Edmondo de Amicis

 

In these last few weeks I have been reading a lot about İstanbul. All those readings are helping me to realise once more that this city has always fascinated people of all kinds from all over the globe. Intellectuals, artists, reporters, adventurers… They all came to her, seeking either fortune or fame…Or both…

Now I want to put an emphasis on Edmondo de Amicis. Born in 1846, the Italian, after his studies in Military academy of Modena, became an army officer in the new Kingdom of Italy. He fought in several battles and wrote these experiences in his Military Life in 1868. But I knew him not for his poems, short stories or articles published in different newspapers but thanks to his Heart, a children book published in 1886, translated into, I don’t know how many languages. It was one of my favourite books when I was little. It was like reading the diary of a schoolboy in Northern Italy. I still remember that there were parts where I couldn’t hold my tears.

Anyway, the next time Edmondo de Amicis came into my life was when I found his book Costantinopoli, in Italian, in one of the second hand bookstores in Milan. That was a good hunt! But still, that day I was not fully aware that this book was really something special…

Edmondo de Amicis, in his Istanbul, pictures a great city with a wonderful, peaceful and soulful rhythm. He, in contrast with great part of orientalists of his time, genuinely makes an effort to understand different life styles co-existing in the narrow lanes of the old city. Does not simply make a statement like: East is East, West is West!

He suggests his fellow travellers to get lost in those misty labyrinths around Golden Horn, walk around neighbourhoods filled with colourful wooden houses, climb up the hills with wonderful views and slowly leave these western kind of prejudices about enigmatic eastern world. He courageously says that there is a big difference between ‘’attaining knowledge’’ through books, photographs, articles, conferences or post-dinner informal talks over a cigar and ‘’getting there’’ and ‘’experiencing it directly’’ by walking, smelling, eating, drinking and talking with the locals. He does not try to hide the dark sides of Istanbul, he even uses stinging words while describing things he sees around, like dirty streets filled with dogs or chaotic market places. He talks about history describing Turks as barbaric nomads with no manners but at the end always comes to the point where Istanbul fascinates him despite all.

So this is one of the reasons why Edmondo de Amicis’ Istanbul, is different, is bold and still is one of the best loved travel books of all times. Translated into many languages like French, English and German, was first simplified by Reşad Ekrem Koçu, legendary Istanbul personality and later fully translated by Beynun Akyavaş, another Istanbul lover and Turkish language master.

Recommended reading in the company of a cup of good, strong Turkish tea, without prejudices…

Share