The story of a community
Joseph Arcas (1860 – 1929) was born in Smyrna (Izmir) son of Emmanuel Arcas and Marie Çohaci. He move to Alasehir (the old Philadelphia) and bought a farm. He became a successful raisin and grain merchant. In 1920, during the Greek occupation, he was refused by the Greek Authorities the right to harvest the crops of his properties. His business came to an end. The Arcas Family with my father, Albert Arcas, in charge continued to own the farm and house till approximately 1948.
Joseph Arcas and Alice Issaverdens had 7 children, only 4 reached adulthood. They were raised in Salihli from approximately 1890 to 1920. Albert on the left and Blanche on the right were the two oldest ones who reached adulthood. (ca. 1899) Grand-maman Alice Issaverdens grew up in Izmir. Life in Anatolia must have been difficult for a city girl. Her father’s family originally from Nakhitchevan with Armenian Catholic background were brought to Izmir with many other families of the same origin by the Dominicans. They joined the French Community of Izmir, went to Saint Polycarpe and spoke French. They were active in commerce, writers and some joined the priesthood, while others moved to France. Her mother Marie Mihière belonged to a French family originally from the South of France.
Joseph Arcas owned a house in Salihli with daughters Marie and Blanche, son Raoul and grand-son Fernand De Portu (a family of Genoese origin). Salihli is located on the Izmir-Ankara highway 96 km from Izmir. It is situated on the slopes of the Bozdağ mountain chain, and the fertile, alluvial plains of Gediz River.
Joseph Arcas also had three identical houses built in Karşıyaka close to the train station. After 1922, with the exception of daughter Marie Arcas Braggiotti, the Arcas children and their families lived, in these houses located on Muradiye Sokak, (1728 Sokak), the street of Sainte Hélène Catholic Church. They were demolished circa 1982. My siblings Joseph Hervé, Alice Flavia and I were born in the middle house (no: 14), in the room with the white curtains. We were brought to this world by Dr. Kasim Karal (as known by us Karali), a Turkish doctor who spoke Greek and was originally from Crete.
My maternal grand-mother, Antoinette Binson died at an early age while expecting her fourth child, a son. She was the grand-daughter of Barbara Balladur and Michel (Mike) Braggiotti, and daughter of Angèle Braggiotti.
Matilde Nipote Castelli and later De Portu was my paternal great-grandmother. The beloved mother of Antonio and his siblings. She had a son with Stefano De Portu, named Joseph who eventually married my aunt Blanche. Maria (Maraya) Nipote Corsini (Matilde’s sister) and her husband Pierre Corsini were the witnesses to her second marriage which took place at the Cathedral Saint Jean of Izmir. The Nipote family was originally from Torino, Italy.
Easter Monday was the most popular day to have a picnic either at Küçük Yamanlar or Alaybey. Picnic with the Arcas, Castelli, Binson, Braggiotti, De Portu, and Caraman Families.
My parents wedding took place at Sainte Hélène or Santa Elena Catholic Church of Karşıyaka. This is a jewel of a medium size, neo-gothic church built at the beginning of the 20th Century. All our weddings, baptisms and funerals took place in this church. We only went to the Cathedral of Izmir for the ceremony of the children’s Confirmation.
My mother had 2 sisters, one Matilde Castille and the oldest, Edmée, married and a refugee in Salonica, Greece by 1922.
My father Albert was transferred to Istanbul by the Socony Vacuum Corp. Because of his Italian citizenship he was laid off during the years of the Second World War.
Pilgrimages and day trips were very, and still is today, an important part of the Levantine culture of Izmir. One of the most important pilgrimage sites was Panaya Kapulu near Ephesus.
I have happy memories of the summer house of John and Marie Braggiotti in Bayraklı. Uncle John Braggiotti often had Italian, opera music in the background. It is where for the first time I heard Caruso and arias from the Pearl Fishers Opera. Of course in summer, it’s where we went swimming. The house was located in Bayrakli and the water of the gulf of Izmir was not yet polluted. Among the neighbours they had Dr. Karali and the Depolos.
