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Maxime Nicholas Fidao's Life Story (Written in 1947)
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I am now 65 years old, but it seems that my business experience and willingness to work are of no avail. As an officer of a large corporation in Stamford, Connecticut, told me "At your age we pension people, we do not hire them." But I must keep active. Idleness goes against the grain. The average span of life for men is 64.5 years. I am theoretically dead. I am living on borrowed time. So I though I might as well take advantage of my respite and put down on record the highlights of my allotted years. And, this is it.

On May 10, 1882, twin boys were born to Charles and Maraya Fidao in Smyrna, Turkey. They were named Joseph and Maxime. The last one is me.

Father's family originated from Montfalcone, Austria. Mother was the sister of the Marquis Edmund Giustiniani of the Genoa (Italy) branch of the old family.

In spite of their Austrian and Italian origin, father and mother were both educated in French institutions and French was their language. We had three brothers and four sisters and we all received a French education.

The Marquis Giustiniani and my father were the partners of the firm of N. Giustiniani at Fils, exporters of local produce and vintners of muscatel wine in Samos, an island in the Aegean Sea. Most of the wine was usually sold to Noilly Prat and Cie of French vermouth fame.

In addition to his business activities, my father found time to engage in civic work, particularly charitable work. He was president for many years of the SociÎte de St. Vincent de Paul, a charitable organization which maintained a trade school for boys and adults.

For his devotion and activities in that and other fields, he had been decorated by the Pope, the French Republic, the Emperor of Austria, and the Sultan of Turkey. He was one of the most esteemed men of the community. He was six feet tall and handsome, and I remember him with grey hair only. He wore a mustache and a goatee.

He was a student of human nature, and could read people's character on their faces and countenances. So good was he at it, that friends would send for him to sit in business meetings with foreign travelling agents with whom they had not had any previous dealings.

He could also prescribe the right medicine for many ills and although he had studied neither medicine nor anatomy, he was able to discuss with doctors and often question the advisability of their prescriptions. He was often called in by his friends instead of a physician.

He was affable but stern with us when in the wrong. He was pious and law abiding and his courage was well known. In his righteousness he found the force to face danger unafraid. I recall a night when burglars were heard downstairs ransacking the silver chest. Refusing to arm himself, he went down, intercepted them, disarmed them, and had them arrested.

My mother was no less a deserving person, but her life was all given to her family. Rearing nine children with care and devotion was in itself a lifetime endeavor. She was well known for her even disposition, friendly manner, and her noble outlook on life. She was wholesome and good looking and what I would call a typically normal woman. She had four girls and five boys, a practically even balanced family, which is I believe sign of normality. For, is it not true that women tending toward the masculine, the matter-of-fact type, bear mostly girls.

I was born four hours after my twin brother and during that lapse of time there was only a conjecture on the part of the doctor attending my mother that there might be another one tucked away in that somber abode.

Today such conjecture would sound absurd, but in those days and particularly in Turkey, with the limited availability of surgical instruments, it was not absurd it seems from what I was told.

Mother was not able to nurse both of us. A wet nurse was secured for one of us, and shortly after another one for the other.

Our resemblance was unusual and it was soon decided that I should wear at all times a blue ribbon and my brother a pink one. The wet nurse had often quarreled about the identity of their babies and it is quite possible that I am actually Joseph and not Maxime.

To this day, we still look unusually alike and from a snapshot I received a short time ago from my twin brother, I could easily believe that is my own picture.

My wet nurse was a comely and healthy young woman of about thirty from the Island of Tina, a small rocky but beautiful island in the Aegean Sea. I saw her when I was about ten years old on her visit to Smyrna when she dropped in to see "her child", as she called me.

Our house was large, extending the length of the block, with a good size garden, where grew orange, lemon, citron, plum and apricot trees, as well as heliotrope, Jasmine, mimosa and other flowers. Mother and I looked after the flowers.

