Our cruise of the Mediterranean made a port of call in Antalya, Turkey. According to the destination guide, the thing to do here is to make excursions to the nearby archaeological ruins of Aspendos and Perge. We grouped together with 4 other people that we had met on the cruise and hired a taxi for the day. The tour buses from the ship would go to many of the same places as us, but we would be about 30 minutes ahead of them. We arrived at Aspendos, ruins from the 6th century that promised, among an assortment of ruins, the finest preserved example in the world of a Roman amphitheater. We saw the amphitheater first. In my opinion, it was more interesting and in much better condition than the much more famous Roman amphitheater in Rome, known as the Coliseum.
Jackie and I went by ourselves down a path to see the ruins of a basilica, an aqueduct, and a small village. We were the first people of the day to make the hike and we found the site to ourselves. In the basilica, we looked out of a window, or perhaps it was an unintended hole in the wall, at the amazing view of the Turkish countryside. Then, Jackie remained seated in the window/hole while I went a little way back up the path to take pictures of her. After Jackie joined me on the path, we started hiking back towards the amphitheater. The buses from the cruise had arrived and we crossed paths with a couple that we knew from the ship, Jeff and Jennifer from Sydney, Australia. We knew them from having dinner with them on the ship and from a tour in Ephesus where 15 of us had shared a mini-bus. Jeff was a Japanese-Australian whom I'm guessing was in his 70"s. He liked to tell people that he was from a small town called Syd-a-ney. As we came face-to-face with Jeff on the narrow path, he on his way from the amphitheater towards the ruined basilica, and us returning from it, Jeff asked without slowing from his slow but steady pace, "What's up ahead?" Before I could begin to compose a response, Jeff answered his own question, "More bricks?, yeah there's more bricks back there too." (pointing with his chin back at the amphitheater) As Jeff proceeded on down the path seemingly unfazed by the prospect of seeing more bricks, Jennifer stopped to try to explain her husband. "He says that everywhere we go. He even said that when we were at the Coliseum in Rome."
Was Jeff quirky or wise? I should have told him to look beyond the bricks. That basilica in Aspendos was just bricks, and not even bricks that were still stacked properly to make a building. There were no furnishings, no art, not even a floor or ceiling;, just bricks. The building had been in ruins for some 1400 years and yet there was something to "see" if you looked "beyond the bricks". Even modern buildings or well preserved older buildings are nothing more than brick, steel, and glass, and masterpieces of art are nothing more than paint and canvas. Seeing beyond the materials means understanding the purpose or motivation and the intended user or audience. Why was that basilica built? Who used it? Why was it abandoned? Sometimes the keys to understanding the bricks in front of you is to see what is no longer there: to imagine that basilica with furnishings, art, a ceiling and a floor, and a congregation. You are physically there; put yourself there in time as well as space to see "beyond the bricks"
A couple weeks later, Jackie and I were in Rome touring the Coliseum. The Coliseum is a bucket list site for many people, but as I looked at it, I remembered that Jennifer had said that even in Rome, Jeff had said that everything was just bricks. I told Jackie, "Pick up some of that dirt or a pebble and put it in your pocket." Jackie responded, "What? No!" saying "no" in that way teenagers have of making it sound like a two-syllable word, and meaning not just "no" but "no, you're being stupid". I explained to her that it was special dirt because the weather was causing the bricks to slowly erode and fall apart. That's not ordinary dirt, it's tiny pieces of the Coliseum. I got another two-syllable "no". I guess I am stupid; they're just bricks.