Turkish Tapestry, A Travellers Portrait of Turkey
One wonders if these stone monuments still stand in splendid isolation in the virtually featureless landscape. This book is a homage to the work of Haynes in 2 ways. Most of his photos were scattered even in his lifetime, either languishing in institutions, unnamed, unsigned, or claimed and used by others, without any credit given to him. By a series of circumstances Haynes, despite his lack of training in archaeology or for leading a dig, found himself responsible for an excavation in Nippur, present day southern Iraq, on behalf of the 'Babylon Exploration Fund', that lasted for four seasons.
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In the final season of digging , virtually unsupported by any assistants, Haynes hit a major lode of tablets of which 23, were extracted. However like his photos, this glory was short-lived as others quickly dismissed or denigrated Hayne's efforts. Cornucopia magazine subscription offer for ATS members. So when I noticed a sign by a river in western Turkey a few years back, I was immediately taken with the idea of travelling it.
They were perplexed; there is little by way of travelling tradition on the Meander. People cross it by bridge as they once crossed it by cable-ferry, and they fish in it, but there are very few boatsmen. So it was a surprise to discover a foreigner in a red canoe trying to make his way down this river. I covered the entire river either by canoe or on foot; I only abandoned the canoe when I was obliged to do so, either on account of dangerously fast-flowing gorge sections around the town of Cal on for much of the lower plain on account of there being insufficient water.
Do you however think progress in modern Turkey has somewhat bypassed these market towns along the river?
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These towns do have a backwater quality in that they remain agricultural centres rather than industrial or service-oriented ones. Nor are they much visited by tourists. There is a palpable sense that modern Turkey is focussed elsewhere. Can you tell us more about your first exposure to the country and your experiences then?
I first visited Turkey in as a teacher of English. I was 22 and impressionable; the impression Turkey then made has stayed me with until now. Do you think this quintessentially Ottoman-Turkish hat, that was banned to the pain of death in , is a good guide to understand the republican revolution that brought secularism and modernity to the country, and were you happy with the way the idea of the book evolved through your travels to the places associated with this transformation?
I think the fez is an excellent entry point for foreigners trying to engage with something of the cultural strains and stresses that Turkey is subject to. The river, as I show in the book, is in large part a mess. So I certainly worry for the future health of this once-lovely river. Do you think here in the West we are still a million miles from understanding things we think we know, such as Santa Claus?
What was the most remarkable discovery for you during the research for this book? That a Turkish hospitality was abundantly confirmed in the fact that many local people put me up for the night, fed me, bought me tea or offered me company or directions and b that I did not once run into a bureaucratic blockage. Generally, what I love about Turkey is that there is so much to learn. This is an infinitely complex and rewarding country, with the capacity to keep students of its life and culture busy for ever.
Do you sometimes have to consciously stop yourself from veering too deep in your meanderings for the sake of the flow of the narrative? Wonderful and moving place. I think that Gaziantep is fabulous; great food, wonderful old quarters and excellent heritage accommodation of the sort that, hopefully, may begin to proliferate across the interior. Should morality enter the decision making process of a writer?
And while there has been a marked downside in areas where tourism has been applied on an industrial scale, not least in terms of landscape ruination, I do not think this is primarily the fault of the tourism writer.
Do you think you were a bit unfair on the hoteliers of this out-of-the-way town? I have to be in the business of telling it as I see it even if that means occasional insults. A dangerous time, no doubt, but one which showed the immense adaptability of the local people.
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Some of my books are published in other languages. Suffice to say it has a strong historical bent and is set in the relatively recent past. Philip Mansel recently provided Levant, John Murray a broad-brush account of the nabob dynasties of Ottoman Turkey. The Whittall clan, the most prominent and prosperous of the British merchant princes, is of great interest. So a memoir by one of their number is particularly welcome. What it lacks in coherence as biography is made up for by the real charm of its intimate style. The years before World War I were the heyday of the expatriate communities trading in Constantinople and Smyrna.
