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Walking the Dog

One good thing about a dog aboard is that it forces you to take it for a walk, whether or not it is rainy outside, or too hot or whatever.   It militates against sloth and it brings one into unexpected contact with people and places that otherwise one might miss. Then again, there were some experiences I would have been just as happy to miss.

Tarifa comes immediately to mind, one of the prettiest towns we visited in Spain.  It was located on the extreme south coast across a wide sparkling bay west of the Rock of Gibraltar.  The town was built on a hill whose slopes bore radiant sun-splashed, whitewashed building.  Arrays of flower boxes spilling over with blossoms faced each other across cobblestone streets. 

It was a bright morning and housewives were out and about, chatting with each other, sweeping the streets in front of their houses, and actually washing them down with buckets of water.  They looked up and smiled as I passed, Santos trotting by my side on his leash while, for my part, I tried to convey with admiring glances my appreciation of their classic and well-kept town.

Just then, very then, I felt dead weight on the leash—just what I dreaded. Without looking, I knew he’d chosen this mortifyingly public, carefully cleaned place to suddenly dig all four feet in, and hunker down over his butt, looking up with that distinctive grimace of chagrin that nevertheless never gave him the slightest pause.  Once he froze in position, no jerking of the leash could delay or stop him until he had left his calling card on the clean washed stone, leaving me one of two options: to blithely cop the attitude that these people should feel honored to have a token of our passing—or to cast about lamely for some way to dispose of it.  

If I had a Kleenex I could pick it up and…then what?  With no garbage cans about, should I put it nonchalantly in my pocket?  Luckily I had no Kleenex, so instead looked for some implement—a piece of paper, a fragment of wood, a tin can, or a paper cup.  But the street was immaculate—with the one glaring exception from Santos.  Finding nothing but a smooth rock I attempted to flip "it" neatly into the gutter but only managed to spread it around, making a worse mess while the housewives gradually stopped talking and watched this idiot foreigner.

Most of the Turkish coast was ideal for wandering and exploring with a dog.  Many of anchorages were uninhabited coves wild with rock, slope, and forest, yet with pathways worn into the stone testifying to thousands of years of prior footsteps.  One never knew what amazing remnant from some ancient civilization might crop up in a field or at the water’s edge or, for that matter, beneath it.

There are so many ruins all along the coast, one begins to appreciate what a long-running civilization it was and how extensive and rich its culture, with fine touches of sculpture so profuse that 2000 years later, they are still turning up in farmers’ fields.  In the U.S. an artifact that old would be locked in a glass case, have a full time guard around it, and the environs declared a national historic site with curators and parking attendants.  But here in Turkey, the ancient past is kicking around underfoot, with only Zeus knows what else lying beneath that likely looking  mound of dirt.

 Off the southern bulge of Turkey we lay to our anchor in a pleasant cove not far from the town of Kas, known in ancient times as Antiphellos.  It was a beautiful anchorage, looking across blue sunlit water to the whitewashed town at the foot of a steep mountain massif. Directly behind our stern, a steep hill, almost a cliff, rose up a couple of hundred feet and then leveled off in an extensive ledge, shady with trees, a vantage point that would command the coast for many miles.  There looked to be a goat path up the hill that we could ascend.  

Early one morning with no one else up except Santos, who was gazing silently out to sea, I got out my shoes and dropped them softly on the deck. He sprang to attention, recognizing the sound of leather, two impacts.   Shoes on deck always meant walk…never shoe shine. We started climbing along the trail, Santos with his nose glued to the ground as he traveled. 

Tell-tale droppings and somewhere up above us the tinkling of earthenware bells spoke of goats, but the trail somehow seemed more substantial than just a goat path—there were several spots where steps and handholds had been carved into the rock, where I had to give Santos a boost.  But I gave it no thought ‘til we reached the ledge, a shelf of about a quarter acre overgrown with trees and shrubs.  The view was spectacular, clearly the best along this stretch of the coast, following the regular trend of the shore where the monolithic mountain sloped bluntly down to meet the sea.

Santos had disappeared behind a bush and I could hear him scratching at something.  I peered around the trees and saw his nose pressed under a huge boulder where no doubt a lizard had scurried for safety. The rock was overgrown with foliage but had an unusually regular shape—then I noticed its feet, carved out of the rock, feet like a lion.  Pulling away the tangle of dead vines revealed a lid of heavy stone, ponderous and ajar; it was a stone coffin—a sarcophagus.

I had read about them in books and seen pictures, but that hadn’t readied me for the impact of this massive casket, carved out of a single block of stone, as elaborately chased with grooves, facets, and panels as though it had been routed out of soft pine.  There were symbols at either end, some resembling the sun, and lines of writing all along the bottom edge.  The whole of it was shaped handsomely, with a balance and grace that belied its weight.  The lid had been lifted and cracked, by grave robbers probably.   As I marveled over it, I caught sight of another one, also obscured by foliage. Eventually Santos and I found half a dozen of these sarcophagi, each one weighing tons, all with their lids cracked or broken, some plainer than others but every one of them an amazing piece of work.

The lonely and beautiful ledge was an ancient necropolis.  The same promise of beauty that had drawn us up here to gaze forever down that clear coast had drawn these people to their final resting place.  What a wonderful spot, what a wonderful concept…the massive stone tombs and the view spoke of eternity and peace in a language one could not hear but could see, and feel…and know.

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