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On the road again

I had arranged to meet Don McCullin in Istanbul, in a garden overlooked by a ruined hamam. I hoped this had a certain resonance with John Buchan’s Greenmantle, where three far-flung friends arrange to meet at the “Garden-house of Suliman the Red” in Istanbul. There was talk of a film being made of Sir Don’s life, and I feared that this was my last chance to complete our third Roman Roads trip hunting out numinous ruins across western Anatolia.

I was coming from the southeast, and I arrived at Diyarbakır Airport early, only to hear that all flights were grounded. One look at the northern horizon, filled with dark storm clouds lit up by lightning, made me glad of this decision. But when we finally took off that night, there was no room for any further margin of error. Fortunately,

I made it to our rendezvous and tucked into breakfast in the back garden of the Hotel Empress Zoe with Don and an Istanbul-based publisher. Such was our enthusiasm for this series of three Roman Roads journeys across western Turkey that we had never drawn up any sort of agreement, and it seemed likely that this latest journey would give us more than enough photographs for our book. Luckily, the last round of coffee came with paper napkins, so my experience as a businessman was put to work, and a napkin bearing seven simple clauses written with a red felt pen, was signed. Then we were off.

One of the pleasures of travelling with Don is that he misses nothing. So although I had missed out on all of yesterday’s work on Roman fragments scattered across Istanbul, we could talk about the Golden Gate, the Valens Aqueduct, the surviving sphendone of the Hippodrome, as if we were both still there. The new Roman sculpture gallery had just opened, so some good use had been made of that day. Don insists on developing his rolls of black-and-white film himself, and he was already sitting on weeks of work in his darkroom. I hoped to keep him busy for many months.

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Issue 65, January 2023 Roman Roads
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