, but there was no denying that I needed some help with the actual pottery bit.
Even so, we turned out bowls that looked bowlish.
They were undoubtedly smooshed back into shapeless blobs the minute we left the room, but we were OK with that. We downed our Turkish coffees for extra va-voom (seen here on an exquisite handpainted glass table made from a piece that wasn't quite good enough to sell)
and went shopping in the gallery. Colleen picked up some pieces with gorgeous Hittite patterns (see below -the circular ones with a spout are for wine, worn over the shoulder with your arm through the middle, and tipped into a glass to serve)
and I was tempted by those and even more so by these wonderfully whimsical goat pitchers, but couldn't justify the cost to myself seeing as I'd already bought overpriced socks.
They are pretty nifty, aren't they?
Our last stop was at a place to see the weaving of Turkish carpets. Outside, the wools were being boiled in natural dyes, the colors coming from such things as walnut shells and indigo,
yarn porn for you knitters out there
and inside silks were being harvested from boiled silk cocoons. They gave us several as souvenirs. If you give the white cocoons a shake you can hear the worm inside, quite expired, rattling around.
I could tell you more about that process, but I had to take this laughing but far too loud little person outside for a time out.
Eventually behavior was good enough that we could come in and watch the amazing way rugs were being hand-knotted, putting me in mind of a harp player, seeing the precision and speed with which the women's fingers moved as they wove.
Then, glasses of wine, and the carpet sales pitch began. Eda had mentioned at the pottery, and now again, that we didn't need to buy anything. We watched for a bit, the kids conned the men into letting them roll out the carpets, roll the kids into the carpets, and even to take them for a magic carpet ride, but when we got to price, even small, simple carpets started around $3,000, and the ones we liked, well, they were more.
At which point we agreed that the carpets are indeed art, and apparently we aren't art collectors. At least not for things we tend to grind sand into from the soles of our feet. We have lots of nice Persian carpets, and that works for us.
We apologised to our guide and driver for taking extra time everywhere. They were gracious, as always. We had to get back for dinner and bed, as for our last morning in Cappadocia we planned to get up extra early for something really special...