"Journey" is a chapter from the book titled,
JOURNEY by Cüneyt AYRAL
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
that day, had explained to me lengthily that poetry
was a very long "journey," but he also had
underlined that journeys were very enjoyable.
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!...
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]
which I have shown the utmost care.
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.
Berk came to the office with the works of his
books Poetika and Guzel Irmak Defteri [Beautiful
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* * * * *
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...
immediately called the festival management and asked
whether the poets had accepted the invitations. Ilhan
Berk was coming...
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.
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
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
found the youngster of 82 just like I had left him.
Berk was the same; he had not changed a bit. As Memet
Fuat had written in 1985, in Contemporary Turkish
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
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."
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.
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...
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?"
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.
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.."
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.
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
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...
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...
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.
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:
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.
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..."
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...
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
am the son of a nomad family!
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.
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
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
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...
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
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...
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...
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"...
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.
time the journey was to France. This was the hardest
journey for me at first.
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
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."
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..."
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
curtain rises in Sisli Kucukbahce Sokagi, Yasiner Apartment
Building, No 6/5...
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...
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.
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."
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.
"big family" that my father resists to give
up even now had settled down at this street like this.
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.
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.
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
economic hardships of the family separated my grandmother
and granny from a friendship of more than 60 years.
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.
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.
when Etiler has become what it is today, they moved
second migration to Istanbul started in a half-furnished
apartment in Tesvikiye Sehit Mehmet Sokak.
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.
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.
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.
house is the house where our son Sinan was born.
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.
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..."
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...
Ayral. "Yolculuk." Yolculuk. Turkey: Elma Yayinevi, 2004, 65-79.
E-mail of the author: email@example.com
--Translated for Light Millennium by Figen Bingül,
and posted by Bircan Ünver on June 19, 2005, NY.