The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City is theomphalos (navel) of Christian imagination. Its roof encloses key moments of sacred memory, including places associated with Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Countless pilgrims have risked life and treasure to enter these wooden doors. A visit can change a person. Or start a war.
“And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.”
The “mountains of Ararat”? Is it not rather the mountain of Ararat? This 17,000 foot peak on which I now labor, is it not marked Mt. Ararat on my excellent British Bartholomew map?
On the eastern end of Turkey rests Lake Van, the largest lake in the country. It has many claims to fame: a deep history, a saline character, and even a “Loch Ness” style monster rumored to haunt its depths. Of these, it is the first that brings us here (although the third is certainly interesting!). In the first millennium BC, a kingdom remembered as Urartu was centered in the region. In fact, the capital of the kingdom was erected on a rocky knob rising above the water’s edge. A scramble over these ruins is is goal for another day, as is additional attention to the mysterious Urartians.
When leaving the city of Van, we were surprised to discover whole streets lined by abandoned buildings. Some had been apartments; others, businesses and factories. Exterior walls of concrete block were awkwardly peeled away, as if by some ridiculous force. With these partitions missing, we were able to peer from our passing vehicle, like voyeurs, into the private lives of people we would never know. Their wires and pipes and curtains danced nakedly in the wind. Only later would we locate the missing inhabitants; new homes were assigned them, homes of thin trailer steel, the kind arranged in tight rows and given by agencies that specialize in humanitarian disasters.