Two entries ago, I sat on a rooftop garden looking out into the bright promise of a day in Istanbul and felt wholly at home. And after partaking of yogurt, apricots, hazelnuts and other Turkish delights, met my lovely host Ezo and boarded the boat on the Bosporus. Boats, blue sea and a day without work—the perfect combination to further feed my already ebullient mood. From the boat to the Grand Bazaar and the buzz of the marketplace, the lure of goods ranging from carpets to pottery to jewelry and of course, food. Small mountains of colorful spices beautifully arranged, bins of nuts and dried fruits and combinations pressed together (one called Turkish Delight—and it was). Some vendors singing their wares, some beckoning you with English (quite funny as they talked to my Turkish host in English as if she was a tourist too), some just sitting like still points in the sea of motion. I made a half-hearted attempt to shop for granddaughter Zadie, but the little belly-dance outfits just seemed a bit weird.
On we went to the Hag Sophia and Blue Mosque, those ancient monuments to humanity’s longing for a purpose greater than the daily round. I had been here seven years earlier, the only other time I was in Istanbul for more Orff teaching and because I opted for shorts in this hot (but not overwhelmingly so) weather, I couldn’t enter the mosque. But no matter, I said to my friend as we sat on a bench outside. The real religion is right here with the birds and the trees and indeed that seemed true.
On we went to meet another friend for coffee and I told my host Ezo the story of how in my last visit to Turkey, a small group showed me a body percussion piece they had worked out. They had been introduced to Keith Terry’s body music ideas by me in Salzburg the year before and it inspired them to create their own. Impressed by their work, I suggested that we should see if the Orff Institut would be interested in hosting body percussion groups made up of Orff teachers in the upcoming 2006 Symposium. I knew of one in Finland (started by my friend Elina who I had just visited), there was my own dormant group Xephyr in San Francisco and another group, Ocho por Uno, in Spain. While we talked in the café all those years back, I ended by suggesting that Keith Terry himself come and work with all the different groups. From Istanbul, I went directly back to Salzburg, pitched it to the Symposium organizers and lo and behold, it all came to pass. In my mind, that was one of the first “International Body Music Festivals,” but Keith organized his own (inspired by this experience?) the next year in San Francisco— and invited the Turkish group. Since then, they’ve been fast friends and this year’s Festival will be in—Istanbul!
We met our friend Timuchin in a lovely outdoor café and he spontaneously began to retell the exact same story, remembering with gratitude and affection that moment when my simple suggestion ended up having such profound consequences for his life. One of those little ripples in the pond of our daily actions that reached his shore and it was not only gratifying that I was innocently able to set good things in motion, but that he took the time to express his appreciation. Part of me is still reeling from the profound disrespect I’ve felt in moments like my suspension from school last year, the strange notion that we can ignore or even disdain the gifts others have bequeathed to us. Such moments as these simple tokens of appreciation help heal. And then we move on.
And move on we did, past the Turkish baths with the sign advertising “One of the 1000 sites you must visit before you die.” It was vaguely tempting, but I felt I had pampered my body enough in the Finnish sauna and besides, my woman host would not have been able to join me. We continued on to a darabukka (goblet drum, also called dumbek) rehearsal in a basement and expecting to see a kind of hippy drum circle, I was astounded at the complexity of the rhythms played expertly by fifteen musicians. Many of them had a “real” day job, like the woman who was a banker, but just decided to keep music in their lives and not just mindless banging. Each piece developed in symphonic complexity and the precision of their drumming was extraordinary, led by their teacher Ahmad Misrit.
From there, we went to a birthday party for Ezo’s friend held at a restaurant with live music and spontaneous dancing. And I mean Turkish traditional folk and classical music (though there was a break with some recording in Turkish disco style). I got to taste the traditional raki, a liquor very similar to the Greek ouzo, ate yet another spectacular meal and just sat in the midst of the noise and motion in some self-contained bubble of euphoria, so happy to be in this place with these people. And I did get up a dance a simple, energetic folk dance and that was great fun. And so ended my first day in Istanbul, a day that fulfilled its promise and then some.
Next day was a workshop for second-language teachers (mostly English) at an international-type private school. I expected teachers working with the little kids, but the first group included Middle School teachers and to my surprise, the afternoon group was all high school teachers. Thinking on my feet (my favorite thinking posture), I put together a class with the W.B. Yeats poem “Song of Wandering Aengus” at the center and we had a marvelous time. From there to a shopping mall (aargh! Burger King deluxe!) and an exhibit honoring Ezo’s father, Kemal Sunal, one of Turkey’s most prominent comic actors. He passed away 13 years ago, but was being remembered for Father’s Day. I saw some funny clips of his movies and was curious about more. From the mall to a boat ride on a small yacht owned by the exhibit sponsor—wonderful! Restaurant on a beautiful tree-lined street (there are many in Istanbul) with yet another friend and the delights just kept mounting.
Next day (the electronic disaster one) yet more teaching with musicians and the relief of just enjoying making music without having to reflect on the pedagogy. And now in the airport enroute to Estonia. What a life this is.
So thank you to Ezo and Istanbul, a vibrant cosmopolitan city spanning two continents (always took me aback crossing the bridge and seeing the “Welcome to Asia” sign). There seems to have been a discouraging turn to the right in contemporary Turkish politics, same old story of the Openers (all the people I’ve met) and the Limiters (all those fearful, narrow, heart-closed politicians or religious fanatics in power) and it’s always a sad one. But no time for that now. The security gate awaits.
PS Remember the three-hour drive in the traffic jam on Thursday night? On Monday morning at 5:30 am, it took 25 minutes!!