THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: THE SEARCH FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE DEAD-ENDS IN ROSWELL, NEW MEXICO by David Latta

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It’s where it all began. UFOs, little green men, Mulder, Scully, the whole shebang. Most likely, it was also the beginning of conspiracy theories, the wide-spread public belief in government cover-ups and the modern day malaise of never believing anything we’re told, especially by authority figures. Roswell, New Mexico, has a lot to answer for.

It was part of a rambling road trip through the south-western United States; that morning, I’d left Las Vegas (the quaint and historic New Mexico town rather than its better-known neon-and-nihilism namesake) and had stopped off in Fort Sumner to visit the grave of Billy The Kid (which, despite all the odds, was actually there that day). The next stage of the trip was on to Roswell before heading to El Paso, Texas, to spend Thanksgiving.

It was late November and the expansive canopy sky was clear and blue yet with little warmth from the sun. The nights were freezing. On the northern edge of Roswell, I passed by the site where the “reputed” crash of a UFO and the recovery of the bodies of its alien inhabitants by the US military had occurred back in 1947. The black helicopters that seemed to track my progress were mere co-incidences at this time, as well the bulky dark SUVs that occasionally appeared in my rear vision mirror.

I reached the city limits of Roswell and that’s when things really started getting weird. If there had never been an “alleged” UFO crash, there would be no tourism industry to speak of and no other reason to visit this mildly pleasant but barely rememberable spot on the map. Roswell, to its credit, has taken the ball and run with it. Far out of the stadium, showing no signs of ever wanting to stop.

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UFOs and aliens are everywhere, not merely inside the damaged craniums of the tinfoil-hat brigade. The Walmart has plenty, the many fast food franchises, including Arby’s, Denny’s KFC and Chilli’s have even more. The galaxies of gift shops hold nebula of T-shirts, shot glasses, ashtrays, beer coasters and snow globes. Everything you need to fit out an intergalactic space-age bachelor pad or the rumpus room of the Millennium Falcon.

The official City of Roswell website buzzes with spaceships and alien life forms, only a few of which are elected officials. Each July, there’s a UFO Festival that includes an Alien Battle Of The Bands and an Alien Wine Festival, although it should be noted that consuming alcohol while travelling at warp speed is not recommended. Long-suppressed reports of the 1947 UFO crash state that numerous empty beer bottles along with Doritos packets were found in the spaceship.

Ground zero for tourists to Roswell is the International UFO Museum and Research Center on Main Street. Dioramas and displays carefully explain the area’s history and little green men abound. Comfortingly, many look exactly as we would expect, cute creatures with big heads and certainly not the type to burst through the chests of unsuspecting humans or inhabit the bodies of loved ones when your back is turned.

In the gift store, I uncovered another disturbing link between Roswell and world history, a slim volume written by Donald R. Burleson titled UFOs and the Murder of Marilyn Monroe (Black Mesa Press, 2003). Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I made the purchase in cash, in small unmarked bills, and smuggled it back to the Hampton Inn and Suites.

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On check-in, I’d asked the receptionist whether she’d seen anything other-worldly lately. It seemed to strike a nerve. She looked evasive, as if she knew everything she said was being recorded and beamed straight back to Area 51. Then she nodded and grimaced wearily. “Just my ex-boyfriend,” she muttered in a low voice.

I read Burleson’s book from cover to cover that night. His central theory was that John F. Kennedy had told Marilyn Monroe all about Roswell, crashed UFOs, alien autopsies and the subsequent political cover-up. She was murdered days before holding a press conference during which she intended telling the world of her discoveries.

Interestingly, Burleson had also published studies of H.P. Lovecraft which opens the possibility that Marilyn Monroe was killed not by the Mafia or the CIA but by Cthulhu itself.

I fell into a deep and undisturbed sleep while a harsh wind whipped the grassy plains outside. In the morning, I had no recollection of the previous few hours. I knew I had to get out of town. There was barely enough time for the free breakfast buffet although it was fair to say the blueberry muffins were out of this world.

The black helicopters followed me all the way to the city limits, then turned west. The spy satellites, I’m sure, are tracking me still.

©2016 David Latta. May not be copied or republished in any form without permission.

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OLD SOUTH WALES by Glenn A. Baker

Counties

You don’t need to go looking for Dylan Thomas in south-west Wales, he finds you – through exhibitions, museums, festivals, statues, cafes, pubs, street names, paintings, posters and snatches of words still hanging in the salty air.

Good Celts them all, the Welsh share the Irish bent for tale-telling and, around Swansea, so many of the best ones concern the man Hollywood legend Shelley Winters dubbed “The Horny Welshman”. In 1950, she took him home for dinner where he drank pitchers of gin martinis served up in milk bottles by flatmate Marilyn Monroe while singing Welsh songs; the sort of ditties he’d learned at The Mermaid and The Antelope, his Swansea pubs of choice when “this sea town was my world”.

I came late to the Welsh bard. Before Under Milkwood and Do Not Go Gentle, at least for me, it was Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He’s there on the front cover of the 1967 Beatles album, in Peter Blake’s esoteric collage above Marlon Brando, beside Aldous Huxley, nearly clipped by cowboy Tom Mix’ hat. Blake has confirmed that John Lennon – who is said to have sometimes carried a battered volume of Thomas on his person during his Hamburg and Liverpool leather years – was insistent on the inclusion.

As I leave Swansea and wind around its bay to Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula, on the pilgrimage trail to the boathouse and writing shack at Loughnarne, there’s a copy of his Selected Poems on the car seat beside me. The back cover blurb is the right length for a traffic light stop. “Most notable for his verbal inventiveness, image-making power and almost pagan metaphysics, Dylan Thomas celebrated the glorious particulars of inner and outer landscapes in the face of weakness, mortality and decay.” Not hard to see why Lennon liked him.

Old South Wales - Swansea city centre 1 (GAB)
Swansea

I’m prepared to accept, though with not much graciousness, that not everyone who now trails this terrain has him as their filter. Mumbles, the busy seaside town beneath Mumbles Head, a popular resort since the Victorian era, which he summed up as “a rather nice village despite its name”, has a new fame. For this is where Catherine Zeta-Jones grew up and she still maintains a home there for regular returns. Chef Michael Knight, of Knights In The Mumbles restaurant in the town, makes himself available to cook privately for the actress and her family at said home. It’s a fascination, certainly, but will it last seventy years?

