When Orestes returned from exile, he found his sister in tears and his mother prepared to murder him just as she had murdered his father. Tomorrow, I will return from my travels to be greeted at the airport by my daughter and, at her house, by two granddaughters already asleep in their gossip-exchanging bunk beds. A few days later, I will drive to Charleston to begin searching for the retirement house that is small enough to house Duke and me but large enough to display who knows how many enlarged photographs.
The other day, I spent the afternoon wandering through the forested park at Yildiz Palace, just across the road and up yet another uncommonly steep hill from Dolmabache Palace. On a park bench next to an emptied, disused 19th century swimming pool, a young man tuned his guitar but declined to play until I was a hundred yards distant. Statues of stags looking nervously over their shoulders for unseen, pursuing dogs pretended the forest was a wild preserve as, perhaps, it was in 1880. Other sculptures of birds, small half-domesticated animals, geese, dogs, and squirrels appear here and there, like afterthoughts carefully arranged.
The palace forest was just the place for Orestes II. It was the necessary place, a highly cultivated wilderness that, in its way, duplicates all the ruins I’ve visited in the past four months. The ancient sites—Ephesus, Pergamon, Mardin—were, once, imposed on an uncultivated landscape, or atop the ruins of an even earlier imposition on an even earlier uncultivated plain or craggy hill. Nine Troys? Each one delectable to the dreaming traveler. Pergamon surveying the olive groves on the neighboring hillsides was once a seaport? Was the Tigris always no more than thigh-deep when it passed between the house-carved cliffs of Hasankeyf? Every civilized village Orestes ever saw has returned to wilderness. It has sometimes been rebuilt, sometimes venerated in its ruin, sometimes abandoned to half-wild dogs too weary to pursue a stag.
So: was it the ancient that drew me to Turkey for this long stay? The wish to have been there at the outset? To imagine the Zeus altar rise above those gleaming white stairs while I looked on? Was it my applause for antique humankind who accomplished so much with so little, who believed nonsense but understood majesty?
If I could answer questions like these, I might be able to take a stab at what comes next. At the Grand Bazaar yesterday, I bought myself a pair of red and gray striped Anatolian pants, what the Brits might call At-Homes—light cotton pants so baggy all a man’s progeny could hide in them at once. This is the symbol of a comfortable, at home retirement.
Or should/will Orestes take to the western mountains of South Carolina or the wilds of Georgia or the estuaries where he’s already seen dolphins, pelicans, and even an alligator in the back yard of a house he briefly considered?
He’ll let you know.
You might encourage him if you’re of a mind to do so.