of the worst nights I've every
spent as a travel writer: in
a windowless bile-green room
in Iskenderun (old Alexandretta), from
my new travel memoir, Bright
Sun, Strong Tea: (the
previous excerpt was What's
In A Name?)
bus south from Adana into
Hatay passed right by Iskenderun,
formerly Alexandretta. I didn't stop
to see it. I came back a few years
later the historic, romantic way:
by ship. So imagine this: I get off
a comfortable Turkish steamer at
Iskenderun, which is even more southerly
and humid than Adana. I'm a young,
underpaid travel writer looking for
a cheap—and I mean cheap—hotel
room. I look through the dismal collection
of dives squatting miserably on the
waterfront. Only one of them has
a vacant room.
"I'm afraid it's our worst room," the
desk clerk says.
He shows it to me and my heart sinks:
it's a box 12 feet square with glossy
bile-green walls and no window. No
I didn't expect a window to help much
in the heat—a fan would
be the thing—but
this room in which I
spent the night—oh
yes I did!—was
to teach me a lesson about windows,
which is that you need at least one.
It can be small, but you need it.
Jail cells have windows. Hospital
rooms have windows. Principals' offices
have windows. Even dungeons have
windows. They may be small, and
barred, and high on the wall above
where the neck irons are attached,
but they're there. They may look out
onto vacant lots, or next-door walls,
or pig farms—on
second thought let's not think about
pig farms, they stink
and this is a book about a Muslim country—but
there's got to be a window.
Only here there wasn't.
Lest you jump to the conclusion that
my problem is claustrophobia, let me
assure you that my work has taken me
to the center of the Great Pyramid
at Giza, to the secret priestly
tunnels beneath the Temple of Horus at
Edfu on the Nile, to the windowless
tomb of King Tut in the Valley of the
Kings, to the stifling center of
the Pyramid of Kukulcán at
Chichén-Itzá at noonday,
and I have not suffered unduly from
In fact I did not suffer as much claustrophobia
in these places as I do in your normal 32-inch-pitch
economy-class airplane seat.
I have noted the absence of windows
in the pyramids and temples, but it
did not bother me much, probably because
I was not about to lie down and
try to sleep in any of those places.
This cheap hotel room on the waterfront
in Iskenderun was certainly not the
pharaoh's burial chamber. For one thing,
there was no thoroughly-trained, attentive
team of svelte royal virgins standing
by with heaven knows what spicy unguents—in
the history books that stuff is usually
referred to coyly as "unguents"—to
rub all over me.
Had the pharaoh's girls been
there in the guts of the pyramid or
down in the subterranean tunnels in
Edfu I might have, ah, toughed it out
and even, eventually, gotten some sleep.
However, there were no lissome Egyptian
maidens in this cheap hotel room
in Iskenderun either, and I would've
settled for a window.
Why should lack of a window matter
when I'm asleep anyway?
I leave it at this: it does.
Look, I regularly stay in cave
rooms in Cappadocia.
In a Cappadocian cave room you are
relentlessly surrounded by bedrock.
The floor is rock, the ceiling is
rock, the walls are rock, everything
is rock. But every cave room
has at least one tiny window, which
transforms it from a tomb into a
I love my customary cave room at the Esbelli
Evi, a charming inn in Ürgüp because,
besides a brass bed, it has a tiny
here to order an autographed
copy of the book online with
credit card or PayPal.
from Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong
Tea copyright © 2004, 2005
by Tom Brosnahan. All rights reserved.)
from Bright Sun, Strong Tea
Sun, Strong Tea Photo
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