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.



Yes, it’s appalling how long I’ve neglected this blog but my adventures are about to resume – and so the inspiration for blogging in the first place will, happily, be renewed. Tomorrow evening I’ll be winging my way to Turkey once again. I’ve done a provisional packing. Everything fits, which I’m sure means that I’ve forgotten something major but I don’t know what it is yet. Over the years I’ve stashed an awful lot of stuff at our quarters in the village – art supplies and books, bedding, clothes and sundries – so each year I take less and less with me.

Meanwhile I’ve concluded that no amount of cramming Rosetta Stone exercises will have me speaking Turkish fluently before I fly out. In spite of regular study, the language still baffles me. I’ve added considerable vocabulary, but I still have little clue how to string the words together to compose a sentence. I’m hoping that I have enough stuffed into my brain to keep Sila, my little village friend, from laughing at me. Again. I am haunted by her exasperated sighs at my past feeble attempts. Perhaps I will be speaking more at the end of the summer than now. That’s not really saying much…pun intended.

As I’ve been preparing this past week, I’ve been reflecting on a service that I attended last weekend, a memorial for the mother of a good friend here in town. Kay was a vibrant presence and the service was a celebration of a life joyously well lived. I am very mindful of two oft repeated phrases of Kay’s that her grandsons quoted: “Aren’t we the happy people?” and “Aren’t we lucky?” She seemed constantly mindful of the wonder of life, the good fortune of being surrounded by friends and family and never ceased to remind others of that.

Now, here am I about to take a plane half-way around the world. I know there will be friends waiting in the Istanbul airport, that we’ll greet each other warmly and continue our journey together. I know that at the end of a familiar road there will be yet more friends to greet and a foreign village that has become a kind of home. Yes, there will be grumbling over too early mornings and seemingly endless hot, long days of work but there will also be stories and laughter and yet more friendships shared over the summer.

Ah, my archaeological friends! Aren’t we the happy people? Aren’t we lucky?

Will you come along and share the summer with us?