Posted on June 18, 2012
What a whirlwind. We enjoyed our vacation in Washington state, cutting short our visit there by a little to get back to NH, spent last week on campus, and then flew to Turkey this week for our long planned Halki Summit (www.halkisummit.org). Co-sponsored with Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church (makes for a heck of a business card), based here in Istanbul, this has been in the works for over a year and it starts tonight when the Patriarch welcomes everyone at reception on the grounds of the famous Halki Theological School, the seminary where he and so many past patriarchs and church leaders were educated.
We are on the island of Heybeliada, one of the Princess Islands that sit in the Sea of Marmara, just a 45 minute water taxi ride from the city. The islands were used by the Ottomans to exile princes and princesses that fell out of favor, thus their name. Heybeliada was originally a Greek island, but its long time inhabitants were driven out by the Turks in the last century as part of the long, sad, and tortured history of enmity between these two ancient cultures. Many of their homes, seized and still owned by the government, sit empty and in disrepair, lending the island a haunted air of faded elegance. The islands are the Cape Cod of Istanbul, packed with day trippers escaping that mega-city’s overcrowding, epic traffic jams, and lack of green space. The island emptied out last night and is quiet again, if you don’t count the incessant squaking and complaining of the sea gulls (seriously, if I had a shotgun I might be capable of violence). The landscape here, never more than a stone’s throw from the water and stunning vistas, is pine covered hills, rocky beaches, and bougainvillea. The air is fragrant of pine and jasmine and salt air. There are no vehicles on the island, so one takes a horse carraige, walks, or bikes. It is, in a word, idyllic.
The Summit is part of an ongoing series of global meetings sponsored by the Patriarch and focused on the environment. SNHU is co-sponsoring the event and our own Professor Michele Goldsmith, Chair of Ethics and a primatologist, worked on the planning with me and Father John Chryssavgis, the Patriarch’s right hand guy for all things environmental. We have an incredible line up of people attending. Jane Goodall arived last night (and John and I are having breakfast with her in just a bit — imagine!). Bill McKibben and Gary Hirshberg are also keynote speakers. We have eminent journalists, environmentalists, business leaders, and religious leaders gathering to explore the intersection of values — whether cast as ethical, spiritual, or religious — and the environmental crisis that faces our planet and species (and the many species we are already driving towards extinction). Krista Tippett of American Public Media’s On Being is moderating and they hope to produce a subsequent segment based on the summit.
Tonight we will gather at the School (still shuttered by the Turkish government and subject to delicate negotiations to reopen it) that sits regally atop the highest hill on the island and the Patriarch will welcome everyone at the opening reception. There was a great 60 Minutes piece on the Patriarch, the School, and the sensitive place of the Orthodox minority in Turkey’s increasingly conservative culture: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6001717n&tag=contentBody;storyMediaBox.
We have four wonderful SNHU students interning at the event: Kyle, Bri, Scott, and Kaitlyn. They are assisting in transportation to and from the airport and ferries, checking people in, videotaping (look for video reports at the Summit web site), blogging, and being general go-fers. Our neice Grace is our high school intern (she is here at our expense, not the university’s) and will pitch in and write blog reprots from her perspective. They are fun and smart and energetic and it has been a delight to travel with them. None of them have ventured beyond Canada or Mexico, so this is an adventure. I think it will be a life-changing one in many ways. Once one travels and experiences the wonder of being plunged into a foreign country it is hard to not start planning the very next journey.
I’ll do more reports from the Summit in the coming days. Right now I’m off to strangle a sea gull or two before breakfast.