No. 17 April 2002
Living, I Mean, Weighs Heavier
No. 17 April 2002
It’s April, again, and the other day, at dusk, while walking in the park and looking at the sea, I realized that I was actually listening intently – to the sound of the waves, the gulls, the call to prayer, and all around, behind, and underneath, the sounds of the city. I was thinking of how it came about that I could start writing this column again, after a seven month long hiatus, and of what to write in this first one. I remembered how I had alluded to Orhan Veli’s Song of Istanbul in the column I wrote last April, when I was yearning just to sit in a café in Rumeli Hisari gazing out at the Bosphorous, and dream. Then I remembered Veli’s poem, I Am Listening to Istanbul, and realized that was precisely what I was doing, and then the topic came to me. The topic is simply listening. Those of us who live here have to remember to take time just to listen to Istanbul, this city of dreams we are fortunate enough (or more darkly perhaps, fated) to live in. The poem begins thus:
am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
am listening to Istanbul with my eyes closed
Of course, having a foreign writer tell you to remember to listen to Istanbul may strike many of you as something immediately in dire need of a Marxist analysis. After all, here we are, still struggling through the economic crisis that began last year, just around this time, and finding the money needed for bus money, bread, and a few grams of meat is about all that some people can manage at the moment. Now there is this muddled-headed, romantic, idealistic foreigner talking about poetry — poetry? — and going on about how we should take time to listen to Istanbul. Oof, ya. Easy for her. She doesn’t have to worry about ekmek parasi. Etc.
Well, not so. I’ve only managed to stay here nigh on eight years by living by my wits, teaching English here and there —“This is a pencil,” “Open the window,” you know — since I don’t have anything like a rich uncle. This is the second economic crisis I’ve weathered since coming here, and I know from first-hand experience that it isn’t easy, but, oh . . . I can still say with conviction that we have to take time to listen to Istanbul. It’s a matter of realizing that this life is the only life we are going to have (notwithstanding what may or may not happen after we are dead and buried and our relatives and friends pay their respects and then go on as if nothing out of the way had happened  ). So even though we have to struggle and take care of the practical so-called necessities, we still have to remember that, as the fresh, smiling, oh-so-very-wise young girl said in the play, Simyacý: “Baþka þeyler lazým.”  What’s necessary? Stuff like remembering to: listen to Istanbul; notice the unique personalities of street children, and beggars, and cats and dogs and also, even, pigeons and crows (if you don’t believe they have unique personalities observe them carefully, once, for a full five minutes, just as an experiment); look the next person you say “Nasýlsýnýz?” to right in the eyes and catch how they really are; and finally, look in the mirror in the morning and remember who you really are and then, act that way.
Does it matter? Is it important? Will it make any difference at all? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” Everything you do means something, even if no one sees it.
Perhaps I haven’t yet convinced you that this April, right this moment, you should do anything different. As a last resort, allow me to press into service the exquisite words of Nazim Hikmet. In his poem, On Living, he writes eloquently about what I am insisting we have to remember:
is no laughing matter:
say you're seriously ill, need surgery -
earth will grow cold,
Well, there you have it. Take time to listen to Istanbul. Listen to what she’s saying, listen to what she wants from you, and give her the very best you are capable of. Tend to this city as if she were a garden. She used to be like a garden, and could be again. And don’t think for a moment that since you are so small, so insignificant, and you are going to die anyway, it doesn’t matter. It matters. Like the business of finding ekmek parasi, our dying is only, finally, just a detail, because “living, I mean, weighs heavier.
 From I, Orhan Veli, a collection translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat (New York: Hanging Loose Press, 1989). You can find the entire text—over 50 poems—at: http://ifmiserv.ifm.uni-hamburg.de/~nail/siir/poetry/books/i_orhan_veli/
My thanks to the reader who wrote to tell me about this wonderful website.
 See the poem of Yunus Emre in which he writes: ”For three days they will sit out—To settle your affairs, no doubt; You will be all they talk about. After that, their lips will stay tight.” In Yunus Emre and His Mystical Poetry, ed. Talat Sait Halman (Indiana University Turkish Studies 2:1981), p. 172.
 I saw the Turkish theater production based on Paolo Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, a couple of years ago at Dostlar Tiyatrosu. Produced by Mehmet Ulusoy and starring Genco Erkal and Tulay Çimenser, it was glorious.
 Nazim Hikmet, February 1948. Trans. Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, 1993. You can find this poem and more in Turkish and in English at http://ifmiserv.ifm.uni-hamburg.de/~nail/siir/poetry/nazim_hikmet.html
|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 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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