The Pleasures of Humankind

What can be learnt from the following?
Iloki Podrumi, Ilok, Croatia.IMG_0765






Dwa Jelena, Belgrade, Serbia.








Gmeokellar, Vienna, Austria.

gastraum saal






Barley Mow, Clifton Hampden, England.IMG_1308






You could have said, beer. Six points for that.

But I think it might be humankind’s desire to recreate the comfortable cave, to share each other’s company with, by and large, good cheer. Had a very good time in each of these.

It is also possible they may share staff.IMG_1314

•• •• •• ••

And I’m putting this in just because.

We met in a small village near Krušedol. She wanted to know who I was and why I was there. She hadn’t heard of Australia and I didn’t know much about where she lived. But she did a fine line in curiosity. Bless her heart.IMG_0651

And, now we cross the border.

On Being Serbian

IMG_0626A class of Serbian kids on the steps of St Sava.

We arrived in Belgrade and it was raining for the first time since we had left home. 

The road from the airport to the old city is a highway through the new-ish and ordered suburbs on the west bank of the Sava, the Pannonian Plain side of Belgrade. Light industry, government buildings, tower blocks, wide streets. You cross the Sava and you’re in the Balkans. There was a bit of ducking and weaving through the old town — graffiti ubiquitous, mostly football team and Kosovo related we were told — and there we were, at 88 Rooms, Ulica Takovska.

It was work experience day at the desk which produced a fair amount of fumbling. As can happen, an older girl/young woman held the keys to the kingdom, knew everything, fixed everything, organized everything. 88 Rooms is a new building in an old area. IMG_0601This was the view out our window. The hotel was new but not well made — cheap materials, careless work. The strike plate of our door lock fell off as we opened it. Too much drilling had left no wood for the screws to bite. A bit of that.

We walked down to Skardalija, the liveliest bit of a lively city. IMG_0603Down this street.






Past these men.


But not yet these men. What champs.

To here.IMG_0608

It looks like a Tourism Belgrade photo but it’s no fake. That’s how it was. The heart of good cheer and great Balkan music. Serbian music I’d better say. Our waiter at Dwa Jelena (Two Deer, founded in 1832 by hunters who came in with … so the story goes. Džejmi Oliver has cooked there.) couldn’t have been more helpful. Long day, big trip, first night new city, the chances of making a complete dick of yourself are profound.

imagesHe found us some nice wine, excellent bread, a good salad and this dish: four or five types of grilled meat on a bed of roast potatoes. Not complicated, very well rehearsed — probably sell 120 of those a night — but delicious. Then he talked us into having some cherry pie. This cherry pie became the benchmark for all culinary experience, subsequent and previous. We went back for another one a night or two later and it was ordinary. Isn’t that just life.

We had a terrific night, walked home and slept like a log in a good Serbian bed. I had organized a guide for the morning, a couple of hours round Belgrade.

•• •• •• ••

The correct name for Belgrade, our name, is Beograd or White City. There are many ideas for its source, but I think for the walls of the magnificent fort where the rivers Sava and Danube connect. Perhaps also for the beauty of the many buildings which have been destroyed over the years.

The history of White City begins 9000 years of continuous occupation. It has been called Singidun and some people say that it was established by Celtic invasions from central Europe [from the Halstatt people in 279 BC. ‘Dun’ is Celtic for ‘fort or ‘town’.]. The Romans were here [first and second centuries AD, and called it Singidunum] but there is good evidence to say that the occupation of this area by Serbs has been continuous over 9000 years. Some people say it was the invasion of the Slavs from the north, but I believe the Serbian Slavs were probably here already.

You must understand this is our home. We were here first and always.

imagesRepublic Square. This is where we gather when we are happy, or sad. Or angry. Serbs will always tell you how they feel. Our language has been described as the purest and easiest to manage of any. Can you hear the music in it? I think you find it so. These streets we are in, Belgrade streets, are renowned as the safest in the world. We have no trouble here. This is interesting and ironical because many people also say we are the best fighters.

Nicola Tesla Museum. tesla64Nicola Tesla was an authentic Serbian genius. He is the father of alternating current and many dozens of patents of universal importance. He is proof of the quality of Serbian scientific thinking. [Tesla: born to Serbian parents in a Croatian town, went to university in Graz, Austria, lived in Slovenia and Czechoslovakia, migrated to the US at the age of 28, became a naturalized US citizen at the age of 35.] Like many of our achievements no one gives us credit for what is obvious. So much so, you could suspect that it is part of a deliberate plot. I don’t say that it is. I just want to tell you what I think you need to understand.

For example, you must understand that Belgrade has been destroyed by war and razed to the ground 44 [or depending on the source 38 or 52] times, and every time the spirit of the Serbian people and our determination to preserve our homeland has meant that it was rebuilt. Do you know any other city in the world that could say that? More than 40 different armies have tried to conquer Serbia, and we have outlasted them all. Even though many of our most beautiful and historic buildings are no longer, the soul of Belgrade is immortal. That is what the empirical evidence tells us.

We are a small people who as a Serbian poet has noted have the bad luck that our forefathers ‘built a home in the middle of the road’. Many centuries ago, they settled in the middle of Balkans, in the middle of the main road that leads from Central Europe to Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. It is the southern flank in any invader’s attack on Russia. To invade any country, to win any war in Europe, or the Middle East you must go through Serbia. It is the crossroads of the world, and yet our identity is still very strong.

And now the basilica of St Sava, for me the heart and soul of Belgrade.

The Cathedral of Saint Sava is an Orthodox church in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, the largest in the world. The church is dedicated to Saint Sava, founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an important figure in medieval Serbia. It is built on the Vracar plateau, on the location where his remains are thought to have been burned in 1595 by the Ottoman Empire's Sinan Pasha. From its location, it dominates Belgrade's cityscape, and is perhaps the most monumental building in the city. The building of the church structure is being financed exclusively by donations. The parish home is nearby, as will be the planned patriarchal building.
After fighting his brothers, Stefan Nemanja came to the throne in 1170. He had the title of ‘veliki zupan’. [like ‘prince’. He later became ‘Despot’, which has a technical meaning quite unlike its common usage in English. We spent quite a lot of time walking down Despot Stephen Street.] He began restoring the Serbian state in the Raska region and constructed many monasteries.

Stefan Nemanja’s successor was his middle son Stefan, while his youngest son Rastko became a monk, taking the name Sava, and dedicated himself to spreading religion among his people. In 1217, Stefan asked the Pope for the crown and became the first Serbian king. In 1219 his brother Sava secured the autocephalous status of Serbian church and became the first Serbian archbishop. Unknown-1He is St Sava, the Sun of Serbian Heaven.

