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Pelin Böke
Master Pierre: The Talent Arising from the Eye of the Needle1
Master Pierre... Barba Pierre... Pierre Murat... These different designations which constitute his name as called out in his daily life indicate that we are encountering a composite of character qualities which is special to Izmir. This certain blend involves a great deal of devotion to life and joy, as well as the hard work in patience and a quiet oblivion. One who knows Barba Pierre in person might think the verse “We could not find a more silent sea than your smile2” was written specially for him. I will consider myself happy if I, as a Smyrniote and a good friend of his, I can successfully describe a bit of how his silent “inner sea” meets the large Bay of Izmir, and gets merged into it.

Pierre Murat talks little and works hard. That is because sewing requires patience, a careful eye, and of course, intelligence and talent. It is a tough job to be a craftsman. And his craft happens to be making curtains and upholstery. He is a man who brings colour not only to the houses of Izmir but to the city itself through his style, and internalises the colours of Izmir within himself. In short, it feels like reading the near history of Turkey since 1920 and viewing the panorama of Izmir, to listen to Pierre Murat’s biography who was two years old at the time of the Fire of Izmir, five years old at the time of the Hat Revolution, nineteen years old when the Second World War broke out, and is in his ninetieth year of age as of 2009.

It was during the last years of the Ottoman Empire when he was born, and this information alone enables us to comprehend that this past is not at all that far behind. Pierre Murat, born of an English mother and a father of Armenian origin3, never identified himself as a “Levantine”, but rather considers himself a “Catholic” like the other Latin Catholics do, living in Izmir. Accordingly, “Levantine”, appears in the literature, to be the defining term for the Latin Catholics who settled down and engaged in trade in the region and was used mostly by the Western Europeans in a slightly condescending way. Though the term went on to cover the members of the other sects of Christianity in time, in addition to Latin Catholics4, the point that we want to emphasise here is that the community itself has never embraced the term that much.

Pierre Murat, as a native resident of Karşıyaka, received his education in the same town attending firstly the School of Soeurs in Alaybey (Selçuk Yasar Elementary School is built on its place today), and secondly the school of Frères based in the Church Road area5.

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The coastline of Karşıyaka Alaybey, 1930s.
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Pierre Murat with Frère Felix.
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Jack Murat, in front of his shop at Hisarönü, central Izmir.

It is also know that the children of Muslim elites with modern views used to attend those schools back in those years. The schools in question, being founded predominantly by the French missionary organisation “Fille de Charité”, provided educational facilities that ranged from elementary level to high school, and appealed mostly to female students6. However, the School of Soeurs in Karşıyaka also accepted the elementary age boys. The girls were usually sent to Dame to Sion following the Soeurs School, while its counterpart for the boys was either the School of Frères or Lycée Saint Joseph. By 1930 it became mandatory for elementary age children to attend the Turkish schools irrespective of their religion. Turning back to Pierre Murat, he decided for himself to become a frère -just like Frère Felix- during his education in the School of Frères7.

So, he takes a ship to Marseille at the age of 12-13 along with the other boys who also want to be trained as frères. They arrive at Marseille after touring Athens and Rome, the two cities that he will never be able to travel in his life once again. After a short time in Marseille, the young Pierre Murat misses his family and wants to turn back; so they “post him directly back to Izmir with no stop-over allowed on the way”- to put it with his own words. His journey to Marseille thereby, in a way, becomes his farewell to the educational life.

“... I quit the school at the age of fourteen. There was a candy store in the neighbourhood. There was a boy who worked there. After he quit, I took over the job. I worked there for a year. It was not bad. Then I started working with my elder brother in his shoemaker’s shop. I was fifteen then. I worked there until I turned seventeen. Then my mother told my father to teach me his craft. Curtains and upholstery... So, we found a place in Izmir - my father did not used to have a shop before. He used to have a big machine, and he sewed truck tarps with that. He used to manufacture flags and curtains, too. He was an artisan, though... whatever... When the war broke out in 1939, I had just started working with my dad. Suddenly demand of upholstery, curtains and of everything else stopped. I had never made curtains or an armchair myself, back then. For a while I stitched that cord sort of things onto the edgings of the armchairs and removed them likewise - that was all I learned from my father. All we did was making truck tarps. The war broke in 1939. I worked with my dad through 1940-42. My father was an old-time man who used to work arbitrarily. He used to stop working for two days after he earned a dime. I was the one who ran the shop and my father used to ask if I got any work done whenever he showed up. ‘How much money did you make?’... ‘A few pennies or what,’ I would answer. ‘Okay then, did you get it in cash?’ If I did, he used to take it all from me and then beat it. Now he’s got the money... My father used to go to coffeehouse in the mornings, play backgammon and go to work afterwards. He used to go to Bornova for work. But how, let me tell you. There were no buses then, only the train. You had to go to Basmane from here (Karşıyaka) to catch the train at 10 A.M. The return train was at 3 p.m. Only four hours of working, you see? My father’s name was Jack Murat8.”

