Posted: 17 October 2018
Word Count: 1825
He had seen the Athens boat steam into the bay an hour earlier, giving him plenty of time to send out for coffee and kadaifi and smoke several more cigarettes. In his father’s day, (jobs at the Ottoman Customs Service were strictly hereditary), the harbour would mainly have seen craft from around the Eastern Mediterranean. Sailing boats would tie up and island folk would barter their produce for tools or cloth or furniture from the shops in Franque St or Keramalti Market. Now vast steel ships, a hundred metres long, driven by steam engines, would arrive from all over the world. Since the building of the Suez Canal, the port had increased its traffic manyfold. Passenger ships like this were now common, bringing visitors from all over Europe and America for a glimpse the Ottoman world.
In this city of mongrels, he was glad he had a job that allowed him, insisted even, that he speak his native Turkish. Out in the streets, away from the customs building, he would speak Greek or, in the market, Armenian. At home with his family, Turkish was the linga franca but even that was a mongrel form of the language that had developed along this coast of Asia Minor over the centuries. Mainly subverted by Greek, but also with a confection of French, for that was considered the language of culture and sophistication. Of the quarter of a million people living in the city, half were Greeks, the rest, mainly Turks and Armenians. The remainder was made up of Jews, Levantines, Europeans, Americans et al. It was not uncommon for the average Smyrniote to speak four, five or even six languages.
But now, he chose to speak English. It was a game he played with himself; spotting passenger's nationalities by their appearance, their hats, their baggage, a thousand clues.
“Passports, please.” In front of him stood two young men, one tall and blond the other not so tall and not blond at all. “You are from England?" he said.
"Oh no sir, we're American." The taller of the two reached into an inside pocket and produced the familiar dark blue booklet. His companion, who was carrying his jacket, held it up and reached into an inside pocket. He looked puzzled, it was empty. He reached into the other pocket but could still not find his passport. He slapped his trouser pockets, front and rear.
"I had it right here momentarily," he said, "I made sure I had it when we left the saloon. Oh my gosh. It must have dropped out of my coat. I'm sorry, Sir." He looked stricken. " I'll have to run back and see if I can find it. Maybe its been handed in. The purser will probably have it. Sorry, sir. Sorry.” He looked back at the steamer. "I won’t keep you a minute." He was beginning to panic. "Well maybe five minutes. I'm sorry - sorry," He paused. A thought grew in his head. "Say, you do speak English, don't you?" The two men had watched this pantomime with quiet amusement with the occasional glance between them,
"Excuse me, sir," said the customs man, "What is that you are holding in your hand?" The young man looked. He was holding his coat and his passport. “What is the purpose of your visit in Smyrna?”
“We will be studying Archaeology at the American University, right here in town
"This is your first time in Smyrna?
"Yes, sir," said the short, non-blond, " We sure are pleases to be here. Why, if it wasn't for the darndest thing we would still have been in Athens."
"We'd be in jail, you mean," said Thomas. "You see, back in Piraeus, shit for brains here, said to the official that he was a bomb so they locked us up for a while."
“I was just practising my Greek. How was I to know vova meant a bomb. I was trying to say that what I had in my case was a peach pie."
"While we're here, stick to English, Jerry,” said Tom, otherwise who knows what might happen?"
“Welcome to Smyrna.”
She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. No sooner did she think it was the worst, the filthiest city she had ever had the misfortune to visit when, without a pause, without missing a beat, she knew she would have swapped a year in London for just one more day in Paris. It Was unthinkable that she would never again sit at a pavement cafe with a cup of coffee and a pack of coarse, French cigarettes or walk her cobbled streets in the moonlight. Never again marvel at Mr Eiffel’s tower, so tall and delicate, you would swear it would blow over in a gust of wind. Had she shown you her journal, it would have revealed that when she had arrived two years earlier, the entry for that first day had read, "I think I'm in love. This place is beautiful!!!! The streets, the houses, the people. Everything is beautiful!!! True fact!" Had a breeze blown through the window of her little room six months later and turned the pages, a different éclat would have been observed. "I hate Le Chat Noire, I hate Lefevre. I hate all Frenchmen. I'm going home” And then, had it been a blowy day on her balcony overlooking the Place Pigalle, the pages of her journal might have turned to her most recent observations.