Autocephalous? Self head. There is no other boss. Not the Pope. Not the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Patriarch of Serbian Orthodox church is the head of Serbian Orthodox Church. Since 1219. Longer than you can know. Christian ethos becomes Serb ethnos. [Mark well those words.]

In 1594 the Serbs staged an uprising in Banat, the Pannonian part of Turkey, really Serbia, and Sultan Sinan Pasha retaliated by burning the remains of St. Sava, the most sacred thing for all Serbs honored even by Moslems of Serbian origin. The remains were brought from the Mileševa monastery in South Serbia and were burnt at this plateau, the most prominent in Belgrade, so that as many people as possible would know of this thing, the most bitter act of Ottoman history. However the remains did not turn to ash, but into light. This is true even in a semi-literal way. This light still warms the heart of the Serbian people.

We now build a cathedral according to our own Serbian Byzantine style on this site.

In 1895 a society of foremost citizens was formed to build this cathedral. This began truly in 1935, 340 years after the atrocity. I will tell you something interesting. The first and third prizes for the design were not awarded. The design which received second place was chosen.

During the war work ceased. The Nazis used this place as a parking lot, then as fortified defence. Later it was used for storage. Since Patriarch German, that is his name, 88 requests to continue building have been made for 87 refusals to change our ‘weeping walls’. But building began again in 1985. 100,000 people came to the re-opening.

You see the dome 70 metres from the ground and 134 metres above sea level. The height of the cross is 12 metres higher again. This is one of the biggest and most beautiful church buildings in the world. More than 10,000 people can be inside at any one time. Inside will be white marble with mosaic telling all of Serbian history. The white cathedral for the white city. It is not just a church; it is a national monument and national symbol. It speaks to us every day that we must be ready for self sacrifice. [What did he say? Christian ethos becomes Serb ethnos? Exactly.]

You notice something now we are inside. Can you see? No pillars. The dome was built on the ground and raised into place taking 40 days. This is one example of excellent Serb engineering skills.

I’ll tell you one story to make you weep. It always has a big effect on me. Rich American Serbs, there are many rich Serbs spread across the world, even in Australia, say we will give you the money to finish the church, many millions. Here. Have it. The people of Belgrade say no, we will get our money over time. We will sacrifice. The Patriarch says, we have waited 400 years to build this cathedral. We are happy to wait 400 more.

We say, St. Sava Church does not belong to anyone; we belong to it. It is built by all times and by all generations, by our Patriarchs, ancestors, forebears and fathers. There are four s’s on our cross, standing for: Samo sloga Srbina spašava (‘Only unity saves the Serbs’).

•• •• •• ••

St Sava’s is not finished and has a rather eerie pre-stressed concrete/ plastic drop sheet feel inside. This will be changed for good or ill by several acres of mosaic.

IMG_0628Another guide walked past with her croc of tourists, but she went downstairs to the crypt. She was a friend of our guide’s and we tagged along, as it turned out, a very special favour. The crypt is another proposition entirely, a product of patient and beautiful decoration. And she sang. She was a musician by training with an angelic voice which resonated through the subterranean spaces. It was quite a transcendent experience.IMG_0633

•• •• •• ••

Was Yugoslavia a good idea?

For me to answer that question I must sit down with coffee. [Magnifico Coffee, warm attentive service, great coffee, great cakes which we weren’t allowed to have until the lecture finished.]

First you must understand that the Serbian people are the real Slavs. Croats have the same language just different script, same background, same culture but they have been corrupted by their contact with western influences over many centuries, many times by fascistic movements. In Bosnia there are some leftover people from the Turkish invasion but really they are Serbs who were willing to do all the dirty jobs and who wanted to turn their coats and become Muslim.

The people who are not Serbs are the people who now have our most sacred possessions. The Albanians in Kosovo. They come from Asia near Azerbaijan. They have no part of our culture but they have our monasteries and our sacred places, including the most sacred place of all.

images-1To understand the Serbs is to understand their sense of pride. It is to understand why the Serbs celebrate June 28, St. Vitus Day, the day of the Kosovo Battle of 1389. Those who hate the Serbs claim we are a sick people who celebrate a day of defeat.

The Serbs do not celebrate this as victory or defeat. They celebrate the bravery, the pride of their forefathers who came to meet on the battlefield the intruder to their homeland. It did not matter that the advancing forces were immense. To protect their way of life, to protect their families, to protect freedom, all Serbian nobility came to fight. Most of them died on that day, June 28, 1389. Since that day the Serbs firmly knew that freedom has no price. Many Serbs, through generations and time, happily sacrificed their lives for freedom.

[The actual battle appears to have a been a particularly bloody draw. Both the Serbian King and Turkish Sultan perished, along with most of both sides. A relentless battle.]1389

Belgrade Red Star supporters at a soccer match. To hear them sing ‘The Hymn of Kosovo’, click here. It may be possible that the 1990s Balkan wars started at a Red Star/ Zagreb Dynamo game. To investigate further click anywhere here  and scroll through.

If you have any interest in this topic the mood of it is wonderfully rendered in this series of very fine narrative poems. From the Introduction: ‘Serbs are possibly unique among peoples in that in their national epic poetry they celebrate defeat. Other people sing of the triumphs of their conquering heroes while the Serbs sing of the tragic sense of life.’]

This sacrifice stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe for 70 years. Are the grateful nations the ones who bomb our city and who slander our name in illegal tribunals? Our forefathers never fought to grab other people’s lands. Our forefathers never fought to impose our culture, our way of life or our language or religion on anyone. We fight for freedom, for the simple right to exist.

The Hague ‘Tribunal’ is not the first time that a conqueror attacks the Serbs as physical beings, but also attacks their pride. That is why, exactly on June 28, 1914, June 28 you understand, Prince Ferdinand, the Austrian heir to the throne, decided to have military maneuvers in Bosnia, then a majority Serbian province which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had illegally annexed six years before.

The Serbian answer was to assassinate Ferdinand. That is how World War I started, remember? Fifty percent of the Serbian male population died in that war. Every second man. The story of that Serbian sacrifice should be in every history book. That was the price the Serbs were ready to pay.

Milosevic? Milosevic was criminally insane. He is now dead, but his wife I believe is in Russia with many millions, billions even of money stolen from the Serbian people. This is one reason why we are so poor. The others are Clinton and NATO. But you must understand that our task in that war [1990s] was to protect Serbian people in the areas where they were living in many cases as majorities, but often under daily attack from their neighbours. 