Mumbles is linked by a promenade to Swansea, Thomas’ “ugly lovely town”. It is to Cardiff as Glasgow is to Edinburgh – earthier, artsier, less accustomed to praise and patronage, ever obliged to try harder. It has tried particularly hard and, with considerable success, to showcase it – and Wales’ – pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution. A new National Waterfront Museum, built of Welsh slate, steel and glass and featuring 15 themed galleries and a hundred visual exhibits (three dozen of them interactive) graphically tells of a time, around 1850, when two-thirds of the families of Wales were supported by activities other than agriculture and copper smelting’n’shipping was Swansea’s distinction.

It’s a watery environment, to be sure, with masts in many lines of sight. It seems that there’s a Yacht Harbour Association and apparently they bestow an annual award upon marinas (five gold anchors no less). In 2005 Swansea’s took it out along with Singapore’s Raffles Marina and Australia’s Nelson Bay Marina. The brine also seeps indoors and in the vast Swansea Market teems local delicacies Penclawdd cockles and black laverbread, (made from edible seaweed).

Before leaving Thomas’ “blowsy town” to head “some miles [to] a very beautiful peninsula”, for which Mumbles is effectively a doorway, I’d been made aware of a certain status. Back in 1956, before such things had become commonplace, the Gower Peninsula was the first location in the U.K. to be officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There’s been no small effort to keep it that way since.

Old South Wales - A beached marina at Tenby (Wales) by GAB
Tenby

Scattered across Gower are things that remind you that this is one of the world’s oldest countries. Along with Tudor manor houses, medieval fortresses and famed fly fishing sites are ancient standing stones, burial chambers, Iron Age hill forts, tools and flints. Truthfully, more than I expected. If you’ve not been before there’s a temptation to believe, as you pay your fiver and sweep across the high bridge over the River Seven, that you’re just popping in on a few counties of England Lite. I’d heard it described, or perhaps denigrated, as England’s unloved backyard – so close that it could not be given its independence but far enough to be conveniently forgotten.

The great reward of Wales is not only that it is so very Welsh – as distinctive as Ireland and Scotland – but that there is so very much of it, a torrent of villages, towns, motorways, roadways and laneways, coastline and mountain, and everywhere the handprint of human history. Somebody has gone to the trouble of counting its castles and it seems there are 641 of them – one of the world’s highest concentrations of ancient fortifications, with the oldest erected more than a thousand years ago.

Off and out of Gower (preferably after a Rhossili Bay sunset) heading west, it’s a motorway sprint and an inland spike to twist around the Towy River estuary to make it down to Laugharne on sweeping Carmarthen Bay, there to conclude the Thomas trail. Not just peering into the clutter of the work shack and then walking about the cramped boathouse residence some way beneath it but dropping into the photo-festooned Brown’s Hotel where he is said to have drawn inspiration for his characters. A starkly different sort of verse would be inspired by those who frequent the place now – more punters than poets.

Laugharne sends you to the seaward side of the A40, unquestionably the place to stay, notwithstanding that Carmarthen town, on the other side, is the legendary birthplace of Merlin The Magician and that the landscape is dotted by sites sacred to those who hold to be true the tales of Arthur and his knights – those who like to think they’re connected to the convergence of the power lines of the mind.

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Clinging to the coast is slower but infinitely more rewarding for the western side of the bay is the start of the ragged, jagged, tossed and towering Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the only coastline in Britain so designated. With 70 named bays and beaches – one of which, Whitesands, recently ranked with St. Tropez and Copacabana for a Best 20 Beaches of the World award – it is a more dramatic and less-developed Cornwall.

Pembrokeshire will never be damned by faint praise. The recognition is constant, plaques are plentiful – coveted Seaside, Green Coast European Blue Flag Awards, citations from the Sunday Times and The Independent. There were 14 in 2005 alone, all acknowledging the charm of pastel-coloured Victorian terrace houses, walled towns, castles, inlets, havens, heads, off-lying islands and all those beaches.

Tenby is the showpiece, endlessly photographed but still startling upon first sight. It has three beaches and, high above them, an old walled town with some of the wall still intact. There’s a ferry out of Tenby Harbour to Caldey Island, where the orders of monks who have been in residence since the 6th century make perfume, fudge, shortbread and chocolate in the moments left outside the regimen of seven worship services a day. Those still intrigued by codes Da Vinci or otherwise explore the Old Priory with a certain fervour but most are content to stroll about St. Illtyt’s Church to locate the Caldey Stone inscribed in Celtic and Latin.

At Bosherton, around the coast a way on the Castlemartin Peninsula, is the 6th century St. Govan’s Chapel that requires visitors to make their way down a set of sprayed steps to the base of a sea cliff and gives the appearance of having grown out of the rock. The descent is accompanied by the sound of migrating seas birds – auks, skuas and petrels. Puffins, gannets, manx shearwaters and guillemots nest nearby. Isolation encourages plentiful wildlife. Badgers and otters are elusive but they’re there. A couple of thousand dolphins a year visit, as well as porpoises and humpback, fin, orca and minke whales.

Old South Wales - Hay-On-Wye bookshop window (GAB)
Hay-On-Wye

Between Tenby and Pembroke is, on different roads, Manorbier Castle – actually a medieval manor house on a hilltop above plunging cliffs – and Carew Castle with its famed Celtic Cross and the only restored Tidal Mill in Wales. Pembroke itself is a walled town near a century old with one of Britain’s finest Norman Castles. Henry VII, founder of the Tudor Dynasty, first drew breath there. The surrounding area is a gourmet’s preferred destination. The great foodhalls of London eagerly stock the region’s crabs, lobsters, cheeses, herbs, organic lamb and vegetables along with wines of the Cwm Deri vineyard.

It all gets a bit rugged and weatherbeaten beyond Pembroke Dock on the final leg through to the westernmost point of the park and of Wales. Solva is a village of great seafaring tradition that floods at high tide; the lower half nestling in a ravine at the head of a natural harbour. Then it’s just a little further along the shore of St. Bride’s bay to the city celebrating the patron saint of Wales, indeed the only Welsh saint to be canonized and culted in the Western Church.