And that Jack Murat’s craftsmanship was prized by Kemal Atatürk during one his visits between 1930 and 1934. The story was as follows: The governor of Izmir, Kazım Dirik decides to get one of the rooms in the Konak (which gave its name to the Konak Square and is still used as the governor’s office today - literally means mansion in Turkish) prepared for Atatürk. His men make an inquiry and finally pick Jack Murat for the duty to prepare the room. Pierre Murat, who happens to be aged 13-14 back then, along with his elder brother, helped their father and arrange an “oriental room” with straw pillows on a wooden bedstead, rugs borrowed from elsewhere, green decorations on the ceiling corners, and flags. Anton Murat and his fiancé attended the ball that night on behalf of his father. Finally “The Veteran Pasha” shows up and settles in his room. After a while, a messenger approaches Anton Murat and tells him that Pasha wants to see him. Apparently, Atatürk asked the name of the person that prepared the room with an ambiguous utterance that gave no indication of like or dislike, and wanted to see him. Once they figure out that Jack Murat was not present there, they find Anton and take him to the Pasha in a hurry. Anton feels frightened at first, yet gets to understand the story “behind the scene” later. The truth was that the Pasha simply admired the room and ordered the decorator of the room to be given an extra twenty liras. Anton feels relieved when he learns the truth. This incident makes the governor Kazım Dirik so cheerful that the following day, he adds another twenty liras to Jack Murat’s reward.

In those years were when Pierre Murat started to work with his father, the Second World War gathered more pace. Although he has already reached the age of joining the Army, he was not called yet as his age was registered as two years younger than his real age on his ID card. Football enters his life as a major interest in those days. He plays football at the fields in the back of their house in Alaybey. Yet a day comes when he gets forced to give up this dream career of his, while on the verge of becoming a professional: the Army calls him for duty. Before joining the Army he had luckily enjoyed another dream of his come true; he had a bicycle of his own.

“I was seventeen or something when my father had taken up a canvas work in the Fair. I went there too to give a hand to him, only to see a practicing bicycle on sale for forty liras in the German pavilion. A racing bicycle, that was. How could I buy it anyway? Forty liras was a monthly salary, back then. People used to live on 35-40 liras paying their rent, sending their children to school, and all. ‘Anyway, I am going to buy it’ I said to myself. But, how was I possibly going to buy it? I started saving money little by little: 5 pennies, 10 pennies, and 25 pennies - whatever was there! Dad used to pay me 25 pennies a week. Sometimes he did not pay me anything. Besides, we used go to movies. It used to cost 10 pennies, I guess. There were times I did not go to movies and put the money aside. I hardly saved 40 liras in one year. What if the price went up to 45 liras, I was wondering. ‘Forget the bicycle, then’. Mercifully it was the same price and I bought it for 40 liras. Man, how happy I was...”

It was still a luxury item to have a bicycle of one’s own in the 1930s, when compared with the 1890s, the times when the first bicycle was ever seen on the streets of Izmir9. The reason of this privilege is that riding a bike provides one with a large range of travelling and manoeuvring in an era of limited transportation facilities. Thus it became a pleasant and economic way for Pierre Murat to get to their shop in Konak that was close to Hisar Mosque on bike, who already enjoyed cycling to Manisa, Kemalpaşa and Menemen along with his childhood friend Ivan. Aside from football and cycling, he was also into the nautical life. One day they thought about making a real “skiff”.

