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Snapshots #4
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

I have always loved the Irish. Ireland a green island of bards, poets and storytellers. A land of blarney and superstition.

I was getting bored in Fethiye, on the beautiful Turquoise Coast of Turkey. What to do and where to go to have a sane conversation with a fellow Brit? I was lonely, hungry for culture and stimulation. I was not into the Lycian ruins nor swimming off boats nor sunbathing. I was advised thus to go to a hangout for resident Brits called The Mulberry Tree in downtown Fethiye.

The cafe was empty except for a man minding his own business consuming a large portion of homemade lemon drizzle cake with a mug of tea. The starting point for a conversation it turned out. Tony Olin was Irish from the lovely city of Dublin.  We spoke fondly of Bewleys Coffee House and I told him about my 2 visits to his fair city. Having retired early he was living his dream with his wife, permanently residing on his 55 foot sailing boat drifted at will throughout the Mediterranean having left his thriving construction company to his 3 sons to live his final 20 years hopefully the life of Riley.

We spoke of cabbages and kings and like me, Tony was a storyteller and a well read poet. He reminisced about his poor background in Dublin but explained that in Ireland education is free and available to all. This led on to telling me about his next door neighbours, a very poor Hungarian immigrant starving family who spoke no English. He and his brother befriended the young Atilla Lorincz who today is Professor of Molecular Epidemiology getting a doctorate in genetics from Trinity College in Dublin. They are still in touch and the eminent Professor, now residing in America, never forgot his humble origins and faithful lifelong friends.

Into the art of conversation, Tony asked me about my Liverpudlian background confessing he had never been to our fair city. Surprisingly he asked me my maiden name. No one ever did but Tony, like myself, was into heritage and a people person. Surnames tell a lot about a person’s origins, religion and heritage. Levin I told him. Imperial Russian, The Pale Settlement, Jewish, I explained. Plenty of Levins in Dublin said he. What? Impossible. Levin is a pretty rare name. There was a Levin in Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, there was also Bernard Levin of literary fame and the American blockbuster author Ira Levin and American Mark Levin known for his quotes. Then he said there was an added ‘s’ so it was not the same name in my book. At that point the conversation switched, at his instigation, to the Jews of Dublin including the Jewish Murphy’s!

It was then he confessed his great grandfather was French Jewish from Northern Paris and called Pierre Olin, owner of Dublin’s famous Turkish Baths in Lincoln Place and Its Cafe de Paris within the ornate building circa 1861.

I was hooked because of my love for Ottoman culture and my interest and research in the Sephardic diaspora of 1492 ending up with the clever far sighted Caliph Bayezid II of the powerful Ottoman Empire inviting the elite displaced Spanish Sephardic Jews to Salonika and the capital of his Empire, Constantinople. The Sultan sent out the Ottoman navy to welcome the 150,000 Jews under the command of Admiral Kemal Reis to evacuate the Jews and save them from persecution allowing education, science and the arts to flourish throughout his vast in his Empire.

Tony then googled ‘Victorian Dublin Turkish Baths’ and I took a photo of him holding his mobile showing a black and white photo of the ornate building in Dublin. I glanced at the detailed text, thinking of my old childhood friend Sholem Wiseman from Liverpool and his dedicated obsessed historian brother-in-law, Schif, the authority on Turkish baths.

I had not thought about Sholem, his brother Joey who I had a crush on, nor Schif their brother-in-law since the 80s when I used to see him dashing around the London Ephemera Society fairs desperately sourcing material for his life’s work. I also thought about my dear cousin Vivian, who I was fond of, until her shyster lawyer husband Michael took us to the cleaners. Memories so long ago and far away.

 I thought about all those nostalgic Liverpool memories after Tony and I had said Adieu. After kindly paying for my PG Tips cuppa, Tony headed off on his bike into the endless blue of the Turquoise Coast. Gone forever but the Liverpool memories lingered on the screen of my mind frozen in time sitting in the Mulberry Tree cafe that Wednesday 4 July afternoon forgetting it was American Independence Day.

I decided to research the article Tony had shown me on google. It was by none other than by Malcom Shifrin, author of his renowned book on Victorian Turkish Baths!! A normal synchronistic episode in the life of Sultana Jilliana!

Written having a cuppa in the Mulberry Tree Cafe, Fethiye on 4th July, 2018.