Monday, November 21, 2011

Middle Earth?

Sine Dağı, Zab Gorge, Hakkari. Photo by Tahir Yilmaz

Sometimes real things do not seem real at all. They appear to be constructed, as if a designer in Hollywood sat down before his computer and assembled them, exaggerating reality for cinematic effect. Such is this photograph, which I found on Google Earth. It shows a section of the Cukurca-Hakkari highway in the gorge of the Greater Zab River, as photographed by Tahir Yilmaz. The bridge is modern, and it has to be, for it carries heavy trucks, tanks, and materiel for the Turkish Army. Its concrete slab is the only jarring note in a mythic landscape. In the 1950s, before this road existed, the English traveler Freya Stark passed through the Zab gorge. She wrote this:

As the day waned, we seemed to be entering a prison between the beetling crags. Their summits led towards what looked like gulfs of a dark conflagration, because of the flame-like soaring outlines of the rock. Satanic was the word. I hunted for it and found it, thinking that no living flame but some stationary fire long petrified and dead, with no alteration within it but decay, can alone picture the immobility of Hell. The sun by day and the moon by night travel here far away, not unseen but sterile, and the stars can get no answer from dead heights. Ruin alone seemed to depend from those tiered buttresses untouched by vegetation. The sides of the great gorges of Euphrates...are polished like the pillars of a temple, but here the masses of the mountains crumble away in pleats of shale and lie at the feet of all their precipices as baseless, shifting, and nameless as sand. [Riding to the Tigris, 1958]

The man who framed this picture was, I believe, as much a poet as Dame Freya herself. I am grateful to both of them for their efforts.

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