My friend the British crime writer Barbara Nadel arrived in İstanbul last week clutching a parcel for me. Inside wrapped in tissue paper was a real treasure – an original copy of the Murray’s Hand-Book Constantinople, Brusa and the Troad as published in 1893. This, I hope, is the edition that Gertrude will have had with her on her early trips to what are now İstanbul, Bursa and the Troy region. Normally speaking there’s nothing sadder than an old guidebook. One that’s ten years old, say, and holds out the promise of far cheaper lodgings than are actually available. One that describes in mouth-watering detail individual cafes that have long-since gave way to branches of Starbucks. One that fails to mention the super-duper new museum that you would have loved to visit if only you hadn’t learnt about it after you left town.
But something magic happens after the passage of let’s say 25 years. Suddenly the old guidebook becomes a real gem, offering a rare insight into a lost world. Sure, you can’t rely on it to be of any practical assistance. What you can rely on it for, though, is to tell you how things used to be.
To be on the safe side I have also acquired a facsimile of the Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Turkey that was published in 1854 and offers information on the whole country. Turn to page 18 and here’s information on how to hire a horse and what you should expect to pay for it. Page 21 describes the circular notes on which travellers used to depend for cash before travellers cheques came along. Page 12 carries an alarming heading entitled “Protection from Vermin”. And all this is before you even get to the substantive chapters that describe a Turkey almost unrecognisable to the modern traveller with almost no surfaced roads outside the main towns.
The original book came with red hardback covers. Smaller than a Kindle, it truly is a handbook. On the spine is inscribed the price. 7/6 (seven shillings and six pence), a monetary amount even most Brits would struggle to recognise.
What did I pay for it today? A stonking 150 pounds sterling, more than I’d ever paid for a book before. Nonetheless I’m sure it will be worth every penny even if I won’t be able to take advantage of the flea-infested “khans” it recommends I should stay in.