While all around you is a town or village, St David’s is a city, though you’d be hard pressed to understand why if not armed with the information that it had been granted such status by Queen Elizabeth in 1995 because of the presence within its precincts of a magnificent cathedral that has been a dominant presence since the 12th century and a pilgrimage destination throughout the Middle Ages.

Unless you’ve a mind or the means to look in on the breeding colony of Atlantic grey seals on Ramsey Island or you’re driving a little north to Fishguard to take the ferry to Ireland (less than two hours) it’s a matter of turning around and heading off north to Snowdownia or east over the first rises of the Cambridge Mountains, past the spectacularly-sited and powerfully atmospheric Carreg Cennen Castle, into the Brecon Brecons National Park.

Now a determined dash will certainly take you from there to the addictive Hay-On-Wye near the English border – a village of some thirty bookshops. But there is a very well-stocked used book shop incorporated into the impressive Dylan Thomas Centre back in Swansea, and if you’d not spent enough time there first time around …..

©2014 Glenn A. Baker. May not be copied or republished in any form without permission.

THE LAST OF THE WHITE RAJAHS by John Borthwick

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The tall, fair Englishman might have been ruler of an Asian kingdom the size of England, but he was right out of his depth in a London restaurant. When Sir Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak returned to England in 1869 to marry, he took his bride to a restaurant for an extremely modest post-nuptial celebration.

A waiter enquired whether the Rajah would like a full meal, but the parsimonious Brooke was aghast, retorting, “Oh, no. Too expensive. Grilled legs of pheasant, bread and butter, tea and half a bottle of sherry will do.”

Margaret Brooke, the brand new Ranee of Sarawak, ate only the bread and butter, and later wrote in her diary that it was, “A nasty, sloppy sort of meal … all very dull and queer.”

The three Rajah Brookes – famed as the “White Rajahs of Borneo” – ruled Sarawak from 1841 to 1946 and were the only resident European dynasty to ever rule in Asia. July 15, 2016 will mark the 70th anniversary of the cession of their private fiefdom to Britain. (In 1963 the territory, as part of British North Borneo, was absorbed into the Federation of Malaysia as the state of Sarawak.)

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Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah, was an adventurer with a private income, an armed yacht and – possibly – not quite all of his vital parts. As a young lieutenant fighting for the British East India Company in Assam in 1824, he had plunged into battle on his charger, roaring, “By God, this is what I was born for!” – only to be almost killed by the next bullet. With his “manhood” allegedly damaged, James Brooke retired for a long recuperation.

In 1839, at age 36, he travelled to the East again, arriving in his armed yacht off the coast of Sarawak just as a local Malay prince from the Sultanate of Brunei was entangled in a civil war against native tribes. Brooke, with equal measures of guts and gunpowder, led the prince’s side to victory. In return, in 1842, the Sultan of Brunei had to reward him with the province of Sarawak. Establishing his capital at Kuching, Rajah Brooke began to clear his coastal rivers of the Malay rulers who practiced piracy and slavery and were supported by tribes of “Sea Dyak” headhunters.

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During his 27-year rule, Sir James expanded his territory by 15 times that of the original grant. In 1868, Brooke (who had no heir) bequeathed Sarawak to his nephew, Charles. The second Rajah ruled for almost 50 years and expanded the territory until it reached the size of modern Sarawak, some 125,000 square kilometres. He came within a whisker in the 1880s of also absorbing the Sultanate of Brunei. Charles died in 1917 and was succeeded by the third and last White Rajah, his son, Charles Vyner Brooke. Vyner lacked the panache of the first Rajah and the absolute devotion to his country of the second, although he seems to have been well enough loved by his “subjects”.

If the first Rajah was a man of action (Errol Flynn wanted to portray his derring-do life on screen), the second was an eccentric whose austerities were legendary. Sir Charles Brooke never sat in an armchair and scolded those members of his staff who did; he personally ordered even the typewriter ribbons for the small band of European officers who administered his jungle domain. If this extreme parsimony was a fault, it was tempered by his apparent overriding dedication to Sarawak and its people.

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Sir Charles, once described as, “hopelessly and pitifully British, chilly, aloof and totally unable to express himself,” proposed to the future Ranee Margaret in as strange a manner as he conducted their later wedding “feast”. Supposedly in love with her mother – who wasn’t available for marriage – and also in a hurry to get back to his country with a bride, any bride, he settled for Margaret. He hurriedly dropped into her lap a proposal whose verse was so tortured that it’s a wonder she didn’t reply with her own double negative.

With humble demean
If the King were to pray
That you’d be his Queen,
Would you not say, Nay?

Charles Brooke lost an eye in a fox-hunting accident in 1912. One day when walking in London, his son Vyner said, “Father, don’t you think it’s time you got yourself a glass eye?” The old Rajah decided to do it at once. As they passed a taxidermist’s shop he stalked in and bought the first eye he saw – one destined for a stuffed albatross. His daughter-in-law recalled that the eye, “gave him for ever afterwards the ferocious stare of some strange solitary marine bird.”

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The last Rajah, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke was a shy, awkward and nervous man. His farcical efforts at a marriage proposal outdid even his own father’s. He visited England, intending to propose to one Miss Doll Brett. Having rehearsed the proposal scene in his mind, he entered the room where Doll awaited him. Finding her not sitting in a chair – as he had envisaged – but instead standing at a bookshelf, Vyner was so overcome by confusion that he fled. He returned years later, only to ask her sister, Sylvia, to become Ranee.

George Bernard Shaw had been a great admirer of Sylvia Brett. On hearing of her marriage he wrote to her:

Ride a cock horse to Sarawak Cross
To see a young Ranee consumed with remorse.
She’ll have bells on her fingers
And rings through her nose
And won’t be permitted to wear any clothes.

Sylvia and Vyner were the best of friends, but probably the least of lovers. In her autobiography, Sylvia said that the Rajah “made love just as he played golf – in a nervous unimaginative flurry”. Neverthless, Vyner had a taste for mistresses, one of whom lived in a small house not far from his palace. There was a well-worn track between the two. When the Japanese captured Kuching, they found a number of his love letters to her, which were so “warm” that they framed and hung them on the walls of the Astana.

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Headhunting was practiced by certain Sarawak tribes for a compelling reason. It established a young tribal man’s credentials in proposing marriage. One Dayak’s calling card was another man’s skull. No head, no wed. The practice was outlawed by all Brooke administrations, but the interdiction was conveniently revoked during the Japanese occupation of 1942 to 1945.

