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The effervescent Bob Chenciner

The effervescent Bob Chenciner Andrew Finkel pays tribute to a polymath who illuminated a lost world, and Barnaby Rogerson shares memories of one of the last of ‘a dwindling regiment of free scholars’

In medias res, the curtain rising on the action in full flow, might seem an odd eulogy to recite over the memory of a dear friend, but Robert Chenciner was someone in perpetual motion and even now it is hard to think of him as being still. Think Christopher Lloyd’s ‘Doc’ in Back to the Future or Alice’s White Rabbit; blink and you would miss him dashing in pursuit of a project more exciting or eccentric than the last.

No subject was too broad or too arcane for him not to show an interest, be it the chemistry of natural textile dyes or the monumental drystone Ingush towers of the North Caucasus. And no matter how many days, months or years had elapsed since you last saw “Chence”, he would grab you by the scruff of your neck and take you with him to his next adventure. It was thanks to Bob I first went to tea (well, instant coffee) inside a New York-licenceplated Volkswagen bus parked in Istanbul’s Rumelihisarı to meet the great photographer and textile authority Josephine Powell. Thanks to Bob (maybe “thanks” is not the right word) I responded to a late-night call pleading for help in coping with an unruly house guest, the chief architect of the city of Baku, Azerbaijan, who was hell-bent on going to the Raymond Revue Bar in London’s Soho. And it was on a calmer, sunny afternoon that I went to the open-air book launch in Regent’s Park of Bob’s Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoonboxes of Daghestan – a work narrowly defeated (unjustly, in my opinion) by the far more prosaic The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America for the coveted Bookseller/Diagram Prize of oddest book title of 2006.


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Issue 64, 2022 30th Anniversary Issue
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 64
  • Golden Glories of Kazakhstan

    Caroline Eden admired the Saka treasures at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where an ancient Turkic steppe civilisation revealed its secrets

  • Prince of Painters

    The last Caliph’s passion for painting, By Andrew Finkel and Isobel Finkel

  • The Silence of Snow

    Arnavutköy is a characterful old village on the Bosphorus, long famed for its strawberries and lively cosmopolitan community. But for 12 days in 1987, as Jenny White recalls, nonstop snow – and an eerie silence – descended on the neighbourhood. Happily, the Neşe taverna was there to offer warmth and raki

  • Small Wonder

    Delicious and versatile, the tiny lentil packs a powerful nutritional punch. Possibly man’s first food crop, this legume seed is as popular in modern Turkey as it was in Neolithic times. Berrin Torolsan has her finger on the pulse

  • A Grand New World

    Palaces, mosques, churches and the essentials of empire – the Balyan family’s creations epitomise the golden age of 19th-century Istanbul. A new book reveals the exquisite drawings and supreme organisation behind their landmark edifices – including one that mercifully got away. By Philip Mansel

  • Making an Entrance

    The gate guarding the Ottoman Ministry of War – today’s Istanbul University – is an eloquent example of the Orientalist style that took both East and West by storm in the 19th century. In the gate’s shadow stands the Princes’ Lodge, once the refuge of high-born officers on parade day, now an exotic refectory where professors of Istanbul University enjoy lunch. By Berrin Torolsan. Photographs by Monica Fritz

  • Roman Roads

    In their second Turkish adventure, the acclaimed photographer Don McCullin and the author-publisher Barnaby Rogerson travel south in pursuit of Roman treasures. Originally drawn by the lure of gorgeous goddesses in unsung museums, they discover moody Sardis, with its ruined temple to Artemis, explore Ephesus, with its magnificent library, marvel at the enchanted city of Aphrodisias, and finally reach the mountain fastness of Hadrian’s Sagalassos. Photographs: Don McCullin. Text: Barnaby Rogerson

Buy the issue
Issue 64, 2022 30th Anniversary Issue
£12.00 / $15.50 / 512.95 TL
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