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"Journey" is a chapter from the book titled,


by Cüneyt AYRAL

Translated from Turkish by Figen BINGÜL

I had been looking for audiences among the household for the lines I had scribbled in the years when I first started to take interest in poetry.

Those were the years that I couldn't know what love, passion, and longing were. But in those years, the loves and longings recounted by "Picture Novels" which were published by Hayat Mecmuasi [Life Magazine] were reflected in my lines.

My aunt's older son, Riza, was the most "intellectual" one among the four kids in the family. He had graduated from the English High School for Boys, and had enrolled in Law School. He read a lot; he listened to good music.

One day, in the living room of our apartment at the Yasiner Apartment Building, having sat down on one of the sofas around the round coffee table, he and my father were talking politics.

When my father was talking to someone, interrupting him was not something "imaginable" in our house. But, wasn't it my job always to attempt for the "unimaginable?" So did happen!

I barged in by saying to Riza, for the first time, that I was writing poetry. He must have grasped the seriousness of this matter that he started to talk, as if to prevent my father from getting mad at me and saying "go away!," and he said: "Writing poetry is a very difficult task; it requires knowledge of philosophy; you have to read a lot of poetry. For instance, you have to read Oktay Rifat, Asaf Halet, and others... Those were the oppression years when even to read, or suggest Nazim Hikmet was a crime, and when the walls had ears...

Riza, that day, had explained to me lengthily that poetry was a very long "journey," but he also had underlined that journeys were very enjoyable.

I think, among the four kids in the family, two of us happened to be the ones who went on journeys the most at the end!...

It was winter... The winter of 1981... Master Ilhan Berk had come to my apartment at Sehit Mehmet Sokak in Tesvikiye, Istanbul. How happy I was for the master who had deeply influenced my poetry had come to my house. About poetry, he had said to me: "Poetry is a way of living."

IS THAT YOU, KONYALI? (someone from Konya)


I don't remember the date now; it must have been the fall months of 1989 because I had given Behcet Necatigil's book Mektuplar [Letters],
which Hilmi Yavuz had prepared for publication, to the print. And this book had been the last one of my publishing life that I called "Bin Tane Yayinlari" [Thousand Pieces Publications] to which I have shown the utmost care.

But, at the time, I didn't know this was the last and I truly wanted to have a book of my master Ilhan Berk within Thousand Pieces Publications.

Ilhan Berk came to the office with the works of his books Poetika and Guzel Irmak Defteri [Beautiful River Notebook]. With his distressed attitude of always, wandering in the middle of the room, he said: "Here you go. I didn't turn you down and I brought it, you see... I'll give you hell, if you don't print it correctly" and he kept on grumbling. Because he wanted his books to be printed with care; he showed great diligence to the matter.

Cüneyt AYRAL>

However, Thousand Pieces Publications, just like the Kostant¦niyye Gazette, fell victim to the wrath of the distributors and this market I didn't know, and it was shut down before Ilhan Berk's books could be printed.

I had kept all my promises to Ilhan Berk until that day; but this promise had overwhelmed me. It wasn't possible for a publishing house, which had not been able to sell the thousands of books it had, to print and keep two more; first of all, it wouldn't be fair to the authors. But I couldn't get over Ilhan Berk's frustration; he was not going to let his stubbornness go on this; he had become hiding his love.

Then there was neither a job, nor publishing, nor organizing exhibitions...  Everything got upside down and I packed up bag and baggage and settled in Nice, France.

The last book I purchased before I left Istanbul was Ilhan Berk's book, LOGOS. Because at the sixtieth page of the book, he had written: "Words are my masterpieces; I carry them everywhere with me" and this was a very important advice for someone who had been caught up in the writing business.

* * * * *

I was looking at the file of "Voix de la Mediterranee" Poetry Festival that came from Lodeve. They had invited three poets from Turkey. In alphabetical order: Orhan Alkaya, Ilhan Berk, and Bejan Matur...

I immediately called the festival management and asked whether the poets had accepted the invitations. Ilhan Berk was coming...

