The story of a community
I was born in Mersin, Turkey on the 19th January 1937.
My grandfather (Emilio Levante - born in Iskenderun on 15th May 1908, died in Istanbul on 4/8/1984) together with his brother(s) (I ignore their names) immigrated from Campobasso/Larino (Southern Italy) to İskenderun in the late 1800s probably between 1885 and 1895. They were very probably merchants at that time. However, my grandfather did not stay there, and a few years later (?) moved and settled down in Mersin together with his wife Maria. They had four sons, however, born in different places(?). Their names starting with the eldest, Edmondo, Rinaldo, Livio and Enrico. Edmondo married Yvonne Barbour (a Christian Arab family I believe from Beirut) in Mersin about 1930 and they had two daughters, Tiana (born 1934) and Anna Maria (born 1937). Enrico married Rosamond Aurora Rickards (born in Gözne, near Mersin, 25th July 1906, died in Mersin on 29/5/1966) in 1935 and they had a son in 1937 yours truly! Rinaldo and Livio did not marry in Mersin but later on in İstanbul, and I shall refer to this later on.
My grandfather together with his sons started a Shipping Agency representation here in Mersin in early 1900s and even respresented Lloyds (surveying and insurance) until the Second World War when we lost the Agency to Catoni due to the fact that Italy was on the wrong side! Regarding the Shipping Lines I cannot remember so far back but when I came on the scene in 1960 we represented Adriatica, Italia, Tirrenio and Lloyd Triestino plus D:O:L. (Deutsche Orient Linien) D.L.L. (Deutsche Levante Linien) and A.L.L. (Atlas Levante Linien). These were German lines. Then there was S.O.L. (Svenska Orient Linie) a Swedish line and others. A company worth mentioning is the Cargo Superintendence of Geneva.
My father Enrico Levante was a Shipping Agent. Together with his father and mother (Emilio Levante and Maria nee Giustiniani) as well as his three brothers (Edmondo, Rinaldo and Livio), all moved to Mersin from Iskenderun where the business continued. In later years (1948), Rinaldo and Livio moved to Istanbul where they acquired the representation of an Insurance Company (Assicurazioni Generali/Trieste) as General Agents as well as the respresentation of several Greek Passenger Lines. My father together with his brother Edmondo continued with the Shipping Agency and also acquired the Representation of SGS/Geneva (Cargo Superintendence).
It was in Istanbul that Livio got married to (?) in the 1950’s. They had no children. Rinaldo married Tilda (a Swiss lady) in the early 60’s and they had a son Davide in 1965.
Davide married a Greek girl Matilda sometime in the late 80’s and they had a son in 1991 named Rinaldo. Matilda still lives but Davide came to a sudden death in 1999. Davide works (?) in İstanbul, however, having no contacts with him I don’t know what he is doing.
The daughters of Yvonne and Edmondo (Tiana and Anna Maria) married husbands from abroad. Tiana to an Italian Syrian called Romolo Babini. Initially Babini worked in Beirut but later joined our Firm here in Mersin about 1964. They had two daughters Patrizia and Paula (1959 and 1961). Patrizia never got married and lives in Istanbul, whereas Paula married the Owner of the Mesege health farms in Italy and they had a daughter (?). A few years later she was divorced and together with her child went to live with her mother in Geneva.
Babini continued working in our Firm as part Owner until 1997 after which he passed away. The Firm was then disolved.
I married Maryse Chalfoun in 1960 and we had four children: Mark, Claudia, Jennifer and Edmondo (born respectively in 1961 – 1962 – 1964 and 1966).
Mark studied Electronic Engineering and has worked in several Companies both in Canada and the U.S. Some ten years ago he settled for Vodafone, but of late has decided to go at it alone and be his own boss. He is married and has a daughter Kelsey.
Claudia studied Graphic Arts at the Italian designer in Milan, Franzoni. From there she moved to Vogue Moda/Milano. She married Michel Chachati in 1986 and they had two children (Jonathan and Jennifer) who are studying at Universities in England. Michel is the Owner of the Firm Mitas and represents Shipping Lines and does oncarriage of cargo on his trucks to several destinations.