Is it not right under international law that a country has the right and the responsibility to protect its citizens? The same is true of Kosovo. Kosovo is the cradle of our heritage and spirituality. This is the location of the Blackbird Field which gives meaning and purpose to the Serbian nation — in Kosovo, part of Serbia. The eradication of the Serbian people and our culture in Kosovo is an attack on the overall European cultural heritage and tradition.

You probably do not know that the Albanians who have overrun Kosovo are not Balkan people. They are Asian. Their real name is Shqiptars and their origins are somewhere near Azerbaijan from where they have been driven. They have a reputation as thieves and smugglers and as criminals. They have Mafia who attack Serbs and destroy their property. And [by declaring their independent status] they have done something illegal directly against the spirit of international law. Does Spain make the Basques a separate country? Does Germany think that Bohemia or Bavaria should be a new nation? England says no to Scotland becoming separate. And yet they are happy to spread lies and propaganda about the Serbs in their most sacred country, 20 percent of Serbia.

Srbenica? It is war. Bad things happen in war. Always, by everyone. But this is a big propaganda tool. All the talk about Srbenica but you forget. During the war the Ustashe regime [installed with the support of the Italian Fascists as the government of Croatia] killed no one knows how many but tens of thousands of Serbs. Their lives were obliterated without trace. Two hundred and fifty thousand were expelled, and 200,000 forcible conversions to Catholicism occurred. We know this. It is our history. We live with it every day. Does anyone in the west talk about this? Is that in your newspapers?

August 4 we have the anniversary of the Croatian attack on the Serbian majority region of Krajina in 1995 that resulted in the expulsion of 200,000 to 300,000 Krajina Serbs. This was the largest population displacement during the Yugoslav breakup in the 1990s. It was the largest expulsion in Europe since World War II. Maybe the largest act of ‘ethnic cleansing’ since the Holocaust. In 1997, the names of 1,542 Krajina Serbs killed in the assault were recorded. Over 73% of the houses of Krajina Serbs were destroyed. The Krajina expulsion was an act of genocide not seen in Europe since World War II.

Do you read about that in your western newspapers? The US and Western media referred to it as an ‘exodus’ and an ‘assault to oust Serbian rebels’, ‘Croatian Serbs’, the oxymoron propaganda term developed by the US State Department. These facts been covered-up and deleted from the mainstream history of the Balkan conflicts because the victims were Serbs and because a majority population was destroyed and denied self-determination.

IMG_0754Do you like to sit still as NATO bombs of the colonialist powers rain on your head?

I am not certain but I have the opinion Serbs are proof of what the great psychologist Carl Gustav Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’, the collective unconscious that causes a people to rise up and claim what is theirs. Sometimes violence is necessary for this to occur. We don’t shy away from that. What is our alternative?

•• •• •• ••

He left us in Prince Michael Street. It had been quickfire, fierce and exhausting.

This is one of those listening processes where you begin by thinking: oh that’s interesting, here’s a new insight — he was a nice guy, very well educated in a particular fashion, speaks more languages than I do, has lots of experience. Then move along to thinking, my goodness, is that how all this is constructed? At least it is a consistent world view even if it’s been punched a bit out of whack. And then you end up thinking just, gosh.

We walked slowly down through a lively main street where people were shopping eating drinking and enjoying themselves. It looked quite normal.IMG_0744

IMG_0640We stopped at the ‘?’ café because it was on the way to where we were going — the rivers and the fort — and looked just fine. ‘?’ because for many years it was known as ‘By the cathedral’ café and then the cathedral objected. So, hands thrown in the air — ‘?’ Stylish, professional service, happy to cater for our every (modest) whim. The last word in friendliness.

IMG_0763Just because … Isn’t he cute?

That night we spent a lot of time trying to find a particular restaurant. Our problems could be explained by two salient matters. 1) It was a vegetarian restaurant, very Serbian actually but voluntary vegetarianism is improbable in Belgrade, and 2) it was called Radost Fina Kuhinjica, ‘Nice Little Kitchen’, and so it very much proved, but people had trouble getting a grip on such a generic name, and, hidden away in the back of an apartment block, even people living right next door didn’t know it was there. We were treated with great interest, warmth and generosity and super food and, on advice from a delightful young waiter, otherwise an engineering student, Ergo Temet wine. Chase it down. A small Serbian miracle.IMG_0649

•• •• •• ••

Next day. Different guide. Same story.

We wanted a look at the Serbian countryside. Mike was interested from all sorts of perspectives; among other things he’s a farmer grazier. The tour fitted. It was a drive up to the city of Novi Sad (‘New Present?’ ‘Today City?’) further upstream on the Danube across the laser-flat Pannonian Plain with a deviation through the hills of the Fruska Gora. On the way we visited Krušedol monastery. IMG_0660
Two patriarchs of the Serbian church are buried there.

IMG_0662Some Serbian kids at Krušedol.

I think Joci knew very little about Krušedol except that it was old and Blind Freddy could see that. The interior had some very fine murals that he had trouble explaining.

‘After Kosovo (ie 1389) it was very important for the Serbs to have their own religious figures. So for the Virgin Mary we have St Angelina, for St Peter we have … and St John … These are the great figures of Kosovo.’ You mean you have Serb substitutes for the whole group of major Christian figures? ‘Yes we do.’

I didn’t pursue this. It might have been a language issue, and I didn’t really want him to tell me anyway. It was getting weird.

Earlier I had asked him what the process of change had been from going from collectivised farming to privately held farms to the giant industrialised concerns we were driving through. ‘To understand this process you must understand the Serbian people and their relationship with the land, and this really begins at Kosovo 626 years ago. This is when we became a nation …’ Thirteen minutes later he was still going. I timed him just out of interest. We had been through the Albanians, the NATO bombing, the importance and delights of Krsna Slava — the celebration of a family’s saint’s day — the quality of Serbian family life. Then I reminded him of the question which he had forgotten.

It’s not an easy question, but I just wanted impressions, not a detailed answer. He’d lived through the experience. And there is always the option of saying I don’t know. But he was Serbian, proudly and emphatically, and this is why he was telling us what he thought we needed to know, what we had to know. 

‘You are Scottish?’ Well, not me really. My ancestors … a long time ago, 150 years ago. ‘That is a short time really. What do you think of what the English have done to your homeland? Don’t you feel angry about that? Do you not want to seek revenge?’