The front entrance was on the Rue des Roses, which was called in Greek "Kopries", meaning the Street of Manure, This unflattering name, it seems, came from the fact that the manure was kept at one time at one end of the street, while the name Rue des Roses came from the numerous boxes placed outside windows and balconies containing rose plants. The French emphasized the beauty, the agreeable. Not so the Greeks.

Our kitchen was quite an establishment, for a few food items were to be had, then, already prepared. The help consisted of a cook, two chamber maids, and a utility man. With nine children all this help was needed, for we lived in the style of affluent Europeans.

The climate of Smyrna was temperate and relatively dry. In twenty years I saw snow but once, and it thawed in a few minutes. The house was not heated in the winter, except by a fire place or a mangal or two. A mangal is a large copper receptacle in which charcoals are placed, after being well ignited and carried in whatever room it was needed.

The vegetables were very much what one finds in this country. Beef was usually poor, but there was milk. Our homemade bread, eaten plain, was our choice morsel when hungry between meals. Only once since leaving Smyrna have I tasted such palatable and satisfying bread, and that was in an Italian bakery in New York.

Coffee was roasted in the open once a month in a corner of our garden. Among fruit and vegetables prepared for canning, were tomatoes, which the whole family helped squeeze for sauce for the year into vats one and a half feet deep. On one of those occasions, one of the vats was already full and I could see the reflection of my twin brother in it on the opposite side. I wanted to see my own face. I leaned over a little too far, lost my balance, and fell in. Amid screams and laughs, my mother grabbed me and pulled me out and took me upstairs to dry me out. I remember being rid of my clothes and being wrapped in a bed sheet, and carried in the arms of my mother who, quite excited, tried to console me. I was then a little over three. The tomato sauce turned out quite good.

There were many savory native dishes like shish kebab, and desserts like baklava, made of a great number of very fine layers of pastry, ground walnuts and honey. Rose petal preserve and rose petal ice cream were delicious. Much of the milk was goat's milk and it was brought to the door in its original container. A small herd of goats would be lead through the streets and stop at your door. You brought a container and the quantity required was milked into it in your presence.

The help was of greek nationality from the Aegean Islands, except for the utility man who was a Spanish Jew, born in Turkey. His name was Samuelico Sigura. He lived in the Jewish quarters of the city with his wife and three children. He took us to school in the morning, during our early years, and was there again waiting for us at dismissal time. Quite often, however, he would start with us at home, but lose himself around the block, and again in the afternoon, wait for us around the block and walk home with us. He had warned us not to tell anyone about it, and timidly, we obeyed him. There was a tavern around the corner.

It was one of his duties to bottle the muscatel wine that father sent home occasionally, using empty bottles which were stored in a big closet facing the garden. He would select, by smell, bottles that had contained wine only. One day, when he was sorting out bottles for that purpose, we heard a loud yell and the crash of a bottle in the garden. He had brought the bottle to his nose when the head of a snake shot out of it. He yelled, tossed the bottle, and fainted. We managed to kill the snake, a multicolored, nonpoisonous variety, three feet long.

When his daughter got married, he invited our whole family to the wedding, but I alone went with my cousin. After a long and complicated religious ceremony, the bride joined the guests. On the table in the hall were a few dozen eggs, a few pounds of butter, flour, sugar, and other ingredients. The bride proceeded to mix a cake to be baked on the spot and passed to the guests, to show her qualifications as a promising housewife. The cake was baked and passed around, but I could not eat my piece. As I recall, it had a sickening sweet and oily taste.

There was a large European Colony in the City which controlled most of the business done through that harbor and which, under the privileges guaranteed by the Capitulations, lived in its own way of life, practically undisturbed by the Turkish authorities.

The Capitulations were Conventions forced by some European nations on the Turkish Government, by virtue of which, their nationals were subject to the laws of these European nations, and not the local Turkish laws, in civil and criminal matters. Such cases were decided by the consuls of those nations who depended on the local authorities for the execution of their decisions.

There were a few Americans and their friendly and unassuming manner was somewhat in contrast with that of the Continental Europeans. The English and their way of life appealed to me, but I did not speak the language, and the English rather shunned the Continentals.

