Travel books: Circumnavigating the globe (1957)

[……] I went to see my editor, Gershom Schocken and told him that I intended to travel abroad. Schocken was delighted, since I did not ask him to finance my travels. "I hope you will send me your drawings every week." "This time," I answered, "I would like to do more writing with only a drawing or two thrown in." "Please Tzabar, don't write. I have sixty people here who write. Why don't you go on sending me your lovely drawings as you did before?" "I would like to write," I answered. “I will accompany my writings with some drawings but the main column will be a written one. If you don't like it, just tell me and I will return to drawings only, as I did before."

This was agreed. I packed my belongings and with Naomi, my wife, we left for Europe. Our first stop was Turkey. We disembarked in Istanbul and booked ourselves a hotel. It was the first time I had found myself in a foreign city. The Turks looked exactly like the Jews I already knew from Tel-Aviv, but spoke an incomprehensible language.

We had come to Istanbul for only a few days, a week maybe, but we still had to communicate with people. What is the minimum number of Turkish words that one has to know in order to survive? We had to know how to get from A to B and how to buy something. The survival emergency dictionary consisted therefore of the first ten digits and of two sentences. We had to know how to say in Turkish "How much does it cost?", which is Kach para?, "Where is it?" which is Nerde?, and the numbers from one to ten: Bir, Iki, Ich, Dert, Besh, Alte, Gidy, Sekiz, Dokuz, On. If any of my readers intend to travel to Turkey, they should write down this emergency dictionary. From then on, wherever I arrived at a new place with a new language, I would write down and learn by heart the emergency dictionary in the airport, where some people can still speak English.

Our first two days were interesting in an uneventful way. On our second night in the hotel, we were suddenly woken up in an early hour of the morning. People were banging on our door, screaming in Turkish. I looked into my emergency dictionary but the words they were shouting were not on the list. I opened the door and the two people who stood there went on shouting. Why were they shouting? Were they the police? Had we done something wrong?

Suddenly one of them uttered the word "Fire!" This was utterly comprehensible. I grabbed the money and the passports and together, in our pyjamas, we fled the hotel. Out on the street, on the opposite pavement there was already a crowd. We joined it and looked at our hotel. One window on the second floor was on fire. Our room was on the third floor. We were watching a natural disaster. It is very interesting to watch a natural disaster, especially if you are involved in it. There is nothing one can do, apart from praying, and people who do not believe in God cannot even do that. There is a feeling of helplessness which is absolutely unique, unlike any other feeling I have ever had. The fire brigade arrived quickly and started to fight the flames. We sat on somebody else's suitcase and speculated on if the firemen would conquer the fire before it reached our room. In the end they did - we won, our luggage was spared and we did not even pray.

[………] Two days later we flew to Athens. We spent time looking around and a week later I locked myself in the hotel, inked some of the sketches that I had drawn in Istanbul and Athens, wrote a few stories and sent them all to my newspaper. Soon I got a telegram back: “Go on writing". I got more than that. I also got a budget, 300 American dollars for every month of travelling. It was not much but it was enough for me. I kept 150 dollars to live on and saved the other 150 dollars for further travel.
Now the stage was set up for my discovery of the planet Earth. Unlike Columbus, my order of priorities was to discover Europe first and this I had already begun. After Turkey and Greece I took the land route to London where I established a temporary headquarters, with Naomi in charge.