He grew up virtually trilingual: Greek and French, the lingua franca of expatriate society, as well as English; thanks to a German governess, there was a fourth language; and, although contact with Turks, while wider than usual for the Levantine trading community, was not very close, Turkish was a fifth and Italian a sixth. His memories of a somewhat gilded childhood, in the first hundred pages of this book, provide the intimate detail which the conventional histories lack. In , he left Turkey at the age of eight.
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Inevitably, there is little detail on adult Whittall life in Istanbul. The last two-thirds of the book are a memoir of a student in England and a North London GP, devoted to the welfare of his patients. With a gift for conversation with whomever he met and a passion for wild flowers, Geoffrey got what he could from four somewhat humdrum years as an Army medic in World War II. This book is a straight piece of historical non-fiction, a crucial early turning point of the relations between England and the Ottoman Empire.
The author has painstakingly translated the old English text to modern prose, making it an effortless pleasurable read despite the fact some crucial pages of the original manuscript are missing. The original author was Thomas Dallam, a 24 year old organ builder who accompanied his highly embellished piece that was also a clock. This was a gift to the Ottoman Sultan and in Thomas Dallam accompanied this organ in its eventful voyage from London to Constantinople.
The diary starts in February just before the departure of the powerfully armed ship, necessary in those days of constant warfare with Spain and its satellite, Flanders and Thomas Dallam listing purchases and baggage that included a little harpsichord. The diary is illuminating on a number of levels. The period was one of where the distinction between approved naval action and impounding of ships and cargoes versus outright piracy was blurred. More than once, to the consternation of Thomas Dallam and the crew the corruptible captain of their ship let go captured laden ships in return for an obvious bribe that he alone pocketed.
The descriptions of the voyage are particularly pertinent where the overland return leg of the journey through Ottoman occupied Greece are concerned. This is the first account in English of a journey across the mainland of Greece. Another high-point in terms of glimpses to the past is the moment Thomas Dallam was able to glimpse through a grating the Imperial Harem, the first likely description of these concubines by a foreigner. Another interesting revelation was that the two interpreters Thomas Dallam dealt with were English by birth yet had fully integrated into the palace system by converting to Islam.
Perhaps it is a small piece of a puzzle that also explains how a small island nation in turn became a super-power. When did this interest start? My interest in Greece, Ancient and Modern, started at school. When I lived there in the early seventies I was curious about the reality of the Ottoman era that lay behind the vigorous opinions of ordinary Greeks. This interest spread to the rest of the rich and varied culture and history of the Ottoman Empire. What were your chief sources of information for this research?
The single most useful source was the Oxford English Dictionary.
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I looked up almost every word to make sure what they meant at the time. The immediate short-term benefit was to enhance the standing of England in general and the English ambassador in particular in the eyes of Sultan Mehmet III and his advisers. This facilitated negotiations for trading concessions granted in I cannot see any direct longer term benefit, especially as Sultan Mehmet died in and the organ was destroyed as irreligious by his son Ahmed I. Through the Levant company, chartered in , English merchants already had trading posts, called factories, in the Ottoman Empire, primarily in Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria and Aleppo.
We also know from Dallam that they had consuls in Chios and Patras. English exports were dominated by woollen cloth, followed at a distance by metals such as tin. Imports included luxury goods such as silks and spices. The main commodities were wine and currants — hence the consuls in Chios and Patras.
What most surprised me was the position of England in a wider world. Commercially and politically England had vital interests in the Mediterranean. There were many ships and many Englishmen in the region, from diplomats to galley slaves. To what extent do you think Dallam felt this tension while resident in Palace, yet impressions clearly coloured by the typical arrogance of the Westerners of the time?
English arrogance, if that is the word, derived from insecurity. Despite the failure of the Armada in England was threatened by a much more powerful Spain and its allies. The Ottoman Empire was the superpower of the day. They had fierce trading rivals in countries such as France and Italy. On an individual level foreigners were at constant risk of abuse, extortion and sanction for giving deliberate or unintended offence.
So they put on a bold face. If Westerners seemed arrogant they were matched by the apparent arrogance of the Turks.