NO 19 JUNE 2002
Voss No. 19 June 2002
is probably (I say probably because I am not absolutely sure) not
only inevitable but also good that Turkey is pushing to become a
full-member of the European Union, although I realize that discussion
about whether or not the country should pursue this route is currently
underway at the highest level. However,
my readers must realize by now that I am not very interested in
politics. If I stopped now
to talk about politics, I imagine that I would begin by loudly lamenting
the current state of the 21st century in general, not only
here, and go on to tell you all the reasons why I heartily loathe this
world-wide marriage of technology and globalization, but I cant try
to write about everything. This
column is about Istanbul and Turkey and my topic here is cultural.
I want to ask if you have ever stopped to consider how many
time-honored professions are being lost in the drive to become all
modern and Europeanized? There
are quite a few, and this month Id like to tell you about some of
them. I would also like to
share what forty minutes of paging through a big Turkish-English
dictionary revealed. You
may ask yourself Why on earth is she delving into all these arcane
things? What for?
The answer is simple. I
do it for the sheer delight I find in it.
I love to discover something hidden and spread it out on the
table, as it were, and hold it up to the light, so other people can see
my partner conceived a very special project for which he needs to find a
Whats that? I asked.
He said it was someone who knew how to paint or draw letters very
well. Not a hattat
(a calligraphist), simply a sign painter.
He told me of a quite famous actor we both know who, when very
young, was the best. He
described how he would prop his hand at just the right angle using a
ball to support it and then draw absolutely beautiful letters.
This was a big surprise to me and I confess I had a bit of
trouble reconciling the image of the man I know with this other one who
drew letters. In my still
too straightforward, pragmatic, American fashion, I suggested our simply
asking the actor to do it, but this, I was informed, would be çok
ayıp. Well, OK, tamam,
but that still left us with the problem of finding somebody.
Now, clearly, one cannot go looking in the Yellow Pages for a tabelâcı,
even if we had a Yellow Pages here, which we dont, but after making
some inquiries, we found out that there was a highly skilled tabelâcı,
an Armenian, who reputedly shows up at a little store in Karaköy about
once every ten days. There
are four more days to go before we check back.
Ill keep you posted.
kakmacı is someone who made repoussé work, that fabulous
ornamental inlay or overlay you find on some old pieces, often worked in
mother of pearl or shell. Throughout the Ottoman period, exquisite
furniture, trays, trunks and boxes were finished by these kakmacılar.
was the timekeeper and was responsible for making sure all of the
public clocks were set properly-no
more of those, surelyand
the muvakkithane was the clock
room, usually located at the palace.
A mücellid was a
bookbinder, the mücellidhane
the bindery itself. In the hamam
the person who washes you, massages you, shampoos you, is a tellâk,
male, and a natır,
if female, but almost no one uses those words now.
The kırbacı was a
maker of water skins, but of course, with plastic bottles, we certainly
have no more use for water skins. A
niginsay was the
person who engraved the seals that were used on letters and official
documents and on the precious stones of rings.
It would have been a niginsay
who engraved the stone in the signet ring worn by the sultan.
were also purveyors of delicious drinks.
There was the bozacı, who sold boza, a beverage
made of fermented millet. In days gone by there was even a special place
devoted to the making of this drink called a bozahane.
We actually still have a bozacı who plies his trade in
the hills of Kuruçeşme, and on some cold winter nights, you can hear
him calling out Boza, boza. Another traditional drink is salep, which is made from
the root of the Orchis Mascula or Early Purple Orchid that
flourishes in the countryside of Turkey, as well as that of many other
western European countries. You
can still order salep in certain cafés and on the ferries in
winter. In the old days,
the person who sold it was a salepçi.
saved my favorite occupation for last.
Each Ramazan beautiful candle lights were strung between the
minarets of the mosques to form pictures or words.
These lights were called mahya, a word that comes from the
Persian, and the person who fashioned them was a mahayacı.