•• •• •• ••

We stopped at Sremski Karlovci, the centre of which is a Spatial Cultural-Historical Unit of Exceptional Importance. Some idea of its history can be gained from the facts that in Croatian it is known as Srijemski Karlovci, in German as Karlowitz or Carlowitz, in Hungarian as Karlóca, in Polish as Karłowice, in Romanian as Carloviț and in Turkish as Karlofça

IMG_0677Saved by the need for a cup of tea! It was such a relief. If you’re walking around you can drift off on your own, but in a car there is no escape. But moreover immediately in front of us was an orkestar, one of the things I love about the Balkans, which might have been going to play. (‘Underground’: such a Serbian film. Too long, but a monstrous tour de force. Five and a half stars.)

We sat down in the square and I asked Joci to show us just where Kosovo was using his phone. He couldn’t find Kosovo on the map. And that is true. That was Serbia sure, but which way was Kosovo? He scuttled off to buy a paper map and rather absently — the day was balmy and I was out of the car — I noticed a crowd gathering. I am looking at the photos now and in a crowd of two to three hundred I can see only three women. A lot of the men were relatively young. They were quiet and focused, their attention fixed on a door in a large building on one side of the Square. Joci came back and I asked him to find out what was going on.

The building was the Clerical High School of Saint Arsenjie (Sava’s successor) and we were on the brink of the final part of the graduation ceremony to the Serbian priesthood for every single successful candidate for 2015.

IMG_0680At midday a bell tolled and the crowd drew up taller peering like meerkats. A door opened and from inside this room a sonorous chorus of male voices emerged. Not hesitantly or carelessly discordant, as we might expect from young males, but with immediate force and strength.It is the Hymn to Kosovo, Joci whispered. And so it was.

IMG_0681Still inside, they followed this with the Serbian National anthem ‘God of Justice, thou who saved us when in deepest bondage cast’, and then one-by-one they emerged blowing kisses to the crowd, or saluting like football players who have scored a goal, a wide range of unlikely gestures really, in what turned out to be a sort of popularity contest by acclamation. IMG_0687
IMG_0692They then linked arms in the square and sang and sang and sang. I have no idea what they were singing, some sort of amalgam of sport, nation and god perhaps — but their repertoire was endless. Then suddenly they stopped, the band started playing, the big flags arrived, and they began throwing each other up in the air before marching off round the town. It was something else. Christian ethos becomes Serb ethnos.IMG_0697

The air had become heavy with the siren call of testosterone. The ambiguous siren call of testosterone: be like me, be a man; but as well, fight me or fight someone. I had got myself in the ruck of all this and while absorbed and intrigued found myself feeling a little shaken, anxious, not something I’m used to. Just for a moment; but if, that day, the Serbs had been fighting me at the Blackbird Field they would have won. In fact, it would have been a massacre.

We ate lunch looking out over the Danube. Joci relaxed, we talked about this and that and I made a sudden discovery that we had to get back to Belgrade almost immediately. We had exhausted his stock of information and the retreads were becoming deadly. And anyway we had an opera to attend.

•• •• •• ••

After leaving Joci meditating at length on the significance for the Serbian people of Carl Gustav Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, we went to see and hear Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’ which is known for the Slaves’ Chorus but offers much else besides.
1000 dinars for just one ticket. That seemed a lot. I couldn’t quite get a handle on it. First I thought it might be some catastrophic sum like trying to go to Covent Garden or something. On further investigation the current exchange rate makes that equivalent to 12.36AUD. Opera. Four rows from the pit. Unheard of. What do you get? Three youngsters in a recital? A slave’s solo instead of a slaves’ chorus?

imagesUnknown-1The Belgrade National Theatre building has seen better times and I’m guessing but I’d say they were round 1870-1890.IMG_0642 The French influence in that period is still evident in the boulevards outside and the evident grace still visible in some of the building. The theatre still sells seats for the parterre (‘on the ground’) which would seat 2-300 and then four tiers, cylindrical rather than staggered, faded plush, gilt embossing and a big crack in the parapet of one tier where the percussion section was seated. The brass were a bit rusty but the orchestra of 45-50 produced the score faithfully and with vim.

Not that much in the way of costumes, but if you want costumes watch the Met at the movies. The set was a tilted circular slab which rotated but not too much. It was well under control. The high priest of the Jews came out and provided a true and highly seductive bass baritone, Abigaille was a pocket rocket with enormous power, and Nabucco himself warmed up over the course of the evening to give us a terrific rendering of his big aria in the third act. The chorus (of 30 or 40) sang with verve and had no trouble filling the hall with quality sound. Thought did fly on wings of gold. Completely memorable. And for $12.36. One of the great bargains of all time.

•• •• •• ••

Our first guide had told us we should visit the Museum of Yugoslav History to fully understand Serbia. The cab driver didn’t know where it was. ‘Next to Tito’s house. And his mausoleum. In the park.’ ‘Where is Tito’s house?’ He apologised later. It was his first day.

Apart from the surly and unhappy staff, who were probably being paid two and threepence a week, the Museum of Yugoslav History consisted of one large room which was empty, one large room which had a small model of a nondescript building in it and one large room which had been divided up into a suite of hanging spaces. ‘Art as a Resistance to Fascism’ was on display. IMG_0723IMG_0722These were some typical offerings.

I hated it. Yes it’s serious. Yes it’s recent. Yes they did it too. Yes they’re bastards. But I hated it. I was fed up with the wallowing, the malady in the collective unconscious or whatever it is that is fed and given succour every day. I looked outside just to make sure the sun was still shining. We caught the bus back into town and had three fabulous hours chatting in the sun and watching one version at least of Serbia get on with life.

 •• •• •• ••

The best known Serb in the world is not Slobodan Milosevic. The best known Serb in the world is Novak Djokovic, ‘The Joker’; urbane, charming, articulate; spruiker for the importance of family life, apparently delightful company.

I watched him play Roger the other night. What a match. What masters of their craft they both are. It wasn’t because no one will be allowed to beat the Serbs again that Novak won, but I thought I saw in those glinting eyes and the ferocious concentration and the determination not to lose … well, what did I see?IMG_0622

 This sign is above his mum and dad’s restaurant.

St Paul’s Correspondents


Hmmm. Where to begin? Maybe here. The happy foursome with a Trojan horse, a Brad Pitt Trojan horse. An Eric Bana Trojan Horse. [In fact a prop from the film ‘Troy’, at Canakkale.] No real Trojan horse ever looked so good.