“Why am I so stupid? I’m ruined. I’m never, ever, ever going to drink again. I am so stupid” Should she stay in Paris? Could she leave Paris? Or go back to Camden Town? Life had become so complicated for Maisie. She seemed to attract men: the way that moths are drawn to a flame. Trouble was, too often, it was she who got burned. She thought on. Or should she use the ticket? Why not? she decided. Why not indeed. After all, a change was as good as a holiday and she certainly needed to change.
In the baggage car of the train, her monogrammed valises were filled with the finest dresses and flimsies that Galleries Lafayette had to offer. In a smaller, matching attaché case close beside her was a letter of introduction to a Mr Avedissian, General Manager, The Grand Hotel Huck, Smyrna, Turkey, a one-way ticket on the Orient Express and 10,000 francs.
Her couchette was luxurious, better than any hotel room she'd ever paid for herself. And, the dining car was a fairy tale in gold and blue, the tables laid with white linen, silver knives and forks and on each a blue, shaded lamp. During those days she wasted no time in getting to know her fellow travellers. The women on board had given her the cold shoulder, refused to associate with her, whispered that they knew her 'type', as they gossiped to one other. Her most ardent companion had been the Right Honourable Percy Swan. She liked him. He was no more than thirty, handsome and wore his family's wealth lightly. He knew her destination, he said, spoke well of it, but had not been there of late, not since he and his family had berthed there some years earlier. Of the callers who were going to visit, Percy, would receive her best attentions.
Though she knew little about Smyrna, what she had learned made her smile. It might just be her kind of town, Paris-sur-Mer. For a start it attracted an abundance of thrusting young men who were drawn to the city from all over, hoping to build up a chubby bank account for themselves. Of course, there would also be the men who spent their time drinking and gambling, talking a lot and laughing loudly. Men who were always around but did never seemed to do anything. 'Lurkers', she called them. She could spot them a mile off. Flitting from one hotel lobby to another, they seemed to possess only one set of clothes. Their business was invariably 'import/export' though if you had pressed them for a little more detail they would have glanced around the room, lowered their voice and muttered "Pas devant les autres, s'il vous plait." Though she recognised herself in that demi-monde, she was different. She knew what she wanted, and now, she had the capital to fund her ambitions. She pulled her collar up, draw the attaché case closer and looked out the window.
Au revoir, Paris, hello Smyrna.
Alan Jones was an archaeologist. He had spent many months digging in the Valley of the Kings but after some initial success he had hit a dry patch. Whilst those around him, Randall and Fitzbingham and Rees-Thomas, had found new tombs and relics, his plots had yielded nothing. Schliemann, who had been excavating Troy, was now an international personage, giving lecture tours all over the world, charging 200 dollars per night. He had heard, through the grapevine, that in Ephesus, Otto Benndorf had uncovered some spectacular finds and that they were just the tip of the iceberg. Nadia would be heartbroken, of course, but he did not owe her anything, he'd never promised her a thing. No, he was moving on.
So long, Egypt. Ephesus, here I come.
It was Ugur’s first day here in Smyrna. He felt completely at sea, well, the opposite, sort of, more like a fish out of water. He’d been a uniformed policeman for four years but this was his first day as a detectif. In the past he had thought of his uniform as a burden, a necessary evil, but now he felt the lack. He felt naked and vulnerable standing behind the front desk at the Konak District Police Office. His first job had been to get a holding form from the Duty Sergeant. “No problem,” the sergeant had said, a kindly-looking old gentleman, if a bit brusque. “No problem at all, sonny, just ‘hold on’ a moment and I’ll get it for you.” While he waited he examined the notices pinned on the wall. They involved rosters for night shifts and routine patrols and notification of the arrangements for St Polycarp’s Day, the patron saint. Next to it, hung a large map of the city. He had always liked maps. He read them the way people read books. He could look at the lines of elevation and the symbols; town halls, libraries, mosques, synagogues, orthodox churches, with and without domes and easily picture the scene. He thought of his own village, many days travel to the East. It did not possess this wonderful location on a wide bay facing a setting sun. It did not possess green hills and a coastline that disappeared off into the imagination. Nor did it have this clarity of light that seemed to illuminate his mind and made him think he could see clear into the future.
Hello, Smyrna. I’m here.
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