The Dyaks would send their prettiest girls to the river to bathe. A Japanese would creep up to consider their delights. Thwap! a poisoned dart from a blow pipe; then – slash! – the machete, and another head was destined for the rattan bag of skulls which, to this day, hangs from rafters in many longhouses throughout the country. One house still boasts the head of a Japanese Director of Education, whose gold spectacles are lovingly polished each day.

Sarawak skulls

In most circumstances, the Brooke administration observed Sarawakian customary laws – Dyak, Chinese or Malay – as interpreted by a local elder who sat on the bench with the English District Officer. The rules of court for longhouses were very simple: “Not more than three persons shall speak at any one time, and no drinks to be served until after a decision has been made.”

Sarawak was the last places on earth where “trial by ordeal” continued. If a District Officer and his advisors were utterly unable to reach a decision, usually in disputes about land or heirlooms, each party would pick its champion and the whole court adjourned down to the river. The two men dived in, and the one who could stay under water longest was the winner. No one dreamed of questioning such a verdict.

It would be easy to dismiss the White Rajahs as paternalistic at best or, at worst, as Ruritanian pretenders as scripted by Cleese out of Kipling. In fact, the Brookes were trenchantly opposed to the exploitation of Sarawak. Almost no foreign entrepreneurs were admitted because of the Brookes’ apprehension (perhaps self-serving) that, in the extraction of timber, rubber or minerals, they would harm the country or corrupt its half a million people.

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2006.

If the Rajahs’ laissez-faire attitude to their people resulted in little industrial development or “progress”, it also generated (after the initial conquest phase) even less cultural upheaval. The Brookes would collectively turn in their graves to see how the state’s rainforests and Penan natives have been literally bulldozed by Malaysian politicians and loggers, and foreign consumers.

It is now almost seven decades since the last White Rajah Brooke ruled. Vyner Brooke sat out much of the Japanese occupation of his country in Australia; his return after the war lasted only as long as it took him to cede Sarawak to Britain – and he did so against strenuous local opposition to the change.

The cession of Sarawak to Britain was the last Rajah’s response to returning to a war-shattered economy. Believing he could not finance his country’s recuperation, and opposed its trampling by entrepreneurs, he handed the problem to England. He did so clumsily and, among many Sarawakians, the cession was bitterly resented.

The Brooke reign ended at the right time, before its relatively benign paternalism became a resented anachronism. It is regarded as one of the least traumatising European regimes in Asia and as having established the stamp of peace and cultural tolerance that remains one of the hallmarks of modern Sarawak. Yet the sesquicentenary of the founding of the Brooke rule (in 1841) passed almost unheralded in 1991, as did the 50th anniversary of the ending of their rule, in 1996. Hardly surprising in a Malaysia that was then ruled by almost Anglophobic Mr Mahathir.

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In 1946, prior to the departure of the 72-year-old White Rajah, several Sarawakian Malays and Dyaks asked Ranee Sylvia whether their new ruler, the King of England, would come to live in Kuching? The question was telling of how the later Brookes had conducted government.

Any person who had a grievance could go to Kuching, cross the river to the Istana palace and speak their mind to the White Rajah. In some cases this might cost up to six dollars in travel from up-country. Thus, if the King of England would not reside in Kuching, the people wished to know if they could still go – for about six dollars – to wherever he lived and tell him their problems?

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©John Borthwick

ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI: MUSIC TO AN ART NOUVEAU LOVER’S SOUL by David Latta

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The Bright Young Things out there may be surprised to learn that architecture in Helsinki is not just the name of a fashionable Australian indie pop band and whose songs, as much as I’ve been able to ascertain, have little to do with the work of Alvar Aalto or Eero Saarinen. Architecture in Helsinki (not the band) is quite a delight, none more so than in its extensive catalogue of Art Nouveau classics.

Helsinki’s creative prominence was recognized in 2012 when it was designated a World Design Capital, an event that generated considerably greater acclaim than the previous year’s Seoul.

National Museum of Finland
National Museum of Finland

Art Nouveau straddled the closing years of the 19th and into the first decade of the 20th centuries and achieved an artistic glorification throughout much of the world including Britain (where the Arts & Crafts Movement began in the 1880s), Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. In many countries, it was not just a design philosophy encompassing architecture, interior design and decorative arts but shaded by political agendas.

This was certainly the case in Finland where Art Nouveau, known locally as jugend, underpinned the struggle for independence from Russia (which finally occurred in 1917) and produced a stolid, nationalistic tone often tied to the Kalevala, an epic poem first published in 1835 and credited with developing the country’s national identity.

Helsinki Central Railway Station
Helsinki Central Railway Station

The main figures of Art Nouveau in Finland included Eliel Saarinen, Hermann Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, Lars Sonck and Ernst Jung. The Helsinki Central railway station, designed by Saarinen, and which opened in 1919, is an outstanding example of the Art Nouveau style.

Another is the National Museum of Finland, designed by Saarinen, Gesellius and Lindgren, which opened in 1916. Wander the streets of central Helsinki and there are many more outstanding examples to be found in commercial buildings and apartment blocks.

Helsinki Central Railway Station
Helsinki Central Railway Station

In Helsinki’s many museums, Art Nouveau is also well represented. Recommended is the Ateneum Art Museum, Finland’s national gallery, showcasing a collection from the 1750s to the 1950s, and the Designmuseo or Design Museum, founded in 1873, with a collection that encompasses more than 75,000 objects, 40,000 drawings and 100,000 images.

Any visitor to Finland will find its museums and art galleries compelling although most are inclined towards the studious; an exception is the Outboard Museum in Porvoo, about 50 kilometres outside Helsinki. This attracts boating enthusiasts from around the world and includes a fascinating recreation of a 1950s-era outboard engine repair shop.

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©2014 David Latta. May not be copied or republished in any form without permission.

KARAKORAM HIGHWAY: THE HIGH ROAD TO CHINA by John Borthwick

JB looks back at a classic road journey, a drive on the wild side, albeit one done in more peaceful days, early 2001.

Karakoram Highwy, China

“Ava Gardner, the renowned showbiz of Holly Wood stayed in this suite in the year 1955 during the shooting of Bhawany Junction,” declares a tarnished brass plaque at the old Faletta’s Hotel, Lahore. I can only hope that Ava’s suite was a cut above the exhausted quarters I occupy.