Jennifer also studied Graphic Arts at Franzoni and worked in Milan. She married Fadi Sayek in 1991 and they had two boys (Daniel and Alexander) Daniel is at a University in Canada whereas Alexander is about to finish his Public School here and will follow his brother. Fadi together with his family own land and petrol stations. The land is cultivated with different types of crops.
Edmondo studied raw cotton processing in Memphis/Tennesse. He then settled in Milan working for a cotton Company. He married Eva in 2008 and they had a daughter Lea in January of this year. However, he also has another daughter (Isabella) born in 1999. He was not married with Isabella’s mother and hence she (the mother) lives in Mersin and the daughter with us ever since the year 2000.
I joined the family business as it was the best thing to do!! I did not have a separate profession. Prior to returning to Mersin I did a two year stint in Trieste working in the Offices of the Adriatica (National Shipping Line) and the Assicurazioni Generali as well as taking lessons in Italian!! I did not know the language as I had studied only in England. I went to prep. at Milner Court (prep. school to King’s Canterbury). However,I continued my studies at Douai (public school in Berks., near Newbury) as my parents wanted me to have a Catholic upbringing!! On finishing there,I went directly to Trieste as my father wished me to learn the business as soon as possible! I did not have any brothers or sisters and my fathers partner (Edmondo) had only two girls who were not interested in the business!!
My parents lived upstairs in a two story house and I with them. The house was built in the early 1900s by my maternal grandfather (Henry Rickards) and in fact he and his family lived in an adjacent house to ours which he had also built. We both had a reasonable sized garden behind the houses. There were plenty of fruit trees (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, pomegranates, medlers, mulberries and a couple of fig and datetrees). So, as you can see we were not short of fruit!! On our side,the ground floor was rented to a Dutch couple. The husband was working for the Netherlands Harbour Works. The Company was building the Mersin port. Under grandpa’s house, he had several tenants: one was a ladies hairdresser, the second was a photographer, the third was making soft drinks and the fourth was a small club for the supporters of the local football team!!
My parents were married on the 3rd of July, 1933. I suppose that they must have met at one of the parties the Christian Community used to regularly have!! I got married on June 20th, 1960. I met my wife during the early 50’s when we were both students. However, she was studying in Beirut (Lebanon) and I was in England. We could only see each other during the summer holidays!! There were other young student friends and we used to congregate at the local café up in the mountains at a place called Gözne. The reason being that Mersin used to get very hot during the summer and Gözne (being at 1000 metres above sea level) was considerably cooler!!
Until recently, we in Mersin had a Mayor who ran the whole town. That is, he was in charge of the water works, maintenance of the roads and tidiness of the town in general. Above him there was the Governor who was the representative of the Government and reigned supreme!!
Weekend entertainment was rather limited during the 1960’s and 70’s. During winter we usually went to one of two clubs of which we were members of. We would have supper and there was usually a band playing and those who wished got up and danced. Gambling was permitted at the club any day of the week, and mostly the men used to participate. Adana (about 70 kms. East of Mersin) was a little more interesting, as their clubs were better organized and had better bands playing. The food was much the same and basically consisting of fish and meat with the ever present raki (an alcoholic beverage around 45% proof). I must say that it goes very well with food be it lunch or supper!!! During the summer, weekends were generally spent at the beach!! However, if you wished to take a longer holiday, then you would get into the car and drive to Alanya or Antalya (some 6/700 kms) to the S.W. of Mersin. Fantastic places especially now that they have been fully developed!! Maybe a little too much, but all the same very enjoyable. Now, many people who can afford it fly to Istanbul for the weekend which has become one of the ‘musts’ you have to visit!! I on the other hand don’t care much for the place as the traffic is completely chaotic and you can become a nervous wreck if you wish to drive around!!! Easter is celebrated at home amongst the Christians as the country is 99% Muslim!! However Xmas is a little more apparent, as many shops, especially, in the larger cities dress up Xmas trees in their windows and you will see decorations in the streets in the more civilized quarters. Excursions are now organized on a very wide scale. You can nearly visit every quarter of Turkey, be it by plane than by bus. These are also extended to most parts of the World. In fact, you can fly or sail to most parts of the Planet.
