Letter from Turkey from Mark Schurzer
This is a letter from Mark Schurzer, of Turkana Farms writing about the trip to Turkey he and Peter Davies are taking this fall. He is a great writer and I thought you might enjoy reading it.:
Hi all, Mark here, writing from Kusadesi, Turkey.
Our trips to Turkey are theoretically vacation for me, and work for Peter, who is either
researching new possible trip destinations or leading the groups who join us. But they always
have unexpected aspects, and this trip is no exception. In some senses, the trip to date has taken
on the character of a religious quest.
We started, as Peter reported last week, on the Black Sea Coast, where one of our first stops was
the Sumela Monastery. The monastery was one of the last redoubts of Greek Christendom in
Anatolia, surviving long after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Seeing
that monastery perched on the cliffside, and imagining the life of the monks, made me imagine
our farm in some sense as a monastery, with Peter and me living like two monks, tending the
crops and animals while reading, exploring the mysteries of life, and devoting ourselves to living
according to principles that we don’t fully yet understand. According to Peter, there are to this
day monks living in pairs in the independent dominions of Mt. Athos in Greece, whose life might
not be all that indistinguishable from ours in that very important respect.
From Trabzon our travels took us to the Kachkar Mountains (also known as the Pontic Alps)
near the border of Georgia. What did we do in this spectacularly scenic area? We sought out
churches, specifically ancient Georgian churches and what remains (typically very little) of their
monastery complexes. These churches were mostly built between the 8th and the 11th centuries
A.D., when Georgian culture flowered in this region, and they are located usually smack dab
in the middle of remote mountain agricultural villages, with cows grazing the church yards and
sometimes, in those churches with missing roofs and grass growing inside, within the church
These churches are largely un-touristed spots. The SUV we rented for its all wheel drive could
barely fit on the steep dirt switchback paths we had to climb to reach them, and it was lucky
that we almost never encountered other cars, because only occasionally was there room for
two vehicles to pass. It was odd to see the care that went into building these institutions, and
the indifference of the local population to their currently state, while that same population
dedicatedly tended to its continuing agricultural endeavors right next to the ruins. These
structures which were built as the presumably permanent embodiment of enduring principles lay
in ruins, while the flimsy structures essential to agriculture right next to them were meticulously
maintained. This gave plenty of food for thought about what is really eternal and what is
Such thoughts were reinforced when we reached the awe-inspiring site of Ani, the ancient
abandoned Armenian capital on a wind-swept high steppe plateau on the Turkish side of the
border with Armenia. Here it was the Armenian Orthodox cathedral and several other significant
churches that were abandoned, succeeded by a stunning 12th century mosque which seems to be
the oldest example of Selcuk mosque architecture in Anatolia, also abandoned. And again, clear
evidence that the nearby agricultural village nonetheless grazed its animals in the site, its life
going on even as the stone religious edifices that were its neighbors crumbled into dust.
Since flying to the Aegean region and meeting our group, we’ve been touring the great
archaeological sites of Priene, Miletus, Didyma and Ephesus. What we’ve seen again was very
much about the birth and death of the structured religious institutions, as cities found their Greek
and Roman temple cults dying, to be replaced by Jewish synagogues and Byzantine churches and
those in turn replaced by Ottoman mosques.
And yet, at the same time, today I encountered the sort of archetypal image the power of which
leaves no doubt about the enduring power of religious symbols to continuously develop and
inspire devotion. We were all, I think, awed by the cult statues of Diana of Ephesus, the cult
against which St. Paul preached but which had such drawing power that pilgrimages to the
Temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, were a major industry in the
City of Ephesus.
Consider this statue. [When I clicked on this it gave me a google search into which I entered “Diana of Ephesus” and got a 14 page set of photos, and I’m not certain which is the actual one they are looking at. However, viewing the lot, you can certainly get the idea as he describes it==Kay]
I feel fortunate that among our group of travelers is Dr. Irene Cioffi, who is not only a friend of
mine since kindergarten but is also an art historian and a Jungian analyst/ Irene pointed out how
this Diana of Ephesus is a far cry from the goddess Diana of the hunt of classical Greek myth.
She is an iconic, non-naturalistic figure whose largest statue stands without discernible feet,
veritably rooted in the ground, her powerful blank eyes staring forward. She is adorned with
lions on her arms. In lozenges on her extremely erect lower extremities there are stylized bulls,
rams, and honeybees. Her neck is adorned with human figures, floral garlands, and a necklace
of the figures of the zodiac, while her entire mid-torso is a series of overlapping eggs, suggesting
both a mass of breasts and the bulls testicles that Irene describes as actually having been pinned
to earlier wooden versions of this cult statue. There is no doubt that she is the mother goddess,
mother earth, the source of all fertility.
Taking in this powerful symbol, I thought that if our farm were a monastery this would indeed
be an appropriate cult figure for it to be devoted to. Irene reminded me that the term “religion”
is derived from the same root as the term “ligament”, both words signifying connection. In that
sense, she suggested that our farming endeavor, which is very much a matter of learning to be
connected to the natural world that sustains us, is very much a religious endeavor.
- Posted in: Art, Music and the Good Life