Who Is the Ashik on Istiklal Street?

istiklalasikI have come one step closer to learning the name of the musician I heard on my first day in Istanbul, whose music I loved in those few minutes and later. He plays the bağlama (or saz). The photographer who took the picture on the left (Ali Enes Mollaoğlu) refers to him as an âşık (ashik, which means approximately “minstrel”–but that is an inadequate translation). Turkey has a long and rich ashik tradition, about which I am just beginning to learn.

In Istanbul, I learned that this musician plays many songs of Âşık Veysel. Yesterday I found several videos of him (the unnamed musician), besides the one I recorded. Today I found some photos–but no name and no further information.

I love what I have heard of his music for its gentle rhythms and rumination, its subtle inflections; without understanding a word, I find it traveling into my memories, thoughts, and yearnings. I have looked up phrases (in my rough spelling), but nothing has come up.

Here is one of the videos:

Here’s another (of the same song I recorded, but several years earlier):

Another of the same performance, or one close in time, but a better recording (this song begins at 2:11):

And here’s another:

He is clearly admired and beloved. Someone out there will know his name. I will keep searching and asking.

Photo credit: Ali Enes Mollaoğlu.

I added substantially to this piece after the initial posting.

“Ta Bahare Delneshin”

IMG_3281This has been a beautiful quest! On May 19, in Istanbul, I heard two musicians play a song that kept coming back to my mind. (I recorded a video, so I was able to learn the melody). It felt subtle and melancholic; I understood none of the words but was enchanted by their sounds.

I hoped to hear the duo again, but during my many walks, I did not run into them. Then, on May 26, my last day in Istanbul, I saw them standing right where they were before. They played a different song; when they finished, I requested this one by humming the melody. When they played it, people gathered around and sang along. I recorded it and learned their names (but not the name of the song). They are Sherko Hoseini and Fali Talebi.

Back in New York City, I tried to look up the song by googling some of the phrases. I didn’t know how to spell them; some of the vowels and consonants sounded different from their counterparts in any languages I know. Also, I wasn’t sure of the word divisions. I tried different possibilities (“tava hare teleshin,” “trova har e teleshin,” etc.), again and again, but nothing came up.

Then I decided to do the simplest thing of all (which I’m often slow to do): ask. I wrote to Sherko last night; this morning I received his reply. The song is “Ta Bahare Delneshin” (or simply “Bahare Delneshin”) an old Persian song. He sent the lyrics too; I will  give them below. I looked for translations; this one (from someone named Afsaneh) seems particularly careful. I have included only the verses that are in Sherko and Fali’s performance (and have kept Sherko’s transliteration). What a beautiful poem and song.

Bahare delneshin
(The Pleasant Spring)

Music: Ruhollah Khaleghi
Poem: Bijan Taraghi

Ta bahare delneshin amade soye chaman
since the pleasant spring had come towards the grass

Ey bahare arezo bar saram saye fekan
oh the spring of wishes spread your shadow on me

Chon nasime nobahar bar ashianam kon gozar
like the breeze of the newly come spring visit my home

Ta ke golbaran shavad kolbeye virane man
so that my ruined cottage would be showered by flowers

Baza bebin dar heyratan beshkan sokote khalvatam
come and see me in astonishment, break the silence of my solitude

Cho laleye sahra bebin bar sine daghe hasratam
see my sorrow on my hot face which is like a lonely tulip

Ey roye to ayineam eshghat ghame dirineam
oh you, whose face is my mirror, your love my old grief

Baza cho gol darin bahar sar ra beneh bar sineam
in this spring come like a flower, put your head on my bosom

Here are the lyrics in Persian:

تا بهار دلنشین آمده سوی چمن
ای بهار آرزو بر سرم سایه فکن
چون نسیم نوبهار بر آشیانم کن گذر
تا که گلباران شود کلبه ویران من

تا بهار زندگی آمد بیا آرام جان
تا نسیم از سوی گل آمد بیا دامن کشان
چون سپندم بر سر آتش نشان بنشین دمی
چون سرشکم در کنار بنشین نشان سوز نهان

تا بهار دلنشین آمده سوی چمن
ای بهار آرزو بر سرم سایه فکن
چون نسیم نوبهار بر آشیانم کن گذر
تا که گلباران شود کلبه ویران من

باز آ ببین در حیرتم
بشکن سکوت خلوتم
چون لاله تنها ببین
بر چهره داغ حسرتم

ای روی تو آیینه ام
عشقت غم دیرینه ام
باز آ چو گل در این بهار
سر را بنه بر سینه ام

listenersThe lyrics seem to match what I heard and saw. When people gathered around and sang along, I sensed that this song was special to them. They didn’t respond the way people do to a recent hit; they were held in a dreaminess for a little while. So was I, though differently.

