Very Good Paragraphs

From Elif Batuman’s piece in the 19/26 Dec 2011 New Yorker on Göbekli Tepe, the oldest man-made thing in the world:

After my last afternoon at Göbekli Tepe, I decided to devote the rest of the day to the other Urfa pilgrimage—the Abraham one [Urfa claims to house a cave where Abraham was born]. I walked along teeming sidewalks, among street vendors selling pomegranates, lottery tickets, novelty Koreans, fresh pistachio nuts, sherbet, bitter coffee, photocopies. One man was literally selling snake oil—a thing I had never seen before—in addition to ant-egg oil, hair tonic, and unscented soap for pilgrims. Handbills advertised a conference called “Understanding the Prophet Abraham in the 21st Century.” A psychiatrist with a storefront office specialized in “ailments of the nerves and soul.” Most restaurants had signs that said “WE HAVE A FAMILY ROOM!”—meaning that the main dining room was for men only. About eighty-five per cent of the pedestrians were men. Nearly all the women were wearing head scarves, or even burkas. I saw one woman so pious that her burka didn’t even have an opening for her eyes. She was leaving a cell-phone store, accompanied by a teen-age boy wearing a T-shirt that said “RELAX MAN,” over a picture of an ice-cream cone playing an electric guitar. You wouldn’t thin an ice-cream cone could play an electric guitar, or would want to. I was reminded of Schmidt’s hypothesis that hybrid creatures and monsters, unknown to Neolithic man, are particular to highly developed cultures—cultures which have achieved distance from and fear of nature. If archaeologists of the future found this T-shirt, they would know ours had been a civilization of great refinement.

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