The Greeks, natives of Turkey, formed the largest part of the Christian population of the city and among them were many prominent business and professional men. The lower classes were small tradesmen and manual workers who performed most of the work in the packing establishments, putting up for export dried figs, and the famous seedless raisins, "Sultana".

For many miles inland, one could find this Greek population, there for many generations, which in many places had forgotten its Greek language and spoke only Turkish. The only Greek they heard was in church and that they did not understand. They formed the greatest part of the hands that wove the famous Turkish rugs in the interior, and when the Turks expelled all the Greeks from Turkey, subsequent to the Greco-Turkish war that ended in 1922, they lost the greatest part of their rug industry.

The Turks were, of course, the functionaries in the City, but the lower class did not contribute much to the daily economy in those days. They waited patiently for the day when they would be lifted to Heaven, there to enjoy the best foods and the most beautiful women. One of their occupations was to act as carriers of freight, on their backs, as big and heavy as a piano. The Turks occupied the Southeastern part of the City, and we occasionally went through their quarters but we were not welcome.

Camel caravans were often seen passing the outskirts of the City or bringing in their cargos to the market places, even to the harbor. They were always led by a sunbaked Mohamedan, riding a donkey, and who was often asleep astride his mount. The donkey leading in a sure and confident gait.

Camel caravans occasionally passed through the Rue das Roses, and on one occasion a camel stretched its neck and grabbed a piece of bread out of my hand at a second story window of our house, from where I was watching the procession.

In the market places, and throughout the Eastern part of the City, one could always see a motley crowd of people, many of them from far outlying districts. There were Jews of Spanish origin, natives of Turkey, Arabs. Kurds, Albanians, Serbians, Armenians, et al. Most of them, including the Jews, wore the Turkish Feez, and the denizens of the Balkan countries were always conspicuous by their rifles, daggers, and revolvers that they sported with an air of dignity and bravado. Negroes were seldom seen. Occasionally a Negress would be seen peddling, from a basket carried on her head, roasted nuts or patties of sesame seed. During the twenty years in Turkey, I never saw a face of a Turkish woman, except once in the country while peeking from behind a brush fence. She soon got wise to me and pulled down her veil, expostulating in incomprehensible language which sounded like curses to a ghiaour (infidel).

Public scribes were not uncommon in the Turkish quarters. One could also see barbers at their trade in the open air. The Turks shaved their heads but left a tuftat at the top in the manner of some of our Indians. The common saying was that they were to be lifted by it to Heaven. They had a good way for a close shave. The barber would insert his thumb in his mouth of his customer, push his cheek out, and thus shave it.

I had frequent contact with the people of different countries. As I recall, they all seemed fundamentally the same. They spoke different languages, had different manners and wore different clothes, but they had the same needs and desires. They differed only in the manner in which they satisfied those needs and desires. Environment, in its broad sense, no doubt made them appear different. If properly groomed, they could be made to look like Westerners; after all, they all belonged to the white race. Nowhere, I believe, Freud's psychological conclusions are more applicable than in the East. He lived and observed around Vienna, and East and West merge in that part of Europe.

Many processions were seen in the streets, mostly from and to a Greek Orthodox Church. There was one kind of procession which made an eerie impression on me. It was a Greek funeral, where it was the custom to expose the body in the casket in its entire length. Many funerals passed through the street on which faced the rear of our house. The street was paved with stone blocks, many of them loose and protruding, so that a vehicle riding over them would sway and jerk continuously. The body in the casket would sway and jerk with the carriage. Sometimes the glassy eyes of the deceased would stare at you, not being closed, if you watched it from an upper window. When it was a young woman with beautiful hair, it would be hanging over the casket down toward the pavement.

I recall when the funeral of a young woman was passing as I was looking out of an upper window. Her beautiful blond hair was hanging down to the pavement, her eyes were open, her face was contorted, and the carriage was swaying so badly that the body had to be pushed back into position every now and then. It was of common occurrence that a body having been kept too long in the heat of the summer, the emanations from it were most offensive. There was no embalming then, with its corollary arts, which often make one look better dead than alive. Under these circumstances, it took great curiosity, and some callousness, to watch a Greek funeral.