There is something astonishing about the poem: the way seemingly opposite words come close together, even joining at times: images of brokenness and renewal, sadness and rejuvenation, solitude and love. The sounds hold many textures: I can follow them now, from word to word.

I am glad it took me some time to learn the name of the song; through searching for it, I found myself returning to it, refusing to give up the question. Even now that I have a translation, I realize there is more to understand in the images, phrases, allusions. Something has been opened here, not closed.

Partly through its difference, the poem reminds me of Petrarch’s sonnet “Solo et pensoso i piú deserti campi”:

Solo et pensoso i piú deserti campi
vo mesurando a passi tardi et lenti,
et gli occhi porto per fuggire intenti
ove vestigio human l’arena stampi.

Altro schermo non trovo che mi scampi
dal manifesto accorger de le genti,
perché negli atti d’alegrezza spenti
di fuor si legge com’io dentro avampi:

sí ch’io mi credo omai che monti et piagge
et fiumi et selve sappian di che tempre
sia la mia vita, ch’è celata altrui.

Ma pur sí aspre vie né sí selvagge
cercar non so ch’Amor non venga sempre
ragionando con meco, et io co llui.

And in the English translation of A. S. Kline:

Alone and thoughtful, through the most desolate fields,
I go measuring out slow, hesitant paces,
and keep my eyes intent on fleeing
any place where human footsteps mark the sand.

I find no other defence to protect me
from other people’s open notice,
since in my aspect, whose joy is quenched,
they see from outside how I flame within.

So now I believe that mountains and river-banks
and rivers and forests know the quality
of my life, hidden from others.

Yet I find there is no path so wild or harsh
that love will not always come there
speaking with me, and I with him.

I took the first photo on Eurovelo 11 in Hungary; the second, while listening to Sherko and Fali. For a short video playlist of Istanbul musicians, go here. Also, Sherko pointed me to Ali Zand Vakili’s recording of the same song.

What Is a Photograph?

A challenge, when coming home from a trip, is to decide what to convey to others and what to keep to oneself. Some of this isn’t a matter of choice; there are aspects of a trip that you can’t convey if you try. Or rather, in conveying it, you alter it a little. For instance, if you tell someone about wandering alone in a city, you have already changed that aloneness.

Also it isn’t always clear how many pictures people want to see, how many stories they want to hear, etc. One doesn’t want to try their patience. On the other hand, a well-told travel story, or a few well-chosen pictures, can bring something to others’ lives. I have vivid memories of other people’s visits to the Hebrides, South Dakota, Vaucluse, and other places.

When taking (and assembling) photos, I do not emphasize standard tourist sites, no matter how important. Hundreds, even thousands, of such photos already exist, and most are better than mine. My photographs are usually of places and things I found or noticed on my own (or with someone else).

Then there is the question of “outtakes.” After I select photos for a slideshow, after I put them all together, I find photos that I left out, photos every bit as beautiful, even more so, than the ones I included. In fact, it’s that second glance that brings back the trip. Why? Maybe because those “outtakes” hold the little diversions that are the soul of the trip. A dog running down a street; railway workers waiting for the train to pass; kids playing football in the school courtyard. Or maybe it’s something along the photo’s edge: a tail, a branch, a chair.

That leads to the title question: what is a photograph? It looks inward as well as outward; it says something about the photographer (or amateur picture-taker) as well as the external scene. But more than that, it conveys the relation of an instant: maybe a passing relation, maybe a lasting one, but a relation all the same. At its best, it is mutual; in a split second, you and the scene capture each other and let each other go. This happens rarely, but it happens.*

So here are two “outtake” slideshows, each with eighteen photos: one of Istanbul and one of my two-day biking trip in northern Hungary.

