We questioned friends who had visited Turkey and almost unanimously they said they loved the country. Then we asked about side trips out of Istanbul and almost unanimously they said – Ephesus and Cappadocia. We followed their advice.
When Paul visited Ephesus it was a Greek city occupied by Romans. His boat would have sailed right to the edge of the largest city in the region, at one point containing 200,000 inhabitants.
Through the power of silt and time, the former port is now a full five miles from the Aegean, but the marvels of Ephesus endure.
Greeks built the massive amphitheatre that holds 20,000 people. Elton John sang Rocket Man here. But who carved the menorah into stone in front of the library whose façade looms impressively along the main street? Nobody knows.
Our guide, a charming woman named Dilek Aydeniz, said there was a secluded passageway from the library to the brothel across the way. A man could tell his wife he was going to check out a book and slip into the brothel, coins in hand.
Dilek took us to the terrace homes that once housed elite Roman administrators -- high rises, state of the art, with setback floors that let in light to many of the chambers. We climbed what felt like six stories of hard stone steps. Each apartment had running water and stanchions for candles. In one secluded corner was a lavatory – a 40-seater.
In Ephesus, there are traces of Biblical figures – Paul and John, so intent on evangelizing that they became a threat to the silversmiths as well as Roman officials.
Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is said to have lived her final years here, perhaps in the modest home on Nightingale Hill that attracts so many pilgrims, including Muslims who honor her as Meryem. I thought about the elderly Jewish woman, protected by her dead son’s followers, safer here than she would have been in her homeland.
We drove to Selçuk, a pleasant town whose name originates from the Seljuk Turks who emigrated from the east. Men played a card game called okey in the cafes. We saw the basilica of St. John, named after the apostle who preached here.
In the center of town, we stopped below a rampart of the old Roman aqueduct, some of whose graceful arches are still standing. Atop this column is the large nest of a stork, now migrated southward. The storks are venerated because they are monogamous and industrious, our guide said; they also carry rats and snakes to the nest to feed their young, and sometimes drop their prey onto pedestrians in the bustling streets.
Selçuk was alive with commerce and Ephesus quivered with memories. What was missing was the salt air and glitter of the sea.
We went to Cappadocia the easy way – by flying from Izmir to Istanbul, resting overnight, and flying to Kayseri the next day. (Turkish Airlines is very good, and serves cherry juice on domestic flights.) I know people who have taken the 10-hour bus ride between Ephesus and Cappadocia; but we were not up for that.
Cappadocia is a region carved by wind and rain and snow and ancient volcanoes; amazing natural obelisks point toward the sky, with top-heavy caps of volcanic ash teetering above them. I cannot describe the fantasy landscape; please check out sites and photos on the web.
Time and humans have created and enlarged caves into the porous hills. Our guide, Gökhan Yaramis, told us how ancient Christians spent much of their lives underground, cooking and surviving and witnessing their faith with rudimentary paint on the cave walls.
One day Gökhan took us to a charming restaurant, Kavi, in Avanos, under a canopy alongside the Red River, with its thick layer of shade trees, with a view of a bridge and a mosque. The next day he took us to the university town of Mustafapaşa, a Greek city until the changes of the 1920’s. A traveler could spend a lot of time around Cappadocia. October is brilliant.
We went high-end, I admit it, with a guide and driver, expertly arranged by Karin Paquay, a multilingual Belgian executive, and her helpful colleagues at Destination Management Turkey (DMT) based in Istanbul, In Cappadocia we splurged for a view from the expensive CCR Hotel in Uchisar, dug into ancient mountainside caves. (Oddly enough, cave hotels have very dark rooms.) Other tourists were backpacking it. The main thing is to go in your own fashion. Our friends who gushed about Ephesus and Cappadocia were absolutely right.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.