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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the June 12, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Turkey: Cultural Crossroads, Political Ally
I‘d have to say I’m no different than Ariadne and her
ball of string — the more research I do, the more research I do,"
says author Joy Stocke. The mythological Ariadne was the daughter
of Pasiphae and King Minos and lived at the palace of Knossos. It
was Ariadne who used her ball of string to safely guide Theseus into
the labyrinth so he could slay the dreaded minotaur that dwelt within.
Such references come naturally to Stocke, who has been traveling to
Greece and Turkey for more than 20 years. From her very first visit,
in 1982, Stocke says she was struck by the way people in both countries
still live their mythology.
"As I traveled, I’d be told, `This is where Apollo chased Daphne
and turned her into a tree.’ People spoke of them as if they were
their sisters or cousins — their stories were immediate and real,"
she says, in an interview from her home in Stockton. "I began
to think that this was something that was missing at home."
Stocke set out to remedy this lack of connection with her own writing
and research, and with a public discussion series on World Culture
that she has hosted at Barnes & Noble, Marketfair, for the past five
years. This week she begins a three-part summer series on the history
and culture of Turkey.
The series begins on Tuesday, June 18, with "Along
the Lycian Coast," a presentation on the coastal region where
the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean, with discussion of the intrepid
British woman explorer Freya Stark. In July, the topic is "Who
Were the Ottomans?," with discussion of the Ottoman Empire, the
fall of Constantinople, and its continuing legacy in world affairs
with discussion of "Lords of Their Horizons" by Jason Goodwin.
And in August, the subject is "The Jews of Turkey," with a
talk on Jewish settlements that date back to the fourth century B.C.E.,
and its later role as a haven for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain
Stocke is the author of "The Cave of the Bear," a bi-lingual
volume of poetry in English and Greek (Pella 1999); "Ugly Cookies,"
a novel (Pella 2000); and "Meridian Bound: an anthology (Pella
2001). She has taught creative writing at the Community College of
Philadelphia and is a co-founder of the Meridian Writers Collective,
also in Philadelphia. She is currently researching her next book,
with the working title "Anatolian Days and Nights: Two Women Journey
through Turkey," a literary travel book co-authored with Angie Brenner
of San Diego.
"I first went to Greece for fun in the sun — but something
got me right away. I felt a connection," says Stocke. "I started
where most tourists start which is at the Acropolis. My family had
never traveled. I didn’t have a point of reference, it was pure discovery."
After 20 years of observation and research, she says, "I feel
that world history is all of our history."
Stocke, who describes herself as "typically Midwestern" in
appearance, grew up in Milwaukee and earned a degree in journalism
(her parents’ practical choice; she would have preferred an English
degree), with a minor in French, from the University of Wisconsin
at Madison in 1979. She traces her intellectual curiosity to her college
experience, a place, she says, that "fostered inquisitiveness.
It was a great place for an exchange of ideas."
Some of this curiosity has been directed toward her own family roots.
"There are many unanswered questions in my background," says
Stocke, whose father, now retired from the record marketing business,
is a Polish Catholic, her mother a German Lutheran. She grew up close
to her grandparents who immigrated from Germany to work in Milwaukee’s
factories. The oldest of four children born in less than five years
and all raised Catholic, Stocke has two sisters, a nurse and a teacher,
and a brother who works in the record industry. Her father moved the
family to New Jersey when he went to work for the record company that
has become Time Warner. Her parents are now retired and living in
Married to Fred Young, also from Milwaukee, since 1984, they are parents
of Sarah, now 16. The family lived in Philadelphia until five years
ago when Young’s job with First Union Bank brought them to Stockton.
Stocke has taken her daughter on her travels since she was a baby
and says that traveling with a small child has been a boon.
"That’s another thing that has endeared me to both countries,
traveling with a child I have been treated like royalty — we’ve
both treated with respect and affection and I never feared for my
safety, ever," she says "When I travel, I will go where angels
fear to tread." She will not put herself in danger, but says she
will sleep anywhere, stay anywhere that her research leads her.