“The war broke out in 1939, and five of us were like ‘Let’s raise some money and put up a skiff’... You know how a skiff works: four rowers on the front and the middle, and one coxswain at the back are required. Edi had an uncle; he had become our headsman. ‘Shall we do it?’ he asked. ‘Okay, let’s do it’ we said. Anyway we started working on it and decided to finish it by the following summer. All of us were putting as much money as we could into the production of the skiff. When we had enough money, we bought the woods. Later we cut them. Edi’s uncle was the headsman. How large was the skiff, let me remember... I guess it was four and a half or five meters long. We were done with the wood, and then came the canvas part. How about the money? Anyway we found the money and took care of the canvas. Months passed and summer was on its way... Now it was the turn to paint it. We took care of the paint as well. How many were we? Let’s count... There was me, and a Turk. There was Valentino, and a Turk. There were another two Turkish guys and one Greek guy. Anyway the summer arrived. We finished the skiff on the 1st of July. By the way the war had already broken out... We put it on the sea the very same day... We started rowing it with the oars... Suddenly we saw Ivan on the shore with the camera. I yelled at him to take pictures of us. He said ‘Alright’... The sun was setting... Anyway, he took a few shots, then walked toward the other side of the shore and took another few pictures there. The photographs had not captured the shipyard in Alaybey, as far as I knew. Bayraklı was visible in the background of the shots... Turan came in the scene as the skiff moved along that direction... There were fuel tanks out there then, they got in the photographs. And a little bit of this side (Karşıyaka). All of a sudden the policemen popped up and arrested us. We asked ‘What is wrong?’ They said ‘You are photographing the area’. They took the camera, me, Ivan and the rest of us to their headquarters. ‘Whose camera is it?’ they asked. ‘Mine,’ I replied. ‘Who took the pictures?’ they insisted. ‘Ivan,’ we said. After a ‘Who’s this, who’s that?’ conversation, they released everybody except me and Ivan, and detained us to take over to the court house later. Then, my elder brother came to see me. Anyway we came before the judge the following day. Our released friends came to watch the hearing, as well. They said that the skiff was destroyed after us. One of our friends’ father had done it. We had used it only once!!! They showed us the photographs at the court... The shipyard was visible in them... I was thinking of the skiff during the trial... Anyway, we appeared before the court. They asked ‘Why did you take the photographs? Look, there is the shipyard in the background’. It was there, naturally... Finally they let us go, but my camera was gone, our skiff was gone... We had got on it only once. It seems that a woman who had been watching us denounced us to the policemen, saying that the ‘foreigners’ were taking photographs. She was a teacher, we used to know her, and we used to get into the sea in front of her house... We went before the court. There were two Muslim Turks, one Greek, and one Yugoslavian Ivan among us, only the last two being foreigners. They questioned us and then released us, but I lost my camera, we lost our skiff, and that is it... We stayed one night in jail, at the police station in Kemeraltı... We were frightened to death.”

It must not be a nice feeling for someone who identifies himself as Turkish to be accused of espionage. However, that “exclusive” state of his, in other words, of him being a Christian Turk, becomes a problem once again later in life. This time, it is the days of poverty during the Second World War and Pierre Murat had lost his father three months previously. He is enlisted into the army in 1942 as a 22 year old man who was born in 1920, and eventually gets discharged after three years of service which pass without touching any gun or a bullet. Although it sounds comfortable and safe, the reality isn’t that pleasant. He does not touch a gun but digs the ground all day. The reason for that was because he was a non-Muslim, and he was sent first to Ankara to be deployed in the back of the front line, and then to Akhisar to “pave roads”. The battalion that included Pierre Murat and fifty other non-Muslim men can be compared to the labour battalions of the First World War days10. The whole thing is also an indicator of how powerful the paranoia was that non-Muslims would stab the Turkish state in the back if they were given the guns. However, the paranoia did not happen to be unilateral in reality. Despite the twenty-seven years that had elapsed since the deportation of Armenians in 1915, the memories were still vivid in the minds of many. In that sense, the law enforcement agency of the state did not promise much hope for an Armenian Catholic like Pierre Murat to trust them. Even though this reciprocal paranoia between the two parties owes much to the traumas the Ottoman Empire went through in the last century of its existence, it is quite obvious that it should have been one of the mandatory duties of the newly established Republic to mend such worn sentiments of security in the society that originated from the deep splits in its territory. For people from different cultural backgrounds that had lived side by side for many years, the world of the 1930s and 1940s must have been frightening as much as it meant living a life of constant uneasiness.

