On Wednesday I fly to Istanbul.
That sounds like a sentence to begin a Victorian novel with. Or perhaps something more recent like: "I had a farm in Africa".
But it's true - it really is. After all of the months of planning and anticipation I really do fly to Istanbul on Wednesday. I know it's going to happen, but even though I'm preparing as thoroughly as I can, it's not quite real yet. I suppose that arriving at the Delta terminal at JFK Airport on Wednesday afternoon will bring reality to bear.
It will be a long flight - nearly 11 hours, and since they will only feed us once, I'm going to have to pack food, so my hypoglycemic body will stand a chance of surviving well. As for luggage, I'm going to try to pack lightly and wash as I go along: I practiced my washing techniques yesterday, and they look pretty good. Am I going to take my habit? I haven't decided yet.
The names and places are floating through my mind day and night: Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus. And then, after we've set sail there will be, among others, Troy, Sardis, Thessalonika, Delphi, Ephesos, Santorini, Crete and Milos. It's a wonderful mix of places I have been to and places I have never seen, and that's one reason I chose this particular trip. What more could you ask of a 70th birthday trip?
The leaders of this journey are a philosopher and a geologist - the title of the voyage is "Heaven and Earth in the Ancient Aegean." I've been doing my reading, though less than I would like to have done. I've read a book on the Archeology of Ephesos, and I'm nearly finished with an excellent history of the Byzantine Empire. I will take with me a book on Christianity's emergence in the urban centers of the ancient world. I have even perused some of the Dialogues of Plato, and found them both fascinating and bewildering. I haven't any idea how much of the details of all this reading will survive in my mind, but it has opened up my perception of these places to an extent that surprises me. I feel ready to actually experience the places I will be in a way that I hadn't fully expected.
Am I ready? No, not really. But more than I thought I would be. Now I have to get my Turkish Visa in my passport and make sure of the small things: pen light, pills, do I have my credit card? In the end I'll just have to decide that I've done enough and leave. No, I am not going to take a camera. I've done that, and I decided that I don't want to spend this trip framing pictures - I just want to be there. And I have plenty of experience of how much I actually look at those pictures once I get home.
I will certainly forget something; I always do. No doubt if it's really important I can buy it in Istanbul.
So that's where I am this week. Think of me voyaging through the Eastern Mediterranean for the next couple of weeks, while I'm out of touch. I am of the generation that doesn't feel a need to take a computer or cell phone with me. I want to be out of touch, except in thought and in prayer. In mid-September I'll let you know what it was like.