 

*A paraphrase of the ending of Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Nose.”

The Cats of Istanbul

Yesterday I learned from David Costanza (Art of Flying) about Kedi, Ceyda Torun’s documentary about the cats of Istanbul! It looks absolutely wonderful; I will write about it after watching it in full.

Speaking of Istanbul cats, it would be a shame not to assemble the photos I took of some of them. Here is a slideshow of fifteen pictures. What moved me was not only the omnipresence of cats, but the love with which they were treated. The first two pictures–of a mother and baby cat inside a restaurant–came thanks to a stranger on the street. He saw me photographing cats and, with hand gestures, urged me to go inside.

While in Istanbul, I sent Andrew Gelman some cat photos in case he wanted any of them for his blog. So far, he has used two; you can see them here and here.

“How Was It?”

When I come back from a trip–or anything, really–and people ask, “How was it?” I don’t know what to say. “Rich, beautiful, fantastic,” etc.–those are generic words, but if I go into too much detail, I might try anyone’s patience, including my own. Moreover, the most important parts are often the most difficult to sum up. So I put together a slideshow–just a fraction of the photos I took, but a hint of the three weeks. To avoid big downloads and crashes, I put it on YouTube. (I adjusted and re-uploaded it several times; this is the final version.)

Also, I made a short video playlist of musicians I heard on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul. I find myself listening to these songs again and again.

Speaking of “How was it?” yesterday I saw a delightful performance of The Government Inspector, Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s play. The acting, stage set, directing, and the text itself combined into a performance that was part social satire, part panorama of human vice, and part utter silliness and play. I was grateful that that last part, the silliness and play, did not get short shrift; to me, it was the greatest part of all. Afterward there was a discussion with the director, Jesse Berger; the Russian scholar and author Emil A. Draitser; and several members of the cast.

Gogol’s play and the adaptation have the same basic plot: Residents of a small provincial town learn of the imminent arrival of a revizor, or government inspector. They scramble to cover up the town’s far-reaching corruption. In the meantime, Khlestakov, a self-indulgent, imaginative, unsuspecting dandy, has been staying at the inn for a week; once his presence is noted, people assume he is the revizor himself. This plays out hilariously–and in this production, everyone is having fun. But there’s also a sad irony: while believing they are covering up their foibles, the townspeople actually reveal one vice after another, particularly obsequiousness. What seems like concealment unravels into disclosure.

But this does not sum up the play, the adaptation, or the performance; as I was watching, I noticed that each scene, and many moments within the scenes, come across as pictures, po-gogolevski. The wordless scene at the end–the famous “nemaia stsena”–still shifts and staggers in my mind.

This actually brings me back to my trip. The four lessons I taught in Istanbul (to four sections of eleventh-graders) were about the relation between concealment and disclosure in specific works of art, music, and literature: a Degas painting, a Verlaine poem, the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7, a passage from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, and Chekhov’s story “Home.” This play would have been a great addition to that syllabus, had there been time for it. In that sense, the study continues.

So my reply to “How was it?” is “Was? No, is.”

Istanbul Memories in Advance

IMG_3053When I step outside of the school, this is the first street I see. Before I’ve walked a block, I see pictures of kebabs on restaurant walls; I hear an approaching motorcycle or a clattering wooden cart. Café tables and chairs fill the sidewalks. By 11:00 a.m., people are sitting outside, observing the day, drinking tea, talking with each other. Cats amble along, picking up food and affection along the way.

My time at the Sainte Pulchérie Lisesi is passing quickly; tomorrow I teach my last class. Today we held a long-anticipated Skype conference with the editors-in-chief of CONTRARIWISE. Selin, Zeynep, and Pinar participated on this end; Kelly, Alan, and (Professor) Kim Terranova on the other. (Nimet and I listened and took pictures; at one point I lifted up the laptop to show Kelly and Alan the view through the window.)

I have not seen my favorite musicians again, but I will keep on looking. I heard many other musicians, including this wonderful Syrian group playing “Habibi Nour el Ayn.” (Someone else posted another lovely video of the same group and song.)

This blog conveys only a fraction of these two weeks; I do not want to sum them up, so I will end here.

IMG_3032.

