Dramatic travel stories. When they are happening to us, it is perhaps a nightmare. Certainly the time I got deathly ill in Syria and had to hitchhike back to Turkey was an experience I would never want to repeat. But what a story! It became my favorite chapter in The Yogurt Man Cometh, even after whittling it down a bit to fit. Tonight over Korean barbecue in Seoul, it came up again and I rambled on about being delirious in a desert convent, standing alone in the heat hoping for a random bus, and riding with about 40 barrels of smuggled diesel fuel into Turkey. You know, the usual backpacker sort of thing. Add to that Syria and its protesters in the news this week and it seemed appropriate to use a photo from my spring break in Syria for a Photo Monday.
This is a film-camera look through the ruins of the Basilica of St. Simeon Stylites, a 5th-century construction just over 30 miles outside Aleppo (Haleb). St. Simeon became a hermit monk and spent 37 years in solitude (as hermits are wont to do)… on top of a column high up in the air. After his death — did he topple to the ground?? — the commemorative religious building followed, rising up right around where he had spent most of his life. What remains (allegedly) of that column is the rounded rock in the middle. Just to the right of it is my Turkish friend Canan who was traveling with me and Cedric, a French archaeology student from Ankara. She’s reading about where we are, finding the stories that the stones won’t tell you. That rounded rock was once likely over 12 meters tall. That’s what relic gathering by pilgrims does to a site.