During the Carnival Season which falls forty days, plus Sundays, before Easter, parties took take place and cousins and friends would have good time together. We did not need to go to New Orleans, on Mardi Gras.
I was born 15 years after the “Infidel Smyrna”, a beautiful, cosmopolitan port on the Eastern Aegean Sea inhabited mostly by Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Levantines was burned and changed into the new city of Izmir, Turkey. The mood was quiet, sad and reserved, but the jasmine continued to bloom and to perfume the air, especially in the afternoon when we took our walks or rode our bikes along the quay to see the sunsets. I lived in an eastern Roman Catholic community where everybody was sort of related. We lived peacefully with another minority the Sephardim and the majority of Muslims. By then, there were neither Greeks nor Armenians left. I had a Turkish “beyaname”, sort of a green card that was renewed every five years and an Italian passport. Circa 1940 my father, who worked for Socony Vacuum Oil Company (Mobil Oil), was transferred to Istanbul where my family lived for two years; however, his Italian citizenship caused him to be laid off till the war was over. I was the youngest of three children, cherished by an older brother and an older sister. Turkey had remained neutral during the 2nd World War and we were fortunate, compared to rest of Europe, not to have experienced the ordeal of those difficult years. My family was Catholic up to the beginning of the 20th century, and then mixed marriages took place. Now I have Greek Orthodox cousins in Salonica, two Muslim and one Catholic nieces living in Izmir. I have two American sons and six grandchildren. My eldest son Mark is an accomplished computer programmer and my younger son Linc is an accomplished jeweler. I have a Jewish husband in Florida. My elementary schooling took place at the Italian School of the Suore d’Ivrea in Izmir where Italian, Turkish and French were taught, while my parents still spoke Greek at home. It took most of us Levantine children seven years instead of five to complete it. My secondary school was taught by a French nun, Soeur Andre, who was also a nurse at the hospital of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul, in Izmir. My college education took place at the University of Central Florida and University of Florida. I’m a polyglot by birth and not by choice, with the exception of English and Spanish that I learned as foreign languages later in life. The biggest accomplishment of my life was passing the French Baccalaureate (the national French, academic high school test) in Athens, after two years of work by correspondence, with a school in Paris. This ultimately led to other accomplishments. Among my most enjoyable memories of my adolescence, were camping for a week in the summer on the beach at Ali Ağa, Turkey, with my friend Gilda Mulino and cousin Bianca De Portu’s families, and the trips to my mother’s cousin’s home in Athens to pass my French exams. What liberation from the depressed mood of a city that was still vibrating with the sad memories of a generation before mine! My first job in Izmir was as an office clerk at Mr. Albert Arditti’s import and export business and afterwards as an elementary school teacher and private tutor in French. Later, I worked for twenty-five years as a foreign language teacher in the Orange County Public Schools teaching mostly French and also, for a short time, Italian. During the Spring vacations, I often took students to Europe, especially to France, and I came to know Paris quite well. During my teaching years at Evans High School, four students from U.C.F. interned with me. The certificates I received allowed me to attend three summers at the University of Florida which enabled me to receive my Master of Arts. I have been retired since December 1998. I met my second husband Bernard 14 years ago. He is a self-made businessman and intellectual, who reads profusely and who traveled all over the world. He loved and still loves opera, classical music and, above all, books. An epicurean collector of books which were once scattered everywhere as a jungle in a living room full of bookcases deprived of chairs. It took us five years and a lot of patience to place them aesthetically in a pleasant interior decor, but, at the same time, this created for Bernard a new type of inconvenience of needed books not easily found. With Bernard, my horizon has been broadened even more with trips to San Francisco, Yosemite Park, New York city, China, Venice, Canada, and Tanglewood Massachusetts. We were married before Bernard entered the Cleveland Clinic for open heart surgery, and he used this occasion before the big day to drive me to Niagara to show me the Falls. Only American Seniors have such a positive outlook to live life to its fullest!
Mercia Fudim, October 2010
submission date 2010