Mundane and magic

Just over a week into the latest dig and I’m thinking how hard it is to recapture the feeling of when everything was new and novel. How do I convey what it means to be here if I’m so settled in routine that I no longer see what is unique to this place and this undertaking?

It’s why a weekend such as this past one is so special: a trip to Antakya – a familiar destination – in the company of Evren and Sebastiano, who I have known since my first season, to meet another friend, Zeki – a past camp director also from that first season. Before starting out, it all felt a bit routine – nothing exciting, but a way to spend the day off. I’ve been to Antakya so many times. I’ve seen the mosaics at the old museum, I’ve traveled that stretch of highway… many times. I’ve known these people for years. Yet, in the midst of the familiar: surprises.

Antakya – and the countryside and, well, Turkey – are bristling with new construction. The downtown area was much transformed and the new museum is impressive and up to the moment. A new ‘museum hotel’ is underway – modular and innovative and reminding me a little of Habitat from Montreal’s Expo ’67. The mosaics and artifacts from the old museum are showcased in a way that gives them space and context, and there was an impressive display of new finds from the University of Toronto’s expedition at Tel Tayinat. Zeki had to restrain me at one point, suggesting I stop continually announcing, “ Hey, I drew one of those! and I drew one like that, too and…” (clearly, I like my job.)

Along with Evren and Seba were Tizi and Valentina, who were unfamiliar with Antakya. Zeki was keen to share the sights with us – and so I revisited the Church of St. Peter – a cave church dating back to New Testament times, visited by both apostles Peter and Paul and said to be the community where the new disciples were first called “Christians.” He drove us to a vantage point high over the city, but not so high as the remains of the walls that once completely encircled it.

Then we went to lunch, Zeki leading us down a narrow, nondescript lane and through a doorway into…magic. Once across the threshold we were all enchanted by the architecture of an earlier time. These are my favourite Turkish moments: the modern, hurried world gives way. Friends gather in the cool shade of an interior courtyard, pull up around a table, share new flavours and old stories, locking in new memories to recount down the road.

Riding home later, watching the hills shade to crimson in the light of sunset, I was reminded of the hills I see from my own front window and how I have watched them change constantly over the day and through the seasons. The familiar need not ever be mundane nor routine. There is always magic – if you keep looking for it.  Occasionally, you need a friend to remind you.


We are family…

A year or so after my first archaeological dig, I signed on for an illustration workshop at an historical archaeology conference in Toronto. I arrived early to the Royal York Hotel and planted myself in an overstuffed armchair on the mezzanine to wait.

It was the first morning of the conference; attendees were still arriving. I remember watching from above as people called out in delighted recognition, embraced enthusiastically, gathered in affectionate clusters; I also remember realizing that this companionable warmth was something I had until then experienced only in a Christian context – I’d never witnessed it outside of church. In that moment I understood that what I was observing was a universal human experience, not an exclusively religious one at all. We call it community.

It may start with a shared interest or common purpose, but it grows far beyond that. The discussion group continues for over twenty years and sustains you through major life changes. The workplace companions shore you up in a crisis and push you back out into the world renewed. The travel group become your confidantes and best ever girlfriends. The professional association assures you that your own particular variety of weird isn’t so weird. It’s not just individual connections you make within a group – it’s the sense of being woven into a fabric. A tribal identity is bestowed. It’s the sharing in something bigger. It’s home – home that extends beyond time or place; home that you find unexpectedly when you’ve journeyed away and home that awaits your return.

A community is definitely what we become here on the dig. At the beginning of the season we joyfully pick up the threads of past years and continue into the summer knitting in the new arrivals. Not everyone arrives at the start; not everyone stays to the end – so our family expands and contracts continuously. We work together, drink together, laugh together, complain together. We each weave a niche specific to our own gifts and interactions; we all find our way into the fabric of this particular Zincirli season.

We reached our season peak earlier this week; several of the team have departed since. As the summer winds down hello will be gradually crowded out with goodbye – but there are still a few weeks to enjoy this little community, one that has, for me, stretched to embrace half the world.