Street Music in Istanbul

Not only is there music on just about every corner in downtown Istanbul (especially on Istiklal Caddesi), but some are so soulful that they halt you for a while.

Here is my favorite musician so far. I love the quiet subtlety of his music. I heard him (and took this video) on my first day and then saw him again two days later. I hope to learn his name before I leave. Kudos, also, to the young man holding the microphone; such service sometimes goes unnoticed.

Then this morning I heard this beautiful duo. The song’s melody reminds me of a piyut I began learning recently. They aren’t identical, but they have similar cadences.

If I learn who any of these musicians are, I will add the information here.

As you can see, walking around in Istanbul is no ordinary matter. You have to be dreamy and alert at the same time: dreamy because you can’t help it, and alert because so much is happening all around.

istanbul cat 2As I was listening to the duo, some children came up to me and began begging. I gave a few coins to one of them. Then another approached me; I shook my head and left, but she walked along with me, saying “Syria, Syria” and many other things. (She may have been a Syrian Dom refugee.) With her hands, words, expression, and urgency, she conveyed that she needed something to eat. I finally motioned to her that I would go get some change. She understood and waited outside as I went into a McDonald’s (of all places). They wouldn’t give me change without a purchase, so I got some Chicken McNuggets, gave the girl some change, and fed the quasi-food, bit by bit, to cats in the neighborhood. Here is one such cat.

Update: On May 25, my last day in Istanbul, I heard the duo again and learned their names! They are Fali Talebi and Sherko Hoseini, from Iran. I will write a separate post about them. A month later, well after returning to the U.S., I asked Sherko the name of the song. It is “Ta Bahare Delneshin,” an old Persian song. Sherko kindly sent me the lyrics and a link to another recording.

CONTRARIWISE in Istanbul

IMG_2925

Yesterday, at the Sainte Pulchérie Lisesi, there was an eleventh-grade award ceremony in commemoration of Atatürk’s birthday. For part of the philosophy award, I presented copies of CONTRARIWISE (a journal of philosophy by students of Columbia Secondary School in New York City) to Selin Tunalı, whose essay “What Is a Human Being?” won honorable mention in the journal’s international contest.

More photos of this ceremony will soon appear on the CONTRARIWISE website. You can purchase a copy of the fourth issue through the website or at the journal’s upcoming celebration at Book Culture at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 27. I will still be out of the country, but CONTRARIWISE will be vivid in my thoughts.

For three consecutive years, a student from the Sainte Pulchérie Lisesi has won an award in the CONTRARIWISE International Contest. The past winners are İdil Ertem (for her poem “The Organization of Manti”) and Beliz Ürkmez (for her piece “Birth and Death”).

This year the editors-in-chief, editorial board, and Professor Terranova produced CONTRARIWISE without me; I left Columbia Secondary School at the end of June 2016 to write my second book. It is thanks to CONTRARIWISE that I am in Istanbul right now; through the international contest (created by the founding editors-in-chief), I began corresponding with Dr. Nimet Küçük, the philosophy teacher at Sainte Pulchérie. We then met twice in person in NYC. She and the school’s director, M. Abellan, invited me to the school for a short-term teaching residency; when I saw that it would be possible this spring, we began planning.

I am glad to have another week here! The visit has been beautiful and enlightening; I have been teaching, visiting classes, attending school events, and exploring Istanbul, all with the help and support of Nimet, other teachers, and the director. I am moved by their hospitality and impressed with what I have seen of the school. It has a compelling combination of formality and spirit, discipline and initiative, and learning and questioning. I have attended a math class on vectors, a music class on Debussy, and a French class where students were working on projects. I have taught two lessons so far (to four sections comprising the entire eleventh grade) and have seen the students’ great attention and participation.

The school hosts a theatre series performed by professional actors; this evening I will see Occident by Rémi De Vos, and tomorrow Yılın En İyi Kadın Oyuncusu (“The Best Actress of the Year”) by Seyyar Sahne.

This second photo (which I took on my first day here) shows a side alley and cat; I do not know whether I will find them again. Everywhere there are hilly, winding streets and alleys, each one different from the others. Even people who have lived here all their lives discover new places on their familiar walks. I look forward to many more walks over the coming week.

istanbul cat 1