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January 19, 2007

Exploring the past

How did The Camel Trail come to be published? The story of the Levy family is one of intrigue and mystery. There are indisputable facts, documented in newspapers and hand-written notebooks. There are a few letters but no-one is alive who remembers what happened to David Levy. What is certain is that the event of January 1st 1837 affected not only his life, but the lives of his wife, his daughter and his grand-daughter.


The idea of weaving fact with fiction came from a memory of my mother darning socks. Using a wooden ‘mushroom’ pushed inside each sock she used to darn the holes, covering them with a neat criss-cross of fine woollen threads. (People don’t darn socks any more. They try to match up those that haven’t got swallowed up by the washing machine and throw away any with holes in them. Then they go and buy another pair from Marks & Spencer for the same price as a sandwich.) My mother never talked much about her grandfather except to tell me one extraordinary thing about his life. I started to piece together the events, starting in 1837, tracing journeys through the Middle East and Southern Europe. When I started to write the story I realized I would have to do some ‘darning’ to fill in the gaps.

The family settled in London and lived as English Jews. They brought with them a treasure which was passed on through five generations. This treasure - the ‘camel teapot‘ - ended up in Boston where the narrative ends.

I have taken the true story, changed the names and woven in many threads by adding the thoughts and emotions that no archive could provide. For the detail I relied on a single newspaper cutting and a few letters and documents. The extracts at the beginning of the chapters come from authentic journals and books. The recipes reflect a great interest in food that started with my great grandfather. Cooking was not just a necessity. It was an expression of a spirit of generosity; feeding people meant gathering together and celebrating any event important enough to merit more than an ordinary weekday meal.

So here is the story. The research took me to many countries and a picture emerged of the Levy family life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I have recounted the events as they happened.


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