Then again, who cares? A brief night in this crumbling, colonnaded ghost of Empire is a fitting start for a Karakoram Highway journey, from Pakistan north to China, that’s all about seeing time – cultural, geological and who-knows – in dramatic rewind.

The Karakoram Range is a seven-thousand-metre speed hump, Nature’s way of slowing everything that would move north from the Indian subcontinent towards Central Asia, including the subcontinent itself. Fifty million years in the making, these massive earthworks aren’t so much the hand as the fist of the gods.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007Copyright John Borthwick

For millions of years, the only force to penetrate this white-knuckled seismic knot was water – rivers like the Indus, Hunza and Gilgit. In much more recent times, pilgrims, Silk Route traders and imperial invaders followed these watercourses through the mountains, travelling on paths that clung like spiderwebs to the valley walls.

Our minibus weaves along the new route that hangs somewhere below the remnants of the earlier filament trails and above the snow-fed torrents. The modern road that will carry us 1300 km from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, to Kashgar, China, is the Karakoram Highway — the “KKH” — lauded by one promotional poster I see as “The most brilliant achievement of mankind of the 20th century”.

The nine of us in the minibus are out to test the proposition. More than guiding us is Asghar Khan, an avuncular Hunzakut, whose capacity to arrange for small mountains to be moved (if necessary by bulldozer), palms to be greased and dinner to arrive on time makes the Karakoram, for us at least, a pushover.

We leave behind the bazaar shenanigans of Peshawar – wandering ear-cleaners and Internet shops (surely this close to the Khyber Pass there’s one called the Cyber Pass?), naked weapons and veiled females – and head into the North West Frontier Province. The mountains rise before us like dragon’s teeth. Trundling down them are trucks, gaudy land galleons bedecked with fringes, wild paintwork and rampant over-cab prows – big show-off rigs that announce themselves with a belching of diesel and hashish fumes and the blast of tremolo air-horns.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007 Copyright John Borthwick

We roll past apricot orchards and Pepsi signs, heading into the North West Frontier Province through the Swat Valley, a former feudal kingdom that acknowledged it was part of Pakistan only 40 years ago.

Revenge and hospitality are among the sustaining tribal traditions here, along with the sequestration of women. It’s odd to see a street where the ratio of males to females is around 300-to-1. Still, serial religions (and their persuading armies) have flowed through here for five thousand years: Aryans, Darius of Persia, Alexander, the Emperor Ashoka, Buddhists, Bactrian Greeks, St Thomas the Apostle, Mongols and Islam have been among the passing parade.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007 Copyright John Borthwick

And now us – a group of mostly “over-50s” travellers. There’s Gloria, an incessant tripper who broke an arm in Nepal and set fire to her hotel room in Cuzco, and now cheerily awaits new disasters. Monty, a retired IT man has been to “Koola Lumper” and “Kuz-koo”, too, although the only significant events to have occurred anywhere he’s visited seem to have been his own shopping forays. Astrid, a farmer and self-confessed “carpetoholic” asks us to restrain her should she be seen lingering near any carpet stall.

The landscape goes vertical. Sawtooth wedges of air and mountain interlock. Below us, romping rivers squeeze between the folds of the earth. There are deodar forests and donkey carts, smoke-cured villages, ancient petroglyphs and unctuous souvenir vendors. A ripple of excitement runs through the bus at Besham with our first sight of the washtub torrent of the mighty Indus River. The colour of wet cement, it churns its way south, slowly returning those gate-crashing mountains to the Indian Ocean. We would celebrate with a beer, but this is teetotalling Pakistan, so we settle for tea, rice and chicken, and more tea.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007 Copyright John Borthwick

“By your age, your brains have already shrunk so much that fluid pressure – cerebral oedema – isn’t a significant risk,” declares our group leader, Ian Williams, as he briefs us on possible altitude sickness. With what remains of my shrunken brain, I deduce that the risks are minimal, as the highest altitude we will sleep at is 3,200 metres, in the Chinese town of Tashkurgan.

The mountains now rear before us like terrestrial tsunamis – snow-peaked surf in five-thousand metre sets. The treeless, eroded faces slide from sky to river, their scree fans cut at the base by roaring torrents. We pile out of the bus to view an earth-sky-water vortex of literally Himalayan proportions: the point where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayan ranges converge, where two continents – Asia and the Indian plate – collide and where the Gilgit and Indus rivers are thrown together in wild confluence. Not a place to linger should the mountain ogre decide to crack his tectonic knuckles.

The giant peaks of Nanga Parbat (8,125 metres) and Rakaposhi (7,790 metres) glow in crystal serration against the sky as the KKH climbs towards China. Other than local traffic, there are few tourist or international trade vehicles on this tortuous road, which was built by China and Pakistan between 1958 and 1978 (the unofficial death toll is reckoned at around one worker per kilometre). The Pakistan section runs through the most difficult terrain, constantly affected by glaciers, washouts and landslips – after all, Karakoram is a Turkic term for “crumbling rock.” Crews of Pakistan Army engineers and fearless bulldozer drivers are permanently deployed to keep the route open.

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We follow the river north to Asghar’s homeland, the legendary principality of Hunza, whose people were once said to live for over a century, sustained by fresh, 2,400-metre air, blissful bowels and, presumably, Hunza Pie. In fact, they’ve never heard of Hunza Pie in Hunza. Nowhere among the bazaars and tea shops of high Karimabad can I find the succulent wedge of cheese, spinach and wholemeal pastry that epitomised 1970s “hippie vego” cuisine and which came, one hopes, with a of side-serve of Himalayan wisdom.

The 10,000 people of Karimabad, the main town of Hunza, inhabit one of the most picturesque vales of the Himalaya–Karakoram chain. The fields of maize are shaded by orchards weighted with stone fruits. Tourism provides a modest cash flow and, as followers of the liberal Ismaili sect of Islam, Hunza girls (unlike many others in Pakistan) receive equal education with boys, and women are not obliged to veil their faces.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007Copyright John Borthwick

Life looks so benign here that, along with the immortality-through-Hunza-Pie sect, “Shangri-la-ists”, too, fixated upon Hunza, proclaiming it to be the prototype happy valley of James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Far Horizons. That sunny vales from Bhutan to Mustang to Zhongdian, China all claim the same mythic mantle makes little difference to any of their boosters.

