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Bolkar by Dux Schneider

Shortly after I moved to Istanbul for the first time in 1968, I met Dux and Monique Schneider, an American (well, sort of) couple who lived down the street from me in the Ayazpasa district near Taksim Square.

They had ended up in Turkey after a Land Rover trek from London to Afghanistan. Dux, who had held several publishing jobs in the USA and London, had been commissioned by the British publisher Jonathan Cape to write The Traveller’s Guide to Turkey.That gracefully-written guide is now out of print, but Dux’s second and last book, Bolkar: Travels with a Donkey in the Taurus Mountains, is in print in German and English-language editions.

Dux was the most cosmopolitan person I had ever met. He was born in Baltimore MD in 1924, of a Swiss father and German mother, so he held both American and Swiss citizenship. He was raised in Belgium, went to St Paul’s School in London, then Swarthmore Collegein Pennsylvania. He served in the US Army during WWII, participating in the Normandy landings and battles in the Ardennes. He spoke fluent English, French and German, and learned quite enough Turkish to get around easily in both the mountains and the cities.

Always an enthusiastic hiker and mountain-climber (he decorated his Istanbul apartment with mountain-climbing gear), he realized a long-held dream when he went to the Taurus Mountains of Mediterranean Turkey, bought a donkey, and hiked deep into the forest to commune with the Tahtacilar (“Woodsmen”), a secretive society of woodcutters.

He completed Bolkar in the late 1970s, before being afflicted with appendicitis. The appendectomy operation, performed in Switzerland, was botched. He never fully recovered, and died in 1978 at the age of 54.

Bolkar was first published posthumously in German by F. Brockhaus Verlag, and by XLibrisin English two decades later.

Bolkar: Travels with a Donkey in the Taurus Mountains
by Dux Schneider
Philadelphia: XLibris
ISBN 1-4010-7363-8, 198 pages, US$20.99

Here’s my Foreward to Dux’s book:

“Some of us are created to work in offices, and some of us would rather die than do that, so we hit the road.

“Dux Schneider was a born adventurer. For Dux and me, travel writing provided a context for our wanderlust, a purpose, a discipline and—surprisingly—a livelihood.

“We met in January, 1969, at a luncheon for travel writers in Istanbul. Dux was writing a Turkey guidebook for Jonathan Cape, and I was writing one for Arthur Frommer. We discovered that we lived in the same neighbourhood near Taksim Square and inevitably struck up a friendship. He was planning several extensive driving trips through central and eastern Turkey in his Land Rover. I had no car, so it was natural that we’d travel together and share the cost of fuel.

“Together we explored the Turkey of 1969, a country full of fascination and empty of tourists. Its diverse and beautiful landscapes, innumerable ancient ruins, elaborate culture and abundant unaffected hospitality enthralled us. With his Swiss love of hiking and the out-of-doors, Dux charged into Turkey with a will and a passion.

“It’s not surprising, then, after completing his sensitive, knowledgeable and gracefully-written guidebook (now, unfortunately, out of print), and leading successful climbs in Hakkari province, Dux should want to return to the Bolkar range. He was drawn to mountains, and he recognized that in a rapidly modernising country the traditional life of mountain peoples would undergo inevitable and irreversible change. Perhaps the mysterious society of the Tahtací (‘Wood-men’) of the Bolkar reminded him of his family’s ancestral home, the village of Weisstannen in Switzerland’s Canton St Gallen.

“His trek through the Bolkar range was a dream come true, the culmination of his Turkish explorations. He got there before television and mobile phones, when the Yürük nomads and Tahtacıs were still a people apart. This book is a rare picture of that time, place and people, a valuable cultural record that’s as insightful as it is entertaining.”

For an account of our travel-writing adventures, read my book Turkey: Bright Sun, Strong Tea.

—Tom Brosnahan


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