Monday, April 12, 2010

April 12, 2010 – Istanbul Journal

Could my second day in the Polis be just as exciting? Inchu ché? Why not, as we would say in Armenian.

I began the morning in the gym again. There was no music on TRT this morning. The news was all about soccer. Galatasary beating Diyarbekirspor 4-1. Galatasary is the only team I have ever heard of. Every Turk living in the US seems to be their fan. In lieu of TRT providing the sound track, I had my iPod and listening to the early recording of Udi Hrant. I especially liked listening to his rendition of Kemani Tatyos Effendi’s Huseyni Saz Semai. Listening to Hrant Baba is always grounding, humbling, and most enjoyable.

My guide and cousin in-law, Siragan, picked me up at the hotel again at ten. We took the tram and subway and to Seraglio Point, the heart of the old Ottoman Empire. We walked through the spice market, it was a rainbow of shops, colors, and especially fragrances. From there we toured the Basilica Cistern built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 532. The vast vaulted cistern was designed to collect water for the demands of Great Palace of that empire. It is impressive to walk through the cistern especially with how the Turks have lit the base of each column. It is amazing with what could be constructed with no machinery but an abundance of really inexpensive labor.

Sidebar: As I am typing this, I saw a commercial for a financial concern: FinansEmeklilik. What is the big deal about a commercial for a bank or brokerage or something? To me, it was huge. The background music in this thirty second spot was a beautiful rendering of the chorus of Kemani Tatyos Effendi’s Bu Aksam Gün Batarken Gel. Amazing. It just makes me realize what living in a place where the dominant culture is heavily laced with things I highly value. Here is another case in point, I used to love my grandmother’s suboreg. She used to labor hours to make this delicacy. She served it about twice a year. Today, I walked by at least ten restaurants that had pans of it in their windows and sold it by the slice to passers by as if they were Ray’s Pizza in New York.

After walking through the Basilica Cistern, we ventured to Topkapi Palace, the oriental predecessor to
Dolmabahçe. Topkapi was built between 1459 and 1465 by Mehmet II upon his conquest of Constantinople. What an impressive compound of opulence and power that was in the hands of Sultans. The meeting and receiving chambers were ornate and tiles with blues and whites. I felt the power of the Ottomans much more in Topkapi than in Dolmabahçe. They had collections of jeweled, well everything, that were gifts, plunder, or commissioned by the Sultans. There were chalices, pitchers, cradles, candlesticks, stands to hold Korans, thrones, and hand mirrors to mention a few were made of gold and jade. They were encrusted with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds some as big as the palm of your hand. To further emphasize the militaristic nature of this empire was the collection of jeweled swords, sabers, and daggers. I even saw the dagger featured in the 1964 movie Topkapi starring Peter Ustinov and Melina Mercouri. They had the kaftans and ceremonial garb of various sultans.

The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle was a special place. When Selim I conquered Egypt and Arabia (1512-1520), the sultans also assumed the title of Caliph, the leadership of Islam. Many of the important relics of Islam came into their possession including the swords of the Prophet and his son-in-law Ali. The most important possession is a robe, mantle, worn by the Prophet. 24/7, holy men chant the Koran over the metal chest containing the mantle. It was a very moving and outside of anything I expected or experienced.

After lunch, we ventured to Veysel Müzik Evi, an instrument shop. The owner is Dr. Cengiz Sariku
ş, a maker of ouds and other Turkish instruments. I found the shop on line when I watched YouTubes of accomplished oud players playing the vintage instruments in his collection that also happen to be for sale. He has instruments from the great Greek maker Manol, the Stradivarius of oud makers, and several ouds from the great Armenian makers of Istanbul including Onnik Karibian, Agop Ohanyan, Agop Gudikran, Mgrdiç Karibian, Karekin Kavafyan, and others. The ouds ranged from 50 to 150 years old.

There I was in the same room, sitting on the same couch, where the videos were shot and the vintage instruments were hanging on the wall. I was talking with Cengiz and next thing I know, I was playing an oud, an 1908 Manol once owned by Enver Paşa’s wife Naciye. I held Bimen Sen’s oud (no strings) and Tatyos Effendi’s violin. Cengiz learned his craft from Agop Ohanyan and knew the Karibian brothers Onnik and Mgrdiç. It was an amazing experience. I played Tatyos Effendi’s Huseyni Saz Semai. Cengiz then pulled out a 78 of Udi Nevres Bey playing the same. It was equally humbling as listening to Udi Hrant earlier in the day. I played a variety of ouds both antique and made by Cengiz Usta (master).

We spent the afternoon at
Veysel Müzik Evi. Siragan talked to Cengiz and another visitor a wonderful saz player, Gügor, who gave us a great little concert. Güngor was from Yozgat as is Siragan. They did not know each other but had many common friends. It was a great way to spend an afternoon in Istanbul. I am considering importing and sell Cengiz’s ouds.

On the way back to my hotel, Siragan and I walked around Taksim Square in the heart of the Beyo
ğlu section where prosperous Armenian’s once lived. We stopped and heard two Gypsy clarinet players playing a duet of the kind of music I love. I tipped them and was amazed that here were a couple of great players playing outside for tips. They were better than all of the clarinet players I play with. It was just another example of dominant culture…

I have seen people who look like people I know. I believe we are closer than the religious, political, and language differences. The food is too much the same. The music, to me, overlaps very much. I started keeping track, well at least today. I have seen people who look like my daughter Armené, Garabed Darakjian, Kevork Toroyan, a more homely version of John Harotian, and many others.

I am beginning to fully understand the Armenian dilemma regarding Istanbul. It is a city, easy to love, in a country with policies that strain that relationship.


  1. Hey Daddy-o,

    Great! I liked this one even better than the last - probably because I loved hearing about all the jeweled things (the size of the palm of your hand? Really?? Awesome...). Also I loved hearing about the oud shop - how cool, you got to play Udi Hrants oud. Amazing! Sounds like you are having fun. Take pictures of my doppelganger next time! :)

    xoxo Armene

  2. Love your comment about the gypsy clarinet players being better than anyone you've played with!!!!!!!!!! Love you too.

  3. Well, John...look who Mark plays with -- you! It goes without saying that even the Turkish bums play better than you. I especially like how he also referred to the ugly women and drew the similiarity to you. Thats nice -- old ugly women looking like John Harotian. Love, Esber