Ian, our guide is far more pragmatic, marvelling, “Where else could you simply drive in — rather than walk for a fortnight — and find yourself surrounded by six-thousand metre snow peaks?”

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007 Copyright John Borthwick

“Noisy with kingdoms” was Marco Polo’s take on this region in 1273. Even then, Baltit Fort towered over the town of Baltistan (now known as Karimabad). Seven centuries later, the 62-room palace-cum-fortress, once occupied by the Mir (king) of Hunza, still stands, framed by gothic pinnacles of stone and snow.

I am invited to dinner in the same palace room – now beautifully restored – in which Captain Francis Younghusband confronted the Mir in 1889, demanding that he cease raiding the caravans that passed on their way from Central Asia to British India. The Mir protested to the effect of, “Raiding is our only income – but, if your Queen Victoria is unhappy, I can cut her in on the action.” Preposterous. As Great Game warriors were wont to, Younghusband politely withdrew, then sent in the British Army to better explain the imperial point of view.

The KKH’s highest point, the 4,733-metre Khunjerab Pass in China, is closed by winter snows from November to May. We approach the Pakistan border town of Sust one week after the scheduled reopening of the pass, only to find that due to late snows there’s still a queue of trucks, Haj pilgrims’ buses and a score of French tourists. Asghar warns us that the latter may have priority over us and, since all foreigners must transfer to Pakistani government vehicles for the journey between Sust and Tashkorgan in China, we may have to wait several days.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007 Copyright John Borthwick

We wake next morning to learn that the pass is open and, thanks to methods best not queried closely, Asghar and Ian have secured several Land Cruisers for our immediate departure. Having leap-frogged, as it were, the French, we set sail for the Khunjerab Pass. The journey is a mixture of transcendent beauty – the sky above the high plains of snow burns like sapphire – and low farce. A Pakistani driver eager to be first over the icy pass slides his bus sideways into one of our vehicles, almost toppling us off the mountain.

Entering Xinjiang and China, we immediately spot unfamiliar creatures – shaggy Bactrian camels, even shaggier yaks and marmots, and women. There’s a nippy, overnight stop in Tashkorgan, followed by the 300 kilometre, seven-hour run to Kashgar. China’s KKH now widens into a military-capacity highway, an endless ribbon unrolling across a high desert plateau of pastel dunes and witch’s-cap peaks. In other places, the road seems merely borrowed from the banks of the roiling Ghez River, the cliffs that teeter above it being constrained only by the begrudging acknowledgment of gravity.

Katoomba, Blue Mouintains. NSW. 2007 Copyright John Borthwick

The main event for visitors to the so-called Uigur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang is the fabled Sunday market at Kashgar. As promised, Asghar gets us to Kashgar right on time. “Like Genghis Khan come to Chinatown,” is how a friend once described this former Silk Route caravanserai on market day. We step straight back into old East Turkestan, into Marco Polo and Tamerlane time. The faces and dress are Uigur, Kazahk, Tajik and Tartar. In terms of “race,” Han China plays a very second fiddle here. The market erupts around us, with 15,000 people buying and selling everything from kitchen sinks and samovars to air-conditioners, camels and carpets.

Carpets! Mindful of my vow to rescue Astrid from her “carpetoholic” compulsions, I plunge into the bazaar just in time to interrupt her all-but-completed purchase of a large Bukhara rug. A string of robustly autonomous Uigur epithets follows our empty-handed retreat from the carpet-wallah’s stall. We rejoin the group, finding that Monty, instead, has become the proud owner of a carpet, a silk prayer mat the size of a large tea-towel. “I bargained the fellow way down – got it for only one thousand Aussie bucks!” he hoots. Not too much more, I’d guess, than he might have paid in Melbourne.

©John Borthwick

LISBON – FADO BY THE TAGUS by Glenn A. Baker

Lisbon - Portugal - Lisbon tramways by Glenn A. Baker

All great cities have a legend or two. Some weave their marketing motif around them. Mythical figures and tall tales are claimed and even fought over when it comes to setting one centre of civilisation apart from another.

Though Lisbon is a pivotal port of such vast, impressive documented history that it hardly needs the added sheen, it is quite prepared to toss into its tourist-teasing mix the story of how the Greek hero Ulysses founded the city on his way home from Troy.

While that can be taken with as many grains of salt as you wish, it does seem certain that the Phoenicians established a trading post on the site, there on the left bank of the Tagus River just inside the rugged Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, around 1200 BC and it is certain that the Romans came by in 205 BC and installed Julius Caesar as governor sixty years before Christ.

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It must have been a pleasing posting; it still would be. The city is bright and white, sparkling in a sun that never seems to be absent. It boasts springtime temperatures during the winter and cool summers invigorated by Atlantic breezes. The food is rich and plentiful, the architecture stirring and enveloping, the panoramas broad and breathtaking. With the intertwining of old and new realms has come another realm again, appealing as it is unique, as inexpensive as it is intriguing.

Claiming over twenty centuries of history, Lisbon has been Portugal’s formal capital since its conquest from the Moors in 1147. Some see it as the first true world city, the centre point of an empire spreading across the continents and sub-continents. All the western European nations amassed colonies but the Portuguese Empire was the first, longest-lasting and perhaps most diverse. After its flag was flown at Ceuta on the North African coast in 1415, this small nation took its language, culture and cuisine to Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, the Azores, Goa, Brazil, Macau and East Timor – where it remains to this day.

That it was recognised by even its adversaries as the City of Explorers was due to Prince Henrique the Navigator who established a navigation school at Sagres which made possible Vasco da Gama’s epic journey to India that fulfilled the Medieval dream of finding a direct trade route to the riches of the Orient, and initiated other epic adventures of discovery by Bartholomew Dias and Ferdinand Magellan (sailing for the Spanish crown). Like the bar scene in Star Wars, Lisbon was a crossroads of the universe, a magnet for wayfarers. In 1477, Christopher Columbus was in residence and, with his brother, worked as a cartographer and studied geography before taking up sea-borne commissions to the North Atlantic and Africa. It seemed the right place to do it.

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“To someone born and raised in a Mediterranean sea port, his new home must have seemed magical, alive with anticipation,” contends historian Thomas Tirado. “Sitting at the mouth of the Tagus, Lisbon’s rhythm was that of the crashing ocean at its doorstep. Thrusting into the Atlantic, facing water on two sides, Portugal had become a center for maritime activity and Lisbon was a haven for explorers, adventurers, entrepreneurs, merchants and any others who saw their fortunes tied to the trade winds and ocean currents.”

