In the sixth installment in the series looking at the world of James Bond, we visit Turkey...

The World Of James Bond - Turkey
11th November 2004

When Bond eventually appears in From Russia, With Love he is sent to Istanbul, one of the most vivid locations of all the books. Here he meets the larger than life Darko Kerim who acts as his guide and companion while in Turkey, an ex-circus strongman and Head of Station T.

The area that is Istanbul was probably originally inhabited 3000 BC and colonised by the Greeks in the 7th century BC and named Byzantium. Situated on a peninsula at the entrance to the Black Sea, the city lies either side of the Bosphorus, which divides Europe and Asia. Well placed to flourish from intercontinental trade, it became part of the Roman Empire in the first century BC and in 306 AD became the Roman capital, when it was known as Constantinople. After the collapse of the Empire the city came under attack from the Persians, Arabs, nomadic tribes and members of the fourth crusade. The Ottoman Turks captured the city in 1453, and it remained the capital of the Ottoman Empire until its downfall during the First World War. The Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 and the capital moved to Ankara. Often known as Stanboul in the 19th century (probably a contraction; "[Con] stan [tinou] pol [is]"), the city was officially renamed Istanbul 1930.

Above: Istanbul and the Bosphorus

Bond's first night in Istanbul is spent is a "dingy room at the Kristal Palas on the heights of Pera", which he regrets immediately. However, he does manage to sleep well and was not disappointed by breakfast: "The yoghourt, in a blue china bowl, was deep yellow and with the consistency of thick cream. The green figs, ready peeled, were bursting with ripeness, and the Turkish coffee was jet black and with the burned taste that showed it had been freshly ground".

Now more usually known as Beyoglu, Pera is on the Asian side of the city behind the Galata Tower, which dates from 1348. Originally named "The Tower of Christ", it dominated the Genoese colony of Galata and today visitors to Istanbul can view the city from the balcony at the top. Until the 15th century the area was full of gardens and vineyards and as Muslims were encouraged to settle in the area, mosques were constructed. Embassies were built there when European ambassadors were appointed to the city the 16th century, while foreign merchants began set up home and Pera became the European section of the city and today the area is undergoing a revival.

On his first morning in Istanbul Bond is met at his hotel and chauffeured in a Rolls Royce "through Taksim square and down the crowded Istiklal and out of Asia" across the Galata Bridge. He is on his way to meet Darko Kerim, "a very large man in a beautifully cut tussore suit", Head of Station T.

The two men get on well from the start and after explaining his work in Istanbul and then ordering coffee for the two of them, they then get down to business: "Coffee came again, and then more coffee, and the big room grew thick with cigarette smoke as the two men took each shred of evidence, dissected it and put it aside".

Bond goes back to his hotel to find out whether he has received a message and "to see if anyone has been inquisitive" only to find that he as been moved to the honeymoon suite while away: "Bond had to approve. The sun streamed in through wide double windows that gave on to a small balcony".

Right: Galata Tower


Later on, meeting Kerim for lunch, "the car went back over the Galata Bridge and drew up outside the vaulted arcades of the Spice Bazaar. The chauffeur led the way up the shallow worn steps and into the fog of exotic scents". Kerim is waiting at the Misir ´┐Żarsisi (Fleming spells it Misir Carsarsi), the Spice or Egyptian Bazaar, and is immediately offered a glass of Raki, which Bond finds identical with Greek Ouzo. For a starter Kerim recommends a sardine dish that to Bond "tasted like any other fried sardines", while he himself has strips of raw fish, explaining that "I am not a faddist, but I once trained to be a professional strongman" and "my trainer insisted that I should only eat raw food. I got the habit". He goes on; "I don't care the hell what other people eat so long as they enjoy it. I can't stand sad eaters and sad drinkers". James Bond's choice demonstrates that anyone can eat like 007; the Doner Kebab is described to him as "very young lamb broiled over charcoal with savoury rice. Lots of onions in it". Kerim chooses a dish of raw meat, which when it arrived resembled "a large flat hamburger of finely minced raw meat laced with peppers and chives and bound together with yolk of egg". Trying a forkful, Bond found it delicious. With the second course comes a bottle of Kavaklidere, "a rich course burgundy like any other Balkan wine". Turkey is the fifth largest grape producer in the world, but the ban on alcohol during the Ottoman period means that until recently, just two percent of its vineyards were used for wine production. The Kavaklidere Winery was established in 1929 near Ankara and is one of the best known and the longest established vineyard in Turkey.

