Editor's Preface to the debut episode
The Great Cannon Caper
When my widowed maternal grandfather (Archibald Kenglo) passed away in 1999, his lawyers reported that he’d split his sizable financial fortune among his six surviving children, but that he’d left his rich collection of ‘Classical Age’ Ottoman Turkish historical papers to me -- including his English-language translation of the Stefano di Firenze Memoirs -- just as he said he would.
Archie, as his friends knew him, had been born in 1911 in Izmir -- the only son of a rough-and-ready American marine-mercenary and a beautiful, but sharp-tongued Circassian gypsy ‘princess’. Four years after his father was killed at Gallipoli, he was befriended by the Turkish-born Aristotle Onassis (in his early teens at the time) -- whose influence saved him from a life of petty thievery. Subsequently, the two young men formed a loose association and began buying ships in the early ‘30s. It made Archie a rich man -- though on a much smaller scale than his more famous ‘mentor’ -- before his 24th birthday.
But, besides his towering interest in making money in every seaport from Beirut to Gibraltar, Archie was also deeply attracted to the history of the Ottoman Empire between 1300 and 1600 -- and was a ‘legitimate’ (though self-trained) Turkish-language ‘expert’ (much more so than this editor). His love of the language encompassed modern Turkish, but also Osmanlica -- and it seems he became familiar with the Arabic script just so he could decode the original Stefano/Habibullah Arabic manuscript into Osmanlica (thence into modern Turkish, and finally into English).
Exactly how the original Arabic manuscript got into Archie’s hands is not well-known to me. His cryptic notes about its acquisition are attached to what appear to be cash-receipts (three in Arabic, two in Greek, and one in Russian) -- which suggests, to me at least, an illegal transaction of some sort. In that regard, the names of the distinguished Turkish writer/scholar Ziya Görkalp (who died in 1924) and three of his associates (a Syrian, an Egyptian, and a Jew) keep cropping up. I also don’t know the current location of the Arabic/Osmanlica/Turkish manuscripts. This is distressing because fresh translations of any of them, in light of recent Ottoman Empire archival discoveries, would no doubt bear delicious fruit! I am still investigating these matters. Grandfather did leave me a trail -- a twisting winding one, to be sure -- but a trail, nonetheless. And as I discover more, I’ll add it to the public record.
As for this first episode from the Stefano/Habibullah Memoirs -- that I’ve taken the liberty of naming "Habibullah and the Great Cannon Caper" -- a few brief comments. Firstly, I’ve left the translated text almost exactly as grandfather Kenglo wrote it. For the most part, I’ve done no more than add the occasional clarifying footnote and to modernize some of grandfather’s phrasing and word selection. In only one instance, where he let his anachronistic 20th century knowledge sneak into Stefano’s 16th Century mouth, have I made what might be called a real revision -- though I have included his original translation as a footnote.
Finally, the process of bringing the Stefano/Habibullah Memoirs to public view has been a slow and painstaking one. The decoding of the original Arabic script into Osmanlica, the ‘translation’ of that into Modern Turkish, the subsequent translation into the ‘vintage’ English of my grandfather, took the best part of the last 10 years of his life. And from that point to this, I‘ve been ‘tinkering’ for more than a year now just to ready this ‘opening’ episode for publication. (It is actually the second episode of the eighteen I possess. And, since we know that Stefano/Habibullah lived to be 95 years of age, it’s a provocative curiosity that these episodes only cover the first 40 years of his life. At the present time, I’m lacking the definitive explanation for that peculiarity, which the original manuscript, if it’s ever recovered, may one day divulge.) In this entire process, some of the flavor of Stefano’s rollicking recollections has probably been lost. This is regrettable, of course, but in such a complexity of the translation and editorial procedure, it was unavoidable, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, in the name of my grandfather and myself, ‘we’ apologize for the failures of the result (which are all ours) and beg our readers’ kind indulgence.
JMM March 2000