“When I became a soldier they sent me to Etimesgut, to work in the airport. Soldiers were working in the making of either the airport or the roads, then. There were many young men around, so they sent me there. We were all non-Muslims... They sent me to the airport... Then they realised that I was useless there, and then sent me back to Akhisar. Public works; they used to call it ‘public works’ then. A dozen soldiers used to sleep inside one tent. They were paving the Sındırgı road. There was a group located in every 2-3 kilometres. When they got up in the morning, they all knew what at which point they had to start working at. So they would start digging and paving the road right away. If the ground we dug was soil, then it was fine. We were twelve people in our group: four of us used to dig, another four used to shovel up and another four used to trundle the wheelbarrow. Twelve of us used to sleep in the same tent. We used to get up in the morning and start working straight away. All tent groups worked like that. Every group was supposed to reach the tent of the group ahead of them, digging up the path so that the road to Sındırgı would take shape that way... Diggers used to start the first... The commanders would give weekly orders like ‘It should get done until here’, pointing out a spot. If we could not manage to finish it, we had to work on Saturday and Sunday, as well. When it was the soil that we dug out, we were going forward 1-2 meters with each digging stroke. Then the wheelbarrow guys would come and the shovel guys would shovel the soil up into the wheelbarrows and the carriers would carry the soil away to the pits around to fill them up... It was the proper method of levelling the road. When we came upon rocks and could not smash them with the digging tools, we had to use dynamite to blast them away. Once it was clear and open again, we would proceed ahead. Some of the guys were not tough like us; they were ‘momma’s boys’, you know? We were used to such things... And there was also the threat of malaria... We would be digging for a while and then sitting down and watching the wheelbarrow men carry away the dirt. We used to lend them help when they got tired, in order not to extend the workload to the weekend. At that point you were supposed to either finish it up working fast or leave it to Saturday and Sunday.”

“The Germans invaded Greece around the same time we were serving our time. One late night I heard the bugle call. All of us woke up in panic and went outside for the assembly with the digging tools in our hands... We looked around, saw nothing, and thought like ‘What is this? There is no fire around. Oh God, they are going to kill us all.’ We were non-Muslims, after all... So the whole battalion were awake and standing on their feet. We walked the whole night. Some of us walked fast, some of us lagged behind. Toward the morning we noticed in the horizon that it was the mountains of Manisa that were burning. We took a deep breath there!! Thank God, it was a real fire, we said. ‘They are not going to get rid of us’. We were scared, let me tell you... You know, Armenians and Jews were employed separately. They were deployed in either public works or the airport service. Anyway, we reached the fire area. If we started like a hundred people at the beginning, we were twenty-five at the end. Some of them lost their way, and some joined us later. On our way back, it was the grape harvest season, so everywhere the fields were full of grape vines. We had stopped many times while we enjoyed tasting the grapes. There was a school building around; we had spent the night there. Later the food packs and the trucks had arrived... to take us back to Akhisar... Man, we took a real deep breath! Not only me, all of us did! They say it is a fire. You go out but see nothing. Besides, the Nazis had just invaded Greece. We thought we were either going to war or they were taking us apart... I stayed there for a year like that.”

“Later I got transferred to the command headquarters in Akhisar. I became the stockman. It was easy. We had an officer there called Ismail, I cannot remember his last name. He was into football. All the soldiers played football. He used to choose twelve men among us and we used to play football against some team on Sundays. We had to win all the games, otherwise the commander would make a face. Whenever we won, he was the happiest man alive... I stayed quite long there, like one and a half years. Occasionally they used to give us new underwear there in the depot, but it was never a periodic thing. Perhaps once in six months or a year, it happened... We used to collect the old things and put them into the storage. A soldier would come, for instance, and say he was looking for a pair of boots. ‘Let me check myself, Pierre’ he would say. I would say ‘OK’. Then he would find a pair of boots with no bottom, and murmur ‘Mine are fine, brother’ and leave. The first day we started in the army, they had not given us regular boots. The things they gave us were like sandals or slippers. They got worn out in two months or so, and we could not find anything else to wear.”

“(However) they gave us bread every morning. A loaf of bread... it was round in shaped. We had the food; sometimes it was good, and sometimes bad, but we had it. I cannot complain about that. They gave us food until we were dismissed. They did not make the soldier starve. There was no money. None of our parents sent us money. They used to pay us thirty pennies until we served our time for six months, then it became a hundred and twenty pennies or something, but what can you buy for a hundred and twenty pennies, you tell me? They used to sell the civilian people a quarter of a bread or sell bread only with a ration card then. So, some soldiers had got in the habit of not eating their whole breads but saving them in slices. In a week those slices would make a whole bread, and in that case the soldiers would sell them to the civilians against payment of money. There was a trick like that to make money...”

