200 DSC05459Du Malone writes: East of Trebizond** is a travel book written by Michael Pereira and published by Geoffrey Bles in 1971. It recounts a journey, in the company of a friend (Tim Smart), to the north-eastern corner of Turkey.

The book comprises travelogue and history. For the most part these are consigned to distinct chapters — some deal with history, more deal with travel.

My interest in the book was as travelogue, so I confess I only skimmed though most of the historical chapters.

Though I wouldn’t call East of Trebizond an example of first-rate travel writing — neither the journey nor the voice is sufficiently remarkable — it is proficiently and professionally written. The prose is well organised, the language precise, and the syntax flexible.

Pereira has an eye for the landscape, the people he meets, and the architecture. Here are some examples, from his visit to Erzurum:

  • ‘As its name suggests, the most striking feature of this thirteenth-century theological college are the two superb minarets which rise on either side of the main doorway. Like much Seljuk work they are built of red bricks, their sides fluted, but their most beautiful feature is the decorative inlay-work of blue, brown and black faience.’
  • ‘This core [i.e., the citadel] of Erzurum’s ancient defences stands a few hundred feet above the rest of the city, and from it we had a virtually unobstructed view in every direction. The afternoon was fine: a bright sun, a cold wind, and clear dry air. Looking first towards the south…we saw the great range of Palandoken, its 10,000-foot peaks still deep in snow. The name Palandoken is descriptive: palan is a kind of saddle, and dokmek means to shed; these mountains, in other words, were of saddle-shedding steepness.’

Perira records a countryside in flux. He has a fondness for markers of a traditional way of life. In Erzurum he ‘visited the market and watched the coppersmiths at work, beating, bending, hammering and tapping with a wonderful sureness of touch and eye. In this age of automation and mass-production it is curiously satisfying to watch something being made by hand: to see a man take a flat sheet of copper and gradually give it shape and symmetry’.

But he also registers changes — in mechanisation, infrastructure, and cultivation (especially that of tea).

In a review written in 2011 Pat Yale understandably responds to this account nostalgically, even elegiacally: ‘Pereira is describing a world that is gone almost beyond recall. Just a glance at the black and white photographs is enough to make that clear: the clothes, the shoes, the stone houses with no concrete add-ons, the bridges before anyone decided to restore them’.

In Pereira’s own response to change, however, any sense of elegy is left largely implicit. He responds pragmatically: modernity is on its way.

 

** ‘Not Trebizond at all, really, of course. Trabzon is what the Turks call it, and have done for the past five hundred years. However, since Trebizond is pleasant and familiar to English ears, while Trabzon is not, it would seem unnecessarily pedantic to insist upon accuracy over this question of names’ (p. 240).