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Exile is the theme of these two marvellous, whimsical new books – or rather the adven-tures of two remarkable men who chose to exile themselves to the shores of the Levant. They are travellers’ tales, but also accounts of lives dedicated to travel. And they are dispatches from the most distant and unattainable land of all – the different country of the past. John Freely and John Carswell lived and loved a Mediterranean world that was vanishing even before their eyes in the 1960s and 70s. The Levantine Greek diaspora, the donkeys and earth toilets, undiscovered beaches, unmade roads and deserted ancient ruins – all these have been largely swept away by mass tourism, by prosperity, and, less happily in the case of Carswell’s Lebanon and Syria, by war. Freely’s The Art of Exileis the full – and long-awaited – autobiography of one of Istanbul’s most remarkable residents. Born into a family of Irish immigrants struggling to make their way in 1920s Brooklyn, Freely crossed the Atlantic four times before his seventh birthday as poverty forced his mother back to Ireland, steerage-class, when they could not makes ends meet.
In Brooklyn the young Freely made pennies collecting scrap on the streets with a handcart. In Ireland he slept with his siblings in the earth-floored room of a cottage inhabited by the family for 500 years, heated by a turf fire and lit by paraffin lamps. The Freelys’ arrival in their ancestral village by motorcar marked the first time his playmates had ever heard a car’s horn. Entertainment was provided by a fiddle, the singing of old Gaelic songs, and tales handed down from his great-grandfather of a city called Constantinople where the old man had recuperated from his wounds in the Crimean War in Florence Nightingale’s military hospital in Üsküdar. Freely’s tales of a pre-electric, almost pre-modern rural Ireland are a fascinating reminder that the ancient culture he witnessed disappearing in Turkey and Greece in the 1990s were still living traditions in the West, too, just a generation before.
It was for centuries the preserve of sultans, extolled by the ancients, sought after in the harem, a staple of palace kitchen and pharmacy. More precious than gold, mastic brought fortune and fame to the island of Chios, today the world’s sole source of this ‘Arabic gum’. Now, thanks to a pioneering initiative, the Turkish shores across the water will be green with mastic groves. Text and photographs by Berrin Torolsan
An ambitious new work of classical music – based on Howard Blake’s enchanting score for ‘The Snowman’ – has just received its world premiere. This concert is just one of many achievements by Talent Unlimited, a Turkish charity that gives budding young virtuosi a helping hand. Tony Barrell tells the story. Photographs: Monica Fritz
And the award for most versatile, most nourishing and best-loved ingredient goes to… the humble chickpea. Berrin Torolsan explores its history and its limitless talent to entertain us in a multitude of different roles
A fascinating exhibition at the Istanbul Research Institute that explores a dog’s life in Ottoman Istanbul and the transformation of attitudes as Westernisation takes hold
Yusuf Franko Kusa used brush and pen and position to lampoon and pull the strings of Ottoman high society. Unseen for 60 years, his caricatures are now the subject of a fascinating exhibition in Istanbul, writes K Mehmet Kentel
At one time all roads led to Erzurum, a key stop on a great caravan route and a strategic bastion against invasion. Today it is a remote city on Turkey’s Asian frontier with an important history crying out to be discovered. In Part 2 of Cornucopia’s Beauty and the East series, the photographer Brian McKee continues his tour of eastern Anatolia in Erzurum as Scott Redford leads us from Turkic citadel to Mongol minarets.
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