I don’t they say that the best days of your life are your school days!!! There will obviously be those who beg to differ!! However,I’m sure that the majority will agree with me!! I went to England in 1947, and there was rationing then. I cannot remember a single case of anyone complaining, be it at school or in the street!! That, my friend, is the fibre of the English people!! Prep School was quite uneventful. Not much to say and not much to remember! However Public School was completely different, to say the least. Father Gregory was my Housemaster and I must say that he was a sticker for discipline. I for one am also a sticker for discipline!! Yes, I was caned during my days there, but that’s the name of the game! You step out of line, and you pay for it!! It's as simple as that!! I loved those days, especially when I got into the 1st Xv and then was awarded my colours, and the very same for the hockey XI. Cricket was not my game, so I shall pass over it. However during the summer we did athletics, though we did not compete against other schools. We did win the Oxford 7 a-side one year and that made me very proud! Some of my close friends were my team mates and as far as I can remember they are: Ian Lyster, Dennis Hopkin, Ted Duckney, Rob Horgan, Dave Seagal, Jim Moriarty, John Balhatchet and the list continues!! All without exception fine fellows, though sadly to say that some of them have gone on to greener pastures!
I have a stamp collection which I started in the early 50’s, consisting of England and the British Colonies. Mainly mint, and these I had to purchase. However I also have part of my Grandfather’s (Rickards) collection dating from the 1860’s until the 1920’s. Mainly British and Europe, all used. I also have my father’s collection dating from the 1930’s until early 50’s consisting of Turkish mint stamps. I have played extensively rugby in England and follow it on TV, especially the 6 Nations Cup. I also played field Hockey. I started to play soccer when I arrived in Italy and even rugby (though they were not well versed in the game in those days) I played for Trieste in rugby and hockey, however, my soccer knowledge then was far below their standard!! When I arrived in Mersin I continued playing soccer for many years, however, as an amateur!! I also took up atheletics as there wasn’t much else to do!! I also played tennis, again as an amateur, and did alright for myself both in singles and doubles.
In Mersin we were very limited regarding enjoyments!! There was this open field behing our house where the youth (boys) used to congregate and played a game called ‘çelik-çomak’ which consisted of rather sturdy stakes which you held in your hand and there was a smaller one which you had to flip up and hit as many times before it fell to the ground!! The more you hit the better you were and hence accumulated points. Then there was ‘tag’ and hide and seek and of course, kicking a ball around!! In the winter our parents used to take us to the cinema now and again and in the summer there were the ‘open air’ cinemas. Quite naturally, there was the sea, and what a sea!! Dark blue and clear, not like the polluted filth of today!!
I’m not much of an eater, so most anything will do! The Turkish food is good, though at home the preference was Italian as my father preferred it. Being in a coastal town we also had very good fish (don’t know the various names in English) and plentiful. The local restaurants had the ever present ‘şiş kebab’ and steak as well as lamb chops and plenty of green vegetables. Then there were the dough preparations called ‘börek’,‘lahmajoun’,‘humus’ etc etc. The first is dough stuffed with either meat or cheese, the second is a flat dough with pieces of meat spread over it and then folded over. These are baked in the oven. The ‘humus’ is made out of crushed chickpeas mixed with a sauce called ‘tahin’ and olive oil. You eat this with bread. And the list goes on!! We don’t have any particular family recipe. I prefer to eat light and healthily.
Military service in Turkey and for the Turkish Citizen is compulsory. Being a foreigner in the Country, this does not concern me. However, if I had lived in Italy, I would have been obliged to do so. Not being the case, I did not do my soldiering. I have travelled quite often to Antalya and Alanya for summer holidays and have also gone all the way west to Marmaris and Bodrum. The former a very popular place frequented by the British. As for going abroad, right up till 1999 used to drive to Italy twice a year (May and Sep.) for the holidays and from there often went to France. Have also been several times to the US and Canada.
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