Since 1960, on the riverbank in the Avenida de Brasilia in the district of Belem where the Tagus meets the sea and the mighty ships of sail first set off to lay claim to the New World 500 years before, the Portuguese Age of Discovery has been marked by the imposing Monument to the Discoveries. It’s a good place to start your own expedition, given its proximity to the Tower of Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage site that could well be the city’s most photographed edifice. Built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress in the middle of the River Tagus, its outer walls are adorned with a stone-carved rope and openwork balconies, as well as Moorish watchtowers and shield-shaped battlements.

Draped, like Rome, around seven hills, Lisbon is a walking city. It not only gives you ready access to the restaurants, taverns and markets, to the churches and cobblestone alleyways, but ensures that you fully appreciate the mosaic pavements, tiled facades, wrought-iron balconies, tall houses and churches for which it is famed and that you take full advantage of the strategically-positioned miradouros (viewpoints) that seem to present panoramas at every turn. Of course, it helps to know where to walk and where to start – which of those seven hills.

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It could be the highest of them, the one crowned by the moated St. George’s Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), guarding the Tagus, a fortress since the 5th century that came into its own during the Moorish occupation of the 10th when it was the ancient seat of the Saracens. There you can walk esplanades, climb ramparts and filter your gaze and eventually yourself down over the spread of the medieval Alfama district, the city’s most ancient quarter where many buildings display fading coats of arms bearing testimony to the fact that what would become (and, in some cases, still is) the home of stevedores, traders and sailors was once a most aristocratic quarter. Having largely survived the massive earthquake of 1755, it is true to its original layout and adjacent to it, on the western and northern slopes, are the nearly-as-old districts of Castelo and Mouraria.

But it perhaps should be Lapa das Mouras (the Moorish Rock) in Barrio da Lapa, the exclusive western quarter of the city (a twenty minute walk from downtown) that has long been the residential district of choice for nobility, foreign diplomats and the significantly wealthy. It is said to exemplify, with its shading trees, thick gardens and grand buildings (many now embassies) the 19th century Portuguese concept of “calming luxury”.

Like Columbus, Sandro Fabris is an Italian who settled in Lisbon, a city he also found alive with anticipation and not a little magical. One of those larger-than-life characters who can analyse Umberto Eco, accurately hum the sweep of symphonies, pluck a passage from an historical biography or cite lines from a slew of cinema classics, argue the importance of Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra and tell you about his embryonic book of photographs and anecdotes of the markets of the world – all within ten minutes of meeting you – he was considered such an asset by both countries that Giorgio Napolitano, the President of Italy, conferred the Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity upon him when he last dropped by Portugal.

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As, until recently, General Manager of the opulent Lapa Palace Hotel, Fabris was the king of his own castle on Lapa das Mouras, such a sturdy guide on what must be seen and done that it is hard to believe that he was also a visitor. Fresh from preserving treasures in Venice, he enthusiastically took upon the task of maintaining the remarkable standards of a remarkable building; a lavish private house built in 1870 and transformed into a palace thirteen years later by the Counts of Valenças.

And what a palace it was. Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, one of the greatest Portuguese ceramists of the 19th century, created pieces of furniture and tiles. Columbano, the celebrated “painter of broken souls”, applied his art to the walls and ceilings. There was a ballroom, a Louis XV room (used as a ladies’ boudoir), a Noble Floor, river view towers and all manner of splendour. A family home until 1992 when the family of the Count sold it, it was turned into a hotel six years later by the family Simões de Almeida and then acquired by the Orient Express group.

The Lapa Palace has become accustomed to lavish praise, celebrated by a raft of reviewers as “Lisbon’s smartest hotel with luxuriant gardens”, “a voluptuous retreat” and “a hidden gem in Lisboa”. It hosts concerts by the Metropolitan Orchestra of Lisbon and the Ballet School of Lisbon uses its health club as a workout home, sharing the facilities with a steady stream of guests of renown, ranging from more crown heads of Europe than can be counted to Sting, Cher, U2, Catherine Deneuve, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Bryan Adams, Robin Williams, George W. Bush and a brace of Nobel Prize winners. When they were in residence, Sandro was in attendance though the most you’ll get from this discreet hotelier about the demands placed upon he and his team was, “…generally speaking the important people are not a problem, it’s their entourage which is difficult to manage.”

Lisbon - Lapa Palace, Lisbon

From Barrio da Lapa, it is a quick cab ride down to the main squares, the imposing statues, the seafront, the theatres, the tramcars tackling impossibly steep rises and the Bairro da Alto – the Upper City. An historic enclave like the Alfama, dating back to 1513, it is, as one guide book gushes, “a colourful district that resounds to the calls of vendors and fishmongers, its windows and balconies festooned with laundry and bird cages”. Reached from the lower city by the Santa Justa Elevator (sort of a mini Eiffel Tower), it really comes into its own at night when visitors come to streets lit by Victorian lamps to frequent the Fado cafes, fado being a music and dance form of lament and despair not unlike the blues that was introduced to Portugal by 19th century African slaves.

There is so much packed in to Lisbon, so much reward for investigation, that is seems almost greedy to want more. Yet foolish be the visitor who chooses not to take the brief bus or train ride to Sintra, billed as a riot of 14th century palaces and 19th century pastel-coloured whimsy architecture. The poet Lord Byron described it as a “glorious Eden … perhaps the most delightful spot in Europe” and his view was shared by UNESCO which has bestowed further World Heritage status.

The Serra de Sintra is a ten kilometre long granite outcrop thrusting upward between a vast plain to the north and the Tagus estuary to the south. This twisting mini-mountain range projects into the Atlantic Ocean as the Cabo da Roca headland – continental Europe’s westernmost point. Anciently associated with astral cults – evidence of which is seen in archeology and myriad monuments – it came to be known as Mons Lanae (Hills of the Moon) and, thanks to a micro-climate all its own, has always been draped in dense, verdant vegetation.