The most enjoyable moments in those days of deprivation that passed full of work were the times when Dario Moreno -he had shared the same destiny with Pierre Murat in the same battalion- played his guitar and sang along. He had not become a big success by then; however, the officer Ismail could arguably be the first person to discover his talents. Officer Ismail would start sipping his raki listening to Moreno’s guitar at the most enjoyable time of the day - a couple of hours before the sunset. The problem was, whenever he drank too much alcohol his angel-like manners would disappear and he became a quick-tempered man. “We would vanish from his sight, at such occasions” says Pierre Murat today, and cannot help adding “He was a nice man, though”...

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P. Murat in army issue uniform, 1942.
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Entertainment in Akhisar, 1942.
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Pierre Murat with his mother and sister.

After the road to Sındırgı is done, Pierre Murat and his battalion are sent to Ceyhan to work in the stone quarry, in the train wagons that they could barely fit in, standing on their feet. That does not last long, though. One day an officer from Bayburt who was seeking an orderly for himself came to see the troop. He wanted to have his wife and children in Akhisar brought over there, and the first assignment of the orderly that he would choose would be the taking care of that duty. He examined every soldier one by one and when it is Pierre Murat’s turn, he remarks “You are too good-looking”, and discards him. To Pierre Murat’s surprise, the officer finally appoints him as his orderly to get his family there, but still warns him “If I hear a single complaint about you from my wife, you are finished”. Later Pierre Murat stays with the officer in Mersin as his orderly, and everything gradually becomes easier for him. At least, he does not touch the digging tools thereafter.

The end of the war and of the three and a half year long military service mean the beginnings of different anxieties. Pierre Murat returns to Izmir as broke as he could ever be. He finds his sister working as a governess to look after the children after their father’s passes away. Pierre Murat applies for a few jobs, but does not get a call back from any of them. In the meantime an acquaintance of his father proposes him to do the furnishing of his house. Pierre Murat considers that he had learned only how to sew truck tarps from his father, however, does not reject the proposal, and starts learning how to furnish the chairs and the armchairs as he dismantles them one by one. He slowly starts to attract more and more customers and his economic condition gets better. He gets married to his childhood friend Otilya Copri in 1948. In spite of their strong will to have babies, they could not have one. Nevertheless they always have children around them - even in their wedding photographs...

The 1950s are the times the hot war has ended but another one in a different temperature begins. Pierre Murat puts firm steps towards evolving into becoming “Master Pierre”. While it is not clear if it was due solely to the Marshall Plan aid Turkey also received but things start to get better financially. “Master Pierre” dresses up the houses of the most prestigious families of Izmir including that of from Girauds to Alliottis. One of those houses happens to be the Paterson Mansion in Bornova.

