Saturday, April 21, 2007

I have an old friend, one of the most memorable and noteworthy people I have ever known. If the Ottoman Empire had still existed, then Princess Lulie would have been if not the Empress then perhaps the Princess Margaret of the Topkapi court. But that circumstance is not really the reason for her distinction, although it lends a certain glamour to her, of course.
Since the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist long before her birth, she instead spent most of her life in Chelsea.
Lulie always had lots of interesting people passing through her house, and there were endless and stimulating conversations to be had- often of a philosophical nature. Lulie used to say that she was an Aristotelian, and also that she was a disciple of David Hume- with this I believe she meant she was rational, as opposed to emotional or romantic in her approach to life. As she grew old, slowly her appetite for philosophical argument begun to dwindle, and her mind began to take on a sort of circularity. She would return, with increasing frequency, to the same favourite subjects, although she was still able to sparkle now and then. One of the ideas which she always somehow managed to introduce into the conversation, whatever subject was being discussed, was David Hume’s teaching that nothing can ever the proved. ‘Although it is likely that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, it is impossible to prove that it will’.
I remember a long time ago a young friend of Lulies’s, a Serb called Slaven, becoming very hot under the collar at a dinner where, to try and help Lulie demonstrate Hume’s point, and to tease the pragmatic Slaven,I picked up an orange and said: ‘It is likely that this orange will fall if I drop it, but it is not absolutely certain, and it can’t be proved’. ‘Don’t be so silly, he growled angrily.’Of course it will drop!’
It has been a long time since Lulie has returned to this argument, sadly. The subjects are different, and now it seems that people she knows have acquired labels, or watchwords: for instance I am associated with Timbuktu. ‘Oh, yes, Sophie,’she says, peering at me with her lively brown squirrel eyes, pulling me into focus and into her consciousness. ‘You emigrated to Timbuktoo, didn’t you?’ It does’t matter how many times I explain that Timbuktu is not the same thing as Djenne and that it is hundreds of miles away, as far as she is concerned I have emigrated to Tmbuktoo.
And then there is Keita. ‘Do you have a boyfriend in Timbuktoo?’ she asks for the hundredth time, with an air of happy expectation, knowing very well the answer. ‘Yes, Lulie, I have a boyfriend’, I answer patiently, by now familiar with what is coming. ‘ And is he black? asks Lulie.
‘Yes, Lulie’ I reply, ‘he is black. And Lulie giggles, she thinks this is very naughty.
‘You are the most eccentric person I know,’ she tells me, and I am not sure if she says this in a disapproving way- anyway, it is a bit rich coming from her- if ever there was an Eccentric worthy of the name it would be her Imperial Highness Princess Lulie of Turkey.
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