Category: Travels

Why so many cave dwellings in Cappadocia?

The troglodyte habit is often attributed to a need for places of refuge and concealment in troubled times, suggesting a chronology linked with either the Arab raids of the seventh or ninth centuries or the Turkish ones of the eleventh century.  The habit itself does not, however, imply such a need.  In fact, rock-cut villages often occupy conspicuous sites…Instead, as noted above, this mode of architecture should be seen as a logical response to the local conditions.  The millstone closures, which appear formidably defensive to an eye accustomed to built architecture must also be seen in this context: when timber is scarce and the soft rock easily worked, such a closing method for seldom-used storage cavities may be more efficient than conventional door.  The rock-cut villages cannot, therefore, be assigned with certainty to the periods of turmoil.  There is certainly no question of concealment as far as the cave churches are concerned, since they are often located in prominent sites and many also have elaborate carved facades.  Nor is there reason, therefore, for assigning the churches to periods of insecurity.

That is from Lyn Rodley’s classic Cave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia, a book which you read only if you are going to…Cappadocia.

Sorted Turkish links

1. What’s up, and a Business Week survey.

2. Brain surgery in Turkey 5000 years ago.

3. Turkish problems with trade deficits and credit creation.

4. Why Turkey is backsliding on women’s rights.

5. What is the future of press freedom?

One possible take on the current situation is that Turkish liberties are eroding in a dangerous manner and the country will slide into some version of an Islamic state, through not-fully-democratic means yet sanctioned by the ballot box.  A second take is that the liberties were not quite ever there in the first place, and Turkish society is moving to a more coherent and more sustainable equilibrium of state, religion, and citizen.  Islam in Turkey is finding a way toward a more comfortable public space, albeit with bumps and mistakes along the way, and lasting radical secularization was never possible anyway.  The rising middle class and Turkey’s historic uniqueness, and separation from the Persian and Arab worlds, will keep it on a “good enough” track.  I incline toward the second and more optimistic view.

Central Turkey is more economically advanced than I had expected.  It is downright nice here, and standards of living are reasonably high.  Imagine the per capita income of Mexico or Brazil but with greater equality and stronger social cohesion.  Food is even better than in Istanbul, namely it is spicier and has fresher raw ingredients.

Turkey will prove to be an important test case for whether a rapid influx of foreign capital can be done in a stable manner.  It’s funny how a lot of the same economists who distrust a rapid capital influx in an international development context (“the hot money comes and goes”) are entirely happy to trust a rapid influx of capital into U.S. Treasury securities.

Siracusa and Ortigia

Europe’s oldest church is an add-on to a former Temple to Athena; Catholic style draws upon the Greek more obviously when the two are juxtaposed.  Food delicacies include sardines, pistachio, imaginative use of bread crumbs, unparalleled swordfish, smoked tuna, zucchini, sweet and sour pumpkin, fennel, and as in the Arab world the line between the meal and the sweets is not as firm as the French have tried to make it.  Most of all, the ricotta stands out.  Order a pasta “norma” style, with ricotta on top, and then have ricotta for dessert too.

Depopulation is evident, even in the beautiful areas near the sea on Ortigia.  Fifty years from now, will it be empty, a crowded tourist theme park, ruled by Chinese capital, or full of Tunisians?  Is the embedded cultural capital in current Siracusan society positive or negative in value?  Is mobility equalizing average rates of return?

No one seems to mind that most of the art museum is rotting away.  Ordinary life here has very little to do with the internet.  The cats are skinny and fearful.  The visit is splendid.

Brasilia notes

Could this be the strangest city I have visited?  And yet the people, the mood, the food, and the culture all seem quite normal, whatever that means.

I had not realized how much the city center was patterned after the Washington Mall, yet with modernist rather than classical buildings for the government, and with a modernist layout.  On each side of the major highway is “Crystal City on steroids,” with five-lane highways, boxy skyscrapers, and a huge bus station straddling the main road.  It resembles an old science fiction movie and yes I like old science fiction movies.  View here, and it really looks like this!  It is no wonder that the aliens chose Brazil to visit.

There is also a private sector presence here.  Don’t forget the neat bridge.  Here is my favorite church in town, Dom Bosco.  Here is the fine Palacio Itamarati.

The Memorial JK is an egotistical political monument.  It was built by Niemeyer in 1980 to honor the founder of Brasilia, Juscelino Kubitschek, former President  of Brazil, which is in turn a way to honor Niemayer.  Kubitschek’s remains lie beneath a skylight in a granite tomb, and the coffin reads O FUNDADOR.  The surrounding rooms are full of insufferable photos, suits, medals, and tie clips.