At the same days, my photography artist and poet friend Ahmet Sel, who had translated Ilhan Berk's book titled Siirin Gizli Tarihi [The Hidden History of Poetry] into French with Christian F. Estebe, was returning to Paris from Moscow permanently.

First I called the master; he would arrive in Paris. Then I called Ahmet Sel and informed him about Berk's coming. The fact that Ilhan Berk, whom I hadn't see for five years, was coming had made me agitated in a strange way; excitement, joy and longing had all mixed into each other.

I hopped in the car and got to Lodeve. Ilhan Berk was staying at Hotel de la Paix, i.e. the hotel of "peace;" his room number was 4. They had reserved room number 21 for me at the same hotel. At last, we met at noon time.

I found the youngster of 82 just like I had left him.

Ilhan Berk was the same; he had not changed a bit. As Memet Fuat had written in 1985, in Contemporary Turkish Poetry Anthology, he was continuing "to turn everything his hand touched into poetry." As soon as he saw me, he started to tell me about the cathedral that he had visited that morning; it was obvious that he had started to write already. He was talking about the intense fear that had spread over him; then he said: "That cathedral seems like it's going to collapse, like it will fall on me...

At one of the tiny chat-corners that were set in the inner courtyards of buildings, in the surprising tiny areas tucked away in Lodeve's narrow streets, Ilhan Berk talked in French to his audience about the subject of "being a poet ---being a poet in Turkey."

During the festival, poetry was lived, talked about at every corner of the town. Everybody was listening to what the invited masters told, on one side, and on the other side they were following the novelties of the new generation poets who were also invited. A rare opportunity was being lived for the excited and curious poetry crowd; poetry was being dissected and pulled apart from every angle. It was truly a festival.

Following Ilhan Berk's talk, when the curious questions of the audience didn't come to an end, we witnessed another Ilhan Berk "classic." He stood up and said: "C'mon now. That's enough, we're leaving now... I'm bored."

Just when he was going to get down from the podium, a plumpish, middle aged man with thinning hair and a slightly hunchbacked posture helped him to get down and immediately said: "I came to listen to you; I heard you were here and I came... I work here; it's been nine years that I've come. I'm from Konya.. Where are you from?"

The French poet Tristan Cabral (his real name is Yann Hossin), who loved Turkey and Turks and had signed many poems about Turkey, was among Ilhan Berk's audience. With his suggestion, it was decided to have a few drinks at a café until the evening "tumult" started, and after passing through narrow streets, we went to the café where Ilhan Berk had his breakfast and he had loved.

The Konyali was behind us like a shadow and he quickly sat on the edge of the head of the table that we sat. The man looked like he had memorized everything that had been said. When Konyali had instantly attempted to pay for the beers, which the waiter who clearly was an immigrant from his ways brought, Ilhan Berk said right away: "Leave it, please!" I just recognized you... Aren't you the one who gave me tea this morning?" And the man acknowledged saying "Yeah.."

Ilhan Berk at a café in the town of Lodeve that was set beside a river in the Midi region had asked a waiter from Konya for his first tea in French. And now the beers which were his treat were being clinked.

The same night, the poetry crowd who gathered at the market place of Lodeve read poems in their own languages; the foreigners' poems were also read by theater artists in French. Ilhan Berk recited his poem "Kayalar" [Rocks]. The poem was very beautiful. But it was late, and the festival organizers had placed the masters in the first part when they were planning the three parts reading night. Those who got tired slowly started to leave.

We parted with Ilhan Berk to meet at breakfast. He had referred to his wife, Edibe Hanim, as "the captain of the house," who walked regularly two hours every day and did yoga every morning for twenty minutes, he had said: "What can the girl do, she bares with me, you see, she has a big garden too...

I couldn't sleep all night. He had not said anything; was his frustration with me still going on? Well, let's wait until the morning; then we would see...

In the morning, I went downstairs taking the Logos with me. He handed me the picture he had drawn himself while he was drinking his coffee with plenty of milk and honey... When he said "Take this, I brought it for you... I am happy that you came too; you came from so far away..." I sensed that the ice between the Master and I had melted and he had understood why I couldn't publish his books. I was relieved.

