Our home in space

Guy Ottewell

Troy journey

I wanted to visit my parents in England and to visit Troy, but three Amnesty International matters got tacked on. In Turkey I would visit our released prisoner of conscience, a trade union leader, one of those swept up by the military coup of 1980; and so what about going via Bucharest to ask about our present prisoner, a psychiatrist who refused to go along with the suppression of dissidents by certifying them as insane; and when our friend in the Charleston group heard about it she said “Why don't you go via Sofia and ask about our prisoner too?” — one of the ethnic Turks punished for not taking a Bulgarian name.
     I had first to stop off at the Amnesty headquarters in London for briefing from the researchers — I would not of course be investigating but merely visiting the American diplomatic missions to find out whether they could help. Bucharest was a gloomy place under the dictator Ceausescu. On the train to Sofia I avoided having my bicycle thrown into the Danube by dismantling it and hiding it on the rack. Sofia was more fun, and a Turkish musician who had changed his name from Hasan to Asen spent hours helping me at ticket counters and talking with me beside a fountain to frustrate hidden microphones; he told me jokes about dictator Todor Zhivkov.
     It took me four days to recover my bicycle from officialdom at Istanbul. The city had sprawled drearily since the other time I had been there. I crossed into Asia and rode to Izmit: sixty miles against a bitter wind from Siberia (the ancient Etesian that afflicted Troy), amid mud and the roar and fume of trucks. It was while suffering along this former rural road, now an inferno, that I saw there will be no salvation for the planet unless the price of gasoline goes up twentyfold. At Izmit I was the beneficiary of the family's gratitude to Amnesty International. The nearest I could stay to Troy was Canakkale, and I had to ride each day along a twenty-mile road that had been “improved” to a corrugated surface apparently fine for cars but on a bike almost unbearable.
     After Troy I explored the Troyland, which I had thought of as a mere peninsula; was amazed by the quantity and variety of the hills and valleys; came out at Assos on the south coast. And it was a weary way on along the Turkish coast to Smyrna (Izmir), and to my surprise that great port had no ship to Greece; I had to go on, to Kusadasi (“bird's island”), from which there was a ferry to Samos. I rode around “flowery Samos,” or, rather, only part way around, thinking yet again how vast the world is. From there a ship to Athens, and I rode across the Corinth Canal to Corinth and Argos and Mycenae and Tiryns. On the way back I noticed in my mirror a cyclist trying to overtake me, so I stupidly speeded up and stayed ahead of him. Only when I stopped somewhere to eat did this friendly fellow catch up with and ride on with me. He had a second handlebar mounted on top of the first, and he explained that this was because he rode so much around Greece that he sometimes wanted to rest his back by sitting upright. He had ridden to the top of Mount Olympus.