IMG_0372For example, the Trojan horse of Troy, an amiable but unimaginative threat to the well-being of Priam and his community that wouldn’t have fooled anyone. IMG_0382

This whole business of course is a feat of the imagination, but looking out to sea at Troy through Schliemann’s cut (at right), I could see Achilles dragging Hector’s body around these plains, Hector being tethered to Achilles’ chariot, ironically enough, by straps passed between his Achilles tendons and his tibia. Despite suffering this for 12 days in a row Hector’s body remained completely undefiled, protected as it was by Aphrodite and Apollo. … Ah, those were the days.

[Hector’s body being returned to Troy: from a Roman sarcophagus.]250px-Hector_brought_back_to_Troy

That said, in those days these plains would have been part of the Aegean Sea. Over time silt brought downstream by the Scamander has shifted the coastline some kilometres west.

It could have been because of the quality of our guide (very high) that Troy staggered meaningfully into life. It reportedly poses problems for tourists. I think the reasons might be that is too small, smaller than one envisions perhaps, and too complicated with nine major levels each representing a differing period of habitation. There are also subdivisions of the levels. Homer’s Troy, for example, may have existed during level VIIa (1300-1190BC), and this may have been the way in to the Troy of that era. That excites me.IMG_0386

St Paul visited the area in which Troy is sited. He called it Troas. He asked Timothy who lived in Ephesus 360 k.s away to pick up the coat he had left there and bring it to him (2 Timothy 4, 13). He was in prison in Rome at the time. In the Year of Our Lord 64 that’s a six-month task. There must have been something else going on. Must have been. Maybe he had left some important stuff in the pockets.

But we were in Pauline

For our route, stick to the middle: Troas, Assos, (insert Pergamom), Ephesus, Samos. Go left and up: Athens, Thessalonica.

It is tempting to talk about the Greeks here, or the Turks; but we are immersed in the period of city states. The Aegean islands were named as they are today, but the coastline regions were those of Troad, Mysia, Aeolis, Lydia, Ionia, and below the river Meander (you heard it here first) Caria and Lycia. As their names suggest these are often peoples associated with the Pelopponesian Peninsula (‘Greeks’), remnants of Alexander’s conquests, the littoral of the Pergamom empire or simply inhabitants with roots going back several hundred years. The locals are speaking Greek, and some would claim these are the sites of high Classical Greece.

[A section of the pediment of a Greek temple at Pergamom]IMG_0423The Turks (‘Turcae’) are mentioned by Herodotus in the 5th century BC as living above the Sea of Azov which today would make them Ukrainians. Chinese sources of the same period locate them in western Mongolia and Tajikistan, on their way to the Turkmenistan of today. It wasn’t until the 11th century AD that Turkish-speakers ventured into Anatolia (the big lump of Turkey on the eastern side of the Bosphorus/ Sea of Marmara/ Dardanelles).

The dominant mob in Paul’s time was of course the Romans, but this didn’t have a major impact on the makeup or ethnicity of these cities, although there is evidence in the case of Ephesus at least that it made them large (c. 50,000) and prosperous. There may however have been the question of taxes and if certain types of religion were going to play a part in insurrection you might find yourself in chains in gaol in Rome — as Paul did. But before that he travelled extensively and by some lights quite freely, although clearly he did suffer for his cause, a zealot in the literal sense for his god.

After finding some disciples at Ephesus not quite on top of their situation, he spent two years there, correcting, cosseting — and arguing. 

‘He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyrannus [a school]. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia [Minor] heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.’ [Acts 19, 8-10. The next ten verses are also worthy of attention.]

During that period it is believed that he preached three times at this amphitheatre.IMG_0486

Whoops. Right place, fabulous but wrong photo. (For whatever reason they were trying to take an ‘Oh what feeling’ jumping photo to post on Facebook. I took one too.)

Here. This one. Capacity: 3,000. Filled it three times. Little wonder that he had some correspondence to attend to.IMG_0490

We will come back to that issue shortly; but at Ephesus there are several things to note in addition. Just to the right out of sight are the remnants of the market, a very big affair. You could easily tell where all the shops had been but only a former President of Business Educators Australia could immediately see the point of access for goods and the nature of the wholesale/retail transition process. I was honoured to be in his company.

And together we saw this which not many other people have.IMG_0458The main street of Ephesus with no one in it. Luck. About 8.45 on a Sunday morning before the cruise ships had unloaded.

Mostly they would have been coming to see this, the Library of Celsius.IMG_0483
IMG_0482Which can also be draped.

Elsewhere it is possible to find things of this nature (below).IMG_0456




The explanatory tag says, inter alia: The MEMMIUS MONUMENT ‘Built between 50 and 30BC at a particularly prominent site, it is an honorific monument for Gaius Memmius, a grandson of the Roman Dictator Sulla … At present there is no reconstruction at the site, but instead a Cubistic modern architectural collage.’ A Cubistic modern architectural collage eh? So much to learn; so little time.

But on the opposite side of the promenade is a big surprise, something I hadn’t anticipated: an excavation of something like a giant pile of condominiums, where the better off Ephesians lived.IMG_0476

You are looking at several houses here, separated by walkways a metre or two wide. The decoration is startling in its modernity. The women figures wear makeup which wouldn’t be out of place in Flinders Lane. The functions of the house are instantly recognisable. But why should that be a surprise? What’s 2000 years between friends?

Just before we leave the wonders of Turkey …

You climb up to the ruins of Assos via this narrow, rocky street. Not one person invited us to buy anything. Not one.IMG_0389The ruins of Pergamom were great but time spent in the modern city, Bergama, was better. We were sitting down at lunch in a kebab joint and a class of 8 year-olds with minders swarmed in. Very well behaved but hungry kids. Great fun. The wonders of the normal world were generally on offer.  Below, he was banging the bits of fibre glass off the awning with a stick, officially an Occ Health and Safety matter. IMG_0441 •• •• •• •• ••



See the bloke talking to me, well he’s been to every one of the 116 grounds used by teams in the English Football Association’s top five leagues. He’s a keen Southampton Saints fan and has seen every match this season, in every part of the country. He’s also a member of the Barmy Army and has been to every test ground in Australia and South Africa. He thinks Melbourne is quite fair enough and liked the atmosphere at the MCG on Boxing Day, but it doesn’t really stack up against an English football crowd. He doesn’t want to go to India because he is confident that he would get food poisoning. ‘They [unclear referent] all do.’ He has tickets for every Ashes test in the 2015 season. He doesn’t like people who drink wine in a shout. He drives a BMW M5, the 412kW model which can do 2oo plus miles per hour, although he has had trouble finding places to confirm that. He has been on 18 cruises. (Count them. 18. His deceased wife got him on to them. They were ‘her idea of heaven’.) The thing he likes best about them is the food and that you don’t have to think about anything. He used to own 17 cabs but now he’s given that over to his daughter. Just takes a third of the profit each year. The British election had not taken place, but he looked forward enthusiastically to Cameron and the Tories getting back in. The other crew? A joke! He also knows quite a lot of somewhat pedestrian jokes, and has a way with a well-rehearsed bon mot. Anything else? Just ask. It’s a pleasure.

