As Told By A Blind Istanbul Djinn…

City is man… Forget all that you know and walk, then you’ll see. How lonely you are there amidst so many people. Just as they are far from one another, people are far from the city, there is a distance between yourself and the city too. Man is also distanced as well… Have you noticed that you take for granted the fact that you don’t know so many people there? It’s just like one of the games we used to play as children; blind man’s bluff.

This great loneliness seems normal when you know that you are far from other people. From time time, the city is your way out of this remoteness, the crowd of big bosses waiting obediently in traffic, the terrifying war, it offers you sanctuary. It has grown various cafes, cinemas where you can take refuge.

Go out and take a walk… The city is full of mystery. Tunnels, wells, a cul-de-sac that you suddenly find yourself in, a young square, the fresh bosom of a woman placed beside a pot of geraniums on a window sill, the summer wind that chills as it goes through a man’s shirt. I had heard from a magician that there were tunnels beneath Topkapi Palace, he was in the city, had a rheumy eye, thick lips, a white beard, a tired face. Some concubines who became pregnant, after having been strangled were taken in a sack through these tunnels to be dumped in the sea. Am I making this up or did I really hear this? Unhappiness… Unhappiness is what’s real. Because there is nothing that happiness can tell. Let us say I am making this up but it is said that there were witnesses, some of these tunnels even go as far as Kinaliada Island. In some shops in the Grand Bazaar, there were heavy trapdoors under the carpets, an apprentice who began working in that shop would place his hand on the Koran and swore that he would never tell anyone. Unhappiness is what’s real…

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Go out and take a walk, you can’t recognize anyone anywhere. No one knows you in the city…. And you don’t know many people either. Thus everyone is in the lost box. A box like those in that game we used to play as kids in which we used to find cities, countries, names, etc. beginning with the chosen letter…

The city is a stranger. The man sitting next to you on the bus has just murdered someone. His heart is still beating rapidly. The woman that you passed two minutes ago, you will fall in love with much later on. Not now, a different kind of meeting is necessary for love… The city is either a nice coincidence or bad fate. Just like Ortaçgil sang in his song, his coins may one day roll into your pocket. Let’s say you lost something of value to you in the city. But because the real loss is your presence in the city no one would be able to find you. Just like when we were kids, playing hide and seek…

 

The city is an hourglass… Turn it upside down, you’ll keep on going from one end to the other. No beginning is as easy as it seems. The city is the rigging of an old pirate ship, a book that is difficult to find at a second-hand bookshop, an engraving that insists on just being there even though no one ever looks at it. It is a levantine pipe smoking on a coffee table, liqueur glasses forgotten inside ornate cupboards, stove pipes jutting out from red tiles like a cigarette, satellite dishes of the age of communication… You don’t die in a war in the city, you just lose. Every day you come home from the brink of war.

Yet the city is death… You die once in a while. White laundry hanging from window to window, tiny windows that have the slightest glimpse of sea. A web woven by a spider, broken glass under the moonlight, streets in winter with the occasional whore, pimps inquiring ‘You need some fun?’, corpses of dogs and cats by garbage bins, fliers and brochures, smoking rifles, dark and terrifying slopes are all graveyards, edgings for  death… Mostly, the city is graveyards, it is hermit waiters working at restaurants left from the Dark Ages who no longer care about anything.

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Hermits, of course… Remember Balıklı Ayazma at Silivrikapı, one of the city’s seven gates. When Mehmet the Conqueror attacked the city walls, one of the Greek hermits was frying fish (My guess is that it was red mullet, he would chop some lettuce but not squeeze any lemon, he knows that vinegar is better.) Suddenly another monk appeared at the door. He was screaming in terror: ‘The city has fallen! The city has fallen!’ The other spoke, his hand still covered in flour: ‘How could it? I don’t believe it. Only if one of these fishes jumps out of the pan and disappears will I believe….’ Right then all the fishes jumped out of the pan and disappeared, later the monks disappeared, and afterwards the monastery… Walk, go on… Follow the shore without getting lost. Come to Karaköy.

Take to the road, as if you’re jumping out of a Calvino novel, know that you’re a character, being the hero is unimportant, we have nothing to do with heroism, just to be someone is a virtue. Being someone in a novel should be enough. The best way to somehow ‘remain’ is to be written. If you want to be remembered, you have to write, you have to be written about. A city does not exist unless it has a history. We used to play as kids, like tag. The city cannot grow if pen and paper don’t hold its hands.