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Portugal’s tourism bodies seem to move into the highest of their gears when selling Sintra. Earnestly assuring that “The visitor can choose between descending into the Neolithic era at Tholos do Monge; enjoying the view of distant horizons from the walls of the Castelo dos Mouros, an 8th century Moorish defensive construction; experiencing the harsh austerity of the Franciscan monks of Convento dos Capuchos; strolling through the delightful mysteries of the Palacio da Pena, a mythically magical palace that seems more like a continuation of the actual mountain; or savouring the nooks and crannies of the Parque da Pena, a place of love and exoticism that exudes great peace and serenity”.

None of which is overstated, for a day spent negotiating the labyrinthine streets and steps and poking about the palaces and examining the art is a day exceedingly well spent.

The same can be said about a swift sweep down the coast to Cascais which, with nearby Estoril and Guincho, is a stylish summer resort zone of sea-swept seafood restaurants, flash resort hotels, nightclubs and discotheques intertwined with 15th to 18th century churches, hermitages, fortresses and a sea museum. Here are the hotels and bars, some still intact, where Nazi and Allied spies swapped secrets and did deals during World War II. The places where those desperate souls prepared to do anything to obtain travel documents in Casablanca dreamed of finding themselves. The places that contemporary author Robert Wilson weaves so wonderfully into gripping historical thriller-fiction in A Small Death In Lisbon and The Company of Strangers.

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With today’s tourism flow there is perhaps greater interest in seeking out the shop, on the way to Cascais, where the Portuguese Tart was first baked. The queues extending out onto the footpath have a strong English component, as does the southern Algarve region, the destination for more than a few charter flights out of London and land of the time share arrangement and holiday hotel. The connection between the Poms and the Portuguese is long and strong, with the Iberian inhabitants more often with them than against them during skirmishes with France and Spain over the centuries. Even while sticking to its policy of neutrality, Portugal granted Britain the right to establish a naval base on the strategically important Acores Island in 1943, to Germany’s considerable displeasure.

Before he departed for Madeira, Sandro Frabris liked to think that he’d fingered the source of solidarity. It is all about a gift of practice and culture that rather took on in a kingdom not always united. “When Catherine Braganza went to Britain to marry Charles II, she took tea with her,” he explained simply. Seems he shared that one with Sting while adding lemon.

Text and images copyright Glenn A. Baker 2014.

TURKISH CARPETS, MINT TEA AND THE POWER OF PERSUASION: HOW TO SURVIVE THE GREAT GAME IN ISTANBUL’S GRAND BAZAAR by David Latta

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If you didn’t know better, the shopkeepers of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar would present forlorn figures. Foreign tourists troop past, their gaze focused steadfastly on the far distance, eyes flicking neither left nor right, as if to engage in any way would get them kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint. Or worse, sold a carpet.

“Hello,” the shopkeepers cry out plaintively. “Hello. I am here.”

The bulk of the tourists are dressed to a stolid uniformity. Freshly-pressed khakis, checked shirts and gleaming white runners. Bum bags and badly-concealed money belts bulge from their already bulging silhouettes. In the midst of the Grand Bazaar, one of the city’s most fascinating attractions, which has drawn visitors to its expansive confines for more than 600 years, they seem intent of getting from one end to the other in the quickest possible time. Without buying a carpet.

A shopkeeper catches me watching him. He smiles and gives a non-committal shrug, his eyes twinkling with a guarded humour. It’s all a game, his body language suggests, one that has been going on for centuries and doubtless will continue for much longer.

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On busy days, when there are as many locals as tourists, the crush can be close to overwhelming. The only living beings not disturbed are the cats who display an admirable calm. They’ve been the true locals of the bazaar for centuries, countless generations, and there’s nothing they haven’t seen or survived. They sit peacefully in the midst of the walkways, letting the tumult flow around them with Zen-like calm, feline pebbles in fast-flowing steams of humanity.

Anything you could possibly desire can be found in these wide dusty passages. Gold jewellery, leather coats, fake designer handbags. Beautiful decorative objects such as richly-inlaid backgammon boards and the distinctly colourful ceramics that hail from Kutahya in Turkey’s west. Clothing, fabrics, souvenirs, antiques from yesteryear as well as yesterday, silverware and copperware, it’s all available.

Aisle upon aisle, row upon row, in covered laneways and serpentine open streets. The market developed in Byzantine times; some parts were roofed over, grew, sprawled, got bigger and then expanded further.

A precise figure is unknown but guidebooks estimate there are around 4,000 shops. Comfortable walking shoes are a necessity but more so is enough curiosity to take the time to stop and chat occasionally to the shopkeepers. You may have no intention of buying anything but it’s a social custom that pays unexpected dividends.

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And when you do find something you like, there are protocols in play that it helps to know about beforehand. If you’re in a shop and you’re offered a drink, whether it be Coke, Turkish coffee or mint tea, that means the transaction is set to move to the next level. If you agree, you’re committing to the negotiating process. It’s just a matter of finding the right price.

This isn’t an Asian street market. You can’t haggle in quite the same way. Don’t over-act, throw your hands up in the air, or raise your voice. That’s not how it’s done. If you don’t like the price and it’s not going down as far as you wish, be polite, thank the shopkeeper for his/her hospitality and make for the door. If you get at least three stores down the alley and you haven’t received a better counter-offer, the deal can’t be done.

Quality in the Grand Bazaar tends to be high. Expect to pay for it. You’re not in Walmart. If you make a deal you’re happy with, you’ll end up with something truly special. And, most likely, a story to dine out on for years to come. Which is sometimes even better.

When it all gets too overwhelming, there are numerous restaurants and cafes throughout the market in which to relax and watch the passing parade. As I was leaving one café, I was stopped and, as is invariably the case, asked where I was from. Sydney, Australia, I replied.

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The young man was beautifully dressed despite the high summer heat and impeccably polite. “Please,” he said, “I’d like you to meet someone.” The first rule of the careful tourist is never go anywhere with a stranger but the Turkish coffee had kicked in and I was up for anything except a carpet.

I baulked when he steered me towards a carpet shop but he was insistent in a way that piqued my interest. Behind the counter was a young Turkish girl. She laughed as we were introduced. She’d grown up on Sydney’s northern beaches. Her father owned this section of the markets and she divided her time between her Australian hometown and running her own carpet business in the Grand Bazaar.

I’d discovered something I wasn’t expecting and that made my visit all the more worthwhile. Next time, I may well consider a carpet.

©2014 David Latta. May not be copied or republished in any form without permission.