The clouds and skies are first-rate.

The home of the vice President is surrounded by ostriches.

Porto Alegre notes

Dinner with ravioli, ice water, and a small coke cost $40.  It was very good, but no better than in the days of hyperinflation.  The real has risen more than forty percent against the U.S. dollar since 2008.

There is much here to study if you favor a greater density of high-rise buildings in cities.  The population tends to grow beyond the limits of the infrastructure, but arguably that would happen with sprawling suburbs too.

You can taste the future (and past) of bananas, once current U.S. brands are devastated by rot.  It is a bright future, though with lower quantity and probably higher price.

People keep on asking me if I know what acai is, and how Americans consume it.

“Cheeseburger” is spelled “Xis,” because that sound is how some Brazilians mispronounce the opening sound of”cheeseburger.”  Xis is now as much of a platform for culinary innovation as it is a specific meal.  It needn’t have meat or cheese at all, and it might be based on chicken hearts.  “Sweet pizza” is another creative culinary platform here.  Churrascarias are the static part of the food sector.

Pastels (a bit like empanadas) are very good and the expected rate of return from sampling random chocolate desserts is high.

If you imagine the Jardin section of Sao Paulo, and make it quieter and safer and greener, with an influence from B.A.’s Palermo district, you have the nice part of Porto Alegre, Moinhos.

The English-language expat sections of foreign bookstores are interesting; you get to see what people wish to read, not which books they wish to buy.

Brasilia bleg

I’ll be there too, your recommendations are welcome.  Looking for a hotel there has been a side-splitting experience.  No one seems to mind that few of them are any good, and they’ll plunk perfectly good ones on the side of a lake, next to nothing, many miles from the city center.  Nonetheless visiting Brasilia has long been a dream of mine and I do have a room.  I’ve already read Shoumatoff’s excellent Capital of Hope.

Costa Rica bleg

Michael A. asks me:

As always, appreciate all your prodigious information output.  I am traveling to Costa Rica this summer and was wondering if you might be able to give me any info about Best of Costa Rica — specifically foods, wines, etc. to hit as well as music and books to check out beforehand, sights to see, the usual Tyler Cowen treatment.

I haven't been to Costa Rica in a long time, but here is what lodged in my memory:

Monkeys and birds, hanging sloth is hard to see, excellent dialect on Caribbean coast, eat palmitos [hearts of palm], like it or not beans and rice for breakfast, cross the country by taxi in a day, if you mispronounce the volcano it rhymes with the last name of David Boaz, Spanish paella in the capital, "Tica," music is mediocre, worst Chinese food anywhere, the least interesting locale in Central America but the best trip for most Americans.  Glad I went but won't return.

Zeno’s paradox

I did get stuck in The Great ???? — have they given it a name yet? — last night.  A ten mile commute home took me almost eight hours and from what I have read many people had it worse.  I thought of Keynes and liquidity.  The worst part came at the end when I saw the car crushed by a large, heavy tree, which also fell over the main road and turned four lanes and two directions into one lane and two directions.  For the most part human cooperation held up and people kept their places in line.  Bathroom norms evolved (and were improved), and I now know every station on my radio.  As the trip continued, the number of car corpses rose.

We at GMU are so dedicated they didn't even cancel classes.  And if a nuclear weapon is being launched at DC, I'm simply going down to the basement.

Querétaro notes

Enchiladas and crepes are especially common here, often with potatoes.  The best meal cost one dollar and was bought on the sidewalk from a crouching elderly woman (for all the talk about "street food," often "sidewalk food" is where it's at).  It was potato, nopalitos (cactus), finely ground white cheese, and a potent chile sauce on top of a fried blue corn tortilla.

At the local Arabic-Mexican restaurant, ten chalupas can be had for $2.10.

In Mexico never eat until you are full, because you will likely encounter something even better along your way.  What is hard is not finding the food but rather enforcing the optimal stopping rule.

If you are trying to argue that Mexico is a "normal" country, this city is your Exhibit A.

The much-vaunted decline in the Mexican birth rate is somehow not in evidence here; perhaps that is an artifact of who visits the Christmas displays.  Plenty of police are out with guns, as a signal to deter a potential drug gang invasion.

The aquaduct has 74 arches, some as high as 30 meters; opened in 1738, it was in its day considered the greatest engineering achievement of New Spain.

As Yana notes, on the streets you will see many examples of perfect competition.