Our increasingly populous clan is ever more global. A family wedding might in the past have meant a short trip to the local registry office or church, or perhaps a day trip to another town. Now, almost invariably, it means foreign travel. As does, less romantically, obtaining work for the improvement of my income. The first of these reasons explains why we all (except Gwen, working at the Mercy for Animals headquarters in Chicago) went to Istanbul for the wedding of my niece Isabella. And the second explains why I had no sooner landed back in Basel than I turned around to return to the airport early the next morning to fly solo via Paris to Abidjan in the Cote d’Ivoire for a potential work contract. Even before all this canicular commotion, the sun shone for several days and I managed a moderate and short-lived tan by coming out in the evening to relax at the end of the day with a suitable drink as the sun turned the garden gold from deep and low on the horizon. The pool, now drained, scrubbed and refilled, is nickel, thanks to hours of remedial work by Alli, who has also worked hard in the garden, adding a cornucopia of bright new plants and flowers, although a DIY job on the lawn weeds with what appeared to be gunpowder seems to have backfired.
Clive and Isabella, Istanbul, August 2016
The wedding of my niece Isabella to her partner Igal Yahya was a very happy and jolly family event. At the confluence of two continents at the classical Esma Sultana mansion on the mighty Bosphorus, the ceremony was a mashup of Jewish, Christian and secular notes, with a plug of homeliness and an overlay of elegance, interrupted by the prayer call of the muezzin next door just when Igal and Isabella had got comfortable under the chuppah. The males all sported a white and gold skullcap, and the lavish reception featured whirling dervishes, drummers, a jazz band, and a high-spirited chair dance for the bride and groom as well as for their parents and friends. A family dinner preceded the wedding day and a hotel brunch followed it, and we all had plenty of time to catch up with everyone else. It was great to see my brother again, although I’m not keen on his continuing habit of paying random people to come up and ask me which of us is the younger. Although, after a serious five-star five-course dinner, I was the first of my family to go to bed after dozing in my bath chair after midnight outside the Esma Sultana – a man asleep after midnight. Alli followed me an hour later, then Ella; finally Jessie tripped in with the light fantastic but without her wedges. Only on the wedding day was the weather cool and cloudy but it made no difference to the ceremony or the reception which were seemlessly relocated, although the grinding Istanbul traffic managed to confound those who were staying too far from the venue. Thanks to careful pre-planning from Jessie, we were comfortable in a small flat in Ortakoy close to the action, kitty-corner to a kindle of skittish kittens, and almost under the Bosphorus bridge, now retitled the 15th July Martyrs Bridge (from where the recent attempted coup had started with a hail of bullets a month earlier). We also managed some spacious tourism in a city now sadly bereft of visitors. Even the Grand Bazaar was rather a desultory forum and the traditional hawkers were so depressed they hardly bothered to harass the intermittent tourist trade. We also saw the Cistern (built by 7,000 slaves), the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Taksim Square, the Topkapı Palace, the extraordinary 19th century Ottoman confection the Dolmabahçe Palace (where Ataturk breathed his last in a bath chair), and the 6th century Hagia Sophia, which for a thousand years was the largest Christian cathedral in the world. The weekend also saw us use Uber cars for the first time. Alli took to it immediately, and Jessie downloaded the app for me so I could pretend to call on another occasion.
Jessie, Anna, Diane, Julia-Rose, Ella, Istanbul, August 2016
The next available chance for me was in the cloudy capital of the Cote d’Ivoire – Abidjan, where Uber is actually not so überall. 60% of the traffic there are genetically identical taxis in a blood-orange livery. I took one after the assignment to see the city’s sights, principally the post-modern St Paul’s Cathedral and the Banco National Park, a large primary forest rich in animal, plant and bird life. My guide, however, was not a fount of knowledge: I asked him what was the odd cawing sound that I had heard coming from a tree some metres away. After shading his eyes and peering expertly at the tree for a while, he informed me that it was a bird. He was rather better on trees, ferns, animal prints, his own career prospects and the remains of the trashed mid-forest Forestry School, soon to be restored. Naturally, it rained steadily and tropically throughout my rain forest visit. Intrepid and weather-beaten, I returned to Basel on an A380 to act as quiz master for the 4th annual French Letter Quiz at the Ange in Leymen. The evening’s prizes of chocolate and wine were snaffled by two groups of brainy schoolteachers, roped in by my friendly neighbour Jeff. The following morning, Gwen returned from Chicago with fascinating stories of her whirlwind five-week job and stay with the McCoys. She loved the work experience and the American camaraderie, but could have done without the leafleting duties. She went on to a juice diet to counter the effects of incidental American cuisine, despite having followed a formula vegan diet while there, a box of packages of powdered food that kept her going for a month. Meanwhile, less than two weeks after our family wedding experience in Istanbul, Jessie could be tracked via Bangkok to Phuket, Thailand, where she caught up with her school friend Jenna, who is teaching English there. Also, Alli and I navigated some benevolent local bureaucracy to secure the necessary papers to allow Jessie’s friend Jurrat from Bangladesh to stay with us for Christmas. Ella and Sam completed their long awaited move from Clapham to Putney without hitches and are comfortably installed near the great river Thames, and are already posting photos of various local wine bars.
Our friends LeAnn and Jasper joined us for an outing to the Agrogast in Hagenthal, the popular annual local food and wine fair, and again to relax by the pool with our neighbours on the day after our street party. They brought a timely jug of icy peach daiquiri with them, which temporarily resolved my post-hood bash hangover (somehow, these are always the worst). However, I was fighting fit the next morning after another evening doze and a brilliant televised BBC Prom with Daniel Barenboim and his inspirational West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and the sensational Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1 just as if she had composed it.
Yours, air-conducting from the bath chair,