•• •• •• •• ••
IMG_0518At its closest, the Greek island of Samos is just a few hundred metres off the Turkish coast. But the ferry takes a very pleasant hour round the eastern point. I don’t know what sort of time Paul would have had there. A swim perhaps? A few great meals washed down with some of the island’s famous, and wonderful, muscat? Bit of arguing down the street?IMG_0520

There was a basilica in Samos the town, in Karlovassi the biggest town and maybe in Pythagorio, birthplace of Pythagorus. Orthodox of course. I have no idea what Paul would have made of the Councils of Nicaea. He may have felt it was time to move the Pharisees out of the temple again. Interesting how as a recurring phenomenon they are harder to eradicate than Cape Weed, always festering away.

IMG_0517Our hostess at Kokkari described her sybaritic life as ‘perfect. [pause] For seven months of the year. The rest of the time it rains and there is no one here.’ Her hotel had a huge pool and a monster view and a beach you could swim at and, after a short walk, you could dine at Cafe Mythos where we consumed what could have been the best food in two months.IMG_0523This photo has all the appropriate colours, and the representative icons of the beach at least. I don’t have a suitable photo of the verdant hills, burdened with produce: olives, grapes, fruit, bee hives, goats, egg plants, peppers, hosts of other vegetables, maybe a cow or two. But you could live here. I understand about the Greek islands in a way I didn’t before. Ah how travel broadens one.

IMG_0542Up in the hills driving aimlessly we stumbled into a small village which Lord Rowland pronounced authentic as only he can. We found the square, ordered some coffee and fresh fruit juice (it must be said that the owners of one of the properties had lived in Springvale for 10 years, but, you know, c’est normale …) and a minute or two later he said, now all we need is some old men chatting over their coffee.IMG_0544

I like to make sure he gets what he needs.

•• •• •• ••

Paul’s letters provide succour, and direction, to the faithful (and wavering: so many paths, so many maverick offshoots). He’s building an earthly institution with heavenly bricks which is not a task for everyone.

Commentary suggests that what he’s got to say to the Ephesians is meant to apply generally — no personal greetings, generalist in tone, carefully structured and highly polished. And right here in Chapters 1-4 is the dominant language of many forms of contemporary Christianity, laid out with some care but no exposition, plunged straight into use, as though anticipating complete understanding of the mysteries of terms like blood, flesh, spirit and Spirit, cleansing, sanctification, redemption and grace. And this is the ultimate statement about grace. We are being saved from our status as children of wrath, the passion of the flesh, and the desires of body and mind. Rich in mercy, God will save you. This is it. This is the deal.

The other two chapters shift tone and offer some more down home advice: ‘Look carefully how you walk … do not get drunk with wine … wives, be subject to your husbands … the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church … husbands love your wives … children, obey your parents … fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger … slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters …  Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’ The Epistle finishes with a wonderfully poetic plating up: loins, breast and feet, adding shield.

Understanding chapters 1-4 is a matter of faith. They have a cosmic grandeur that, regardless of what is argued in the halls of Tyrannus’s school, you will either go with or be puzzled by. Chapters 5 and 6 however seem to me to provide a very clear message. There is a balance undeniably: wives be obedient, husbands love your wives; kids don’t play up, parents don’t give them cause to, and so on. But the clear message is: Know your place. Don’t rock the boat.

I don’t know how the first century cultural context would qualify and frame this idea; or whether, as well as the Ephesians, Paul is dropping the Romans an incidental line suggesting that this movement, this crusade for new belief, is not dangerous. His Lord did suggest rendering to Caesar that which was Caesar’s. Knowing your place might also be a pretty useful promulgation for someone who is trying to set themselves up as lead director of a new organisation. But I think it probably transcends time as a doctrine. These are ideas absolutely fundamental to any discussion of human behaviour, and in these matters at least he — or whoever wrote this, there is some question — has come down firmly on the side of keeping the status quo in order.

What do Christians do with that? We know the Pope is a Catholic, but is he really infallible for example? Is anyone? Should Christians be unhesitatingly subject to their leaders and, if so, of what are their leaders (husbands, parents, slave masters) made? Is this actually the answer, the thing that will see us right — just shut up and absorb whatever comes, and everyone will be happier? There’s a very big school of thought (led perhaps by husbands, parents and slave masters) coming in behind that as the way to go.

These, of course, are the sorts of tangles you get into when you move from the cosmic to the concrete, and when you move from doctrine to institution. (An ‘intellectual, recognisable as such by his simple himation.’ Thessaloniki’s Archeological Museum)IMG_0562

What did Paul have to say to the Thessalonians?

In Paul’s time Thessaloniki was a Roman ‘free city’, and an important trade hub with a very busy port, a major stopover on the Via Egnata, the main road from Rome (including a sea voyage) to Byzantium (subsequently Constantinople/ Istanbul), still one of the two main drags through the city.

It is known that Paul preached three times there in the Jewish synagogue, the site of which as it happens was 100 metres from our hotel. It was always an important Jewish city and became more so after the Sephardic Jews were driven out of Spain in the late 15th century. Many, even most, found a new home in Thessaloniki. By 1520 they were the majority ethnic group.

The smarties of this group reminded Suleiman (the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan of the time) of Mehmet’s proclamation of religious freedom in 1358, and in the process generated an agreement whereby they were able to pay sub-wholesale prices on goods as long as they took on the task of making Thessaloniki a trade centre. Well they thought about that for a fair while and ummed and ahhed … no they didn’t. They realised all their Hanukkahs had come at once. Over time this agreement made Thessaloniki an extremely important financial centre as well as responsible for the trade of 55% of the tobacco consumed across the world. As ever, the good times weren’t to last, but that’s another story. IMG_0596

This information and this photo come from the Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki. The city also has two very good museums devoted to Archeology and Byzantium. And great food. And good hotels. And all in all was a very good place to visit. (And just by the way is also the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as well as the heartland of the Bulgarian Revival Movement.)IMG_0595

What did Paul have to say to the Thessalonians?

