By Brian Patrick Eha
Of all the subjects to build a magazine around, nations rank low on the list. Cities are more popular: New York magazine exists—and Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and many others—but not United States. And yet Cornucopia’s purview is nothing less than the nation of Turkey.
Below its masthead is an etymology of the word that gives this sumptuous magazine its title: “The Latin cornu copiæ or ‘horn of plenty’, a horn overflowing with flowers, fruit and corn; symbol of prosperity and abundance in the cities of anatolia.” It’s a small note, probably overlooked by most readers, but it warms this former high school Latin student’s heart. Better still, the content lives up to the Latin.
Cornucopia is a marvel of execution as much as conception. its rich photo spreads of architecture and handicrafts are as stunning as anything in The World of Interiors, the writing holds its own and the subjects covered are diverse, within its limited scope. The Autumn 2011 issue, for example, includes a historical profile of Midhat Pasha, author of Turkey’s first constitution; a substantial piece on America’s first archaeological expeditions to the Ottoman Empire (with full-color reproductions of paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey); and an essay on the collection of Kütahya ceramics at Magdalen College, Oxford University. Plus, book reviews and notices about museum exhibits and art shows.
The only aspect of Turkey from which Cornucopia shies away is contemporary politics, though glimpses of the rapidly developing nation overseen by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan come through in Andrew Finkel’s “Private View” column. If the relative lack of political coverage seems at times a glaring omission, it is also a re- dress of the coverage Turkey receives in news magazines, which focus exclusively on its social and political ferment.
And Cornucopia, published jointly in the U.K. and Turkey, also avoids lapsing into Orientalist fluff. Don’t be fooled by the glossy pages and pretty pictures—this is not an empty-calorie magazine, an Architectural Digest for the Ottoman-obsessed. In that autumn issue, a cooking feature centered on sweet peas offers no fewer than nine recipes for pea-based dishes—including one handed down unchanged from the 18th-century librarian of the Topkapı Palace—and also whets the reader’s appetite with the surprisingly fascinating history of the legume in Ottoman cuisine. This combination of lifestyle coverage and stimulating history is also present in the profile of Harun’s Paradise, a unique getaway that doubles as a boutique hotel and a traditional boat-building atelier on the Sea of Marmara.
The question of how a magazine that comes out just two (occasionally three) times a year and sells only 20,000 copies per issue can afford consistently to produce such high-quality content has at least three answers. First, the editorial staff is small. I counted three pieces in the most recent issue that Berrin Torolsan, the co-founder and publishing director, wrote or contributed to. Second, Cornucopia is manifestly aimed at a well-heeled readership, which means lucrative ad space occupied by boutique luxury hotels, Christie’s auction house (advertising an Islamic art sale), carmaker Peugeot and other upscale brands. Mercedes-Benz even created a special ad for the magazine that features its SLS AMG coupe on the shore of the Bosporus. And third, Cornucopia is expensive (eighteen dollars per issue).
One distinct hindrance to a wider readership is the difficulty of finding it outside the U.K. and Turkey. Although subscriptions and back issues are available for purchase through the website— with free shipping worldwide—it’s safe to say that most people who find it are those who have gone looking for it.
Neither the price nor the exclusivity, however, in any way decreases the pleasure of reading Cornucopia for the armchair world traveler or couch surfer, no matter how impoverished. Whether you’re planning a trip to the Golden Horn or just dreaming about what life was like in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, this is a magazine to revisit and to savor. It’s a truism that the measure of a travel magazine’s success is whether it makes you yearn to visit the destinations it depicts. Cornucopia goes one better. It is a vacation in itself.