The Conflicted Communist of Priene

Apparently, John has no religion and, given his expression of human motivation, neither does anyone else. Why is the Apollo Temple in Didyma, so huge that it requires a triple row of immense columns to support the roof that never got erected anyway? “Money. Money, money, money. Somebody gave a lot of money to have his name on that temple, to have Apollo look on him with a propitious eye. God didn’t come cheap, even 2000 years ago. Gods know money, for sure.”

“What happened to the iron pins and posts that held the temple walls together, that ensured that each drum of each column stayed perpendicular? They were all ripped out to make pistols and swords. And why did they want these weapons? To fight over money. Money, money, money.”

“And look at this beautiful site. Is it still beautiful? Do you think it beautiful? It could be more beautiful. See this black stone. Do you know what it is? It is perfect white marble. But what happens when you don’t properly preserve white marble? It turns black. It dissolves. In another five years, we won’t be able to read the inscriptions anymore. All that learning, gone. And why? Smog. Pollution from all those trucks driving too fast because they think they need to get somewhere in order to sell you something. You don’t agree? Look! Look at this marble? Who reads Greek? Ah! Good. So read for us. Here, take my glasses. You can rub the soot if you like. It won’t come off. It’s more permanent that the Greek letters from the 4th century BCE. Does it say ‘Come to Walmart! Big sale’? No, it does not. But does anyone give us Walmart dollars for the restoration? I worked this site for fifteen years. I know every stone, and most of the ones that aren’t here. I know where those are, too. In farmers’ houses. In the curbs along the highway. And you know why, now, don’t you? Money, money. But somehow there’s no money for our digs.

“It was always capitalism. I think the snake sold Eve that apple. But what does capitalism want with art? Or temples? Look down at that plain and the mountains beyond them. That was the sea. This was a port city. Now it’s fifteen miles to the sea. Someday, Samos won’t be a Greek island; it will be Turkish mainland. Nature doesn’t care about boundaries and tariffs, or even coasts and oceans. But homo sapiens? Look over there: the whole city is the architecture of Capitalism, the city planning of Capitalism. See. There is the ocean and the docks to greet the ships coming from Libya and Cairo, and down from the Black Sea. But money must change hands, so we come next to the custom house where tariffs are paid and bribes are accepted. Then we visit the agora, the cheaper one with room for a hundred shops, then the elite agora where you could shop Bulgari and Chanel. And when you are tired of shopping, you walk back to the baths before the theatre. And why is this theatre so huge? Thirteen thousand people interested in drama? Please. No: to show they have money. You think that horseshoe shape is for acoustics? No, no. It’s so you can see what Mrs. Lucretius is wearing to the theatre tonight. Silk just in from China and perfumed Arabic gums from Egypt. And those marble chairs with the lion-claw feet? You think that’s first-come, first-served?

“It was like that when Brezhnev came to Germany for talks with our Prime Minister. I was in national service then, and he took me along to translate. My archeologist friends said no, don’t go. It’s CIA, KGB, MI6, Mosad, everyone will know who you are. I went—for the money! You’re surprised?

“We went to Germany, had talks, and the PM handed me a thick envelope. I went to the US base and bought a 1961 Chevrolet Impala, red with white interior, big engine, white walls. Drove it back to Istanbul. I was almost happy with my Chevrolet. But what I wanted was Ford Thunderbird, powder blue with retractable roof. Maybe next car.”

The oversized Kilim bag hanging over the tour bus seat facing us passengers said, in immodest letters, TIPS. Six arrows pointed to the opening of the colorful bag.

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