The social life in Smyrna was rather quiet but agreeable. All the well educated members of the European colony spoke French. The continental Europeans used it exclusively, and lived more or less in French style, while the English Colony preferred its own language and habits.

The nicest part of the City was the water front, where some members of the European Colony had erected beautiful homes of stone and marble. The Marquis Giustiniani was one of them. The Quay covered about two miles of the waterfront.

A suburb, Bournabat, where most of the English Colony lived, contained some beautiful country homes on large estates with beautiful gardens.

There were two French Colleges for boys, one run by the La Salle Brothers, and the other by the Peres Lazaristes. Also a French Institution for girls, run by the Soeurs de Sion. The members of the European Colony usually sent their children to either one of these institutions where an up-to-date, well-rounded education was given. About 1900, two more educational institutions were opened, one by the Suore d'Ivres from Italy, the other by the American Roberts College. There were also Greek and Turkish schools, of which I knew very little.

Several large department stores were located on the Rue Franque, where chic Parisian creations for women were sold, along with London clothes for men, and sporting goods.

Two French newspapers were published locally, subject to censure by the Turkish authorities. At that time, Abdull Hamidll was the sultan of Turkey, and he was much of a dictator. The editors were often at a loss to know whether a piece of news could be published, and in what form, so that their papers were often suspended for a limited time.

The Sporting Club was located on the Quay, and during the summer evenings one could always meet ones friends in its garden partaking of refreshments. The Club had a billiards room and a reading room with a good library, and many reviews and magazines from France and other countries.

Near by was a theatre, where French artists were occasionally booked from France to give a popular play, or Italian and French singers to give an opera. There was also a large, open Cafe on the Quay, with a stage where French, Italian and Greek artists entertained the public.

The best German beer was freely consumed, but the popular drink was "masticha", distilled from grape mash and scented with masticha, an aromatic tree gum from the island of Chio, from which the liquor took its name. Palatable small fried fish was usually served with the drinks.

Several times a year, balls for charitable benefits were given, as well as banquets in private homes. Mardi Gras was time of merriment. It lasted one week, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday being the most important date. Voitures (French coaches), filled with masqueraders wearing elaborate costumes, would circulate through the main residential streets, throwing confetti and colored streamers (sometimes vegetables by uncouth elements) and calling on friends. A ball was always given on Tuesday night.

Horse races were run once or twice a year, and field sporting events were held every summer at Bournabat (Bornova). Rowing and swimming races for men were held every summer in the bay, directed from the Sporting Club. The boats used in the races were of the same design, but never exactly alike so that the contest was much a matter of luck. In one of those races I displaced a shoulder blade in a frantic attempt to beat my opponent, but to no avail, I came in second.

In the wide harbor of Smyrna, warships of many nations could be seen most of the year. Usually the large ships were open to visitors and we invariably went on board. When an Admiral was in the harbor, he would always give a reception on board for the European colony, which was returned by a gala dinner or garden party. These entertainments would almost always result in challenges to duels as a result of real or imaginary insults to the ladies' escorts. But these duels never came to be fought. The intervention of the consul with the admiral settled the matters peacefully.

Upon the arrival of a warship in the harbor, the sailors would be given a furlough,and it was then that one could see long processions of hilarious sailors, mounted on donkeys, making for the outskirts of the City. There were no automobiles then, and not enough other conveyances. It was many years before I discovered where they were they were headed. I would get no satisfactory answer to my questions and the subject was summarily dismissed. In my later years, I found out that they all repaired to the brothels.

On New Year's day, everyone kept an open house, when all family relatives and acquaintances came to present their New Year's wishes to the ladies of the house. On that day, the callers usually ran in and right out again, staying but for a minute or two, for they had to make all their calls on foot on that day.

It was on New Years day that presents were given, instead of Christmas, and we children were always watching for our uncles, and intimate friends, who made the rounds of the houses and slipped us, in the palm, a coin of silver or gold, depending on their means. Money was given instead of toys or useful articles.

