Well, I am off to Istanbul tomorrow; and instead of studying my travel guide or practicing my language skills for the inevitable bartering, I am once again delving into popular culture for some dubious impressions of my destination. Earlier this year, I picked up Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn to learn about Cornwall. I shall probably comment on that reading experience later this fall, considering that I recently found a contemporary article on the release of the film version starring Maureen O’Hara. Last summer, I watched Charlie Chan in Eran Trece to prepare for my trip to Madrid. Once again, I learned little and ended up eating tapas for a week.
Tuning in for some make-believe Turkish delights as offered to American radio listeners in the 1940s and early 1950s, I had my share of unreliable travel companions. I would have enjoyed going astray with Marlene Dietrich in her radio adventures at the Café Istanbul. Yet unlike its follow-up, the globetrotting romance Time for Love, the Café is no longer open for inspection; nor was it located in the city from which it took its name. A Man Called X (played by wooden-legged Herbert Marshall) ventured to Istanbul on at least one occasion and there is an episode of The Chase called “Flight to Istanbul.” The most obvious choice for some Istanbul escapes, however, is A Man Named Jordan, the serialized precursor of the episodic Rocky Jordan adventures.
Starring Jack Moyles and airing from January 1945 to April 1947, A Man Named Jordan took listeners to the Café Tambourine, which was initially located in Istanbul before being relocated to Cairo. That alone should suffice in answering any questions about the authenticity of such adventures set in a world gradually becoming open once more to tourists, rather than the military. That it was still an uncertain world seems to have been exploited by the spy thrillers of the day, cloak and dagger adventures that not so much romanced the world as relied on and fostered the audience’s suspicion of foreign places.
“In those places in the world where intrigue and danger still go hand in hand, where death and disaster are the rewards of weakness—in such places will be found, A Man Named Jordan,” the announcer-narrator introduced each installment. The location was as easily set as it was later changed. In those early days, Jordan’s establishment, the Café Tambourine, was to be found in “a narrow street of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar not far from the Mosque Valide Sultan.” The Bazaar, more Byzantine than the plot of the serial, was established some five hundred years before Jordan opened his fictional Café there, a hazardous locale “clouded with the smoke of oriental tobaccos, crowded with humanity, alive with the battle of many languages.”
No doubt, I am going to have my share of linguistic challenges and will fail as miserably as on my trip to Morocco many years ago to negotiate the streets or haggle with the peddlers with dignity and success. Once back at the hotel Tash Konak, I shall pick up my iPod to compare notes with Rocky and that Man Called X before filing my report at the end of next week.