For me, nothing compares with the sense of excitement I feel when approaching a new city... anyplace where I haven't been before. Especially if that place has a past.
Few places on this earth have more of a past than Izmir. Originally called Smyrna, this is one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back more than 8,500 years. Today, it's the third-largest city in Turkey and a big resort destination for Europeans. Its population doubles come summertime. Unlike across the border in Greece, where local tourists have been thin on the ground this past tourist season, Turkey's holiday trade progresses as usual.
We, like all the other tourists, came to this historically important spot along the Turkish coast to see the ruins of ancient Ephesus. What a place this must have been in its day. The Roman emperor was here, and Roman soldiers came on holiday. Anthony and Cleopatra honeymooned in this chic metropolis with a population of 250,000 at the time.
It wasn't only the jet-setters of the day, but also some of the most important characters of early Christianity who sought out this port city. John, Christ's favorite apostle, built one of the first Christian churches here, with a baptistery and a garden, the remains of which can be wandered today.
John came to Ephesus with Mary, Jesus' mother, who lived out her days, it is said, in a small stone house on a nearby hilltop. John traveled back and forth between Mary's house and the place where he built his church and then wrote his gospel. He was buried beneath his church, but his body was robbed. No one knows for sure where it lies today.
Tourists come to Ephesus to see the ancient Roman city and St. John's church. They also come to shop. Some of Turkey's finest carpets are made by girls from villages in this part of the country.
Not ones to shirk our tourist duties, Lief and I spent a morning exploring the ancient ruins... then the afternoon haggling with a carpet broker. We have shopped for carpets in Turkey before. We know the drill. You are seated along the wall in a big room. You are served tea or coffee, maybe a snack. A demonstration of how a Turkish carpet is made follows. Then the carpets come out.
In Fikri Caglayan's showroom, the experience had more than the usual flair. We would-be buyers sat on wooden benches enjoying our drinks and our pastries while Fikri's staff carried out carpet after carpet. They laid them one after another, one upon another, diagonally, in patterns, showcasing all colors, designs, sizes and standards of quality. They threw the rolled-up carpets from one man to another as though they were tossing so many balls around the room. They tossed the carpets, then laid each one out on the floor with a swoosh. One of the staff finished off the presentation by sending a small rectangular carpet spiraling into the air. It spun around and around then landed with another swoosh in the center of the thick pile of rugs all around.
"You see," Fikir explained. "We even have flying carpets."
"It used to be," he continued, "that the magic word to make a carpet fly was abracadabra. Today. it's Visa or MasterCard!"
When the show was complete, the great room was layered with all manner of carpets, red, gold, blue, green... every color of the rainbow and all shades in between, like brush strokes on the canvas of the wooden floor.
"We can ship for you," Fikir offered, "to anywhere in the world. We handle the shipping and the customs, door to door. Once we agree the price of a carpet, that is the final cost to you. You won't have to spend an additional dollar to take receipt of your purchase."
"He can get a carpet through customs and delivered to us in Panama without any hassle or cost to us?" I whispered to Lief. "I'd like to see that."
"Do you see anything that interests you?" one of Fikir's staff asked us. Lief must have been feeling generous, for he responded to indicate two rugs.
"They'll go nicely in the apartment back in Panama City," he said.
Thirty minutes of haggling ensued. Lief finally got a price he was happy with, and Fikir's staff finalized the paperwork. We have our receipt for two red carpets said to be on their way now to Panama to greet us upon our return home.
If not, Fikir has given us his cell phone number.