In Bournabat there was a Catholic Church where a secular Priest from Smyrna was sent every Sunday to celebrate Mass, there being no parish house there. Every Sunday the Priest would be invited to dinner by one of the parishioners. On one particular Sunday, there had been a misunderstanding, and the Priest, Don Antonio, was left alone at the Church after the service, not knowing where he would eat his Sunday dinner. There was no restaurant in the village.

It was about 1:30 P.M. and he was starving. Being a timid soul, he did not dare drop in on any of the parishioners, but he conceived a scheme that would surely bring them back to the church. He went to the belfry and rang the bell with all his might. In a few minutes a crowd had gathered there to find out that there was neither fire, nor burglary, but that Don Antonio was starving to death. The crowd was much amused, and he was of course invited to dinner.

The City was usually quiet. There was only one street car, horse drawn, which ran the length of the Quay. There were of course, no automobiles, nor buses in those days. Occasionally, one would hear an "araba", a springless cart with iron-rimmed wheels, or a horse drawn coach (also with iron-rimmed wheels), on stoneblock pavements.

At night, armed watchmen patrolled the streets. They carried a very heavy stick, which they pounded on the pavement every few yards, probably to let the people know that they were protected.

Stray dogs in great numbers, of every description and size, were seen in many streets. They formed packs which, many times a day engaged in vicious fighting with packs of contiguous street, when they tried to intrude on their territory. They lived on refuse, which was often thrown to them to dispose of it.

Some primitive ways of life were in evidence. Babies were wrapped in many folds of wide bands of cloth, to keep their spines straight, and they were also seen at times strapped to flat boards for the same purpose. Our maids from the Aegean Sea spun their own yarn from raw wool with a spindle, and used the yarn to knit socks and stockings.

There were no mechanized factories in the City. There was no electricity. Gas was used for street lighting and in the houses, but not for cooking. There were no telephones. Life was set on the natural, the physiological tempo of man. Perfect quiet reigned in the countryside. It was conducive to pondering and meditating: quite an oriental atmosphere.

In the center of the European quarter, there was a Cafe Costi's, considered very respectable, where parents and their children often went for refreshments. It was our usual treat on Sunday afternoons. We never failed to see, coming out of a house nearby, one or two French young woman, with lavish clothes and makeup, and holding in leash beribboned French poodles. They looked unlike other women who did not in those days use make-up, and the lavishness of their clothes seemed incomprehensible, for they seemed to live by themselves and were never seen in company of other people. It was an unusual sight in our community, and it was many years before I knew what they were. But styles have changed. Today one can hardly tell a professional from an amateur or a respectable woman. At the age of two and three years, my twin brother and I wore dresses with laced pants showing beneath. We were five years old when mother began our education by teaching us the ABC's and the numbers to ten. She would call us in from play every day, one at a time, and I can see her now pointing at random, large black letters and numbers on a square white card, and asking us to call them.

In the summer of that year we were sent four days a week to a kindergarten to give my mother a partial rest, for all our brothers and sisters were home then from boarding school. The kindergarten was run by a French "old maid" of about forty named Marie, with jet black hair and black eyes and generously furnished fore and aft. There, there were children of many nationalities, both boys and girls. I do not believe that we learned that much at that kindergarten. The teacher was not particularly fitted to the work, but she had started it to increase her income so that she could take care of an old and ailing mother. There was much noise and fooling, and the atmosphere in the class room of the old house was not very pleasant.

The lavatories were constantly used by the children, who repaired to them as often as possible to absent themselves from the class room. One finger or two were raised depending on the individual needs. Jumping up and down to emphasize urgency was the developed form of request to leave the room.

One day, a girl named Euphrasie was especially active with two fingers up and jumping. After four permissions the teacher refused to let her leave the room again, but Euphrasie insisted and began to cry. The teacher put her in the corner facing the wall. In a short while the whole class burst into a roar. The girl had been unable to contain herself any longer.

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