Speaking at the Pera Palace Jumeirah as part of the love 360 festival for Valentine's Day 2016, Sean Hepburn Ferrer gave a personal account of his mother Audrey Hepburn’s love affair with Istanbul – and how universal love can change the world.
Himself a seasoned film producer, Ferrer spoke with Elif Dağdeviren on the subject of “women in cinema,” after which The Guide Istanbul joined him for coffee in the hotel’s sumptuous salon. “Since I’ve arrived, I’ve nicknamed Istanbul ‘the beautiful example.’” he explains. “All the cultures flourishing together, that’s what makes it unique in my view.”
And whether the city is celebrating Valentine’s Day early or just enjoying the moment, Ferrer believes that Istanbul is a place of romance. “People love to take you to see churches and mosques and museums, but I get more out of walking down İstiklal and looking at faces, seeing the expressions on the youth,” he says. “I can safely say that I see a lot of hope, a lot of smiles, a lot of people in love and kissing each other.”
Ferrer is equally effusive on the subject of the Pera Palace Jumeirah, whose antique guest book includes such names as Agatha Christie, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and Ernest Hemingway. “I think the word “luxurious” has been abused and become something ugly,” he says. “Of course the Pera Palace is luxurious because you have to pay for it. But they’re not selling you a 100-square-meter room – they’re selling you a beautifully appointed room where you feel comfortable. They’re not selling you caviar in every meal – but they prepare everything with love and creativity, simple food at its best.”
Turning to the subject of his mother’s visit in 1968, Ferrer again identifies love as a factor in her experience. “My mother first met my stepfather during a cruise here. I think she fell in love not so much with Turkey but with her future husband,” he laughs. “But I’m sure if you meet anyone in Turkey rather than someplace else, you’re going to fall in love. It’s such a conducive place. It’s not just the buildings, it’s the whole experience that makes Istanbul unique. There are many places where it’s a beautiful mess, and yet that’s really what life is about.”
As well as a future husband, Audrey found something else in Istanbul that she would carry home with her – Turkish cuisine. The book Audrey at Home, by Ferrer’s half-brother Luca Dotti, gives one of Audrey’s favorite recipes as Turkish-style sea bass. “She said that Turkish cuisine is one of the most refined in the world,” Ferrer recalls. “I think that’s true – it takes the best of Mediterranean cuisine, which is certainly the healthiest in the world.”
Working as a goodwill ambassador for Unicef in her later years, Audrey had a passion for social justice that inspired the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, of which Ferrer is honorary chair. In relation to the Syrian crisis, Ferrer emphasizes the humanity of those faced with inhuman circumstances. “If what is happening to Syrian children today was happening to children in Germany or England, we would find it totally unacceptable. People are terrified of refugees, but we were all refugees at one point or another,” he says. “Americans were refugees when they came to America. We have to look at each and every one of them as an individual, not follow what is being promoted on the news so much.”