 

Go out and walk… A date? You want me to give you a date? Here, January 17 1875. Oh, wonderful, the day when they opened Tünel. From now on you won’t have to make that infernal climb from Karakoy to Beyoglu. I heard from a blind journeyman: He said there were treasures left from the Genoese pirates, buried deep down. Someone always talks about it. To talk is the sign of unhappiness.

Tünel is being opened today. Your hands are cold. It is cold, isn’t it? Wait until summer comes, then you’ll see how cool this place is, the third subway in the world. Come, don’t be scared. Don’t worry that it’s dark, inside there are candles. Though the people are quite hesitant to enter. They are saying why should we go underground while we are still alive? The municipality brings in some animals and takes them for a ride in Tünel… Look, everything is ok. The people are convinced. We used to ask one another riddles when we were kids, like answers left in the dark…

The tops of the first cars in Tünel are open. The dürümcü  come much later, then the wig sellers, on who knows which floor of an office block, photocopiers, sellers of buttons, zippo lighters, stolen mobile phones; the scruffy beards of church priests have always been here. What did İlhan Berk, the djinn of Beyoglu use to say, the city is like the dark blue and small stamps of newly formed countries…

According to the Annuaire Oriental of 1913 the name of the baker in the neighbourhood when Tünel was being opened was Benditsch, the jeweller was Jacques Adler, the barber Alberti, florist Gholiopoulos, there was also the carpet seller Behar (I think Behar would definitely wear a golden ring, and his happiness is vast), Karl Kopp sold musical instruments, the books were sold by Emil Rosemann. I think the tailor is Jewish, called Leopold; the optician Verdoux is a bit of a Parisien, I’d say he has daughters and one of them just had her period. In those days the Orient Express General Manager Albert was around, lawyer Papazyan (a pigeon-like Armenian, from time to time he lands on the street where Hırant Dink was shot, feeding on bread crumbs, and because his feet have been in blood since Noah’s Ark, they are red). In those days, at a pudding shop in Pera, milk was boiled in the early hours of the morning; sahlep was made from orchids, a bookbinder with the name of Alexandre Rocca, a shoemaker named Marc Aperghis… To go and leave should have a name, shouldn’t it? A name for disappearing completely…

Walk a little more, just a little more. Let’s fast forward time as you walk, or rewind it; it doesn’t matter. Time is cyclical, not linear… Let’s go to June 18 1847. Today’s Zincirlikuyu was the city limit then. Sniff out the sea, you can smell it there. Walk: Büyükdere. It’s the city’s summer resort. Franz Liszt will give a recital at the Franchini Manor, his piano has been brought from Paris. Shall we listen? After all, the city is an hourglass, time is slow, and we’re not in a hurry… Andante de Lucie de Lammermoor; Fantaisie Sur des Motifs de la Norma; Mazurka de Chopin; Leroi des Aulues, Melodie de Schubert; Hexameron, Variations Sur un Theme des Puritains and Melodies Hongroises is on the list. Liszt came here from Tünel, just like you did. He was staying in Poland Street (it has been Nur-u Ziya for a long time now), at the musical instrument vendor Comendiger’s house.

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So that’s it… As I walk, I discover new secrets. Chopin’s Mazurka, from the list above, issues after me from the garden of the Franchini Manor. I’ve wandered quite a lot. And as I wandered through time I grew tired, weary of recounting. Maybe Liszt is no more, but Mr. Horowitz is continuing to play the Mazurka. A secret is relayed only by being told, through writing (if one consider that music notes are written on paper). The city is playing tricks on me… Take no notice of me talking to you, I’m the one that I’m talking to.

Now the year 2013, the cogs have turned, the cycle is done. It is October 10, Thursday. I now live a little above Büyükdere, I moved from Beyoğlu. Occasionally I go to Emirgan, the coffee house at Çınaraltı, mentioned sometimes by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar.  I smoke a water pipe, I look for travellers, magicians, adventure-loving peddlers to listen to. In the tiny street behind the mosque is a little secret pub. Purple table cloths, a weird blind man playing an electric saz, cheap mezes, winter days… I listen to stories from drunks, magicians. It is sound that fills the void.

There’s a muvakkıthane at Çınaraltı… A muvakkıthane is built around mosques, in the Ottoman era it helps tell the time for prayer for muslims according to the positions of the sun. It sets the time. I set the time. Nothing comes from telling without time, telling that doesn’t suit time, a teller that cannot hold his own against time.

I’ve walked quite a lot now. Now I know the city’s secret: ‘If written, nothing is secret, for at least the paper sees.’

There has to be a name for this, I’m disappearing.

 

Translated by James Onder

 

 


 

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