He saw Logos. When he said "You go get ready and come down, let's go and take pictures at that cathedral," I remembered the fifty third page of his book Logos:

Language Shows Pictures Taken

Language, shows, pictures; taken.
The meaning reveals after a while.

We took quite many photographs at the St. Fulcran Cathedral. He said that he was going to use these in the text that language would show, and that he would even include my signature with it. Then we went where the festival organization office was.

"Look!" he said "I'll now show you a wall and you'll take my picture in front of that wall and you'll write under it how Ilhan Berk stood up against it. This is the only news from here, there's nothing other than this. See, there is a cartload of poets here; they filled a cartload of men. However, nobody is aware of this writing on the wall of the festival. The truth is this, you see..."

We went there; I was taking the photograph of Ilhan Berk in front of the wall that said "Poetry is not the solution." Just then, that man came... I looked, Ilhan Berk, had already started the conversation patting his back, saying "Is that you, Konyali? Welcome...

Since I am the nomad son of a nomad family, and since I perceive poetry as the main element and origin of my life, by combining Riza's saying of "Poetry is a journey" and the master's drawing attention to that the poetry is a way of living, it hasn't been wrong that I call the story of fifty years a "Journey," has it?

I am the son of a nomad family!

I mean, I'm from the Jewish sects who had escaped from the Spanish Inquisition (15th century) who are called "sabbatianists" afterwards (17th century)... This subject was/is never talked in our house since it was a "taboo." I, too, learned so much later.

My father was born in "Thessaloniki," my mother is the "Istanbulian" daughter of a "Thessalonikian" family. But since her father was the tobacco expert of TEKEL [the state-owned tobacco company], her youth had been spent in Anatolia. (My mother's brother, Kaya Tuke, was born in Artvin; my mother had graduated from Girls' Institute.)

When I sat down to tell this long story, I realized how little I knew about them. But, still, I didn't attempt to ask and learn because I believe that people can forget the "truth," and tell their "dreams" after a certain age. Maybe for this reason, the novels that are written after the age of fifty are the best ones.

The family who came to Istanbul from Thessaloniki through "immigration" (my father had come to Istanbul when he was three years old, in 1924), later on moves to Ankara in September of 1966. Since the story of this migration is not my story, I won't drag it anymore; this is more the story of my mother and father...

Then I had an adventure of Weymouth, London that started in 1979 August and lasted for a year and half. Then the return to Ankara and after that Istanbul "right away"...

Is Istanbul my returning back to my origin or is it a "false return?" This is an event like the love for a prostitute ending with marriage, but maintaining the marriage is against the nature of the matter...

You shouldn't ignore the prostitute side of Istanbul. But isn't this a book in itself? The never-ending, resisting-an-end novel Mujgan recounts this relationship, you see...

But, before coming to Istanbul from Ankara, I tried to go to Mexico City after Maria Del Pilar, and to go to Munich after Hurdem... I resisted Istanbul; but couldn't do because Ankara had started to feel too "confining"...

The Istanbul adventure that started in 1981 ended with Merthan Daldik's --who was driving the dark burgundy BMW that I took out from a garage in Tesvikiye-- bringing me to the Ipsala Port of Entry.

This time the journey was to France. This was the hardest journey for me at first.

The word "journey" was overlapping with "exile" for the first time. This journey wasn't anything other than an escape that didn't have an end, than my exiling myself willingly or unwillingly. This was tough for me.

When we got married, my wife was having the trouble of just returning from France and not being able to go back to France. At every opportunity, she was saying "Let's go." However, since I knew the difficulty of living abroad, I couldn't attune to the "let's go;" the fear in me kept saying to me "everybody does best at his own place."

After we came to France willingly or unwillingly, I remember when I said to my wife: "this way or another, we came, you see!.. she said to me "I didn't want to come like this..."

This is the first strong slap that I got on my face in the name of life. There, I was left head to head with the truth...


The curtain rises in Sisli Kucukbahce Sokagi, Yasiner Apartment Building, No 6/5...

According to the album called "Our baby" when they made at my birth, it's 13 February 1954, Saturday, time: 9:05. There's snow in Istanbul...

