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.

Where did you find it?

 

THERE WAS HOPE TOO

 

Marhaba, dear ancestors, thank you for all you have given for me to be where I am today. My heart aches thinking of what you endured in order to survive and, in turn, ensuring the survival of generations after you. You lived through a deadly famine during World War I where swarms of locusts and drought devastated fields of vegetables and olive trees. Blockades worsened those tragic days. As decades passed, there were more wars, more deaths, more sorrow. But there was hope too, wasn’t there? There were wedding and birthday celebrations, dancing and drumming on terraces or under canopies of grapes. Despite the tragedies, you had faith. Where did this faith come from? How did you see optimism through the dark clouds of despair and horror? Where did you find the strength to carry on? To still love and dream?

 

 

TELL YOUR STORY 

 

Descendants, we must carry on. My ancestors taught me this. Hard work and a belief in yourself will help you on this journey of creativity. I encourage those following the writer’s path to push through the rejections, embrace the conflicting feelings of anguish and joy and find your voice. Don’t give up. Our voices are unique. Don’t compare yourself to others and, above all, don’t get discouraged if things aren’t happening yet. In time, more opportunities will arrive and you’ll be heard. Tell your story and carry on. The seeds of your dream were planted for a reason: to grow, to be harvested, to be felt, to be heard. Carry on, my fellow writers, fellow dreamers.

 

 

 

Sonia Saikaley is the author of the award-winning novella “The Lebanese Dishwasher” and poetry collections “Turkish Delight, Montreal Winter” and “A Samurai’s Pink House”. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, she lives in her hometown of Ottawa, Canada near her large Lebanese family. In the past, she worked as an English teacher in Japan where she introduced belly dancing to her students. Her novel “The Allspice Bath” was recently published by Inanna Publications.

 

Currently…

Sonia is working on a novel set in Lebanon about a young woman trying to achieve her independence despite the cultural restraints placed on her. It is also a love story between this Lebanese woman and a Jewish man. The story takes place before and during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975.

Sonia is inspired by brave women who fight for what they believe in and who don’t give up. Her novel “The Allspice Bath” is about such a woman. Adele Azar is struggling to find her place between the old and new worlds. It’s not an easy task. From the start, Adele disappointed her parents because she wasn’t born a boy. She balances two cultures yet the question remains: can she find her freedom without losing part of herself in the process? Set in Ottawa, Toronto and Lebanon, “The Allspice Bath” is a reminder that dreams are possible in spite of hardships.

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Photo credit: Sylvia Saikaley