Back on March 26, Gilbert wrote to his mother that, although he had been offered a permanent position by E. N. Grant, the Foreign Editor, as Athens correspondent for the Morning Post, he was rejecting the offer since as a student at the Italian School he was obliged to travel around Greece in the spring and summer months and would therefore be unable to keep in touch with the evolving political situation. Nonetheless Gilbert wrote about Grant that “if I am over in Asia Minor I am quite willing to send him all the stuff he wants and will try to get to Smyrna and the vilayet both for archaeology and politics and the same in regard to Con/ple. I will certainly be there in an interesting time.”

Gilbert first sailed to Smyrna on the Gallipoli on Wednesday July 12, 1922. “There an Italian boy took hold of me at the quay & took me up to the castle [on Mt Pagos] & then to a carpet & embroidery shop where I bought this shawl for you & the embroideries for the fire screen. Of course, I was fleeced & you need not ask how much they cost since I will pay them out of my 100 or else MP earnings if they ever publish anything of mine again. Smyrna is awfully expensive even worse than Con/ple so they say.” With a cosmopolitan population of about 400,000 (Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Levantines), Smyrna with its naturally sheltered harbour was the main exporting port in Turkey and larger than Athens. 

Photo of Smyrna looking North-east from Mt Pagos taken 12 July 1922 by Gilbert Bagnani.©Art Gallery of Ontario

Gilbert wanted to visit the brother of his mother’s Italian maid. The only information about Ernesto in Gilbert’s letters was that he had a 17 year old son and a married daughter; he had a shop with wheels and did work for hospitals in Athens possibly involving scissors and razors. A professional researcher in Izmir discovered several Ernesto’s in the archives of the Italian consulate, with the most likely being Ernesto Ballardini, who had a son of the right age. When it occurred to me that he might be sharpening knives for hospitals, I discovered an E. Palardini among the knife sharpeners listed on Maltezika St in the reprint of the Greek city directory of Smyrna in 1920. A reference in Gilbert’s letters years later confirmed that Ernesto’s last name was Ballardini.

Ernesto was surprised and delighted to see Gilbert in his shop and took him to his summer house in Cordelio, a suburb across the bay from the two-mile long harbour at Smyrna; it was quite fashionable as Greek King Constantine had stayed there, and Turkish General Kemal’s mother lived there. After lunch Ernesto drove Gilbert back to Smyrna and showed him where to go for dinner before visiting the British Consul-General, Sir Harry Lamb, and his wife in the evening; they were pleased to see Gilbert and asked him to come back the next day.