“The house was in good shape in the 1950s... The family had not left yet. Descendants of the family were living in the house, back then. They had no relatives whatsoever in Izmir. All were in Europe. When the couple died, the house was allocated to the National Library. By the time the authorities came to assess the house, it was already set on fire and all. Only the exterior walls of the house were standing in the 1960s and 70s... When I saw the house for the first time, there was a huge iron gate before the house in the garden... a two-door one... Next to it, there stood the house of the keeper. Monsieur [Stanley] Paterson had brought me to his house. He used to know my father since my father had previously done a few jobs for the family’s house. Anyway, Monsieur Paterson opened the gate; we entered the doorway and after walking 20-25 meters, spotted a marvellous house. There was a double-sided circular stairway on the front of the house that led to the porch upstairs. Right at the starting point of the stairs stood the gas lamps. They used to be lit with coal gas, back then. Anyway we reached the main door. It was a huge double engraved wooden door with stained glass windows about 4 meters high... Then we entered a large hall... I remember the heating stoves quite vividly... You know I am a tall man myself, but even I could not see the tops of the stoves. They were covered on all sides with ceramic glazes. They were simply fantastic... and the ceramics were beautiful... There were four doors ahead; we took one of them and entered into a huge living room... It was so large that you could almost build another house in there. There were mosque-type candle chandeliers on the ceiling. Anyway, there were another six doors ahead, and we again took one of them. It was a rounded living room this time, not a square one, and a huge one again. In the first living room, there was a stairway on one side that led up to the second floor. There were bedrooms in the upstairs... 6 or 7, I guess... Each of them could be 60 square meters. They were just tremendous... Anyway, let us go downstairs again. Remember the living room with the stairs that went upstairs? There was another stairway next to it that went down to the basement floor. There was a large library downstairs, and then a pool room and a three-floor grandstand for the use of the audience... Anyway, let us go to the kitchen now... There was a massive, rectangular iron stove in the kitchen on which was cooked the food for the household, the workers, the dogs and the horses... As far as the workers in the house was concerned, I remember there was a cleaning lady to do her thing, another lady to sew up the household’s torn clothing. I had seen two of them around... Now let us go outside, we will return to the inside later. Around 20 meters away from the main house was another building half round in shape... This again had rooms and all... There had been a barn in the house’s land before, and a horse-drawn carriage. There were the auxiliary buildings around where the stableman, servants and the cook stayed. The personnel must have come from the islands, particularly from Chios. They -the cook, the servant, and the cleaning lady- had their rooms located side by side. I am telling you, they were just great... The garden was thirty acres large. It was full of trees; all were enormous... There were footpaths, fences around... tiny stones and mosaics, in black and white on the ground... The fences had looked very striking to my eye. There was a gardener working there, of course... Anyway, turning back to kitchen, there was a very large table in the middle... All the food was cooked there. You should have seen the ceilings. They could have been four meters high. They call it crown-molding now, you should have seen those plaster ornaments on the ceilings... The chandeliers were surrounded with such ornaments fixed on the ceiling. I am not talking about simple, round plasterboard fittings, no; these ones were nicely worked. Very fine work... The dining room was located just next to the big living room at the entrance. There was a dining table in the middle. Twenty people could sit around it... It was a long one, surrounded with chairs... But it was the basement floor that stood out; let me tell you... where the library was... They would not go downstairs in winter, but it used to be so cool in summer that they used to spend summer downstairs. The houses in Bornova used to have very thick walls and shuttered windows, then. People would never open them up in order to keep the houses cool inside... But that place downstairs, how lovely and cool it was... I cannot forget it... You should have seen those leather armchairs, but foremost the pool table... the table in the middle... All of the walls were covered with bookshelves filled with books... When I had gone there, their kids were all grown up. Monsieur Paterson had a son [Gerald], and a daughter [Monica] -both unmarried- and his wife [Mary née Keun]. When their parents died the kids gave the house to the National Library... You should really have seen the house before it got all burnt down. Now it is partly restored but it lacks the top floor. It used to be a three-floor building. I feel sorry for that house... Before they lent it to the Library, Monsieur Paterson’s son used to come and go to the house; he had rented it to a NATO commander at the time. I have made curtains for the Commander. One day he had given a ball there in the house... I did not see it myself but people have told me about it while I was working on the curtains... The Commander found a great amount of candles in the cellar, they said. I have seen them myself too, when I had walked down the cellar once. For the record, there was a cellar underground for keeping wine. Anyway, although electricity was available in the house then, the Commander had all the chandeliers decorated solely with candles for his party. Imagine the wood panelling, floor to ceiling mirrors, long wooden polished floors in the candle light... It must have been magnificent... I have seen many houses in Izmir, but that one was the most beautiful among them11...” - view Paterson house layout plans / family photo selection / photo selection of the Paterson house

Perhaps there is no other person alive in Izmir today, apart from him, who knows how the Paterson’s house looked like then. Pierre Murat later takes care of the upholstery and curtain work of the famous Kısmet Hotel in Izmir, owned by Vahdettin’s (the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire) granddaughter Hümeyra Özbaş for a long time. In terms of business, he never gets to be a picky person. He fixes tents for the pavilions of the foreign countries that participated in the Izmir International Fair throughout the 1970s, during which the Fair used to be open for the whole month. He owned two workplaces and employed 10-15 people at the time. When the Fair season arrived, they started working day and night, and had fun on the side as well. Once, when they were about to finish the setup of the tent in the Bulgarian pavilion, one of the workers loses his balance and falls down from the top of the construction, tearing the tent into two parts. The Bulgarian boss panics immensely, as the Fair is supposed to be opened the following day. While everybody wonders what they are going to do, Pierre Murat finds a practical way of handling the situation with a cool head as usual. The plan is to rip off the tent on the corners so that it dangles down a bit from its lower edge, then stretch the canvas forward over their heads; so Pierre’s brother-in-law Eli climbs on top of a piece of wooden beam and starts repairing the torn part of the tent with a handy sewing machine as he crawls all the way ahead on the beam until the sewing is done. This incident leaves the Bulgarian boss in such awe that he photographs the scene probably guessing that nobody would believe him if he ever told the story. Owing either to his incredible problem solving skills or to his decent work (or to both reasons), Pierre Murat maintains a reputation as the most acclaimed tent-maker of the Fair for many years. As his reputation spreads widely he then works with many foreign clients and companies including the American Consulate in Izmir.