Maybe … Weren’t we good to you when we came to stay? ‘Like a nurse taking care of her children?’ We worked really hard separately, and together, didn’t we; and we are missing you terribly. I was worried. That’s why I sent Timothy down to check how things were going and I’m thrilled to hear you’re all sticking with it. Keep it up. Great. Just in case you were wondering, if you don’t ‘sudden destruction will come upon [you] as travail comes upon a woman with child and there will be no escape.’ We are sons of the light not darkness. ‘Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’

The second letter contains some material in the same vein — good on you, we’re so proud, we’re talking up the Thessalonian church all over the place. The aeschatology is slightly more florid in its expression, with ‘mighty angels in flaming fire’ on our side, but ready to do some serious damage to the unbeliever. However the main purpose of the letter seems to be to reassure the faithful that the Last Days are not imminent and that anyone who says otherwise is, well, ‘a son of perdition.’… ‘If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him that he may be ashamed.’

If you go and see a film called ‘Going Clear’ you can watch this in action. Very hard work setting up an organisation, particularly one based on system of belief rather than a concrete operational program with tangible product. And do you have any choice but disconnection? That’s a serious question. Banishment is more lingering but seems more humane than slaughter.

And here we were in Greece in the middle of all the carry on about the ‘Grexit’. I can imagine the letters being sent from Germany and France to Mr Tsipras and the even more racey ones going until recently to Mr Varoufakis.If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him that he may be ashamed.’ And so it goes.

‘That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.’ A. Huxley. No fool.

•• •• •• ••

We saw icons to burn in Thessaloniki, although given its appalling history with fire that is an inapposite thing to say. Icons both ancient and modern.IMG_0571IMG_0582IMG_0589IMG_0581










And yes it’s Elsa from ‘Frozen’ and she’s a cake. We know that because we have grand daughters, and we live in the modern world. Heaven knows what Paul would have made of it all. 

How was Thessaloniki? Buzzing, happy, apparently prosperous, a delight to visit. Like this.IMG_0576

But there are some things you can never leave behind. Eeeeeeeeeeeee …IMG_0598

To Belgrade, to Beograd, to meditate on what it means to be a Serb.

Gallipoli: Two Stories

IMG_0362This is Gallipoli. A National Park with many well-used walking trails incorporating a very few very small villages, one of which, Kocadere, we stayed in.

There were two stories here for me.

The picture below summarises one of them. These are the clay hills of Anzac Cove with The Sphinx in the top right hand corner. The stance, suggesting thoughtfulness and incomprehension, seems entirely appropriate.

IMG_0879IMG_0309In the other direction the Hellespont, 1.2 kilometres at its narrowest, swum by George Gordon Lord Byron on 3 May 1810 and now by many others on the annual anniversary. It has an undercurrent as well as a surface current — which go in different directions and also change direction — and is one of the most crowded and dangerous shipping routes in the world.

We were there 12 days after the centenary of the famous Anzac landing, and the residue of the impact of the centenary commemorations was everywhere.IMG_0318 This is the lone pine at Lone Pine for example.

And here are some of the fading wreaths.


This set has contributions from many of the major players. You can’t read them but the cards say: On behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany, The Turkish Republic, the Government and People of Canada, the Republic of India, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Defence Forces of New Zealand, the Government of France, etc. But, as you might be able to read, one of the most visible is that from Ballarat Base Hospital Trained Nurses League.

Below is the sort of thing Australians might anticipate populates the area, Aussie mates, comrades, pilgrims, visiting a semi-sacred site, ‘where the country became a nation’. These blokes might have climbed up one of the many trails on the Peninsula through its, now, thickly-wooded ribs to get here — feeling it, spending time just getting a hint of what it might have been like.

They will have encountered, appreciated and might well have been comforted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s words:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

1934. What a man. How visionary, how conciliatory, how truly grand. And this becomes the second story.

[IMG_0307A footnote to hand here that will not invalidate the second story, but may cause trouble with the quote above that is actually set in stone at Anzac Cove (at left) and at three other sites in Australia, NZ and Turkey. Read this: Words about the Anzacs are shrouded in doubt

‘Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.’ ~Herodotus, The History of Herodotus]

Back to the story … This photo of a Gallipolean photo event is more typical.IMG_0323Or this one.IMG_0346The nation actually made here was modern Turkey.

IMG_03278,709 Australians died during these battles; another 18,000 were casualties — clearly the site of a major military tragedy. And yet the 2,779 New Zealanders who died (with 5150 missing or wounded) represented a higher proportion of their country’s population. The 22,000 British soldiers who died, not to mention the 27,000 French casualties, nor the Indians, nor the Senegalese, probably fought just as bravely as the Anzacs. 198,000 Allied casualties were evacuated from the Peninsula. This was one of the things going on at Suvla Bay (over on the horizon in the pic at left; the sign says something like ‘Ataturk’s lookout’ or ‘where A. supervised from’) where, as one commonly heard story has it, the English were having a tea party. It was actually the site of a vast makeshift hospital.

Despite — or perhaps because of, it is war after all — the deaths of 86,692 soldiers with nearly 170,000 missing or wounded, the Turks prevailed. (In truth, the Ottomans; Turkey didn’t exist.) Mustafa Kemal was their commanding officer.

IMG_0328He began the Gallipoli campaign as a Colonel in charge of the 17th Division, but after successfully predicting the movements of the Allied troops at two crucial moments he was given overall command of the Ottoman forces. One of these moments was during the initial Allied landing when he orchestrated the occupation and control of the ridge above the invaders. Without this action, the outcome could well have been different.

During the fighting Kemal (‘Perfection’, a name he may have been given by a maths teacher or, as seems more likely, by himself) was hit in the chest directly over his heart by a piece of shrapnel. He was saved by a pocket watch which was destroyed in the process, the remnants of which he later presented to Liman Von Sanders, his German colleague. This story is told in several languages by the plaques on the plinth of this statue.

Unknown-2Hailed as the ‘Saviour of Istanbul’, a few hours drive away, Kemal became a public figure and his political interests received a major boost. Such is his centrality in Turkish history of the last 100 years that it seems obvious to me at least that this — the Gallipoli campaign, and its result — is the launching platform for the new, post-Ottoman, Turkey — the modern, secular state. Still.

Postwar, in their customary enlightened way, the Allied powers stripped all Arab provinces from the Ottoman Empire (the Sykes-Picot Agreement establishing the conditions for many of the current problems in the Middle East), put the Greeks in charge of a region surrounding Smyrna (on the Turkish Aegean coast, now Izmir) and asserted economic control over what little of the country remained. At this point, Kemal was already a key figure in an independence movement based in Ankara, the goal of which was to end foreign occupation of Turkish-speaking areas and to stop them from being partitioned.