Above: Istanbul's Spice Bazaar, or Misir ´┐Żarsisi

After lunch they return to Kerim's office for more coffee and then, putting on workmen's overalls, disappear into "an ancient stone-walled tunnel that sloped steeply to the right". The two men walk through the rat-infested tunnel for about fifteen minutes until they reach "a deep alcove of newly faced brick in the side wall of the tunnel" from where they will view the Russian's afternoon meeting. "Kerim reached up and untied the tarpaulin cover and pulled it downwards. Bond understood. The cover protected the shining butt of a submarine periscope, fully withdrawn". Kerim claims that it is a lost drain from the Hall of Pillars, built as a reservoir in case of siege.

Above: The Hall of Pillars

That evening Kerim takes Bond out of Istanbul to see a gypsy friend who supplies him with information. They find they have arrived on a bad night: "Two girls of the tribe are in love with one of his sons. There is a lot of death in the air. They both threaten to kill the other to get him". As Kerim is a close friend they are invited to dinner consisting of "some sort of ragout smelling strongly of garlic", accompanied by bread and a bottle of the ever present raki and after dinner (eaten with the right hand as the "left hand is used for only one purpose among these people") the fight between the girls commences, only to be interrupted by an attack on the gypsy camp by a group of Bulgars working for the Russians

After leaving the gypsies, Kerim and Bond head back to Istanbul. In response to the attack at the gypsy camp Kerim has vowed to kill Krilencu, the leader of the Bulgars. All the bloodshed is giving Bond doubts about Istanbul: "It seemed to him a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were its only population. His instinct told him, as it has told other travellers, that Istanbul was a town he would be glad to get out of alive". The plan is to shoot Krilencu when he tries to make an escape through a trap door in an advertising hoarding. Looking at the hoarding through a German made Sniperscope ("Infra-red lens. Sees in the dark.") Bond examines the giant poster of Marilyn Monroe minutely. "A faint square showed in the poster. It ran from below the nose into the great alluring curve of the lips. It was about three feet deep. From it, there would be a longish drop to the ground".

Above: The Orient Express

After the assassination Bond returns to his hotel in the early hours of the morning. Waiting for him, dressed in nothing but a ribbon around her neck, is a Russian cipher clerk who he is in Istanbul to help defect. Tatiana Romania, Tania for short, plans to leave Istanbul on the Orient Express, leaving that night at nine o'clock. The Orient Express originally started as a service from Paris to Romania in the 19th century and from 1921 the extended Simplon Orient Express ran a service all the way to Istanbul. A byword for luxury travel, the service was characterised by fine wines, elaborate meals and the company of Royalty and celebrities.

Arriving at the station that evening Bond surveyed the scene: "Wisps of steam rose from the couplings between the carriages and died quickly in the warm August air. The Orient Express was the only live train in the ugly, cheaply architectured burrow that is Istanbul's main station. The trains on the other lines were engineless and unattended - waiting for tomorrow. Only Track No3, and its platform, throbbed with the tragic poetry of departure". Bond meets the Tania, who is defecting with the top secret Spektor cipher machine, on the train and Bond has arranged for Kerim to accompany them. Their escape is not clear though and they exit Turkey into Greece gloomy in the knowledge that they are accompanied by a number of Russian agents.

"The World Of James Bond" will continue next month...

Article by David Leigh.