The Ring, The Whiffe and The Gulp

Writing accurately about the 1600’s has proven to be a serious challenge, especially since I’m focusing on the lives of common people.

What were the “common” attitudes about sex, alcohol, witchcraft, smoking, marriage, death, and a host of other issues?

It’s fairly easy to find out what James I thought of smoking, since he wrote his “Counterblaste to Tobacco” in 1604.

For James, smoking was “a custom loathesome to the eye, hatefull to the nose, harmfull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.”

Nevertheless, the “reeking gallants” of the day displayed such fashionable tricks as “The Ring” and “The Gulp”.

Alfred Dunhill, in The Gentle Art of Smoking, notes that the first men who brought tobacco to England from Virginia in 1586 popularized the practice of “drinking” tobacco.

It’s exciting to find details which bring a story alive, and the more I look, the more I find. In a wine bar in Stralsund, one of my characters drinks tobacco and suffers in the way one might expect. The question is, should he live or die?

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Mapping the History of Istanbul

My forthcoming novel begins in the Istanbul of the 1630’s. Murad IV is Sultan. Coffee and alcohol are evil, and their consumption is punishable by death or worse. Mina, a slave girl captured by Ottoman troops in Hungary, tries to escape after years of captivity.

She kept her head down, but her mind was alert to the people and sounds around her, especially for the distinctive sounds of soldiers and their swords. The city was shutting down for the night. Stopping at the intersection where the Grand Bazaar ended and the Beyazit Mosque formed a barrier to the park beyond, Mina looked backward down the boulevard and gasped at the beauty of the Aya Sofya. Minarets jutted like spears of light into the dark sky, the circular dome was lit by a thousand lamps, the square perimeter dotted with more, and she knew that even this impressive display would be nothing when compared to the Night of Power as three thousand slaves would set afire twenty thousand oil lamps and all of Istanbul would witness the power and might – and the humility, she thought, remembering how she and her fellow captives were incessantly reminded of the humility – of Allah’s greatest servant, Sultan Murad IV.

Old maps of Istanbul, Anatolia, Cappadocia, Armenia — and beyond — have been critical to my novel. Here are a few maps of the city known by many names through the ages: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, Stamboul, and the Sublime Porte. For more maps, a good starting point is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but three years of research have yielded many other troves of digital mapping deliciousness. Leave me a comment if you’d like me to post them for you…

Update: Scroll down for the maps. But first, a few links in response to a comment asking about the historic architecture of Istanbul.

Update: Cartography web sites. Not all of these sites contain maps of Istanbul, but I’ve found that one resource often leads to another. In my research phase, I had some very specific goals; and although I bookmarked most of the places I found, I didn’t (couldn’t) review every site thoroughly.

Update: Documents. A collection of old and new documents describing Istanbul.