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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

The crowd at Neşe Taverna danced, throwing hips and bellies around, bouncing up and down. A soundtrack was provided by the Arnavutköy village accountant, who enthusiastically plunked his portable keyboard, accompanied by the crash of plates as diners smashed them equally enthusiastically to the floor. On the dance floor, I recognised the son of the electrical shop owner and an apprentice baker – the youth of the village, Muslim, Rum, whatever. No distinctions applied. Everyone drank rakı, ate meze and then hurtled onto the dance floor. A circle opened for a woman dancing to the Romani song ‘Mastika Mastika’, compressing passion and sensuality into the forceful yet elegant movements of a Romani tarantella. It was March 1987 and I was there with my Australian room-mate, an Ottoman historian who laboured in the archives during the day, and our upstairs neighbour, a Polish teacher. Neşe Taverna was the go-to place for Arnavutköy youth in winter. We too were relatively young and living in an apartment building just behind the police station.

In the early hours of the morning we stumbled out of the taverna. A bright moon and stars lit the road leading down into the village centre. Fresh snow had painted everything a brilliant white. In the distance, the waters of the Bosphorus held the moon captive. In an outpouring of joyful abandon, we threw ourselves down on our backs and rode the steep slope all the way down. It didn’t stop snowing that day or the next. It snowed for 13 days, until the city gave up trying to manage and shut down for a week, from airport to shops, though small neighbourhoods like ours experienced no shortages. We were served by tiny grocery stores whose owners lived nearby and could walk to work. We cracked walnuts, drank wine and played cards with our neighbours in the building. Lyn, the retired American schoolteacher living on the next floor up, entertained us with stories from her long life in Turkey. Her doorstop was a delicately fluted Greek capital that workmen digging in the street had unceremoniously chucked out of the hole.

When the snow stopped, we dug our way out and explored. Snow outlined the delicate tracery on the façades of the old wooden houses, making them appear festooned with lace. Packed snow made the pavements several feet higher than usual. Fires burned ineffectually on street corners as people tried to melt the accumulated snow. It was the first time I had experienced such silence in Istanbul – no cars, no planes, even footfalls were deadened by the thick white carpet…

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Issue 64, 2022 30th Anniversary Issue
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Other Highlights from Cornucopia 64
  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

Buy the issue
Issue 64, 2022 30th Anniversary Issue
£12.00 / $15.18 / 498.50 TL
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