Stocke was working as a church secretary in a liberal Presbyterian
church when she began to have questions about faith. In the early
1990s, she was living in Philadelphia but enrolled in a two-year weekly
symposium on "The Evolution of Consciousness" taught by William
Irwin Thompson at the Cathedral of St. John Divine, in New York City.
Thompson is a cultural historian and philosopher of culture. Founder
of the Lindisfarne Association, he is also a prolific author, a poet,
and a visionary.
"My interest is in asking the great questions in history, how
religion works as part of a power structure. Who is god? Why do we
always invoke god? — even our legal contracts refer to `acts of
god,’" she says.
Learning the language was the first imperative for Stocke
who arrived in Greece after her college graduation. Today she describes
herself as a student of Greek and an amateur student of Sanskrit.
She is now working toward learning both Arabic and Turkish.
"I felt it was critical to learn the language and because, as
a writer, my interest is in how language affects the way we think,"
she says. "My real interest is in root languages. Greece holds
the key, its root is Sanskrit. Arabic and Turkish are also old languages."
She started going to Turkey by ferry from Greece, beginning with the
island of Crete, an island that was part of Turkey up to the 19th
"Turkey was intimidating to me at first, until I started to see
the connection between Greece and Turkey," she says. "The
political divisions were more recent, and I started to see that the
actual human connections were more direct."
Traveling by boat along the Lycian coast of Turkey, she saw tombs
along the edge of the sea that looked like small Parthenons. Right
away she wanted to know more about the connections between the Lycians
and the Greeks and the trade routes to Egypt.
Known as "the crossroads of civilizations," Turkey is a nation
of 65.5 million people. Surrounded by sea on three sides — the
Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean — it also has land
connections to three continents — Asia, Africa, and Europe. Its
numerous bordering countries are Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Northern Cyprus.
Stocke says the many questions evoked by the terrorist attacks of
September 11 one of the reasons she chose to focus her discussion
series on Turkey. "People were asking me, where is this part of
the world and what is this part of the world about," she says.
"Most people are unfamiliar with anything east of Greece."
"I think one of the reasons people want to ask questions and get
answers, the sense of America as a separate entity has been shattered.
The world isn’t so secure any more. And before, this part of the world
didn’t affect us in our day to day life. I think now it’s imperative
that people know about this."
As she made plans to travel to Turkey this April, a friend asked Stocke,
"Do you feel safe going to an Arab country?"
"I said, `I’m not going to an Arab county, I’m going to Turkey.’
This was the home of the first Christian church, the Church of St.
Peter, in Antioch, a highly sacred place to Catholics. St. Paul was
born Tarsus. Turkey is also a country that had a thriving Jewish culture."
Stocke’s next book will be a history and geography of
Turkey through storytelling. "One of the things that I have found
is that people will sit and tell you their stories. Every day in Turkey
becomes an adventure of sorts. And through travel you see the connections
and migrations of people."
Since September 11, Turkey has become a more urgent cause for the
author who continues to battle American insularity.
"People should particularly know about Turkey because we need
Turkey to be strong and stable. It’s an ally of America, a NATO member,
a secular Moslem republic, that could provide a model for other emerging
republics. There, Christian, Jew, and Moslem, and goddess worshipers
can all make contact with their religious history and the foundations
of their belief. In Turkey, you can do it all."
Route 1 South, 609-897-9250. Author Joy E. Stocke gives the first
of three talks on Turkey, on the Lycian Coast where the Aegean Sea
meets the Mediterranean, with discussion of British explorer Freya
Stark. Free. Tuesday, June 18, 7 p.m.
the fall of Constantinople, and its continuing legacy in world affairs,
with discussion of "Lords of Their Horizons" by Jason Goodwin.
Free. Tuesday, July 16, 7 p.m.
dating back to the fourth century B.C.E., and discussion of John Freely’s
book, "Istanbul, the Imperial City." Free. Tuesday, August
20, 7 p.m.
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