Convolutions, intricacies, and complications

Jeremy Seal on the Meander (Menderes) River in Anatolia
As my old Dad would say "You learn a new thing every day". Did you know that the Meander is a river, now known as the Menderes river, in Turkey? It's a wonderfully onomatopoeic word, that you really can't imagine meaning anything else. It's also probably the only river that you can imagine declining beautifully - I nile, you mississippi, he and she amazons, just don't have the same ring. And hence the title of this post taken straight from the OED.

Meander has been part of the English language since at least 1576 with earlier versions appearing in Italian, French, Spanish and Portugese. It entered Latin and Greek early as the convuluted course of the river became of wider application referring not just to the river but also to anyone taking an erratic course whether physically or emotionally. Today there are even meanderthals, those irritating people who wander aimlessly around usually right in front of you when you're trying to get from Point A to B at some speed.

Jeremy Seal's journey down the Meander : East to West along a Turkish River is his own journey cultural, emotional and physical down the river that winds from its source in Anatolia to the Aegean Sea. I'd never heard of the Meander river, and looking at the map of modern day Turkey, you would think that this was not a particularly important patch of land, but in fact this was land where history was made. Persian armies tramped across the area en route to battle at Marathon, Alexander the Great headed in the opposite direction in a bid to conquer the known world, the Greeks hellenized it, the Romans traded with it, and early Christianity had a strong foothold here. St. Paul spent some time in Anatolia, and several of his epistles were directed to congregations there.

The oracle at Didyma
The region seemed to be extraordinarily plastic in its approach to religion moving easily from animism through Persian religions to cults of Apollo. There was an oracle in Anatolia that at one point vied with Delphi's. After a flirtation with Judaism, the region adapted swiftly to Christianity, before becoming Muslim as Saracen raiders swept through the land on yearly raids, followed by the Turkish hordes, who, forsaking the region around the Gobi Desert, stayed.

The land had been at the centre of mythology - King Midas and Apollo both allegedly lived there, and of history and religion. And as the area where West and East meet, it remains a crossroads, albeit a rather forgotten one even today.

Jeremy Seal decides that he is going to canoe down the Meander, musing on life, history, myth and religion as he goes. His attempts to canoe are doomed to failure, as dam-building projects, and some truly scary ecological problems mean that much of the modern day Menderes is less than a stream, no depth to even float a canoe, while other areas swarm in effluent that is better left untouched. Nothing daunted Seal continues on his journey by foot, dolmus and taxi. Where Seal really stands out is that he knows Turkey in depth, having written about the country for some years. His love of the people, and his linguistic abilities mean that this isn't just a rather bemused innocent's abroad journey, but he is able to have in depth contact with the people of this largely forgotten region. And wonderful people they are too. The kindness and hospitality that Seal finds en route are touching. It is hard not to be enthusiastic about the people of Turkey after reading this book. And for any fan of Barbara Nadel, I would think it's a must-read, filling in much of the background to her tales, including the darker side of Turkey's political history.

This was a lovely piece of travel writing. A wonderful amalgam of present day musings, history, and literature. A scintillating meander down that most meandering of rivers.


Clare Wartnaby said…
Really interesting to read about the word meander, and about this book. Definitely tempted both to read it and go travelling, now!

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