To the best of my knowledge the possibility of doing this again,
even if someone wanted to, no longer exists because the last mahayacı
must have died years ago. Twenty,
twenty-five years ago would have been about the last time you could see
this in Istanbul. Now there
is no one left who knows the craft.
the words, I note that what I am going to present here about language is
only scratching the surface. Do
you realize there are words for things in this rich tongue that simply
do not exist in others? This last question, by the way, is directed as much to
Turkish readers as to foreigners. Many
Turkish people wont know some of the words below, and most dont
bother to use the language properly anyway.
Personally, I envy native Turkish speakers because they are in a
position to undertake to learn to use the language as it should be used. For myself, I can only fantasize what it would be like to be
able to express myself in truly beautiful Turkish.
for something seems to be a leit motiv in Turkish culture (1) and
accordingly, there are any number of words one can use to express it.
There is hasret, which means simply yearning
(2) and telhif―a
lamenting, regretting (anything neglected, missed or lost). There is
özlem, yearning, longing, and also used as a
technical term in philosophy to mean an ardent desire for
something (or for someone). Then
we have arzu, longing,
again, but with an interesting archaic verb form:
arzuçek, meaning to long.
you know there is actually a word meaning the recital of a poem using
two or three languages at the same time? Its telmi. Telmi also means causing to shine and glitter and a
coloring; a varying; a diversifying.
A mahçe is the small, gilded crescent on the top of a
flagpole, minaret, or dome and someone who is mahçehre
is someone with a face
as fair as the moon. Like
hunting? In days gone by,
you would have visited the okçu, the maker and seller of arrows.
Now we all know that an ocakbaşı is the place to go when
were hungry for grilled meat and vegetables, but are you aware that
the ocakbaşı used to be the cook in the Sultans kitchen?
Finally, in case your relatives could not be counted on to do
justice to your passing at the gravesite, a nevhager was a hired
it takes someone from outside a situation or a place to help someone
from inside see it a new light. Ive already said, what Ive presented here is only
scratching the surface. There
is much more to discover about the Turkish language.
After Atatürks radical language reform, there was a concerted
effort to develop the language. I
dont know all the details but one thing I do know is that over the
years those efforts lessened. It
seems to me that since we are contemplating even closer ties with Europe
than we now enjoy, it is time to pay close attention to the language
once again lest it be lost in the same way so many other precious things
connected with the culture here have been lost.
these columns, I have repeated the same idea repeatedly:
Yes, Turkey has its problems.
Yes, life here can be very difficult.
No, living here will never be anything like living inside a
Hollywood film. But so what? For
one thing, there isnt any place on this earth that is like living
inside a Hollywood film. For
another, life here in Turkey can be incredibly rich, rich in ways that
are not possible somewhere else. How
many times have I written that Turkey really is a hidden treasure?
And this reminds me of a story.
of fantasies about leaving and going to the United States (or Canada or
Australia or western Europe, doesnt matter), there was once a poor
man who had a dream that if he traveled to a far-away place he would be
able to discover a buried treasure.
He set out the next day and when he arrived at his destination
started to make some inquiries. One
of the first people he questioned about the treasure told him that
strangely enough, he too had had a dream about a buried treasure the
very night before. The man
proceeded to describe the place where it could be found in detail.
The wanderer was stunned, for he recognized that the place the
man was describing was behind the stove in his very own kitchen.
He set out again for home, and when he arrived went directly to
the kitchen, pulled the stove away from the wall, and started digging.
He found the treasure. It
had been in his own place in this world all along.
Hmm. Seems to me
theres a moral for all of us here.
See Column 10, March 2001, where I write about hasret.
See, for example, Ahmet Arifs
collection of poetry, Hasretinden
Prangalar Eskttim (Istanbul:
Cem Yayınevı, 1998).
invite readers to email me with more words.
I will be forever in your debt if you do.
These days, you see, I am seriously contemplating taking Turkish
lessons, at long last, and have the ambition to try to get to the point
where I can speak the language well, if not beautifully.
As things are now, while I generally manage to get my ideas
across, I string together what I know in ways that are sometimes
hysterically funny since Ive almost no sense of the grammar.
I figure that once I learn the grammatical rules, I will be able
to do a whole lot provided I have a huge vocabulary.
Interested readers can email me at
or visit my website: http://www.istanbul-yes-istanbul.co.uk/index.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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