Many summers of my childhood in Turkey, we visited Kizkalesi–or as we called it, The Castle in the Sea, and I recall hearing the story of how a princess was hidden there by her father after receiving a warning that she would die by snake bite. In the story, a snake, smuggled in a basket of fruit, found its mark, killing the princess. When I heard the story I was enthralled by the fantastical idea that a castle would be built out in the sea to protect a life. Though the story is likely fiction, this castle is a bookmark in my childhood memories, alongside images of my sister posing her head above a headless Roman goddesses’ marble sculpture in Ephesus, and watching a fisherman beat the lifeless body of an octopus against jagged rocks to tenderize it before cooking it at the restaurant only a few feet away.
Turkey, and the beautiful people who make up that country, fill my memories and beg me to come back again and again. It is raw and unapologetic in its daily life–in the nosing of cars (even when their light is red) into any available, or unavailable, space, in the sprawl of animal intestines on a rural fence, during the holy time of Ramadan, in the ruins that peek out and are found at the end of an ancient Roman road, butted up against newer cement roads lined by diesel trucks.
I visited Kizkalesi after graduating from college, taking a kayak out into the Mediterranean, my friend paddling nearby, working my way to the castle that seemed to float like a lily pad on the water. And though it appeared close, it took a long time to get there. Out of breath, I pulled my kayak up against the craggy rocks supporting the castle, dragged it up onto the side, and began to climb through an old castle opening, walking into the inner space, completely empty except for a few seagulls, and wondering about the people who had lived there or worked there way-back-when. Lower level openings revealed old storage rooms, their ceilings long since caved in. I began to climb the crumbling rock steps of a corner turret, looking through the slit window openings at the modern beach town on shore, when a man approached me–no clue where he’d been hiding–telling me I needed to pay to look around. Remember what I said about the unapologetic thing? Well, it would not have been beyond reason to assume this man had no right to collect money for castle visits, but that he had seized a money-making opportunity charging unsuspecting tourists. I mean he didn’t have so much as a name tag to prove his right to demand an admission fee. Anyway, back to the castle: Wearing only a bathing suit and an awkward smile, having no money to my name at that given moment, I explained in my broken Turkish, “Para yok,” (meaning ‘no money’), hoping that the man wouldn’t insist and then hoping he wouldn’t do anything bad to me since I was the only human, robed in only a tiny bathing suit, inside the castle. My friend was snorkeling nearby, providing me with zero assistance in warding off possible creeps. Finally he gave up, probably deducing I was telling the truth since I was pants-less and purse-less and pocket-less, with no other apparent hiding places for cash.
I decided to join my friend after that, snorkeling off the side of the castle, floating above a minefield of black, spiny sea urchin. But the time stamp, though short in the grand scheme, is pressed into my memories, lovely and floating and timeless held up by tiny, thorned sea urchin on a shallow, pale, seabed.