The Sultan’s government in Istanbul sentenced Kemal to death in absentia, but he continued building both military and popular support. With the help of money and weapons from Soviet Russia, he conducted a series of successful military campaigns before turning his attention to the Greeks, who had left a bitter trail of destruction during their drive towards Ankara.

With Kemal at the head of the army, the Turks stopped this advance and several months later launched an offensive that sent the Greeks into full-scale retreat all the way back to Smyrna. A fire coupled with the depredations of angry Turkish soldiers drove several hundred thousand Greek and Armenian residents to evacuate, permanently. [One utterly absorbing account of these events can be found in Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings.]

Kemal then threatened to attack Istanbul, occupied by the British and other Allied powers. Rather than fight, the British agreed to negotiate a new peace treaty and sent invitations to both the sultan’s government in Istanbul and Kemal’s government in Ankara. But before the peace conference could begin, the Grand National Assembly in Ankara passed a resolution declaring that the sultan’s rule had ended. The last Ottoman sultan fled his palace in a British ambulance. A treaty was signed in July 1923 that recognized an independent Turkish state.

Unknown-1That October, the Turkish Grand National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey and elected Mustafa Kemal as its first president. (It was 1934 when the name Ataturk, ‘Father of the Turks’, was granted to him.) He then set about the task of turning Turkey into a modern country. Thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, business and industry were reformed, women were given equal civil and political rights and elected to parliament. These 18 women were members of parliament in 1935.

He also encouraged the wearing of western dress and was emphatic that the country’s development must be secular.


We were also at Gallipoli just prior to the recent Turkish elections. Our host at Gallipoli Huts, Eric the Belgian Turk, charming, chatty and angry, told us at some length of President’s Erdogan’s scurrilous plans to curry favour with poorly educated voters from the central and eastern hinterland. Erdogan appears at right in a carefully air-brushed campaign poster from a hoarding in Bergama. Eric, who might know, claimed that during the past few months 35,000 of these people had been bussed in to Gallipoli free of charge with an unexpected 200 Turkish lire in their pockets. At the same time membership fees of the Muslim League were paid by the government and women were being encouraged to wear headscarves.

This was a modest example of one of the many provided by Eric and Onur of Erdogan’s perfidy and corruption. (For example, here and here and here.)

So Erdogan, this odious man, is using the talismanic aspect of Gallipoli for his own purposes, in the shadow of Kemal but so obviously traducing his memory. This is happening now and, in terms of significance,  seems so much more immediate and telling than the connections Australians might want to establish here.


There are statues of Kemal everywhere in Turkey. They pop up in the most surprising places. But this one might be considered important as the central focus of Taksim Square where these sightless eyes recently watched the violent break up of a gay pride celebration at Erdogan’s instruction. Kemal had trouble maintaining personal relationships. I don’t know what his attitude to the LGBTI world might have been.

IMG_0298This is Gallipoli, a modern National Park where people frequently come for the sole purpose of bush walking, some every year, although Eric sells the Australian Department of Veteran’s Affairs 500 room nights of accommodation every year. The park has several petrol stations on its outskirts where first class food is served. Gallipoli Huts at Kocadere come highly recommended for both accommodation and food. In the last photo of a photo, Onur is obliging Eric the Belgian Turk, his wife and crew — something to include on Facebook or Trip Advisor. I can’t remember. Something to include in the modern world of which we, and the Gelibolu Peninsula, are a part.IMG_0333

IMG_0366As you leave the Peninsula on the ferry to go to Canakkale on the oriental side of the Dardanelles you look over your shoulder to see the fort at Eceabat, a symbol of the guard house this place has always been; but also something more literal. This.

IMG_0363As translated by Onur, loosely but absolutely to the spirit, it says: ‘Stop Traveller. You don’t know that this land you’re stepping on is a place where one era finished and another began. Stop and think about that.’

That’s the big story.

Next: Following the tracks of St Paul.

Istanbul: Tourism

In the top three cities of the world, my top three anyway. (For differing reasons, Shanghai and Rome.) Vivid, maritime, exotic (ish), historic, a crucible, noisy but manageable — just the place to remind you you’ve arrived on the other side of the world. IMG_0168The anteroom of the foyer of our hotel, the Pera Palace. High tea was available here after 2.30pm. Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express on our floor in a corner room across from Mike’s. (Amaze yourself.)IMG_1234

Myrna casting her shadow on Mesrutiyet Caddesi early in the morning. And below, on Istiklal Caddesi, Freedom Street, a main drag if Istanbul has one — about the same time. Besides it being Englishtime, the two figures make the photo worthwhile.
IMG_0180The church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, a version of which has been on this same rather splendidly located site since 537AD. It became a secular monument in 1937 in one of the ambitious reforms of Ataturk’s government. This is a standard photo — the scaffolding adds a certain piquancy — but the building’s grandeur is undeniable. For some reason I liked it much better this time. IMG_0211The Basilica Cistern. You don’t think much about places to store water. But if you didn’t have any you would. James Bond happens to have been here as well. (‘From Russia with Love’. The fish are still there, but let me tell you he wouldn’t have got far. What’s with the grey suits I wonder? They have serial longevity as a recurring motif.)IMG_0214The twist here is provided by two upside down stone heads, one of which appears here. There are all sorts of stories about them, but as evidenced by a look at the other columns it is simply an arresting case of recycling.IMG_0217Tremendously exciting for the visitorsIMG_0224
who nonetheless do not frequent the cafe, unappealling in this cool, and dank, environment.IMG_0231A guard, stopping people surging forward in the Blue Mosque. She missed one chap — Indonesian I think — who spent a happy few minutes taking selfies with his iPad. I have a pic of him too but this one includes more of the glorious building.
IMG_0193Some instruction at the gate to the Dolmabahce (‘fountain garden’) Palace, a preposterous confection not holding together too well after 160 years despite (because of?) having 14 tonnes of gilt spirited about its person. A travesty which made its own important contribution to the bankruptcy of the Ottoman Empire.IMG_0277Man and tree in the Topkapi Palace gardens. Irresistible. Answer: no idea, although he spoke German.
IMG_0250My companions. First night. Big town. Not sure what’s on the menu.IMG_0186And one of the all time great guides, Onur Erturk. He’s about to become a father. Give him some business. Email:


Now to something more cerebral.

We went to the Gelibolu Peninsula just a few weeks after the centenary of its most famous moments. Follow us there. It’s not exactly as you think.