When I passed in front of the Yasiner Apartment Building in 2002, the apartment no 5 loaded with many memories in its bay window had been long surrendered to a textile businessman. There had been so much that I lived there.

My parents had decided that it wouldn't be possible to live in Sisli anymore when the first whore of the neighborhood moved at the apartment at the left of the building entrance where Ceyda's (Tuglu) lived. And I used to not take my eyes off of the door of that apartment to see what kind of a thing was a "whore."

At the apartment no 4, my grandmother, my granny (Malike Sulersu), and my younger aunt (Fazilet Basmaci, the daughter of my father's mother and her second husband Ibrahim Basmaci. She's the cousin of famous comedian Aziz Basmaci. When Aziz Basmaci had died at the Ankara Bus Station, my father had gone to take care of his funeral...) used to live. The most fun in our childhood was to run to their house and to be spoiled by our granny. My aunt (Zerrin Odekon), her kids and her husband had moved to the Okcan Apartment Building that was newly built across ours.

The "big family" that my father resists to give up even now had settled down at this street like this.

In fact, if we consider Vehibe Aunt at the next street, a few distant relatives further down the street, the important part of the family really lived here.

My older sister (Sabiha Ayral) returned to Ankara after living in Paris for almost fifteen years. I still question why she returned, but I don’t ask her. “Loneliness” is the main question of hers she couldn’t find an answer for. I don’t know if she had asked this question out loud either. I don’t dwell on this since the question and the problem are hers.

My aunt’s older son started from Pakistan, then USA, Canada, Singapore, Switzerland, and finally settled down in France. The younger one on the other hand, first came to France, a while later went to USA and never returned.

The economic hardships of the family separated my grandmother and granny from a friendship of more than 60 years.

My granny stayed at my aunt’s in Istanbul and died in Istanbul, got buried there. My grandmother came to stay with us in Ankara, died in Ankara and got buried in Istanbul. My younger aunt lives in a senior home in Izmir; my aunt’s family stayed in Istanbul.

My aunt’s husband Necdet Okedon, while he was going to their house, which they just bought after getting out from Okcan Apartment Building, to Etiler, situated at the end of the bus line, satirized his address and used to say “Mecidiyekoy, Esentepe, the last hill." The house they bought felt almost like it was out of the borders of Istanbul.

Then when Etiler has become what it is today, they moved to Bostanci.

My second migration to Istanbul started in a half-furnished apartment in Tesvikiye Sehit Mehmet Sokak.

It lasted in Emel Apartment Building in Zafer Sokak (Osmanbey) and then Songul Apartment Building in Sezai Selek Sokak (Nisantasi). I became neighbors with the famous tough guy named Dundar Kilic here, but I haven't seen his face even once.

The giant changes in my life happened at Bag Apartment Building on the street which carries the musician composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun's name today (Istanbul, Ulus) and where we were neighbors with him.

My wife had rented this apartment for herself and our daughter when we got divorced. In this flat that was almost 220 square meters I started to live with them again.

This house is the house where our son Sinan was born.

We named our daughter Roksan (now she spells her name as Roxanne) both for it to be an international name and because of our admiration to the sportsmanship of the famous national swimmer Roksan Okan whom I heard was living in USA.

Sinan's name had the "international" worry too; we also thought of remembering the famous architect. But for his grandfather (Irem's father Ahmet Zekai Orhon) to be remembered as well, who had died young, we added "Ahmet Zekai" in front of his name. They now ask him if he's a "Spanish noble..."

Since my wife is not a "Thessalonikian convert" meaning "Sabbatianist" (Judaism is a religion that's passed on by the mother. The father's being Jewish does not provide the children to be Jewish), I think our children do not have any relation to this anymore. Since Sabbatianism is a Jewish clan...

_ . _

Translated from:
Cüneyt Ayral. "Yolculuk." Yolculuk
. Turkey: Elma Yayinevi, 2004, 65-79.

E-mail of the author:

--Translated for Light Millennium by Figen Bingül, and posted by Bircan Ünver on June 19, 2005, NY.

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