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The wedding day, Pierre Murat and Otilya née Copri (1948).
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Pierre Murat and colleagues working on the awnings during the Fair season.
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P. Murat and friends enjoying the carnival season in Izmir, 1950s.

Despite his hard-working nature, Pierre Murat never neglects having good time with his friends and family. They go camping to Çeşme or Aliağa in big groups during summer. His friend Ivan captures him and Madame Otilya during one of their camping trips as seen next.

Pierre Murat spends most of his spare time with his friend Ivan who was one year younger than him. They were especially a naughty and inseprable due during the carnivals that were celebrated before Easter.

“My mate Ivan... We were childhood friends. We celebrated many carnivals together. We used to wear a different costume in each carnival... Costumes of a ballerina, princess and so on... Everybody had to think of some costume and then wear it! Once we had a brainstorm thinking what to wear and decided on making a horse! We bought some sticks and made a square out of them to form the horse’s body. Next was its head. It suited my head... So we made two holes for the eyes, painted a nose... Not sure though, whether it looked like a horse or a mule! Anyway I put it on, and Ivan was supposed to wear its back... We also found a tail... All was done but something was missing... We had to do something else. We bought a chocolate cake with cream in the middle. We cut it into two transverse pieces and put onion, pepper, garlic, and the other sour stuff we could find into it and closed it up. We made four or five cakes like that and put them in a carton box. Anyway, Ivan held the box behind me in our horse costume and put down the cakes on the ground one by one as if the horse was defecating! Prior to our show we had told a friend about our plan and warned him not to eat the cakes but hand them to the people around. So, we started to put the cakes away... People threw up as they ate them... We died laughing! You must have seen how many people took a bite of the cake... We used to do things like that... We used to have fun in our house, too. We had a very crowded house... 20 or 30 people lived together... You know the old houses used to have wide and long living rooms. We used to celebrate the carnivals there.”

In the 1980s they put a stop to celebrating the carnivals that lasted up until then due to the slow dissolution of their entourage and the sudden occurrence of Madame Otilya’s illness. As she passes away in 1987, “Master Pierre” closes down his store and retires himself. Anyhow, his clients never leave him alone and since then, his house has also become a workplace for him. His house may appear to your eyes as if it was a sea of cloths with their outstanding colours that you will never ever see again elsewhere. It is a house as colourful as his “inner sea” and as confusing as the Bay of Izmir can get when the cool Aegean summer breeze turns into the northeastly wind.

Master Pierre, Barba Pierre or Pierre Murat (however you prefer to call him) is such a person. As a craftsman, he is a skilled person with the meagre education he received at school, who paved his way from apprenticeship to artistry, a kind and loyal friend for those who know him in person, and “a pleasant echo” for Izmir that will last forever12...


- Bali, Rıfat. (2008) Yirmi Kur’a Nafia Askerleri Istanbul: Kitabevi Yayıncılık

- Böke, Pelin. (2001) “Bir Okulun İzinde: Karşıyaka Dame de Sion Mektebi” (On the Trail of a School: The College of Karşıyaka Notre Dame de Sion) Izmir Kent Kültürü Dergisi. 3(1): 20-27.

- Böke, Pelin. (2005) “Izmirliler Yarışıyor” (Izmir Races) Toplumsal Tarih. 144(12): 58-63.

- Hür, Ayşe. “Pek Bilinmeyen Bir Dram: Amele Taburları” (A Less-Known Tragic Event: The Labour Battalions) Taraf Gazetesi. 12 October 2008. - link:

- Murat, Pierre. Personal Interview. 22 December 1998.

- Mutlu, Cengiz. (2007) Birinci Dünya Savaşında Amele Taburları (The Labour Battalions during the First World War) Istanbul: IQ Kültür Sanat Yayıncılık.

