No 25 DECEMBER 2002
Çok Ayıp: A Tale of (Bureaucratic) Woe
ISTANBUL? YES, ISTANBUL
Voss No. 25 December 2002
You know, Turkish people are lucky.
From time to time in these columns, I have remarked on this or
another aspect of the language and I have been particularly struck by
the capacity it has for allowing the expression of nuance.
a great example of one of those perfect Turkish phrases.
A literal English translation of çok
is a big shame, and once upon a time, an English speaking person
could say Shame on you, and it would be enough to make the person
it was said to shrivel up and feel absolutely terrible about whatever it
was he or she had done. Unfortunately,
it seems, the phrase Shame on you lost its efficacy.
I am very old now, but I seem to remember that it still packed
punch, at least in some circles, during the mid 50s . . ..
is not the case with çok
These words still possess what Alfred North Whitehead refers to
as causal efficacy, meaning simply that they are very, very
powerful. Well, enough of
linguistic considerations. This
months column is not about language, but about a
The situation concerns a café that is owned by someone very dear
to me, a man who has perhaps the largest spirit of anyone I have ever
order for you to understand, a little background is in order.
For years, I think you could say that this person was struggling
with something like a Hamlet complex.
From time to time, he would try to do somethingtrained in the
conservatory, he acted and was so good at it that he won an award, but
he left it. Once, he had
occasion to organize a series of Henry the VIIth nights at a club in
Bodrum and they were a tremendous hit.
I seem to remember that as part of this he set small, lighted
candles afloat in the sea, just where it lapped the shore, and placed
several dining tables there for romantic dinners.
In any case, he didnt pursue this.
He had a business selling hardware in Karaköy and that was
successful too, until there was some unpleasantness with his dishonest
business partner. Oh, yes.
There was also a bar in Arnavutköy that probably would have been
terrific had it not been for the small, but significant fact that he and
his partner(s) chose to open it during Ramazan.
for all the years I have known him we would occasionally talk about how
it would be a really good thing for him to do something, something.
Yes, he would agree. A
person should make something in this life.
this May, he took the plunge at last.
This man with the soul of a poet decided to open up a café that
served coffee, tea, cold drinks, and simple food.
His plan was to find the best and the freshest eggs, cheese, kaymak,
whatever, and to serve it to his guests (which is how he thinks of his
customers) with genuine grace and care.
The location of the café is perhaps its biggest asset, because
all the tables afford a magnificent view of the Bosphorus.
So, the location was not a problem.
The big problem was that there was not a lot of what is called
capital, and so in early May we began going around looking for
what was needed, and whenever possible, bargaining with people to let us
have what was needed by paying for it by taksit
(i.e. in installments). There
were a series of adventures: finding
an authentic gypsy cart for decoration, finding just the right person to
do the wrought iron fencing, locating the best usta
to do the carpentry work, the best man to make the refrigerator, and
just the right place in Tatikale to get all the tableware and cooking
things, etc. An accurate
account of the things we did, looked for and found, and that we agonized
and triumphed over, would go on for pages.
the summer, the place blossomed like a lovingly planted garden. There was no plastic anywhere to be seen.
No ugly plastic awnings or umbrellas emblazoned with some
multi-national brand name soft drink.
None of that. No. Everything
was real: copper, brass,
antique, wood . . . and everything was absolutely beautiful.
Once people discovered the place, they would return again and
again. One famous singer, a
woman who sings Turkish music as it should be sung, came one day for the
first time and stayed for seven hours!
Everybody loved this café.
People seemed to recognize that something very special was going
on, that there was a quality of care and even joy there that was out of
the ordinary. And my friend
was so proud!
had great hopes for the future. Then,
as my friend sought to finalize all the different permissions that are
needed for an establishment like this, he began to encounter problems.
One by one, though, he solved them.
Permissions were either obtained or promised, and it seemed that
the bureaucratic aspect would be worked out.
I remember that the health inspectors were especially impressed
with the cleanliness of the place.
It seems right that they were.
I mean, my friend has even taught his workers to wash cucumbers
before peeling them, and nobody does that!
However, there was one more, hitherto unknown office to be dealt
with, some officeI dont know what its Turkish name isthat is
responsible for protecting the environment along the Bosphorus.
those of us who live in Istanbul know that notwithstanding this office,
a number of exceedingly ugly structures have nevertheless managed to be
erected along the shores of this sublimely beautiful body of water.
(How this happened is a subject begging to be speculated on, but
not here.) I can assure you that this café is not one of them.
Just the other evening, for example, it was raining and cold and
there were no customers, but I sat there warming myself by a coal fire
that had been built on sand inside a large half barrel.
As I looked around I noticed every detail, right down to the
gleaming copper and glass containers for beans and olives and things
piled high inside that gypsy wagon, the small wooden bookcase filled
with books to read, all of that days newspapers arranged, and the two
front windows of the tiny shop (the tables and chairs are outside on a
terrace) filled to the brim with beautiful antique things and books
signed by their Turkish authorsYes, I thought to myself,
this thing that began as a dream has taken form. This man has created
a place not only with his hands, his nails, and his back, but also with
his eyes and his heart and his soul, his tears and his joy and his love.
And anyone who comes and sits down can feel that. It looks like a
poem, I thought to myself.
for the çok
part. Actually, the çok,
part. It seems that this
office wants to declare this poem of a café an eyesore and have it be
closed! Now, why on earth would they say this? What on earth could be the motivation?
ten years now I have tried to do whatever I can to create things here,
things that are beautiful, meaningful, life affirming.
And that is how I can recognize
that this is precisely what this
man has done, and why I admire him for doing it. To harass him, which is
what is happening, is indeed
that this is precisely what this man has done, and why I admire him for doing it. To harass him, which is what is happening, is indeedçok ayıp. What we have to do instead is say Bravo to him for refusing to contribute to the ugliness of this world and applaud him for creating something beautiful.
Well, well see. He always tells me, Time is important. Patience is important. I will let you know how it all turns out.
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