Which Olive Tree Did You Sit Under?

What compelled them?

 

I am curious about my mixed background but mostly about the Genoese and Venetian ancestors on both sides of my family who sailed the Mediterranean and landed in Izmir in the 17th century, or perhaps earlier. What compelled them to leave home, how and why did they sail, what happened to them?  

As a child I was fascinated by maps. When I got sick my favourite thing was to be in bed surrounded by encyclopaedias with colourful pictures, a large world atlas and a cold compress on my forehead. I spent feverish hours poring over maps, drawing them, running my fingers along coasts and mountains, to the point where I was able to draw the entire map of the world by memory. I became good at drawing the Mediterranean. You’d think I was about to go on an expedition or become a navigator at the age of eight. Why was I so obsessed? I blame it on the ancestors who crisscrossed those waters. Perhaps it goes even farther back in time, to Odysseus whose ship one of my very great grandparents may have boarded as a sailor or a stowaway on that voyage among the dreamy sunny islands of the Aegean. Who knows how far into the past, and how wide into the world that curiosity for “elsewhere” goes? I think of my ancestral roots as the intricate underside of a large forest made up of many different types of trees and shrubs whose life sources are so intertwined that they can no longer tell themselves apart.

The Genoese ancestor I would like to interview appears to have landed on the island of Chios first, possibly in the 14th century or earlier, and may have been involved in the mastic production and trade as well as in the political life of the island. There is a fascinating book I read a few years ago by Philip Argenti, “Religious Minorities of Chios, Jews and Roman Catholics” (Cambridge University Press, 1970) which traces the history of this island within visible distance of the Smyrnian coast, all the way back to 200 B.C.  with an emphasis on their minorities. Chios was an important source of mastic – resin from the mastic tree was used in various industries, making paint and glue etc for a very long time, so the role of the island was pivotal for this particular reason.  It played an interesting part in the power shift that occurred between kingdoms and empires in Europe in the 16th century.  Two kings, Suleyman I who ruled the Ottoman Empire and Francis I of France created a formidable alliance. This powerful and close friendship between a Muslim and a Christian ruler not only scandalized but also terrorized the rest of Europe. In that time, Suleyman and his famous admiral, Barbarossa (Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha) challenged the Genoese supremacy in the Mediterranean and when the Genoese commander Andrea Doria lost an important and final naval battle against Barbaros, the vast sea became dominated by the Franco-Turkish fleet.  Sometime in 1566 an Ottoman fleet of 100 ships arrived in Chios. The Genoese governors who until then were paying tribute to the Ottomans, were invited aboard the ship. Once they got on, they were swiftly taken into custody and that was the end of the Genoese rule of Chios. The importance of mastic in world trade began to wane in favour of rubber around that time as well.  I imagine my Genoese ancestors moved to Smyrna, in the 17th century as a result of all this and settled there. I am not a historian, so I hope I will be forgiven for this brief and imprecise account, and any mistakes I may have made.  Although the Venetians and Genoese were sworn enemies and competed for supremacy for most of their history sailing and trading in the Mediterranean, in Smyrna they seem to have settled down in apparent brotherhood and make up a large part of my ancestral heritage. I would tell them that wanderlust and love for the Aegean Sea aside, the aptitude for trade or business did not trickle down to me. I am not at all gifted that way, but I can perhaps tell a tale. I would love to tell theirs, if they could share them with me. 

Another ancestor, a spiritual one, I’d want to meet is Homer who lived both around Izmir and on the island of Chios. If I could meet him, I would stay quietly by his side and listen to his stories.  I know exactly how the moment would feel; the brightness of the Aegean light, the insistent sound of cicadas, an imbat breeze cooling our faces, the smell of clay and goat poop on dirt roads. I would hold his hand and ask, “Which olive tree did you sit under and dream, please show me, so I can find it in my own time, sit and dream there in the company of your marvelous spirit.” 

 

Leave a Small Trail

 

I hope you gaze at the world you live in with awe and wonder, tread gently upon it beside all living things and try to leave a small trail of kindness behind you when you go. 

 

 

Born and raised in Turkey, Loren Edizel  has lived in Canada most of her life and is the author of three novels, Adrift (2011), The Ghosts of Smyrna (2013), Days of Moonlight (2018)  and a collection of short stories, Confessions: A Book of Tales (2014). The Ghosts of Smyrna was also published in Turkish, in Turkey, in 2017. Her short fiction has appeared in journals in both Canada and in Turkey. She lives in Toronto.

She is currently working on a novel that takes place in Smyrna in the late 19th – early 20th century, focused on the relationship of two sisters and their lives.

Visit her website  and follow her on Goodreads, FB and Twitter to stay in the loop for upcoming events, readings and publications.

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