- Smyrnelis, Marie-Carmen (ed.) (2008) İzmir 1830-1930, Unutulmuş Bir Kent mi? Bir Osmanlı Limanından Hatıralar (Smyrna, the Forgotten City? Recollections from an Ottoman Port 1830-1930) Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları. (Originally published in French in 2006, Paris: Editions Autrement).

- Yumul, Arus & Dikkaya, Fahri (eds.) (2006) Avrupalı mı, Levanten mi? (A European or a Levantine?) Istanbul: Bağlam Yayıncılık.

- http://www.cercledulevant.net

1- Paper presented at İzmirli Olmak Sempozyumu [Symposium: Being an Izmirli] held between 21-24 October 2009 in APIKAM Izmir, and published in İzmirli Olmak Sempozyumu Bildirileri (Presentations from “Being an Izmirili” Symposium), 2010, Izmir: APIKAM. return to main text

2- Taşbaşı, Cüneyt. 1991. Alice Died. Izmir: Self-published. p. 40. return to main text

3- It is highly likely that Pierre Murat’s father was connected to the Armenian families who migrated from Eastern Anatolia, Nakhçivan and Karabakh regions to Izmir due to the Jelali Revolts and the oppressive regime of Shah Abbas I at the beginning of the 17th century. [Ter Minassian, 2008: 92 (Armenians: Dynamism of a Small Community) in Smyrnelis (ed.) 2008.]. return to main text

4- For further information in this regard, see Eldem 2006: 11-22 (“On the Etymology of the Word Levantine”) in Yumul & Dikkaya (eds.) 2006; Schmitt 2008: 123-138 (Levantines, Europeans and the Games of Identity) in Smyrnelis (ed.) 2008. return to main text

5- It is likely that the school commonly known as the school of Soeurs was originally called St Vincent, and the school of Frères was called St Polycarp. return to main text

6- For further reading see Böke 2001: 20-27. return to main text

7- In our interview conducted on December 22, 1998, Pierre Murat emphasised strongly the fact that being a frère did not mean being a priest or a reverend but being a teacher; however they were not allowed to get married in the same way as priests. return to main text

8- Interview made with Pierre Murat on December 22, 1998 in Karşıyaka, Izmir. return to main text

9- For further reading on the story of the first bicycles in Izmir, see Böke 2005: 58-64. return to main text

10- For further reading about the labour battalions, see Mutlu 2007; Hür 2008; and Bali 2008. In his 2008 book “Yirmi Kur’a Nafia Askerleri” (In April 1941, while the Second World War was going on in a dreadful way and it was being discussed whether the war would spill over to Turkey, non-Muslim men aged between the ages of 27 and 40 were called to do their reserve military service in the Turkish Army; but instead of doing active service they were sent to work in labour battalions for the construction of roads and airports. They did not have regular uniforms but shapeless brown clothes, and their duty stations were the remote places of Anatolia. return to main text

11- The images of the Paterson house are taken from Kuyulu 2006: 171-191 (“Levantine Mansions in Bornova”) in Yumul & Dikkaya 2006. return to main text

12- The author is referring to a popular saying from classic Ottoman poetry (Diwan): “(...) was a pleasant echo in this dome that will last forever” (Baki kalan bu kubbede bir hoş seda imiş). (T/N). return to main text

1- The original article was published in Turkish following the Symposium: Böke, Pelin, “İğne Deliğinden Süzülmüş Bir Zenaatkar: Piyer Usta” [Master Pierre: the talent arising from the eye of the needle], Izmirli Olmak Sempozyumu Bildirileri, 2010 - view.
2- Translation into English of segments of this book covering Levantines courtesy of Görkem Daşkan - view:
3- Translation into English of Pelin Böke’s submission to the Izmir Symposium ‘Körfezde Zaman: İzmir Araştırma Kongresi’ [Harbour Times: Izmir Research Congress] held in December 2009 - flyer, courtesy of Görkem Daşkan - view:
4- To view the review of the book ‘Pelin Böke - İzmir 1919-1922: Tanıklıklar. (Izmir 1919-1922: Testimonies)’ and the interview with the author, both conducted by Görkem Daşkan.
5- Unfortunately ‘Barba’ Pierre Murat died on 7th February 2012, God rest his soul.

to top of page submission date 2011, translated courtesy of Görkem Daşkan