MY FIRST COPY OF STAMBOUL SKETCHES
Cornucopia Magazine, Spring 2015
One of my golden rules for better behaviour in life is never to drink at lunch time - but in a gloomy and deserted White Russian restaurant in Istanbul in winter, the sun didnít seem that far off from the yard-arm. My girlfriend had come south from Russia (where she was writing a pair of guidebooks to St Petersburg and Moscow) and I had come east from North Africa where I was busy on a similar mission. Over the last week we had been industriously scurrying around all the major historic monuments of Istanbul in the footsteps of Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely and their Strolling Through Istanbul. This was an afternoon off, meeting up with a friend of a friend - a journalist of our own age who was on the point of launching a magazine about Anatolia and all things Turkish. The Russian food was pretty indifferent, but the conversation galloped along, spurred on by shots of vodka and the shared experience of working in foreign countries that you love and hope to understand. I was thinking about turning myself from a travel hack into a publisher, so stories about designers, distributors and the three-year cash flow were interesting.
After the bottle of vodka had been finished, our new friend summoned a taxi and decided to drop us off at a late Ottoman Imperial pavilion (Aynalikavak) concealed behind the perimeter walls of a naval base. We had spent too much time amongst the tourist monuments. It was high time we saw the real fabric of the city.
As part of this, his departing gift, of a tattered old paperback, rather badly designed and much worn, was handled with interest. It had been written by one of the authors of Strolling Through Istanbul, an assembly of all the passages that the editor had thought too capricious, personal and self indulgent for the book. The editor was right: the chance meeting of gypsy-musicians, literary exiles, fisherman-poets and folk-healers had no place to be in the pages of a historic guide-book. This book was pure enchantment. And it was also an invitation to make your own magic, find your own city if you had but the wit and energy to walk its streets, explore its alleys and speaks to its denizens. It was then out of print and unavailable, having been published in 1974 by a wonderful old American missionary press that had rather run out of steam.
We have never dared go back to the pavilion of Aynalikavak. I doubt the curators of this lonely monument often get visitors as enchanted as we were that afternoon, glowing with the goodcheer of vodka drunk on a cold winter day. It was a well-chosen place to have left us, for not only is it a completely undisturbed 18th century pavilion, but it contained some particular historical magic for the pair of us. It was at a treaty signed here that Catherine the Great extracted the Crimea from out of the protection of the Ottoman Empire and where the Sultan had first been saluted as Caliph of all Islam by a western power.
But the gift of the book that day, Stamboul Sketches - kick-started a lifelong love of drifting through Istanbul, on the look out for the odd things, as well as its ancient, glorious and modern monuments. On the back of it, we would later be commissioned to write two guidebooks to Istanbul, an excuse to live in an old wooden house with our young daughters surrounded by child-loving Turks. Recently both daughters have chosen to celebrate their 16th birthdays by taking a pair of hand-picked school friends to wander around the city. And some twenty years later, it is our chance to return that gift of a battered copy of Stamboul Sketches by publishing a new edition. The paper and the binding, and the reproduction of the gritty and exquisite photographs by Sedat Pakay, are much finer than the original. Our price tag is also higher Ė but £12.99 is about a third of what the first edition fetches on the second hand market and the price of half a bottle of vodka.
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by Barnaby Rogerson