No 24  November 2002

A Man Named Yuksel 

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Istanbul? Yes, Istanbul.

Karen-Claire Voss  No 24  November 2002

 

This month I want to write about a man named Yuksel, or Americalý, as he is known by many in his neighborhood.  My meeting him is one of the clearest examples of kismet I’ve ever experienced.    Here is how it happened . . .

October came and went and I was busy working on several projects, one of them being a short film we were doing the shooting for.  (The film, by the way, is called The Dream of Istanbul, and we are editing it now.  We hope to have it available at Les Arts Turcs Gallery (1) in December, just in time for all the holidays.  Stay tuned.)  Anyway, I mentioned to my Significant Other that I wasn’t sure what I would write about for November and he said that he had met a very interesting guy and that I should go find him and write about him.  “He’s great.  It’s just that nobody’s caught him yet.” “Where is he?”  I asked. “Oh, just walk down Sýraselviler to the end.  He hangs out near the fountain.”  “Gee, thanks,” I said. 

Look, it’s true I’ve learned a whole lot about getting around in Istanbul, but the prospect of wandering down Sýraselviler Caddesi in search of some fountain whose whereabouts I couldn’t really picture in my mind was somewhat disconcerting, but as a kind of spiritual exercise or something, I decided to do it anyway.  Bright and early one Saturday morning I set out in a taxi from my friendly neighborhood taxi durak, determined to find this guy. 

I got out of the taxi at the place I was most familiar with—by that big market on the left, down near the German Hospital.  I knew I could have a glass of tea and something delicious at the bakery just across the street.  Over tea, I had a cigarette, checked my cep phone to see if there were any missed calls, organized my thoughts and my bag, so notebook and pen would be easy to find, and then there was nothing left to do but set off in search of this mysterious character.

As I headed down the street in what I hoped was the direction of the fountain, I began looking at people trying to find a sympathetic person who might know how to find Yuksel Bey.  I stopped to ask a man standing in the doorway of a pastry shop.  I explained in my halting Turkish who I was looking for and waited for his answer.  “Oh,” he said, smiling broadly, and gesturing toward the man standing next to him, “this is Americalý.”  I was absolutely stunned, but recovered enough to mutter something about kismet, and then briefly explained that I wanted to talk with him, and asked if he would like to join me for a glass of tea there in the courtyard of the pastry shop.  Refusing the offer of tea, saying he had work to do, he told me to follow him so that we could talk. 

I followed him down a side street where he crossed and entered an area enclosed by wrought iron fencing with a fountain in the center of it.  I saw a couple of chairs covered in newspaper and a box leaning against a tree.  There were dishes of cat food scattered around and cats everywhere.  He scooped one cat off of a chair and motioned me to sit down.  He sat in the chair beside me. 

 “OK, Yuksel Bey.  What is the story here?  How did you come to this place?,” I asked him.  We talked for almost an hour, mixing Turkish and English, for he had perfect English.   He told me that he had been born in Erzincan and that his grandfather had fought in the war at Cannakale.   When he was still a child his parents moved to Istanbul and so Yuksel grew up in Teþvikiye.  After he finished his army service, he said, he decided to go to New Jersey, and wound up in a town called Plainsborough.  He found a job making pizza, of all things, and soon excelled.  He also sold donuts in a department store.  He bought a car using the bank credit system, which he finds quite marvelous, worked out regularly in the YMCA, and married.  Life was good. 

About twenty-five years ago, however, his wife died.  Yuksel Bey began drinking too much.  Nothing was going right.  One day he asked himself  “What am I doing?” and that ‘s when he decided to “go back home,” to Turkey.  He found a place to stay in Fatih, and somehow found his way to the fountain  where he has stayed every day for twenty-two years.  He takes care of seven cats—Sarý (2), Racoon, Yetim (3), Tekir, Puffy and two with no names.  (There had been ten, he told me, but three had died “because they ate something bad.”). He spends his days looking after the cats, directing people to the nearby restroom, talking to the neighbors, and dispensing occasional wisdom to the neighborhood boys, who clearly think he’s one terrific person.   Finally, quite obviously, and to his credit, he also spends a whole lot of time just thinking about Reality, with a capital ‘R.’ 

I asked him what he remembered most about his experience in the U.S. and he told me that he it was there he discovered what work means.  This is the lesson he brought back with him—that making something and making it well is meaningful—and this is the message he wants his fellow countrymen to learn. 

“Is there anything you want now that you don’t have?” I asked him.  “What could I want?  I have everything I need.  No, I don’t want anything else,” he answered, smiling. 

Here, I have to stop and say a word about Yuksel’s smile.  He’s a big bear of a man, but when he smiles, which is frequently, his entire face lights up, like a child.  His eyes shine.  Yuksel Bey is no child, however.  He is a man, but he’s anything but ordinary.   His gaze is open, direct, absolutely pure, and full of life.  He is what he is.  He says what he has to say.  He does what he has to do.  And all of it is accompanied by a quality of directness so striking it’s like a force.   

It was peaceful there, sitting on a cold, sunlit fall morning, with one of the cats in my lap.  “Yes,” I thought to myself, “Yes.  Istanbul is this, too.”

Notes:

1.  Les Arts Turcs Gallery

web address:  www.lesartsturcs.com 

Istanbul Life.Org : Ishak Pasa Caddesi No: 6 Floor : 2 Sultanahmet / ISTANBUL - TURKEY
Tel :
+ 90 (212) 458 13 19   Fax : + 90 (212)  458 13 19  - 458 13 18  E-mail :  [email protected]

2. ‘sarý’ means yellow

3. ‘yetim’ is a fatherless child

4.  ‘tekir’ means a tabby cat.  And by the way, while I was checking all these words in the dictionary I also found out that ‘zuhûr’ means becoming manifest, evident, visible; appearance; a happening, coming to pass, coming into being.  That’s on a really deep level.  On a very ordinary level the same word is used to mean becoming conspicuous, powerful or famous.  Guess which level Yuksel Bey went for 
No.1- April 2000 No.11 April 2001 No. 20 July 2002 No 29 April 2003
No.2 June 2000 No.12 May 2001 No. 22 September 2002 NO 30 MAY 2003
No.3 July/August 2000 No. 13 June 2001 No. 23   October 2002  NO 31 JUNE 2003
No.5 October 2000 No.14 July 2001 No 24 November 2002 NO 32 JULY 2003
No.7 December 2000 No.15 August 2001 No 25 DECEMBER  2002 NO 33 August 
No.8 January 2001
(No. 8 Ocak 2001 - Türkçe tercume
NO 16 September 2001 No 26 January 2003 No 34 September 
No.9 February 2001 No. 17 April 2002 No 27 February 2003 No 35 October 
No.10 March 2001 NO 19 JUNE 2002 No 28 March 2003 No 36 January 2004

No 37 February - March 2004 No 38 April 2004

 

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Istanbul Life.Org : Ishak Pasa Caddesi No: 6 Floor : 2 Sultanahmet / ISTANBUL - TURKEY
Tel :
+ 90 (212) 458 13 19   Fax : + 90 (212)  458 13 19  - 458 13 18  E-mail :  [email protected]

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