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The Story of the Damascus Drum is a fabulous adventure story, scented with magical realism and resonating with a talking goatskin drum, that is set among the historical monuments of Syria, so that the reader gets to explore the island of the shipbuilders (Arwad), the cavernous vaults of the ruinous Krak des Chevaliers, the nunnery of Seydnaya and the old khans and mountainous hinterland of Damascus during the course of the tale. Although located in the late 19th century, it takes place in a timeless Levant, a crossroads of faiths still dominated by loyal servants of the sultan-caliph, not yet the 20th-century Baathist fortress of Arab nationalism.
Indeed the real landscape of the Damascus Drum is not of this world. Rather, it is shaped by Tales from the Thousand and One Nights and by the interior world of itinerant storytellers working their magic in the cafés, courtyards and festival gatherings of the past. So we can hiss at the vile machinations of the brigands, scheming villains, paid assassins and evil masterminds, as we fall further and further in love with both hero and heroine.
The Story of the Damascus Drum is also consciously part of that ancient Near Eastern tradition that buried valued spiritual teachings within a fast-paced plot or a comic short story. So running within the body of the tale is the everyday story of two individuals working to increase their self-discipline as a tool in the lifelong struggle first to understand, then make better use of themselves. Adepts might identify the teachings of ancient prophets and some modern and medieval saints among the book’s characters and sacred landscapes. Fortunately, there is also enough bawdy laughter and Midsummer Night’s Dream humanism to enchant a wider audience and perhaps also get them drumming.
Barnaby Rogerson is the author of ‘The Last Crusaders: The Hundred-Year Battle for the Centre of the World’ (Little, Brown £20)
She was born to be a New York society beauty, but the late Josephine Powell’s chosen world was that of the Anatolian Nomad. Five years after her death, her archive of photographs recording old Anatolia in all its glory will see the light of day in Istanbul
As Turkey and the Netherlands celebrate
400 years of fruitful trade with a series of spectacular exhibitions in both countries, Philip Mansel, author of a new history of the Levant, reflects on the curious role of the Dutch at the Sublime Porte
Not far from the World Heritage city of Safranbolu lies the quiet village of Yörük Köyü, once famed for its valiant cavalry. Berrin Torolsan continues her series on Anatolia’s country houses with a visit to the Sipahioğlu Konak, a beautifully built mansion of satisfying simplicity and unassuming flair.
Rather than follow the crowd and dismiss Ankara as a dull, soulless modern capital, says Patricia Daunt, visitors should take time to discover why the famed Angora of old, twice capital in ancient times, is back on the map.
Over the past decade Turkey’s wine industry has come of age. It is now more than ready to join the grown-ups of the wine-producing world. Kevin Gould and the Cornucopia team pick the best of a sparkling bunch. Photographs by Berrin Torolsan.
Cornucopia’s self-guided wine tours
The First Balkan War, a hundred years ago, is an obscure affair, overshadowed by the First World War that followed. But it ended the Ottoman Empire in Europe and came close to ending Turkey itself. It left almost half a million refugees and three times as many dead. David Barchard tells the story of a catastrophic conflict
With a taste for adventure Indiana Jones would appreciate, the Dutch architectural historian Machiel Kiel has risked life and limb in his mission to expose the annihilation of Ottoman monuments in the Balkans. The art historian Holta Vrioni pays tribute to his work and exploits
When Amsterdam’s renovated Rijksmuseum reopens in 2013, the public will be able to visit the Turkish Cabinet of Cornelis Calkoen, the Dutch republic’s ambassador to Istanbul from 1727 to 1744. For more than a century now the museum has been the keeper of his collection of paintings.
‘Never swim before the first watermelon rind falls into the water,’ goes an old Istanbul saying. By the time they ripen, the sea will have reached just the right temperature for swimming.
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